By Allie Matherne
Dr. DeAnna Toten Beard traces the 100-year old path of soldiers in the trenches of World War I through the lens of theater. Her combined love of history, writing and teaching has wrapped itself in 12 years of teaching at Baylor.
Beard is the associate chair and graduate program director in the theater arts department. She is a member of the teaching faculty for Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, and teaches dramatic literature, dramaturgy and theater history.
Nashville senior Henry Greenberg recalled a story he heard from a graduate of the Baylor theater department about an experience in graduate school.
“On the first day of class their teacher went around and asked who taught them theater history in undergrad,” Greenberg said. “It finally came around to him and he said, ‘Deanna Toten Beard.’ The professor said, ‘Wait. The Deanna Toten Beard?’ And he said, ‘I assume there’s only one.’ The professor said, ‘Well, I guess I don’t have to teach you anything.’”
Toten Beard said she is particularly passionate about theater during the World War I era. The records are sparse but the implications are huge, she said.
“Almost nobody writes about this,” Toten Beard said. “Lots of things happen in cultural history that get forgotten because they’re cheesy or artistically weak, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
Before World War I, America was largely pastoral, Toten Beard said. The idea of being “Pro-Military” was primarily European.
People associate war entertainment and propaganda with World War II, but it can be traced to World War I. World War I was the starting point of the correlation between “Pro Military” and patriotism, Beard said.
The plays from this era hardly exist, so she has to dig into reviews, soldiers’ letters home and play programs to find out what they’re about, Toten Beard said.
“The plays are weird,” Toten Beard said. “They aren’t the kind of thing you’d put in a time capsule to define your culture.”
Toten Beard said one of the few known plays details the story of an American, English and French soldier as Father Christmas and Death visit them in the trenches.
Toten Beard teamed up with Jenna Kubly, a colleague she met at a conference, to write a book chronicling this era and its significance to theater.
Although she is passionate about theater history and academia, teaching is Toten Beard’s greatest passion, she said.
“I love teaching,” Toten Beard said. “I just like this phase — I like being around people who are turning into who they’ll become.”
The feeling is not unrequited.
“I learned more from her than any teacher I’ve ever had,” Flower Mound senior Chynna Walker said. “She makes students feel smart, appreciated and welcome to speak their mind. I hope to be just like her if I ever decide to become a teacher.”