Deanna Toten Beard
Season 5 - Episode 530
A new Baylor Theatre season begins this Fall. In this Baylor Connections, Deanna Toten Beard, department chair and professor of theatre arts, takes listeners behind the scenes to share the details that comprise a Baylor production and previews the upcoming season’s schedule.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith. Today, we are talking theatre with Dr. DeAnna Toten Beard. DeAnna Toten Beard serves as department chair and professor of theatre arts at Baylor. She joined the Baylor faculty in 2002, and was named a Baylor Teaching Fellow in 2012. Her artistic work includes writing, directing, and acting, and she's an active historian in the 20th century theatre, early 20th century theatre at that. Baylor's Department of theatre Arts has been named among the top 25 undergraduate theatre programs in the US, with a mission to nurture a close-knit community of intellectually curious and artistically daring theatre practitioners, while preparing students for future success through liberal arts education and professional training. A lot going on, and the new season will be upon us before too long. DeAnna, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us. Thanks for coming on the program today.
DeAnna Toten Beard:Oh, my pleasure, Derek. Thanks for having me.
Derek Smith:Yeah. It's great to visit and find out what's going on in theatre arts. We can preview the new season coming up here soon.
DeAnna Toten Beard:Would love that. Yes.
Derek Smith:We'll give people a sneak peek at what's coming. I'll start off by asking you, what are the summer months like in Baylor Theatre Arts?
DeAnna Toten Beard:They're quiet in the building here on campus, which is good, because it's so busy during the school year. So it's quiet in the building. We do a lot of recovery from the semester-type work, reorganizing, doing initiatives to our physical space that need to be done, and then our faculty taking research time, et cetera. But our students are pretty busy in the summers away from campus. We do two shows in June that are graduate student shows. They're their qualifying project to move into the second year of the MFA Directing Program. So June has small scale production, but it gets pretty quiet in July, and gears us up again starting in August.
Derek Smith:And that's right around the ... I mean, it's here.
DeAnna Toten Beard:It is. It's here now.
Derek Smith:Yeah, it's here. Yeah. Well, you mentioned different opportunities, alums, professors, students. I don't know whether it's internships, research opportunities, fellowships. What are some places we might find particularly your students in the summer?
DeAnna Toten Beard:All of the above. Our students are often working in internship or apprenticeship-type programs at theatres. A lot of times in interesting places like Chicago in the summer, as well as in the region. This summer, 2022, was one of our Baylor Theatre Abroad summers. So we have faculty who are currently abroad, three faculty members and about 20 students are currently abroad on a study trip. So that's a pretty big event for us in even-numbered summers. Of course, we couldn't go in 2020, so this one was really overdue. They went to Paris, Amsterdam. They're in England now, in London and in Stratford Upon Avon, and they see tons of theatre. Copenhagen, I think they went too this time. They see tons of theatre, and importantly, they expose our students to theatre not in English. So they have the experience of attending performances, where the performers are not speaking in English. Nothing about the experience is in their language. That really alerts our theatre students to all the other ways that things are communicated during performance. It's very good for them. And then they do see plays in English when they get to Stratford and London. I think they see like 20 shows on this trip, though.
DeAnna Toten Beard:It's quite an experience. So we have students doing that, a big group of students. And speaking of abroad, we had two students have a very special experience this summer. Two of our theatre design technology students who are rising seniors did a short term placement, internship/apprenticeship-type placement at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre doing work in stage properties.
DeAnna Toten Beard:Which was an extraordinary opportunity. One of our faculty members, Professor Jordan Rousseau, has connections with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has arranged twice now, two different summers, for students to go over and work in the shop shoulder to shoulder with these professionals at the RSC, and it's life changing for the students. We got some support from the university to help these students. For both of them, it was their first time out of the country.
DeAnna Toten Beard:So it was a really special opportunity, but these are the kinds of things students do in the summer in theatre. It's all research and training.
Derek Smith:Wow. That sounds pretty adventurous, the places they're getting to go and the experiences they're getting to share, and as we visit with DeAnna Toten Beard. For people if they're not as familiar with Baylor Theatre Arts, take us inside what makes Baylor's Theatre Arts program distinct? What makes it unique?
DeAnna Toten Beard:It is a great program, I have to say. I mean, I've been here 20 years, and there's a reason I've stayed here 20 years. This is an extraordinary place, an extraordinary theatre department. We have great colleagues and students there. Baylor does community so well. We know that. We say that a lot, but we say it because it's true about the university. And I think that the department of theatre arts does this piece of belonging particularly well. All of our students, like 95% of our students become theatre majors as incoming students. So they apply, audition, interview to become theatre majors before they come to campus. So on day one of their freshman year, they're already theatre majors. They already have a big brother or big sister in the department. We call them a big BUT, Baylor University Theatre, B-U-T. We call them a big BUT and grand big BUTS. They already belong to families within the family of Baylor Theatre. They're already on multiple group chats. They have this sense of belonging from the day they step on campus. That belongingness seeps into everything they do. It's part of the collaborative nature of our work. It's part of our ethos in the classroom. It's part of our departmental traditions. So our students get sort of steeped in a sense of belongingness to this place and this group of people. And I think that cannot be overestimated in terms of the power it has on students' development. I think we do that especially well the department of theatre arts. That's inseparable from our educational mission, from our Christian mission, and from our work as artists, but it makes it a special place
Derek Smith:Visiting with DeAnna Toten Beard, department chair, professor of theatre arts. DeAnna, if you're talking to prospective students, you paint that picture that you just painted, but I'm sure they have questions about areas of specialty. What are some areas just in terms of the practice that you think that Baylor Theatre Arts really stands out?
DeAnna Toten Beard:Yeah. We do a really good job in both of our professional degrees, the BFA in performance and the BFA in design technology. Each of those has areas of specialization within it. So for example, in our BFA in theatre performance, which is where we see actors primarily and people who think that eventually they may want to be directors, et cetera, maybe writers, too. They're getting classes in all kinds of acting methodologies. They're getting directing classes. They're getting classes in the aesthetics of theatre and being taught to how to read plays very closely. They're also getting special things like stage combat. We have a terrific stage combat professor, professor Brandon Sterrett, who's been with us. He joined during the pandemic. He teaches stage combat both with weapons and unarmed at multiple levels, and gets our students certified nationally in stage combat. He has a great vision for making Baylor Department of Theatre Arts well known for its particular preparation of student, we call them, actor combatants. And that work carries over into stage and film and television, being able to be a combatant. So that's something that we do really well with the performance for example, although there's several other really great areas of expertise, musical theatre, dance, Shakespeare performance. In the design tech area. We have teachers in scenery, lights, sound, projection, costumes, costume technology, which is the building of costumes, properties. We do technical direction, so mastermind the building of the sets, et cetera. So you can, as a student, get your BFA in theatre design technology, and then realize that your special area is projection. And we have a professor who does that. You might realize, come in and think, "I just know I like design or technical theatre." And during the process realize, "What I really want to do is make stage properties. I want to make furniture and handheld objects." We have a professor for that. We have shops for that. We have great technology to help students make things that are extraordinary. So while we our degrees are intentionally kept broad ... Performance, design tech, and then a BA, which is general theatre. While those degrees are kept broad, because that's appropriate to the undergraduate level, you can within those discover all sorts of deep dives in specializations. And when you discover them, we have people who can help you to learn that, who maybe that's their area of research. And if it's not, they have a friend who it's their area of research, and we connect those students to those specializations. They leave with such a sense of what they might do.
Derek Smith:That's great. We got a lot of great alums out there who have benefited from that are doing exciting things as we visit with DeAnna Toten Beard. Now, I have in my hands here, you gave me a sneak preview of the upcoming season. So I'll let people ... We're going to be talking about this a little bit later. So that's upcoming, looking at the 2022-2023 season. Before we get to that, I want to ask you a few questions about the experience and past productions. You have too many great plays, productions to mention in one place. But as you look back in recent months, are there any that have stood out to you as being especially ... When I say months, really recent years that have been particularly significant or in your mind, give you an opportunity to really tell people why Baylor Theatre is such a powerful thing to experience as an attendee.
DeAnna Toten Beard:Absolutely. Well, this year in '21-'22, we had the great pleasure of being 100% back live in person, which was great. The year before, we did, I think, extraordinary work in various modes of presentation, both recorded productions, productions that happened outdoors, productions that were on stages, but then seen remotely. We learned a ton doing that. I'm really proud of how we adapted to pandemic circumstances. When most theatres and theatre departments were closed nationally, we were doing work in safe ways and sharing it with our patrons, and allowing our students to keep studying what they came to Baylor to study. I'm very proud of that. My whole faculty and staff are very proud of how we helped our students through that year. But then this most recent year in '21-'22, we got the joy of being back in person and having a 100% live shows. As I look back on '21-'22, I'm very proud of The Laramie Project, which was one of our Green Series shows. We do Gold and Green Series, which we can talk about more if you like. But it was a Green Series show, a lot of actors playing lots of roles, telling the story of the death of Matthew Shepherd at the University of Wyoming and the aftermath of that hate crime on the community of Laramie and on the people who were impacted in the community. It's a story about community and about confronting darkness in your own community and that healing in your own community, and we felt like we are the people to do that story. We are the people to face that difficult material and to do it in a responsible way. So we presented the play. It was directed by Dr. David Jortner, did an extraordinary job. And the run of the show, we had a different community leader present at every performance. And afterwards, somebody from Baylor or from the Waco community, they would lead the audience, anybody who wished to stay in a conversation about what we just saw and what it means for that group of people watching the show that night, what was on their mind, what questions they had about the ramifications for them personally living in another town about the same size as Laramie, Wyoming. I'm really proud of the community engagement, the conversations that happened, the sharing that happened. I feel like that's us at our best. That's one example of us at our best.
Derek Smith:That's great. When patrons attend, let's say there's someone who's never attended but is thinking about it would like to, what should they know? Sometimes things you haven't gone to can be ... You don't know exactly about it. So what should people expect when they attend?
DeAnna Toten Beard:They should expect to see a lot of examples of our students. We highlight our students. So they might see that the scenery they're looking at was designed by students. It certainly was built by students under the leadership of faculty. They might find that the hair and makeup design is by students. So they're going to see a lot of work by students behind the curtain, and then they're also going to see our students on stage. Undergraduate students at that. We don't bring in very many guest artists to take roles on our stage, because we want to show our students. So they can expect to see examples of what Baylor students are capable of, and they can expect to be surprised by what levels our Baylor students are capable of achieving artistically. They can expect nice theatre spaces. We don't have overly large spaces. Our largest theatre holds 350. Our other main theatre that we use primarily only seats about 240. So you're not in a massive space. You get this sense of all the other people watching the show with you, so you can expect to feel connected to other people who are in the theatre. And you can expect to learn something. We try hard to create materials in the lobby or on audience guides that you can get to through your smart device to help you know more about what you're seeing, to learn something new, to realize a connection you hadn't realized with the play. So you can expect to learn something, but I don't think that the point of theatre is to just be good for your education. I don't think it's just sort of vitamins. I think it's fun. Good, good, fun. And that storytelling is delightful and exciting. So first and above all else, you can expect to hear a really good story in the theatre.
Derek Smith:Well, we'll talk about some of those here in just a moment as we visit with DeAnna Toten Beard, department chair and professor of theatre arts at Baylor here on Baylor Connections. As we talk about the upcoming season, I'm curious. How far in advance? We're talking about a season that begins in September, officially. How far in advance do you prepare for this? What's the timeline for putting something like this together?
DeAnna Toten Beard:We started talking about this season that will start in September last September, and we set our entire season by December the year before. So by the time we take our Christmas break this year, we'll have decided on all of the productions for '23-'24. So we're working quite in advance. At minimum, a year out from when a show or so. 10 months out from when a show had happened. For those spring shows, it's a good year and a half out. There's a lot of reasons for that. One reason is we want to get the rights, the legal rights to do the plays as soon as we can so that we can not lose them, because that's a thing that happens. If another theatre nearby wanted to do the play, we might not be able to. And we've had to do some negotiations in the past because of these sort of professional circumstances that happen when you're producing theatre. But also, because the point of doing our productions is to educate and train our students, we need to pick far enough advance that we can put the curricular pieces in place to support the students who are doing that work. So if we know that we want to do a play that maybe has a lot of puppet work in it in a spring semester, we'll plan that a year and a half in advance. And in the fall, we might offer a special puppet making class so that students can get that training before they would do it in the production or we might increase our tap dancing classes if we're doing the play that has a lot of tap dancing. We might pick special guest artists to come the semester before who would connect to plays were doing that season. So the planning is to make the plays as useful as possible, not only to our community of patrons, but also to our students in their curricular development.
Derek Smith:Well, I think you touched on it here, but I'm curious. With enumerable worthy and fantastic presentations you could make, how do you narrow that down to five or six each year?
DeAnna Toten Beard:It's so hard. Every time we go to do it, it feels like we're looking up a mountain that we have to climb again. And didn't we just climb this mountain? We're looking for stories that we can be get behind. It's a lot of effort to produce a play, and that effort must be worthwhile for everybody. It must be worthwhile for us as artists, for us as educators, for our students as learners and for our patrons. Not every piece of material out there feels worthwhile. Worthwhile doesn't always mean high art. It can mean very entertaining. But is it worth the energy to tell it? Is it something that we will stand behind and say, "Yes, we are proud that we told this story"? So we're looking for things that we can stand behind that are worth the energy of our students. We're looking for things that will suit the students, particularly who are juniors and seniors as performers or designers. We look at who are actually our students, not hypothetically who might be our students. We know who they are. We look at them, and we look at all the possible plays, and we think, "What do they need?" What do they do their first two years? And now they're going to be juniors, and they need something different now. Or maybe we have an extraordinary wig student, a student who's very interested in wigs. Well, let's pick a play for their senior year where they can show off and get great photographs of wig work they did to help them get into grad school. So we are thinking about the needs of the students as students and the needs of our artistic community, which is a lot. It's a lot.
Derek Smith:It's a lot of different angles to think through, yeah.
DeAnna Toten Beard:And we have a budget.
Derek Smith:Yes. No, that's great. That's a great description. Let's talk about the upcoming season. Maybe we could have you give the, I guess, the elevator pitch or the synopsis, just a preview of each one. And it starts our what? September the 28th is when this season begins.
DeAnna Toten Beard:It does, with Amélie, which is a absolutely delightful, imaginative fantasy musical based on the film Amélie that you may be familiar with. This will be a graduate student thesis. A terrific graduate student named Cassie Nordgran, who's got a tremendous skill in musical theatre is doing this as her thesis. We don't always let graduate students do musicals for their theses because it's a big lift, but she's the right person for it, and this is going to be so much fun. So that's Amélie. And then the other two shows in the fall are Twelve Angry Jurors, which will be directed by our very own faculty member, Sam Henderson, who directed Moon Man Walk in the spring if you saw that. This will be a contemporary telling or version style of the classic play about a jury deliberation in a juror's room of a very serious crime. Then in the end of the fall, we are doing A Monster Calls. That's our second graduate student thesis show. Chelsea Curto is directing this. She's going to be tremendous with this very physical production. It's based on a young adult novel of the same title. It's a great read. Although, it made me sob embarrassingly in public when I read it, because it's so moving, the novel is. And the play is beautiful. It's about a young man coping with the coming death of his terminally ill mother and the visits he gets every night from a monster who's there to teach him important lessons. So that's the fall.
Derek Smith:Yeah. That's September, October, November.
DeAnna Toten Beard:It is.
Derek Smith:Each of those. And then the spring season in February.
DeAnna Toten Beard:Right. We're going to start that with a second musical. We don't always do two musicals, but this was the right year for it for various reasons. So we're doing the musical Once, which is also based on a film and which was on Broadway. It's been about 10 years now. The original Broadway production featured Baylor Theatre alum, Elizabeth A. Davis, and she was Tony nominated for her role in Once. So this feels close to our hearts. It's a charming musical about love and hope. Athena is our second show of the spring. That's a Green production started by John-Michael Marrs, and it's about high school female fencers who are preparing for trials to get into the Olympics. So you're going to get to see fencing on stage, which means that our stage combat faculty member is going to be closely involved in this along with professor Marrs. It's about young women doing this work, and we like that a lot for our students. And then we are ending the season with a big splashy Shakespeare comedy. We are doing The Comedy of Errors, which is about as comedy as comedy can get. You get twins and mistaken identity and cockiness, and you get all the Shakespeare fun of that. It's directed by Steven Pounders, and we're setting it in a early 20th century classic circus. So there'll also be tricks and stunts and clowns, and probably aerial things that I can't even imagine they're going to come up with right now. It will not be serious. It will not be boring. It will not be quiet. It will be splashy and funny.
Derek Smith:Well, it's going to be a great season. People want to go ahead and get ... Tickets actually go on sale in September, September 14th, but if people would like to look around baylor.edu/theatre. I'm looking at it right now. You can see tickets up at the upper right-hand corner, so that's where they can go.
DeAnna Toten Beard:And you can get season tickets through our website and talking to our box office so that you don't miss a single show.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. I know that'll be much appreciated, people purchasing the season tickets and supporting our great students and their work. Well, DeAnna, thank you so much for taking the time to take us inside Baylor Theatre and give us a sneak peek at the upcoming season. We'll look forward to seeing that ahead.
DeAnna Toten Beard:I'll see you at the theatre.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Deanna Toten Beard, department chair and professor of theatre arts at Baylor, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith reminding you, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. You can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.