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ADMIT ONE: With 50 years in the theatre business, this Jonesborough transplant has found the ticket to success

If you have ever seen live theatre done well, then you may have gotten so caught up in the story that you answered the call of an actor from your seat, or you left the sanctuary of your chair to join the action on stage.
Carol Lynn Baker, of Jonesborough, lives for that connection, and she loves to kick it up a notch in her dinner theatre productions.
“I really like dinner theatre, versus everything else I’ve ever done,” Baker said. “I like that connection with the audience. From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, the actors are with you. They never leave you alone.”
Baker has been involved in community theatre productions for 50 years, making her debut in her childhood hometown in Minnesota.
“When I was four years old, I had a sister 12 years older that was doing community theatre, and they needed a little kid,” she explained. “So, she dragged me in, and I’ve just been doing theatre ever since — from there to children’s theatre, and community theatre and finally this.”
Baker acts, directs, plays the piano and accordion, makes scenery, sews costumes, does stage make-up, and recruits the skilled volunteers needed to make any show go on.
“By the time I got to high school I had already been doing scenery and costumes,” Baker said. “I started sewing when I was seven, and I started doing (set) construction with my family. When you are in theatre you just learn that it is so multifaceted, that if you are involved with it a long time, you are going to do all of it.”
Baker began directing shows in high school where she learned to play and produce for large audiences.
“My high school had 4,200 students, and it was pretty well known throughout the Midwest. We would sell 200 seats per show, and run a show for a couple of weeks,” she said. “There were literally thousands of people coming to see the shows in our theatre, and we would do several shows a year.”
Her hands-on training continued at the Guthrie Theatre in Indianapolis, where she participated in multiple workshops. She also coached speech and debate and stayed active in community theatre wherever her life took her.
Eventually Baker moved to the Southeast to settle near Atlanta, where her roots in dinner theatre really took hold.
“I had an owner of restaurant say to me, ‘I wish somebody would come do dinner theatre here.’ And I said, ‘You’ve got it!’”
Baker has a gimlet eye for set possibilities inside restaurants, where her actors interact with audience members by waiting tables during dinner, or by posing as civilians while they await a cue.
“Sometimes a surprise character might be at your table. They just all of a sudden get up and start running and raving,” she explained.
But Baker is also careful not to alienate audience members who might want to be less involved in the production. She trains her actors to pick up on cues from audience members, so no one is put in the spotlight who doesn’t want to be there.
And she makes use of the talents her entire cast brings to the table.
“If they can juggle then I might throw juggling in, if they can be a ventriloquist then I might throw ventriloquism in,” Baker said. “Or I’ll throw some musical numbers in because I think it’s more interesting.”
A lifelong Mormon, Baker sticks with productions that appeal to the entire family.
“I wanted something that I could always bring my children to, and always bring my grandchildren to, and I think I live in a community that feels the same way,” she said.
And she chooses plays that tickle funny bones across the board.
“Because people that have worked all week, they want to laugh,” she said. “They don’t want to eat their dinner and feel depressed when they leave.”
Baker settled in Jonesborough in 2008.
“I came here for love, not money,” Baker explained laughing. “I met my husband online ­— through church ­— two summers ago. It was love at first sight. We started dating, and got married.”
Baker is currently producing dinner theatre shows in both Johnson City and Jonesborough, and was in charge of the Children’s Stage at Jonesborough Days this year.
To learn more about Baker’s upcoming shows, acting camps or classes visit: www.grammysdinnertheatre.com