Baker, Paul and Baker, Kitty
Noted theater director and educator Paul Baker was born in 1911 in the West Texas town of Hereford to Retta Chapman Baker and William Morgan Baker. He was the son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers, and the youngest of five children. When Baker was eight years old, his father moved the family to Waxahachie, Texas where Baker and his older siblings would eventually attend Trinity University, then located in Waxahachie.
In 1932, Paul Baker earned a bachelor’s degree in drama at Trinity University. Baker then spent a year at Yale University working toward a master’s in drama, but for financial reasons he was unable to continue his studies. He spent the summer of 1934 in England, and while there, he received the offer of a teaching position at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He began teaching there in 1934. At Baylor, Baker met Sallie Kathryn Cardwell (Kitty), a college math professor and artist. Kitty Cardwell had received her undergraduate degree at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She always had an interest in art, but chose math as her major, and went on to receive her Masters of Science in Math from the University of Chicago, where she spent a year working toward her doctorate before coming to Baylor. On December 21, 1936 – three months after they met – Paul and Kitty were married.
The Bakers had three daughters, Robyn Cardwell Baker in 1938, Retta Chapman Baker in 1942, and Sallie Kathryn Baker in 1947. Kitty Baker began teaching a children’s art and drama class for Robyn and her friends in 1941, basing her teachings on the same ideas that Paul Baker was using in his drama classes at Baylor. This class would eventually grow into the Baylor Children’s and Teenage Theater.
In 1939, with the help of a Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship, Baker returned to Yale and completed his master’s degree in drama. In 1941, Baker received a Rockefeller Grant to write about his travels during the summer of 1936 to England, Germany, Russia, and Japan where he studied theater design and production. Also in 1941, Baker returned to Baylor and helped design a new theater called Studio One. In Studio One, the audience was seated in swivel chairs and surrounded by six stages. Five of the stages formed a semi-circle around the audience and the sixth was located in the rear. This marked the beginning of Baker’s many innovative contributions to theater and theater education.
Paul Baker was one of the first theatrical specialists to join the United States Army during WWII, serving as a Special Services Entertainment Officer in Iceland and Paris, France. He directed theatrical performances at the Iceland base. Baker had no trouble finding a variety of men who were talented actors, but he needed actresses. He put in a request for four actresses to perform at his theater. His request led to the formation of the Civilian Actress Technician Corps (CATS), which continued to provide actresses for performances throughout Special Services. In 1945, Baker was awarded the Legion of Merit for the re-organization of the Entertainment Branch of the European Theater of Operation.
Back in the United States, Baker continued to receive recognition for his involvement in education and drama. Baker was the recipient of two more Rockefeller grants in 1946 and 1959. He received the first of these to make a study of leisure time problems as related to community. In 1958, Baker received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Trinity University. Baker also served as President of the Southwest Theater Association in 1956 and as President of the National Theatre Conference from 1958 to 1961.
In 1952, Baker took a group of Baylor acting students and staff to present Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs at the Theater Babylone in Paris. While visiting the Paris Museum of Modern Art, Baker became interested in the works of the cubists. During this time, Baker was beginning to feel that the progress of theater was lagging behind the other arts. Inspired by the idea of translating modern art techniques into drama, Baker went back to Baylor to produce an updated version of Othello in which these new ideas were expressed. He translated the cubist technique of presenting subjects from more than one point of view into drama by having three actors play the different parts of one character’s personality. Henry Hewes, Drama Critic for the Saturday Review, said that Baker had “accomplished what Orson Wells’ motion picture tried and failed to do – applied the visual arts to a great play without allowing them to inundate it” (Cory, 23). Charles Laughton called Baker’s production of Othello “the most exciting piece of theater in America,” and called Baker “a man absolutely without fear” (Cory, 23). In 1956, Baker used this method again in Hamlet with actor Burgess Meredith playing the main speaking role of Hamlet and three other actors representing the war-like, jovial and introspective sides of the character.
In 1959, while still teaching at Baylor, Baker helped found the Dallas Theater Center, which acted as the graduate school for the Baylor Drama Department. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Dallas Theater Center, his last building and the only public theater ever built from his design. Baker also contributed to the design of the theater, working closely with Wright and sometimes disagreeing with him over such issues as lighting installation and backstage ramps. Playwright Gene McKinney described his own response to the designs for the Dallas Theater Center the first time he saw them, by saying “I realized this was going to be a different kind of theater. The whole approach to the total space, with its lack of right angles, gave freshness to the idea of theater.” (Cory, 88) Baker would stay with the Dallas Theater Center for twenty-three years.
Baker’s innovations in theater continued to receive praise from across the nation, and in 1961, he was given the first Rogers and Hammerstein Award for outstanding contribution to theater in the Southwest. However, Baker was not without critics. In 1962, he obtained the amateur rights from Eugene O’Neill’s widow to produce O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night at Baylor. The contract with Mrs. O’Neill was to do the play intact with no editing of the script. A local Sunday school teacher, who brought her class to see the play, was offended by some of the language. She began a campaign against the production, and the Baylor President ordered Baker to close the play. In response, Baker and his entire department, including assistant professor Robert Flynn and graduate student Preston Jones, moved to Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Baker split his time between Trinity and the Dallas Theater Center, which then began to serve as the graduate school for the Trinity Drama Department.
Preston Jones not only followed Baker to Trinity, but also worked with him at the Dallas Theater Center. While there, Jones took to heart Baker’s philosophy of non-specialization, and worked in a variety of positions, including actor, director, stage manager, and ticket taker. Jones credited these experiences with making him a successful playwright. As an actor Jones appeared in several plays at the Dallas Theater Center, including Journey to Jefferson by Robert Flynn, a stage adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying . Under Baker’s direction, this Dallas Theater Center production of Journey to Jefferson, won the jury prize at the Theater of Nations in Paris in 1964.
In 1972, Baker appointed Preston Jones managing director of Down Center Stage, a smaller workshop theater within the Dallas Theater Center. Jones’ desire to present new works, combined with a lack of good material available, led him to begin writing his own plays, the first of which was The Knights of the White Magnolia . In 1973, it was produced at the Dallas Theater Center under Baker’s guidance, and inaugurated Jones’ classic Texas Trilogy . Jones and Baker would continue to have a close working relationship at the Dallas Theater Center until Jones’ death in 1979.
In 1972, Baker wrote the book Integration of Abilities, in which he illustrated the teaching techniques he had used in a class of the same name at Baylor and Trinity. In class, Baker taught his students to use all five senses to experience and express their surroundings. Believing that a theater artist should be introduced to all facets of the arts, Baker gave his students assignments in painting, writing, and music composition. During the process of producing a play, he strove to involve the members of the production -- including playwrights -- in all aspects of theater work, such as taking tickets and helping in areas outside their usual sphere, in order to round out their experience of the theater. Baker explained that with this teaching philosophy he was trying to help students “discover their creative abilities,” and at the same time “help the theater catch up with the progress made in the other arts” (Cory, 20).
Baker retired from his position as Professor of Drama and Chairman of the Drama Department at Trinity University in 1976, but continued his work as Director at the Dallas Theater Center. In 1978, he received both a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Trinity University and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the Texas Christian University.
By 1982, Baker and the Board of Directors at the Dallas Theater Center had begun to hold different views about the direction the Center should take. Baker wanted it to remain an educational theater, maintaining a resident company of actors, writers and directors as it had since its inception. The Board was interested in making the Center a more commercially dynamic venue, and envisioned touring productions featuring nationally-known actors who could attract audiences simply by the presence of their names on the marquee. In March 1982, Baker, after twenty-three years of service as Artistic Director, turned in his resignation. After Baker’s resignation, the Center slowly moved away from its former experimental educational approach, and its role as a graduate school came to an end. However, Baker’s methods in drama continued in the Dallas Children’s Theater, founded by his daughter Robyn Baker Flatt, and at Dallas’ Booker T. Washington School for the Performing Arts, founded by Paul Baker himself in 1976, at the request of the Dallas Independent School District.
After leaving the Dallas Theater Center, Baker continued to receive awards for his work in theater, and he remained busy directing plays and writing books and articles. In 1983, Baker received the Tomas De Gretani Award for outstanding service to American Theater. He directed a variety of plays, including Preston Jones’ Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia in 1984 at the New Mexico Repertory Theater in Santa Fe. Baker also directed a professional production of Preston Jones’ The Oldest Living Graduate for Paramount Theater of Austin in 1986, and his own adaptation, Hamlet ESP, for the Hyde Park Theater in Austin in 1987. In August of 1990, Baker’s work in drama and education was celebrated by ex-students from Baylor University (1934-63), Trinity University (1963-1975), and the Dallas Theater Center (1959-83), with “The Paul Baker Festival – Second Harvest,” which ran for three days in Waco.
In 1994, Baker was the recipient of the Texas Commission on the Arts Special Merit Award, and in that same year he wrote Making Sense with Five Senses, a textbook featuring his Integration of Abilities Technique. Paul and Kitty Baker currently live on a 132-acre ranch near Waelder, Texas, where they are both active in encouraging the application of their Integration of Abilities Technique at the Waelder elementary school.
From the guide to the Paul and Kitty Baker Papers, 1911-1999 (bulk 1942-1976), (Southwestern Writers Collection, Special Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos)
|creatorOf||Paul and Kitty Baker Papers, 1911-1999 (bulk 1942-1976)||Southwestern Writers Collection, Special Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos|
|associatedWith||Baker, Paul, 1911-||person|
|associatedWith||Baylor University. Drama Department.||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Dallas Theater Center.||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Flynn, Robert, 1932-||person|
|associatedWith||Jones, Mary Sue.||person|
|associatedWith||Jones, Preston, 1936-||person|
|associatedWith||Robyn Baker Flatt||person|
|associatedWith||Sallie Baker Laurie||person|
|associatedWith||Southwestern Writers Collection, Special Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Trinity University Drama Department||corporateBody|
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|