Much Ado About Opportunity

A new theatre arts scholarship allows one student to shine in the spotlight

Much Ado About Opportunity

There is a scene in William Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing where Beatrice, the heroine, angrily confronts her future lover, Benedick, about a man who has wronged her cousin. 

Famously, as she recounts her anger in his betrayal, she delivers an epic, anguished line: “O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace.”

It is a strong image, to be sure. For Baylor senior Rosalind Jackson Roe, hearing that line for the first time as an 11-year-old girl at a Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, was a seminal moment that started her on a path to a life in the theatre.

“I remember being 11 and hearing that — this description of anger that I never knew existed,” said Roe, who is from Alberta, Canada. “It’s just this visceral rage, and it was like an entire spectrum of emotion that opened up that I never knew existed. As an actor, you get to give that a voice, and if I can give an 11-year-old child words to describe what they’re feeling, I have done my job.”

It is the storytelling that draws Roe to acting. She grew up on a cattle ranch in Nanton, a small town in southern Alberta, where her father, an engineer, and her mother, a teacher, encouraged her love of storytelling and poetry. They were even supportive when, at 16, she was awarded the Grant MacEwan United World Scholarship and finished high school at the United World College of the Adriatic in Trieste, Italy.

At 22, Roe said she still gets just as excited as she learns more about her craft as an artist. It is what inspired her to come to Baylor after her freshman year at a university in California, and it is why she is proud to be the inaugural recipient of the Paul Baker Endowed Scholarship in Theatre Arts at Baylor University.

“I came into this program really thinking of myself as an actor — and only an actor,” Roe said. “Because of Baylor Theatre, I have gotten to communicate with all different kinds of artists, which is amazing, and I have discovered a love for directing. That was one of the reasons why the Paul Baker Scholarship meant so much to me, because Paul Baker, as an artist, was about marrying all different kinds of art — not just the performing arts, but also visual art and dance forms and every level of artistry — and being inspired and drawing inspiration from it.”

Roe received the Baker Scholarship after she was accepted into Baylor’s advanced directing program.

“This scholarship is an affirmation that the arts are so important to how we understand ourselves as a society. By valuing theatre and theatre makers, you value self-knowledge, you value beauty. It’s a very good reminder that providing for the next generation of these creators is of value and a very important thing to do.”

Rosalind Jackson Roe

“That meant a lot to me, because Paul Baker was the kind of artist who wasn’t limited to a singular field,” Roe said. “That is exactly the kind of person I want to be — someone who explores life in all its facets and highs and lows.”

Paul Baker, the namesake of the Baker Scholarship, was the esteemed director and former Baylor professor who brought Baylor’s theater program to national prominence beginning in the 1940s. Renowned for his inventive and unconventional storytelling, Baker served as the theatre department’s chair until 1963, when he left Baylor to start a new theatre program at Trinity University. 

More than 80 years later, Paul Baker’s legacy continues to inspire and inform Baylor Theatre’s approach to educating and forming its artists, said Dr. DeAnna Toten Beard, chair of theatre arts and professor of theatre history. 

Baylor Theatre's 2019 production of Matilda The Musical
Baylor Theatre's 2019 production of Matilda The Musical

“Mr. Baker’s legacy is that he laid down a program that was so strong, that the DNA of it continues whether or not everyone involved realizes where the DNA came from,” Toten Beard said. “You see it in the fact that we are a holistic program and always have been. If you come in as an 18-year-old freshman and you want to be an actor, you will still also learn how to think like a designer, a writer and a director. That holistic training and our fundamental belief that it’s the right way to educate in theatre — that all comes from Paul Baker.”

Baker’s legacy is reaching a new generation of Baylor students such as Roe through the Baker Scholarship, which was established by one of his former students, Robert Johnson (BA ’56) and Johnson’s wife Joyce, of McLean, Virginia. As president of the Johnson Group, Robert Johnson is a producer and director with more than 40 years of experience in broadcasting, event production and communications. Robert and Joyce established the Baker Scholarship to “honor Paul Baker’s belief in students learning to think and work creatively, a process which will enrich their lives and the lives of others.”

For Roe, the Baker Scholarship has provided encouragement and inspiration as she pursues her future in theatre during a global pandemic.

“This scholarship is an affirmation that the arts are so important to how we understand ourselves as a society,” she said. “By valuing theatre and theatre makers, you value self-knowledge, you value beauty. It’s a very good reminder that providing for the next generation of these creators is of value and a very important thing to do.”

For Toten Beard, the alumni and friends who give to scholarships enable Baylor’s theatre arts department to be selective and true to its core mission. As an interview and audition program, the department is highly selective in admitting theatre majors, something that is only possible if there are scholarships to enable those hand-picked students to start their Baylor journeys.

“Nothing should be an obstacle if a Baylor student is supposed to be here,” Toten Beard said. “If we are the right place for them, then anything that is an obstacle to that needs to be removed. What scholarships such as the one created by the Johnsons offer our students is the removal of obstacles to those who want and need to be here. It means everything.”

For Roe, the Paul Baker Scholarship has done just that. It has removed obstacles to allow her to grow and broaden her experiences as an actress, sparking her new love for directing.

During the Spring 2021 semester, Roe will portray the role of Antonia in Baylor Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. She will also direct a scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a full circle moment for her, made possible through the Baylor Family’s support of scholarships.