Paul Baker (teacher)

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Dr. Paul Baker (1911 – October 25, 2009) was an American actor, professor, director, and author.

Biography[edit]

Paul Baker, the youngest of five children, was born in 1911 in Hereford, Texas to Retta Chapman Baker and William Morgan Baker. The family moved from Hereford to Waxahachie, Texas, when Baker was eight years old. Baker followed in the footsteps of his four siblings and attended Trinity University (then located in Waxahachie, Texas), where he received a degree in drama in 1932. He then went on to continue his studies at Yale University. Baker left Yale, his master's degree unfinished, in 1934, and spent that summer studying theater in England before beginning his teaching career at Baylor University that fall. In 1936, Baker met Sallie Kathryn "Kitty" Cardwell, a math professor and artist. Three months after they met, on December 21, 1936, they were married. In 1936, Baker continued his travels in England, Germany, Russia, and Japan, studying theater design and production, and in 1939, he received a master's degree from Yale University, thanks to a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship.

Teaching career[edit]

In 1934, Baker began his career as a professor of drama at Baylor University. Six years later, in 1940, he established a drama department at Baylor and was appointed chair of the department. Baker designed Studio One, Baylor’s first theater facility, in 1941. Studio One was a state-of-the-art facility in which the audience, seated in swiveling chairs, was surrounded by six stages. This arrangement provided versatility: the theater could be adapted for plays from every period, from Elizabethan to contemporary.

Baker remained in his position as drama department chair at Baylor until 1963. That year, Baker obtained the rights to produce Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. His contract with O’Neill’s wife prohibited editing of the script in any way, so even when complaints arose in the community about the language in the show, Baker refused to censor the play. After being reprimanded by the Baylor administration, Baker and the rest of the drama faculty resigned. Baker and his eleven faculty members moved to San Antonio and established a prestigious theater department and new theater facilities at Trinity University, where Baker remained until his retirement in 1976.

From 1959 through 1982, Baker also taught graduate courses in drama at the Dallas Theater Center. The Dallas Theater Center served as the graduate drama department for Baylor University from 1959–1963, and then for Trinity University from 1963-1982. The first generation of resident theater artists at the Dallas Theater Center were required to obtain their master's degrees through Baker's program.

World War II[edit]

In 1942, Baker was selected to join a group of 20 men in the US Army as a Special Services Entertainment Officer. During World War II, he was assigned to Iceland, London, and, ultimately, Paris. In Paris, Baker took on the project of bringing entertainment to the troops stationed in Europe. Before Baker took on the project, actors refused to travel to perform for the troops for fear they would be abandoned when the troops moved on to a new station. Baker could see that the army's entertainment program was in a state of crisis, so he took on the project of recruiting actors and ensuring their protection and other benefits.

Baker established the Civilian Actress Technician Corps, which provided female actresses to perform roles in performances around Europe. He was named Chief of Entertainment for the European Theatre of Operations in 1944, and he earned the Legion of Merit Award in 1945 for reorganizing the entertainment branch of the European Theater of Operations.

Paris[edit]

While Paul Baker was stationed in Paris during WWII, he formed relationships with various artists, including Reynold and Martha Arnoux. Those relationships allowed him to bring a group of Baylor acting students to Paris in 1952 for an intensive theatre study program and to produce and stage a production of Green Grow the Lilacs at Theatre Babylone. While in Paris, Baker and his students frequented the city’s many art museums as part of their curriculum, but Baker was most interested in the cubist works housed in the Museum of Modern Art. He began to study them and think about ways to translate the modern art techniques into the plays he directed, which resulted in revolutionary stagings of Shakespeare's "Othello" and "Hamlet."

Othello and Hamlet[edit]

After he returned from Paris, Baker staged two breakthrough productions, highlighting innovative techniques and a new method of characterization. In both Othello and Hamlet, Baker integrated the cubist technique into the main characters of the plays, showing the multiple facets of their personalities by casting three different actors to play each role. The plays gained much critical attention and began to cement Baker’s name as that of a theater pioneer.

Dallas Theater Center[edit]

In 1959, Dr. Baker founded the Dallas Theater Center and Graduate School of Drama. Baker collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build the Kalita Humphreys Theater, the only public theater built by Wright and the last project he would design before his death. The Dallas Theater Center’s professional company, then called the “Resident Artists,” originated in 1962 and consisted of artists that had completed Baker’s graduate program. Under Baker's philosophy of non-specialization, the Resident Artists worked in the box office, designed sets, worked backstage, and directed plays in addition to their roles as performers.

In 1964, Baker staged a production of "Journey to Jefferson," adapted by Robert Flynn from William Faulkner’s "As I Lay Dying." The production was invited to perform at the Theatre of Nations in Paris, where it was granted the Special Jury Award in 1964. The production toured to Ostend and Brussels, Belgium, and Frankfurt, Germany, as well. As a result, the Dallas Theater Center became a well-known entity in Dallas and in America.

By 1982, Baker and the Dallas Theater Center board members began to disagree on fundamental issues concerning the theater. The board aimed to make the center more commercial, adding a touring company and casting nationally renowned actors. Baker, on the other hand, wanted Dallas Theater Center to remain an educational theater with a resident company of artists. This conflict caused Baker to turn in his resignation in March 1982.

Baker’s Integration of Abilities[edit]

In 1972, Dr. Baker published his Integration of Abilities, a book that outlined a series of exercises and teaching techniques he had used in a class at both Baylor and Trinity Universities. These exercises, later referred to as the Baker Philosophy, formed the pillars on which the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and the Dallas Children's Theater were founded.

Baker’s Integration of Abilities (IA) is based on an exploration of his “elements of form:” space, movement, color, silhouette, line, sound/silence, rhythm, shape, and texture. The IA curriculum encourages students to explore their own creative processes and to grow in whatever way best suits them. The exercises are very individual in nature; examples include examining how one approaches enrichment and growth, defining one's own personal "creative landscape" (the space from where one's entire creative process originates), and an "inanimate object" activity which allows students to follow their creative processes from start to finish.

In 2008, Dr. Baker’s daughter, Robyn Flatt, founded the Baker Idea Institute, also based on Baker’s philosophy of creativity and his Integration of Abilities. The Institute holds two to three annual symposia focused on generating creative ideas for use in business and education.

Recognition[edit]

  • 1939: Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to complete master's degree at Yale University
  • 1942: Rockefeller Foundation grant to engage professional staff for the Baylor University Drama Department
  • 1946: Rockefeller Foundation grant to study the use of drama in relation to the community and leisure time
  • 1956: Elected president of the Southwest Theater Association
  • 1958: Received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Trinity University, his alma mater
  • 1958: Elected president of the National Theater Conference
  • 1958: Received Brussels World Film Festival Award for his direction of Hamlet, filmed by Eugene McKinney
  • 1959: Rockefeller Foundation grant to study the use of drama in relation to the community and leisure time
  • 1961: Received the first Rodgers and Hammerstein Award for outstanding contribution to theater in the Southwest
  • 1964: Special Jury Award, Theatre of Nations, Paris
  • 1967: Elected to the board of governors, American Playwright’s Theater
  • 1967: Elected to the board of governors, American National Theater and Academy
  • 1978: Distinguished Alumnus Award, Trinity University
  • 1978: Received an honorary doctorate of Humanities from Texas Christian University
  • 1983: Awarded the Thomas De Gaetani Award for service to the American theater by the United States institute of Theater Technology
  • 1994: Received a Special Merit Award from the Texas Commission on the Arts
  • 1996: Inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre
  • 2007: Awarded the Teas Medal of Arts Award for lifetime achievement in Education from the Texas Cultural Trust

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