Paul Baker, Founding Artistic Director of Dallas Theater Center from 1959-1982, was awarded the Texas Medal of Arts in Education by the Texas Cultural Trust on April 3, 2007, in a ceremony at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. "The Awards honor citizens who have achieved greatness through their creative talents...." This award was bestowed upon Mr. Baker in recognition of being "instrumental in developing a new concept of theater over the course of his 60-year career."  He is considered "the most important man in the history of Texas theater."  Complete text surrounding this award may be found at: www.txculturaltrust.org.

Mr. Baker served as Chairman of Drama at both Baylor University in Waco, Texas (1939-1963)) and Trinity University in San Antonio (1963-1978.)  He "is the recipient of numerous awards for outstanding contributions to the arts." He is a graduate of Trinity University and the Yale School of Drama and is a published author.

During Mr. Baker's tenure at Dallas Theater Center, he formed a resident company of actors who were responsible for some of the finest theater Dallas had ever seen before or since.

The events surrounding his departure from Baylor University in the Spring of 1963 are worthy of a full segment on the "Jerry Springer Show." Baker, always his own man, was producing the Eugene O'Neill classic, Long Day's Journey Into Night. Under the terms of the play, not a word is allowed to be changed, and no alterations could be made to the script. The autobiographical play chronicles the debauched, alcohol and drug-riddled fictional Tyrone family.  It contained "shocking" language and situations which would hardly raise an eyebrow today.

As Mr. Baker's daughter, Robyn Baker Flatt, founding artistic director of Dallas Children's Theater, relates: "Drugs and drinking have such a destructive influence on families, the (Baylor) theater faculty thought it was important to produce the play. At one performance, a minister (Mr. Baker is the son of a Presbyterian minister) brought a Boy Scout troop to see the show. He was upset and complained to a ministerial group of the Baptist hierarchy."  They, in turn approached Abner McCall, President of Baylor. McCall was an attorney and the first president of Baylor who was not a minister. McCall, incidentally a very close friend of Mr. Baker, suggested he close the show. 
As Flatt recalled, Baker replied, "'No, I will not close down this production; if it has to stop, you will have to close it down.' "  Flatt went on to say: "McCall, who was under pressure told Baker: 'I'll have to shut it down'; so he did."

On that note not only did Baker resign from Baylor, but his entire staff of over a dozen Baylor faculty resigned in protest. Then, according to Flatt, Dr. James Laurie, President of  Trinity University, came to Waco to visit Mr. Baker and invite him to come to Trinity. He said: "You're a graduate of Trinity, and we want you back." Baker told him, "I have all of these people with me." Laurie replied: "Bring them all."

At the time Dallas Theater Center offered a training program leading to a Masters Degree from Baylor. The program continued -- with one change -- the Masters Degree was then awarded by Trinity.

Flatt said Baker's days at Yale shaped his resolve toward an interdisciplinary approach to theater. He had noticed so may internecine turf wars and was trying to train students to develop a broad view of theater from beginning to end. "He felt it was important for actors, directors, playwrights, lighting designers, set designers, and musicians to have an appreciation of each other's disciplines."

Baker's students at DTC worked in all areas of the theater from design to box office. The closest we have to that approach in Dallas at the present is the model at Theater Three.

Synthia Rogers, director of theatre at Greenhill, was a member of Mr. Baker's resident company and stayed on after his retirement as Director of DTCs Teen Children's Theater.  Of Baker she said, "I thought he was the greatest theater teacher I ever had; he just inspired you to want to be an actress or a writer or a director.  He taught a course that he's famous for: Integration of Abilities. Through the course you took an idea and wrote poetry, did sculpture, wrote a scene. He showed you how to see an idea from different perspectives. Mr. Baker encouraged creativity." 

Rogers, who also teaches theater classes at Greenhill said, "As a teacher, I have to direct plays and teach playwriting and acting. There's not a day that goes by that I don't use something Paul Baker taught me."

Mr. Baker's third daughter, Sallie Baker, now a teacher in Denver, was also a DTC company member. She said,  "My father's iconoclastic brand of experimentation broke all the proscenium molds and redefined 'theater' for an avant garde that was developing in Europe, New York and around the world .... In all my travels I have never seen the theater's magic more thoroughly exploited than by my father's direction and adaptation of Hamlet E.S.P. or his terrifying interpretation of 'MacBeth' with the assassins of Martin Luther King, JFK, and RFK haunting the set or by his precise etching of characters in the (Texas) Trilogy forming the (fictional) West Texas town of Bradleyville."

Paul Baker, now 95, resides with his wife, Kitty, at their cattle ranch in his hometown of Hereford, Texas.  Reached by phone after returning from receiving his Medal of Arts Award in Austin, Mr. Baker was eager to talk about his life in the theater.

PCP:  What factors informed your choice of a career in arts and theater education?
PB:  I don't think I was ever not in theater.  My father was a minister in West Texas. I had two older sisters and two older brothers, and we had regular programs in our living room. My middle sister played the piano.  I read poetry and the Bible. We had to perform to entertain ourselves.

PCP:  Why do you believe the interdisciplinary approach to a breadth of knowledge in all areas of theater is superior to the in depth approach to a single theatrical discipline?
PB: My philosophy at Dallas Theater Center was that everybody should become involved in each area of operation.  Each person should work in the box office, the shop, (the) costume (shop); so they become very adept at every area of theater.

PCP: What do you think is the most important aspect of producing quality theater?
  PB: One thing they [theater artists] have to know: it's very hard work. It can't just happen in a few minutes. It has to grow over a long period of time. You have to spend 18 hours a day for 18 years, seven days a week to develop a really good theater. You have to sacrifice personal desires to make it work.

PCP:  If you hadn't devoted your life to a career in the theater, what else might you have done?
  PB:  Since 1982 we have retired, and we run a small ranch with cattle and two dogs; so I guess I would have been a rancher; I am a rancher; it's a good life.

PCP:  We miss you in the Dallas theater; things aren't what they were since you left.
 PB:  Thank you. They've sold their soul to make a profit. You have to build (from within) to have a good theater.  When you bring in professionals for one show, they can't do anything great for the theater.

[END]

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Key Subjects: 
Paul Baker, Dallas Theater Center, Robyn Baker Flatt, Yale, Trinity University
Writer: 
Rita Faye Smith
Date: 
March 2007