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The Carolina life of Linda Lavin

As one of television's iconic performers, with a handful of gilded theater statuettes to her credit, Linda Lavin could make her home anywhere. Over the years the singer, actress and director has balanced her time between California and New York and has considered living in other acclaimed artistic communities, such as Santa Fe, N.M. But when she came to work on a project in Wilmington's young film community, she fell in love with the area - its dynamic downtown and the nearby sea. 

20100409-lindalavin01.jpg"When I was here, I took a walk through the historic district," she says. "And I really can't live anywhere that isn't close to the water."

Another life-changing event happened for the Alice star in Wilmington. It was where Lavin met actor Steve Bakunus, the man who would become her husband and business partner. In 2007, the pair started Red Barn Theater, located a few blocks from their home in the Victorian era downtown. It's an intimate, 50-seat theater dedicated to excellence in American storytelling and local acting. Lavin says their goal is to make the audience feel as if they are a part of the work.

Lavin also returns to New York often to work on television series, such as past appearances in Law and Order: Criminal Intent and The Sopranos, and she continues her acclaimed theater career there as well. Lavin won Tony, Drama Desk and Theater World awards for performances in plays Broadway Bound, Little Murders and Wet Paint. She will be in New York again this spring for a role in Manhattan Theatre Club's presentation of Donald Margulies' new play about two female writers.

Wilmington, though, keeps pulling Lavin back.

"At first, I didn't know what my life would be like here," she says. "I thought it was a really beautiful place and I wanted to have a certain quality of life. I decided to take a chance."

Since then, Lavin has become an integral part of the town. She and Bakunas renovate homes and the actress founded The Linda Lavin Foundation, an arts school for eleven- to fourteen-year-old girls here.

Lavin said it was one of her goals, to live in a place and become a part of the community.

"I feel like I'm a part of an exchange of the people and things I love, a part of the fabric here," she says.  

Linda Lavin and Steve Bakunas opened Red Barn Studio at 1122 S. Third St. in 2007. The name was inspired by the classic childhood fantasy: if you have a barn, you have a space to be creative, a place to put on a show.

The theater's next performance is the Charles Busch play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. It's a work that once garnered Lavin a Tony Award nomination. It will run in January and February 2010.