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Campus student makes directorial debut with high school musical

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Jimmy Baker, third from the left, as Kenickie singing "Grease Lightning" in the campus production of "Grease."
4/21/2011 —


St. Joseph High School Production

From Jeff Conaway to Robert Lee Roth, Penn State New Kensington junior Jimmy Baker seamlessly moved from actor to director in less than a week.

On April 9, he played the role of Kenickie (Conaway's role in the film) in the campus' spring stage production, "Grease." Five days later, he directed St. Joseph High School's spring musical "Beauty and the Beast." While the play was Roth's Broadway debut, it marked Baker's directorial debut.

"I have always wanted to take a stab at directing, and I am privileged to have gotten the opportunity a lot sooner than I expected," said Baker, who at 20-years old is believed to be the youngest high school director in the local area."It is an opportunity to give back to something that helped me so much growing up."

While at Burrell High School, Baker performed in the spring productions for four years. As a senior, he landed the three-pronged role of Professor Marvel, Palace Guard, and the Wizard in the stage adaptation of "Wizard of Oz."

Since matriculating at the campus in fall 2008, Baker, a junior communications major, has been on stage for all campus productions. He had the lead or the number two role in seven plays, including playing Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors," Capt. Walton in "Frankenstein: The Musical," and Charlie Brown in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Last year, he earned a Performing Arts Award for "Best Performer" at the campus' annual Academic and Student Achievement award ceremony.

Although he enjoyed the thespian side of the theatre, Baker was prepared to assume the directorial duties and make the transition from on stage and taking direction to off stage and giving direction. While an actor is responsible for the assigned role, a director is responsible for the entire production.

"Being an actor is one thing but directing is a whole new ball game," said Baker, who works for the Best Buy 'Geek Squad' in his spare time. "Instead of knowing just one part, you have to know the entire show, from who comes on the stage when they come on, to when set changes need to happen. You are responsible for coordinating it all."

Musical number from "Beauty and the Beast" directed by campus student Jimmy Baker.

Helping to relive the stress of directing his first play and working with high school students who were only a few years younger, was the venue. The production was held in Penn State New Kensington's Forum Theatre, a virtual "home game" for Baker. The four sold-out shows during the three-day run was a testament to his success.

"Being familiar with the stage made it easier to know what I could and couldn't do with the set," said Baker, a resident of Lower Burrell. "Fortunately, the St. Joe students were very receptive to my new ideas. They were all hard workers and dedicated to the program. They made rehearsal a lot of fun."

 In addition to his theatrical presence, Baker is equally at ease in campus leadership roles. He is an orientation leader, serves on the campus and University Park boards of the Student Activities Fee committee, and was treasurer of the Student Government Association. Not surprising, during the summer, he helps teach drama classes in the campus' Kids in College program.

Baker's extracurricular activities complement his academic prowess. He has been selected to the Dean's List, whose membership each semester is reserved for students earning grade-point averages of 3.5 or higher. He expects to graduate in 2012, and to continue to stay active in the theatre.

"I would love to do more directing because I feel like you get a bigger sense of accomplishment," said Baker. "I plan on returning to Saint Joseph next year to put on another musical. Although I feel like it will be hard to top, there is always room for improvement."

Amid the glitz and glamour of the theatre, Jimmy Baker prepares for upcoming finals.

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