MADISON - It is a fact undeniable by anyone who knows her, and many do. She has inspired countless students to give theater and music a chance, helping to cultivate an appreciation for the fine arts, particularly in Boone and Logan Counties. She works so many jobs that you will never catch her without the calendar she uses to keep track of it all.
The teacher, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, actor, vocalist, and volunteer leader is met with warm greetings nearly everywhere she goes by friends, students, and fellow performers alike. These are the many individuals whose lives she has touched throughout her celebrated career of sharing the joy of song and theater in her home, where it all began.
Bailey was first inspired to sing by her parents, Bob and Orpha Bunch.
"My dad sang in the church choir his whole life," Bailey recalls, "And I sang my first solo in church when I was 5, and I started piano at 7."
Her mother encouraged her to take up the guitar, and she began playing the trombone around the same time, at the age of 12. Her first experiences on a stage happened for similar reasons.
"I'm a big historian, so going through family records, I noticed my mom and dad had both been in plays up at Sharples. They would entertain the community in those plays, and I was like, 'That's really cool!' So, throughout grade school, when we did a play, I was in it."
At Scott High School, Bailey's homeroom teacher was then-theater director Mary Carden, who further urged the young artist to develop her skills. Bailey's first role after grade school was a girl on trial in Arthur Miller's allegorical play "The Crucible."
"I didn't have a speaking line. All I did was stand up, point to the rafters at the spirit up there, and then sit back down. That was my first big role," she chuckles.
Other actors in the play were Jerry Bias and Chip Shaffer, whose performances were, as she described, "awesome."
Seeing her classmates act was enough to make her mind up.
"I was like, 'I want to do this.'"
Bailey continued theater throughout high school. Other inspirations for her included band director Steve Smarr, choir director Gena Ryan, and vocal teacher Jewel Peal. It was with the help of Peal that she was able to sing in the All-State Choir her senior year.
"When figuring out what to do with my life," she said, "I figured that I have a mission, God's mission to come back to Boone County and do the arts. Teach music, and help kids learn, and teach piano. Whatever I could do."
Bailey said her strengths were always in performance, and she knew it was what she needed to do. She attended West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, where she majored in music education and trombone, and minored in piano, baritone, and business. Doing trombone put her in the concert band, small ensembles, and jazz band, the latter of which was a life-changing experience.
"I'd been in the jazz band at Scott and loved it, and I was fortunate enough to be in the one at Wesleyan," where she was able to strengthen her playing, make lifelong friends, and even travel the world, she said. "I got to go to Romania and Russia with the jazz band, as well as touring the entire east coast every year."
She additionally took part in plenty of theater while attending WVWC.
Upon her return home to Madison in 1981, Appalachian Community Theater had begun its run with the popular musical "Oklahoma!" Judi Turley, Pat Campbell, and Roger Burdette were all heavily involved in this run. ACT produced musicals and plays for around 15 years, which Bailey took part in as a frequent actress and musical director. Mary Carden, meanwhile, still directed theater at Scott High. Bailey also became musical director for Carden's productions such as "Godspell" and "Lil' Abner."
In 1986, Bailey auditioned for The Aracoma Story, Inc. in Logan, where she was originally cast as an ensemble member in Meredith Wilson's hit musical "The Music Man," but unforeseen circumstances had an already-thrilled Bailey recast in a more prominent role as Mrs. Paroo. This began her long tenure with the company, starting with several shows in the first five years which included the Cy Coleman and Bob Fosse musical "Sweet Charity," Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella."
Bailey is also very humbled to have been granted the role of Princess Aracoma in "The Aracoma Story." and 30 years later, she is featured as Levicy Hatfield in the company's newest play, "Deadly Divide," which debuted this summer.
When not onstage, Bailey has directed music for the company and played music in the pit. In Charleston, she participated in a number of shows, including one with the Charleston Light Opera Guild.
Bailey returned to school in 1991, getting her master's degree at Marshall University. She received a degree in music and theater with an emphasis in conducting, and was a founding member of Huntington Outdoor Theater, beginning with "Lil' Abner." She took part in nearly 10 shows with HOT alongside Helen Freeman and Patti Shaver, and then with theater West Virginia in Raleigh County.
In 1998, another opportunity arose for Bailey and Boone County. As she was working as a 4-H agent, Mary Carden approached her with the news that the entire county was going to be putting on a play. Gary Sumpter, the county's superintendent of schools, wrote a grant for lights, a sound system, and acoustic shells for use in a new theater program called S.T.A.G.E., inspired by a previous extracurricular program named RESA. Bailey joined Steve Green in the orchestra for S.T.A.G.E.'s premiere show, "The Wizard of Oz." A significant number of local students were interested in being part of the new program. When S.T.A.G.E. produced the classic musical "Grease," the county's response was tremendous. "The [Madison] Civic Center was packed, for all the shows we had," Robin says.
Scott High School, Sherman High School, and Van Junior-Senior High School all had representatives in that production, but there were more students from Sherman and Van despite the program being centralized in Madison. Many of the greasers in the show were played by boys from Van, who she says were great. The generations of performers that came through the program are the ones who help to keep it going.
"Those kids who were Munchkins in 1999 are now parents of kids we have now," Bailey said.
S.T.A.G.E. was directed by Mary Carden for two years, then by Judi Turley for a decade, Tiana Toney-Billups for one year with Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods," and the current director, Chelsea Price, whose tenure began with "Disney's Aladdin Jr." in 2012. S.T.A.G.E. is in its 21st year, and has produced at least one show for each year it has run.
"I'm still very proud of it, and I intend to see it through 'til my dying day," Bailey says of her devotion to the program, which is a volunteer effort outside her regular job of teaching music and directing the marching band at Chapmanville Regional High School.
Bailey considers one valuable part of S.T.A.G.E. to be its ability to strengthen the community and build new friendships across Boone. "I just think that it's a wonderful thing. S.T.A.G.E. has helped mend a lot of bad fences throughout the county. Before, none of the schools could get along together, because it was 'Our football team's better than yours' or 'our baseball team's better than yours' That used to be the only time people got together, was to play each other. With S.T.A.G.E., we bring kids from all over the county together, and they bond, make memories, get to work together, and 'Oh! That guy from Van is not too bad! He's alright!'"
Bailey says it can be exasperating when there are struggles to find a venue or when it flies under the radar of public awareness, but it is still a labor of love.
Bailey directs the United Methodist Church Chancel Choir and used to direct the children's choir. She was the choir's pianist for 20 years, and has directed it for 23.
"That's been a wonderful ministry. We've gotten to do a lot of things, but there's still more I want to do." The Methodist choir performs cantatas around holidays and periodically collaborates with other churches like Madison Baptist.
Another important part of Bailey's life is the 4-H program, something she has been a part of since she was a young girl.
"My first [camp] was George Washington-Carver," she explained, "And that's a very cultural place, too. That's where they have FOOTMAD (Friends Of Old-Time Music And Dance) and a lot of Appalachian heritage programs."
She became a counselor, or a "Big Foot," after aging out and worked different 4-H state camps at Jackson's Mill. She has helped at Older Youth camp, which is now known as the Older Member's Conference, and was there for the start of the Alpha camps, where she taught music and the camp chorus alongside Patrick Bailey.
"He was Bailey and I was Bunch, so the chorus was known as the Bailey Bunch," she said.
She worked state camps for 10 years and also worked as Boone County's 4-H Extension Agent for 10 years over two different stints. Today, she enjoys being a leader and camp counselor on top of the many, many roles she happily plays. Her husband, Kevin Bailey, is a regular volunteer, counselor, and shooting sports instructor for 4-H, and is a member of the Chancel Choir.
When asked how it feels to see the results of her work, whether it is the continuation of programs she has dedicated much time and love toward or the many students who have gone on to pursue the arts thanks to her influence, she answered that it feels wonderful.
"That's the whole goal, is to share God's given expression for us, so that people can express themselves. Singing, playing, dancing, acting I think that's why I'm here. And every time I see somebody in a show or doing a solo, singing in a choir, playing piano, I'm so proud. I'm very proud."
To those who have never taken part in the arts, her advice is, "It is never too late to experience the thrill of performing, whether it be piano lessons - my oldest piano student was probably 55, 60 at the time and had never played before - you're never too old to join the church choir or if there's a community choir in your area. God gives us gifts and sometimes we're not given the opportunity to blossom or sometimes even bud. Some people don't even think they can sing, but oh, they can, if given the right opportunity to explore that."
In her experience doing "Deadly Divide" in Logan, Bailey talks about the presence of many new people in theater who perform in the show.
"In fact, most of the cast is first year, first time. They've gotten the bug. They all want to do this again. It brings friendships, expression, a chance to show what you can do, and I just think it's wonderful."
She mentions it is well worth getting out of one's comfort zone
For her journey so far, Bailey wishes to thank God, her parents for their encouragement, Steve Smarr, Gena Ryan, Mary Carden, her college band director David Miller, and Gary Sumpter for helping to make the S.T.A.G.E. program possible. She thanks the many people she has been able to meet over the years, and the students she teaches and continues to learn from. She says, to every person whose life she has helped shape, "I want to thank them for allowing me to be part of it."