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A look at 58 years of Dallas Theater Center, from its founding to its Tony Award


Paul Baker, founder of the Dallas Theater Center, circa 1994 (Baker Idea Institute)
Paul Baker, founder of the Dallas Theater Center, circa 1994
(Baker Idea Institute)

1959 Dallas Theater Center becomes one of the country’s first regional theaters when Paul Baker founds a resident company of artists and serves as artistic director. Its first home is the Kalita Humphreys Theater, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Among the new work premiered: Preston Jones’ A Texas Trilogy, which was produced on Broadway in 1976.

1982 Mary Sue Jones serves as interim artistic director.

1983 The next artistic director, Adrian Hall, transforms the company into a fully professional theater with a resident company of actors. During his tenure, Tony Award-winning set designer Eugene Lee designs the Arts District Theater (which was closed in 2005 to prepare for the building of the Wyly Theatre). The company turns Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first produced in 1969, into an annual tradition starting in 1984 and launches Project Discovery in 1986. This educational outreach program has enabled more than 265,000 students from North Texas middle and high schools to attend and receive supplementary educational instruction about main stage programs.

Dallas Theater Center's production of <i>A Christmas Carol</i> in 1985.(1985 File Photo/DMN)
Dallas Theater Center’s production of A Christmas Carol in 1985.
(1985 File Photo/DMN)

1990 Ken Bryant, who’d worked at Dallas Theater Center since 1984, serves briefly as artistic director, but dies suddenly after a traffic accident. Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys campus is named for him.

1992 Artistic director Richard Hamburger promotes new work in The Big D Festival of the Unexpected and Fresh Ink/Forward Motion and oversees the growth of Project Discovery. Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum frequently recognizes him for outstanding direction for shows, including 1999’s South Pacific. He is named Dallas Theater Center’s first artistic director emeritus in 2007.

Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty stands in front of the new Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre Center.&nbsp;(2009 File Photo/David Woo)
Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty stands in front of the new Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre Center.
(2009 File Photo/David Woo)
Ashley D. Kelley played Bella last year during a performance of "Bella: An American Tall Tale" in the Dallas Theater Center.&nbsp;(2016 File Photo/Andy Jacobsohn)
Ashley D. Kelley played Bella last year during a performance of “Bella: An American Tall Tale” in the Dallas Theater Center.
(2016 File Photo/Andy Jacobsohn)

2007 Artistic director Kevin Moriarty oversees the company’s move to the Wyly Theatre in the AT&T Performing Arts Center in 2009; reinstates the resident acting company as the Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company, launches Public Works Dallas, an annual event featuring free performances of a show featuring 200 community members alongside a small core of professional actors and builds connections with multiple regional and New York theaters.

2010-2016 Dallas Theater Center’s Give it Up! transfers to Broadway as Lysistrata Jones in 2011; The Good NegroGiant and Fortress of Solitudetransfer to the Public Theater off-Broadway in 2009, 2012 and 2014 respectively; Bella: An American Tall Tale transfers to Playwrights Horizons off-Broadway where it continues through July 2.

2017 Dallas Theater Center wins the Tony Award for best regional theater.


Two giddy students walk away with $5,000 scholarships at the High School Musical Theatre Awards


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Eugene McKinney Playwright- Died in San Antonio Dec. 1, 2010

Eugene McKinney

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.


Goodbye friend, teacher, and mentor: Eugene McKinney
Randy Ford

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Paul Baker- “Prof” dies from complications of pneumonia, age 98

Paul Baker

       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 Printprint


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Randy-the impetus for writing-courage

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

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Randy—writing, something borrowed but unique

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

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Paul Baker and the Integration of Abilities

Paul Baker and the Integration of Abilities

For today’s blog I have turned again to Paul Baker, who after more than ninety years is living out his life on his east-Texas ranch. (“Directing his cows,” I’m told.)
       Note: I plan to let his brilliance show by quoting from two sources: Integration of Abilities: Exercises For Creative Growth by Paul Baker Photography by Diane Koos Genity (Trinity University Press San Antonio, Texas 1972 ) and Paul Baker and the Integration of Abilities edited by Robert Flynn and Eugene McKinney (TCU Press Fort Worth, Texas 2003).
      ” “Irritating, arrogant, nuts…and a genius.” That’s what Charles Laughton said of Paul Baker. He also said, “Paul Baker is one the most important minds in world theater today. He seems to have invented new ways of doing things, and I think something big will come out of it.” ” (Forgive me while I yield to temptation and tell the world Paul Baker directed one of my plays at the Dallas Theater Center. I was young then and didn’t fully recognize the significance of that. Productions, for the majority of playwrights, are so rare that any playwright is a fool if he or she doesn’t cherish the moment. It’s like racing through a virgin forest without stopping to enjoy the sighting of a Greater Hornbill; an event like that truly may never come again. This is true no matter how successful you are or how minor the production may seem.)
      Paul Baker tells us in his Preface that he is “a West Texan. That means I come from sun-conquered and wind-conquered country. It is a cruel country, and the faces of the old men who have lived that all their lives show the sand, wind, heat, and dryness of it all. West Texas is also a great space. As a child I was overwhelmed by the tremendous sky and great flat land…the tremendous space. That space, bounded by very distant horizons where flat earth met the sky, seemed to me an infinity of distances. That was the first great space I knew.
       “I remember the dramatic silhouette of the windmill; the windmill at a distance; the windmill, which brought water to our house, as it sat in the backyard impressed against the sky. On moonlit nights or in dust storms, barely visible, or on beautiful spring days when the weather changed from warm sunshine to a blizzard in only a few minutes, there was that windmill. Every kind of weather and wind and cloud silhouetted that windmill…lonesome, stark, friendly, grotesque. So we had space. We had that space cut with a windmill…a gigantic character etched against the sky, drawn there.”
      I think what Baker does here is what we all should do as we begin our creative trips. Notice how he begins with space, defines that space, and describes (as much for himself as anyone else) how that space is cut.
There’s Le Tour de France in a few hours.

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An Informal INTRODUCTION by Author

Eugene O'Neill

Eugene O’Neill

Okay. I have a confession to make. I’m sixty-five, officially a senior, who at the moment is not sure he likes the handle of his blog; and here I’m out of bed at a quarter to three in the morning reluctantly fishing for ideas. The struggle is normal, for I know I’m not a whiz. I look up to most serious writers, of any ilk, particularly those who started writing at an early age, marathoners like me, who remain clueless as to where their original drive to write came from.

With me, though, I wrote for the attention. I liked to be in the center of a circle and shock girls (with off –colored dialogue), but I couldn’t read well or write anything properly. I grew up in a “he-don’t” home; my mother couldn’t spell or even compose a sentence, consequently to this day my grammar is less than perfect. And though I struggled when I read I turned to reading plays because I thought plays were easier to read than anything else. I liked O’Neill and because of him I’ve got the wife I have, one son too and two grandchildren; I think Long Days Journey Into Night is one of the few American classics that we have. It stands with Death Of A Salesman, Whose Afraid of Virginia Who?, and The Odd Couple. (Alas, maybe here is something we can debate: you have your list and I have mine.)

I graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio (twice); I wouldn’t have applied, if it hadn’t been for O’Neill and the stupidity of Baylor University when they closed Long Days Journey Into Night my sophomore year. Some Baptist minister complained and the president of the university exercised his prerogative, causing the whole drama department to resign. (Censorship, another topic) Wow! There we were on NBC Evening News. We sat in front of our TV sets, hunched over and worried about what we were going to do next (glued to the set much in the same way we viewed the Cuban Missile Crisis) …  At least I was. To leave Baylor or not and to go Trinity, a school my parents couldn’t afford.   I had never been scholarship material.
Excuse me while I catch Le Tour de France. I have to keep my priorities straight.  Don’think about writing.  I got to keep going.  I don’t why.

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