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Undergraduate Researchers

Jessica Baker

Jessica Ruth Baker, Theatre

Designing and Performing a Solo Show

Within the last half-century, well-known actresses such as Anna Deavere Smith and Lily Tomlin pioneered the genre of the one-woman show. However, it is still uncommon for actors to ever undertake such a show, and these plays have taken the backseat to more elaborate and populous productions. To understand this world of solo shows, I will design and perform a previously published one-woman show. In producing this show, I will showcase the skills and talents that I have learned in the Department of Theatre in both my acting work and my set and costume design. Additionally, I want to explore the challenge of performing a solo show and understand the difference between that and working with a group. A historical aspect I want to research as well is the history of the one-woman show, and the reason that it has risen in the theatrical realm as a form of performance in the last twenty years.


How did you learn about the URA program at UMBC?
I first learned about the URA program at UMBC during my sophomore year. I was serving as Secretary for the Theatre Council of Majors when Janet McGlynn came to a meeting to introduce us to the world of the URA and URCAD, hoping to inspire some of us to participate. The next year, I plan to put together a project to present at URCAD. When I saw the caliber of research occurring with the URA funding, I decided to apply for a URA myself.

Did you know other theatre students who had applied for this?
I've only heard of one or two theatre scholars in the past, who may not have even done the URA and just done URCAD, I'm not sure. I know Shaun Vain successfully applied for a URA last year to present at this past URCAD in April, and his work was seriously awesome.

What kind of research do theatre students do?
From what I've seen, the most common way a URA scholar uses his or her money is to take part in a workshop series or join some classes, usually in a city well-known for its theatre training. They then bring back the knowledge gained and create original work influenced by this training. They often also offer a workshop for peers and the community to learn from them. This is usually pretty helpful to all students involved, as there are a lot of different kinds of theatre trainings out there, and it is difficult to sample them all.

How did you decide on the project you proposed? How did you find a mentor?
Originally, I had wanted to do a solo production as a capstone project for myself, because I wanted to find some meaningful way to finish off my five years at UMBC. Then my adviser, Lynn Watson, with whom I have worked on many projects extensively, suggested that I use the URA as an opportunity to expand the production and make it even better. Professor Watson agreed to be my mentor in this project because she has a lot of experience with actors putting on solo shows, and also she was the one who suggested I make it a URA in the first place. I rely on her for an immense amount of guidance, and will continue to do so as this project continues.

Was the application difficult? Did your faculty mentor help you?
I did not find the application too difficult - the hardest part was truly pinpointing exactly what I wanted to do! Professor Watson did assist me throughout the application process, proofreading it several times before I submitted it. She also counseled me on how much I would need to budget for each part of my project.

How much time do you put into your project?
So far, I am still in the planning stages, so I've still only put a few hours into it. During the month of August, however, is when I'm going to start stepping up the project, including meeting with some collaborators who will support me in the production (building costumes and sets, running the actual performances, etc.).

Would you suggest that other theatre students pursue funded research through URA?
I would absolutely suggest that other theatre students pursue research using a URA. The support system is phenomenal, and I always think it's incredible when artists can get funding to do the things they love, and to get even better at it. I also believe that, although both Jessie Poole and I are URA scholars this year, the theatre department is still woefully underrepresented, and I would love to see more of us take advantage of this awesome program.

What are your plans for after UMBC?
After UMBC, I will continue pursuing work as a professional actor, as well as break into the costume and scenic design field of professional theatre. One day, I hope to go to graduate school and achieve my doctorate, but for now, I just want to do what I'm good at, and what I love, as much as I can.