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Tribute to Paul Baker, Theater and Education Pioneer

by Jerome Weeks 8 Dec 2009 8:07 AM

Paul Baker — theater director, educator, builder — was memorialized in a tribute Monday at the Dallas Children’s Theater. The founder of the Dallas Theater Center and the Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet High School was remembered as an inspiration, a stubborn visionary, a father and grandfather.



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A memorial tribute was held Monday for North Texas theater pioneer and arts educator Paul Baker, who died in October at the age of 98.

Baker may have primarily been a stage director and teacher. But what he seemed to do most in his career of more than 60 years was inspire people to start things. He helped found the Dallas Theater Center 50 years ago. He was the founding director of the Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet High School. He built theaters at Baylor University in Waco and Trinity University in San Antonio and chaired both of their theater programs. Along the way, he also staged more than 160 world premiere productions.

Ryland Merkey was a teacher and an original member of the acting company at the Theater Center throughout Baker’s tenure there.

MERKEY: “He was just a phenomenal influence on so many people. He just searched for the creative in people.”

Of Time and the River — from the DTC’s opening season 50 years ago

Some 300 people whom Baker influenced in one way or another attended the memorial for the theater director, held at the Dallas Children’s Theater. The Children’s Theater itself is run by Robin Flatt, one of Baker’s three daughters. And the auditorium there is called the Kitty and Paul Baker Theater, after the director and his wife of 73 years.

Ken Lattimore is a social worker in Dallas. He was also an original acting company member at the Theater Center. He says that the key to Baker’s leadership in whatever he did was his belief in people’s abilities.

LATTIMORE: “He had a creative viewpoint toward life. So whether you went into the law or business or whatever, there was always those talents that God had instilled.”

f13_1During the tribute, current Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty described himself as a “caretaker” of Baker’s vision for the theater — which from the start put education and new works at the heart of the organization. The tribute also featured several performances., including one from a troupe of Booker T students — who painted, danced, read from Baker’s writing and played the flute.  Liz Mikel, a graduate of Booker T  and a current member of the Theater Center’s acting company, sang the gospel standard, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” Jamie Laurie delivered a rap called “Rise.” Laurie is the leader of the nationally known alternative rock band, the Flobots.

He’s also Baker’s grandson.