Baylor Theatre stands among the giants; according to its website, the program ranks among the top 20 in the nation for undergraduate drama and theater arts programs. Baylor Theatre offers undergraduates rigorous training in theater performance, history, design and technology.
That’s not all it provides, however. Baylor Theatre equips its students with more than just acting and technical skills; it ensures that graduates are capable and competitive in the cutthroat entertainment industry they’re entering. Allison Tolman, Toby Meuli and their close-knit group of Baylor Theatre friends have been able to navigate the Los Angeles film industry thanks to the rigor of their undergraduate department.
“There are universities with more alumni out here,” said Meuli, who graduated from Baylor in 2004. “But Baylor Theatre students, in my experience, are some of the smartest, hardest-working and best trained, and it just shows in what they do.”
Toby Meuli migrated to Los Angeles with fellow Baylor Theatre alumna (and now wife)Katharine Everett Meuli. The pair met while rehearsing for an undergraduate performance, and he said their “show-mance” quickly blossomed in the many hours they spent together in rehearsals.
Now, as a professional working in the city of angels, Meuli has acted on “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Social Network” and “NCIS.” Though his work tends to the dramatic now, in his undergraduate days he founded Baylor’s improvisational comedy act Guerrilla Troupe.
Rising star Tolman, also an original Guerrilla Troupe member and 2004 graduate, has found great success in her post-graduate career. She founded nonprofit Second Thought Theatre in Dallas after she graduated and went on to train at Second City, an improvisational acting school in Chicago. After continuing to build her skills, Tolman landed a starring role in the hit TV show “Fargo,” which earned her Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.
Tolman attributed the success of the theater department to its leaders, who ensure that support and goodwill are always maintained among their students.
“A lot of it comes from the way that we were taught to support each other and the way we were supported by our professors and directors,” Tolman said. “It didn’t foster a spirit of competition amongst us.”
Baylor Theatre chair Stan Denman said the close-knit nature of the program begins with students’ freshman year, when they are immersed into a hard-working community of fellow actors, directors, writers and designers.
“Theater may be a little different from other majors in that it’s so residential and we spend so much time together. I know every student’s first name,” Denman said. “We cap enrollment at 120 or 125 to help create that atmosphere.”
Denman said these Baylor connections are used to help current students, recent graduates and professionals alike. He always gives alumni contact information for recent graduates, who will already have a community waiting for them in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City or wherever they might end up.
Tolman called him to ask if any recent graduates had moved to Los Angeles who would be able to watch her cat while she was away. Denman gave her contact information to Katie Amos, who was looking for secondary work to boost her salary between auditions.
“The Baylor network is really important. We try to connect our graduates with Baylor alumni who are already doing what they want to do,” Denman said.
Through Denman and Baylor Theatre, both Amos and Tolman were able to expand that Baylor network.
The department not only trains young actors in technical skills, but prepares them to interact with others in the field. Tolman said this has resulted in unbreakable friendships that have lasted through the years and across hundreds of miles. The theater department has created an incredibly close group of talented individuals living 1,200 miles away, who still Sic’ em in front of the Baylor football big screen.