Rob Baird, creating dramatic impressions

November 30, 2007

Megan Morr

As one of eight siblings, senior Rob Baird knows how to make his (baritone) voice heard. A native of Marion, Ohio, Baird carved out a niche for himself as a singer and actor in high-school musicals, starring in Guys and Dolls, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Bye Bye Birdie, for which he was chosen to play the lead.

"Conrad Birdie was my favorite role," says Baird. "It was like being Elvis or a rock star. You get to sing and make all the girls swoon."

Despite his swoon-inducing star turns on the Marion Harding High School stage, Baird didn't pursue acting, or any extracurricular pursuit, his freshman year at Duke, concentrating instead on his studies. But in the winter of his sophomore year, a friend familiar with Baird's theatrical past encouraged him to try out for a part in the Hoof 'n' Horn production of Man of La Mancha. Without much preparation—he'd found out about auditions the same day they were held—he landed the part of Pedro, leader of the evil muleteer gang.

"When I started acting again," says Baird, "it really felt as though I'd found a home in the theater community." He signed up for additional courses in advanced acting, eventually declaring a double major in theater studies and public policy studies.

In the fall of his junior year, Baird enrolled in a directing course with professor of the practice Jody McAuliffe. "I'd always had an interest in directing," says Baird, "but as something I would get involved with in the future." The future came sooner than he'd planned. Hoof 'n' Horn had planned to mount a production of Chicago, but the plan fell through when the group ran into problems securing the necessary permissions. Instead, the group decided to produce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and needed a director to take on the project right away (a Hoof 'n' Horn production is presented annually as part of Parents' Weekend). Baird signed on.

With McAuliffe's guidance, Baird says that making the transition from actor to director turned out to be a natural step in his theatrical evolution. "When you're an actor, you are kind of selfish," he says. "You're thinking about your own part and how you can make your role stand out. But as a director, you tend to look at things with a more critical eye, because you are creating the larger framework. You have to have an artistic vision and make sure the whole thing works."

Last spring, Baird was recruited by the theater studies department faculty to direct the Duke Players' fall semester orientation show, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare(Abridged). Duke Players is the student arm of the department. The orientation show is used as a recruiting tool to interest prospective students in becoming involved with courses or productions.

With one of his three collaborators in London all summer, Baird had to project calm self-assurance to his theater studies peers while scrambling to rehearse and direct the show in the two weeks before it was unveiled in late August. "It was a mad adrenaline rush," he recalls, smiling. "But we had waiting lists both nights."

For his senior-year honors pro-ject, Baird will direct John Patrick Shanley's The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, to be presented in February at Schaeffer Theater. "There is a lot of raw emotion in this play, and it's something that college kids can relate to. It's about trying to navigate feelings of love in the midst of uncertainty, when you don't really know what you are going through."