Eugene McKinney, professor emeritus of speech and drama, died in San Antonio Dec. 1, 2010. He was 88. McKinney, a well-regarded playwright who scripted several stage and television productions, was Trinity’s playwright-in-residence for 24 years. He left Baylor University in 1942 to join the U.S. Army during World War II. While a sergeant with the 3rd Army in Europe, McKinney received a battlefield commission and became a 2nd lieutenant. After the war, he rturned to Baylor, earned his bachelor’s in 1947 and his master’s in 1948; then joined the faculty there. In 1959, he became a professor of playwriting at the Dallas Theater Center. He became director of the Center’s graduate program in 1984. In 1963, McKinney was one of several faculty members who came to Trinity with Paul Baker after Baker resigned as chairman of Baylor’s drama department over artistic diferences. McKinney retired from Trinity in 1987. Twelve of McKinney’s plays were produced, including A DIFFERENT DRUMMER, CROSS-EYED BEAR, THE ANSWER IS TWO, and OF TIME AND THE RIVER. He also wrote for television, and his scripts included “A Different Drummer” for CBS, “So Deeply in the Well Known Heart Of” for NBC, and “I Came, I Saw, I Left” for ABC. His is survived by his wife, Treysa, and son, Michael.
Taken from TRINITY THE MAGAZINE OF TRINITY UNIVERSITY JULY 2011
Goodbye friend, teacher, and mentor: Eugene McKinney
Paul Baker, the founding artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center and a legendary presence on the Texas theater scene, has died of complications of pneumonia. He was 98. The former director of the drama departments at Baylor and Trinity universities died Sunday in a hospital near his Central Texas ranch near Waelder, about 70 miles southeast of Austin. In the 1950s, Baker invented revolutionary arts training known as “integration of abilities,” which won the attention of theater artists around the world. “Irritating, arrogant, nuts — and a genius,” is how the late stage and film star Charles Laughton described director and teacher Baker. The same man affected almost every theater hall built in Texas during the late 20th century by insisting that spectators share the theatrical space with the performers. “In the long history of theater architecture, no single person has contributed more to its development than Paul Baker,” wrote Dallas architect Arthur Rogers. A minister’s son, Baker was born in Hereford in 1911. His imaginative responses to the West Texas landscape deeply affected his later teaching on creativity. Baker attended Trinity University when it was still in Waxahachie and then earned his master’s degree in drama at Yale University. In 1934, Baker accepted a teaching position at Baylor, where he met and married Kitty Cardwell, a math teacher and artist who later translated his theories to children’s art and theater. They had three children. Two years later, Baker made a crucial voyage to England, Germany, Russia and Japan to observe theater. Insights from this trip helped form a new Baylor theater, Studio One, which placed the audience in swivel chairs embraced by six stages. Over the next decades, Baker would contribute to 10 other Texas theater designs that positioned the dramatic action around the halls, rather than on a 19th century-style picture frame stage. I n 1959, Baker co-founded the Dallas Theater Center, which served as the Baylor drama department’s graduate school. With Baker’s input, Frank Lloyd Wright designed the center, the great architect’s last building. Baker was artistic director for 23 years, promoting many performers and playwrights along the way. By the early 1980s, Baker was tangling with the Dallas theater group’s board of directors. He wanted to retain the educational approach; they preferred an Equity union theater with well-known stars. In 1982, he resigned, and that spelled the end of the Baker era in Texas. His innovative Baylor theater was torn down, his Trinity theater severely altered. In Austin during the late 1980s, Baker directed Preston Jones’ “The Oldest Living Graduate” at the Paramount Theatre and his own adaptation “Hamlet ESP” at Hyde Park Theatre. Austin philanthropists Ernest and Sarah Butler, for whom the University of Texas School of Music and Ballet Austin’s Eduction Center are named, were students of Baker’s. His “integration of abilities” inspires them to this day. Baker was awarded the Texas Medal of Arts in 2007 for his contributions to arts education. Baker is survived by his wife, Kitty, and three children, Robyn, founder of Dallas Children’s Theater; Retta, a former executive with the American-Statesman; and Sallie, who teaches theater and writing in Denver. A Dallas memorial will be held in early December at the Children’s Theater’s Rosewood Center for Family Arts. Donations to the Children’s Theater or another charity are requested in lieu of flowers.Share E-mail Visit Guest Book
Published in Austin American-Statesman from October 26 to November 13, 2009 print
I started reading plays because I thought it would be easier reading than reading other things. I didn’t know about subtext or that if a play were any good action had to be inherent in the dialogue. In drama there is always more to it than what is on the page; of course it is inclusive of all the creative energy of all the people (actors, director, technical people) involved in a production of it. I had to visualize the piece staged; but that might seem impossible for someone who had never seen a stage play. (I grew up on television and AS THE WORLD TURNS and GUIDING LIGHT.) So if a play doesn’t really come to life until it is mounted on stage by a combination of artists, how did I get very far? Well, I got as far as I could; and I didn’t associate until later the written play with theater. (It wasn’t until later that I learned that theater was the one place where all the arts come together.) I actually read very little. My ego got in the way; I showed off by writing. Luckily a teacher confiscated my work (“stuff” then because I dashed it off) and didn’t know what to do with it. The writing was alien for Irving High School; so the teacher pointed me in the direction of the Dallas Theater Center, and I had the courage to go.
Creative work, according to Frank Lloyd Wright, is a combination of “the hand, the heart, and the mind.” To have discovered that on my own would’ve been impossible for me; walking into a Wright designed theater had to have been a start for me, though I’m sure I wasn’t aware of it. It was in fact the beginning of a very long journey that continues today, a journey full of surprises. Even this morning when faced with the task of writing this blog, I didn’t know what I was going to write and it required courage and faith to start with “I started reading plays because…” It was stepping into that building and my rejection of the familiar that led to drama and my going to Baylor and Trinity; and the rest, as they say, is history, my history.
With all the options available to me then, why did I choose drama? I certainly didn’t have a desire to perform on stage, though performing in other ways wasn’t out of character for me. Those snippets of dialogue, which I wrote during study hall, I’m sure didn’t survive (though I honestly I don’t know because I have boxes of unrelated scribbling). It was through my teachers that I gained the insight about the creative process that I have (Paul Baker and Eugene McKinney in particular). Now I know I owe more to my dad than I have readily admitted; he enjoyed making things with his hands from scratch and later after retiring enjoyed creating skits for his travel club (I didn’t have the privilege of seeing any of them.) But besides these influences, by and large, I have been on my own. Even today my family doesn’t read what I write; but I can’t afford to read too much into that.
Good morning, Randy Ford
In Manila stands Fort Santiago. In there, in dungeons above and under the ground, the Spanish and the Japanese held prisoners. They came from all backgrounds, native and foreign, and today…first cleaned up under the direction of Emelda Marcos…it has become a national shrine because the national hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned there right before he faced a firing squad. It is a ruin, restored and given life by one man, DeRoy Valencia, the Drew Pearson of the Philippines. For he built a theater there within a few weeks…like magic it appear in a country where being tardy is respectable.
The theater may no longer be there, with its thrust stage and stages that surrounded the audience. The idea for the design came from Paul Baker, of the Dallas Theater Center, but the productions with live animals on stage…horses and chickens…were absolutely Filipino. For here was a key for me (I worked there for two years), for here was something borrowed but made unique…like my writing, for which I’ve borrowed from Faulkner, Hawthorne, Joyce and the like. The authors to which I make reference are among my favorites and are among those that I have focused on in my reading. I keep books by these authors nearby and refer to them for ideas, particularly ideas about form and structure. A struggle for me, over time and at different intensities; nagging sometimes, other times devastating, worrisome, guilt laden, I sometimes question whether I can write anything without this “crutch”. It is easy for me to be hard on myself, and yet is it a valid concern? Everyone is unique. I really believe that. I can write, I know that, but I don’t know if I can write better than anyone else. I live with self-doubt. As a writer, often I’m not sure where I fit in. This doubt is understandable. I grew up in an illiterate home. In high school I didn’t have a strong English teacher like my wife did. I know I can’t write as well as some of my friends. I’m no Faulkner, Hawthorne or Joyce. To be who I am, Randy Ford, from Irving Texas, all of that, and that’s a lot, has never been easy for me. But aren’t I as unique as Fort Santiago? Sometimes I get it. Sometimes I have that freedom.
Good night, Randy Ford