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Telephone Spotlight on Texas, Baylor Theater (1958)

British Film Institute National Archive

Sound | 1958

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  •  Texas Theater Pioneer Paul Baker (for more, see below) 
  •  Texas Playwright Ramsey Yelvington 
  •  Eugene McKinney, Baylor Theater Professor 1949-63, Professor of Playwriting then Director of Trinity Drama Department Graduate Program at Dallas Theater Center 1959-87 
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This film made its way to TAMI through the British Film Institute, who received this 16mm copy of a television program produced by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company after its discovery during a routine house clearance among other materials related to Charles Loughton and Orson Welles. The 16mm film was addressed to Charles Loughton from Paul Baker, the innovative Director of the Theater Department at Baylor University from 1934-63. Baker built Baylor’s historic Studio One, a home for a more progressive approach to theater, where Laughton saw a performance of “Othello” which he called “the most exciting piece of theater in America,” describing Baker as “a fantastic genius” who “could change the whole course of the theater.” Laughton later encouraged his friend, actor Burgess Meredith, to perform in a similar Baylor production of “Hamlet” in 1956. Meredith and Laughton both took up residence in Waco for 2 months while Meredith rehearsed and performed 16 sold-out shows. This television program, Telephone Spotlight on Texas, profiles the Baylor Theater program and Studio One, highlighting its innovative staging and seating and the methods employed by Paul Baker and his team.
Paul Baker was born in 1911 in the West Texas town of Hereford to Retta Chapman Baker and William Morgan Baker. Baker was the youngest of five children, all of whom attended Trinity University while it was located in Waxahachie, Texas; Paul earned his BA in drama there. Baker began teaching at Baylor University in 1934 as a professor of dramatics. At Baylor, Baker met his wife Kitty, a math professor and artist. Together, the couple had three children and founded the Baylor Children’s and Teenage Theater. Baker completed a master’s degree in drama in 1939 at Yale University and received a Rockefeller Grant in 1941 to write about his study of theater design and production in Europe, Russia, and Japan. That same year, Baker returned to his teaching position at Baylor and designed the innovative new theater there, Studio One. In Studio One, there were six stages- five in a semicircle around the audience, and one at the back of the theater. The audience was seated in swivel chairs so that they could follow the action from stage to stage. In Studio One, Baker brought many progressive theater productions to Baylor, including a production of Othello inspired by the cubist painting method that used three actors to portray each role. This production of Othello brought Baker national attention as a theater pioneer and led to his work with many renowned actors. In 1959, Baker founded the Dallas Theater Center, which served as the graduate school for the Baylor Drama Department and was the last building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1961, Baker received the Rogers and Hammerstein Award for outstanding contribution to theater, the first awarded in the Southwest. Baker left Baylor in 1963 after a heated conflict with a local Sunday school teacher over censorship of the script in one of his productions. Baker took a position at Trinity University in San Antonio, taking the entire Baylor theater department with him, as well as the use of the Dallas Theater Center, which then became the home to the graduate school of Trinity University Drama Department. Baker retired from teaching in 1976 and from his position with the Dallas Theater Center in 1982 after the board members began to steer the center away from its artistic mission and in a more commercial direction. In retirement, Baker received numerous awards for his work in theater and published several articles and books about his acting and teaching methods. He passed away in 2009 leaving a legacy of innovative theater in Texas.