Through 70 years of genius, Paul Baker’s contributions to the fields of theater and education have been celebrated and studied the world over. The Baker Idea Institute is the culminating chapter in a life worth examining.
Paul Baker was a product of his west Texas environment. Born in Hereford in 1911, he took inspiration from the utterly open, flat land that surrounded him. Those inspirations, integral to his life, led him into a world far from the dust of the west Texas prairie.
Graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in drama from Trinity University in 1932, he went beyond Texas to study theater in England, Germany, Russia and Japan and completed a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Yale University on a Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship.
In 1940, Paul Baker became Chair of the Drama Department at Baylor University, a position he would hold until 1963 at which time he and the entire Baylor Theater faculty resigned (over an issue of censorship) and moved to San Antonio, Texas where the group developed a vigorous theater department and stunning multi-theater facility at Trinity University.
In 1942, Paul Baker became one of the first theatrical specialists to join General Marshall’s newly formed select group of 20 artists in the US Army as a Special Services Entertainment Officer. His assignments took him to Iceland, London and ultimately Paris. In 1944 he achieved the rank of Major and was named Chief of Entertainment for the European Theater of Operations. In 1945 he earned the prestigious Legion of Merit Award for his re-organization of the entire Entertainment Branch of the European Theater of Operations.
Following the war years, Baker returned to Baylor and the imaginative theater he had designed with swivel seats and stages surrounding the audience. He began to explore innovative concepts in staging and communication. His WWII connections led to Waco visits from prominent European artists. As a result, a remarkable Baylor Arts School in Paris evolved; complete with the presentation of Lynn Riggs Green Grow the Lilacs at Theatre Babylone in 1952.
Baker was named President of the Southwest Theater Association in 1956, received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Trinity University in 1958 and served as President of the National Theater Conference from the years 1958 to 1961.
In 1959, as part of the emerging movement to create regional professional theater across the United States, Dr. Baker secured his legacy by founding the Dallas Theater Center and a Graduate School of Drama.
He worked closely with architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the design and construction of the theater in which the use of space would be unique and definitive. Baker was the guiding force in the Dallas Theater Center’s development into one of the leading professional resident theaters in America. Rooted in a philosophy of freedom, growth and individual creative potential, his productions of such plays as Hamlet; Macbeth; Othello; Journey to Jefferson; A Different Drummer; Stillsong; The Bradleyville (Texas) Trilogy; Of Time and the River; and Jack Ruby, All American Boy earned wide acclaim. Baker established a professional theater company that produced internationally recognized work for 22 years. In 1961 Baker received the first Rogers and Hammerstein Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theater in the Southwest.
In 1964, Baker’s production of Journey to Jefferson adapted by Robert Flynn from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying was invited to perform at the Theater of Nations in Paris where the production was granted the coveted Special Jury Award. This award further launched Dr. Baker’s reputation nationally and internationally and established the Dallas Theater Center as a vital player on the regional theater scene.
In 1967 Dr. Baker was elected to both the Board of Governor’s for the American Playwright’s Theater and the American National Theater and Academy. In 1972 he published his groundbreaking book, Integration of Abilities. This informative work clearly delineates the sequence of exercises Baker utilized to inspire creative growth. These exercises became known as the Baker Philosophy and were used as the foundation for the development of Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and Dallas Children’s Theater. This same approach to creative exploration is the primary inspiration underlying the Baker Idea Institute.
In 1978 Paul Baker received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Trinity University and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Texas Christian University. In 1983 he was awarded the Thomas De Gaetani Award for service to American Theater by the United States Institute of Theater Technology. In 1996, Dr. Baker was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre at a ceremony held at the Kennedy Center. In 2007, Dr. Baker was awarded the Texas Medal of Arts Award for lifetime achievement in Education from the Texas Cultural Trust.
Until his death in October of 2009, Paul Baker resided, with his wife Kitty, at their ranch near Gonzales, Texas. He remained, as always, a man connected to the land and his Texas roots.