Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 37

Henry Bial, Author, Professor, Associate Dean

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Show notes

Henry Bial earned a B.A. in Folklore and Mythology from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University. He is currently the Professor of Theatre and Director of the School of the Arts at the University of Kansas, where he also serves as Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He is the author of Playing God: The Bible on the Broadway Stage and Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen. You can reach out to Henry on Linkedin or through his website


Key points include:

  • 05:32: Folklore and mythology at Harvard
  • 17:37: The role of performance in the military and theatre
  • 28:39: What a theatre major learns

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Henry Bial


Henry Bial, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 90 T report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Henry bile, who is the chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Kansas. Henry, welcome to the show.


Henry Bial  00:20

Good to be here. Well, thanks for having me.


Will Bachman  00:22

So, Henry, talk to me about your journey since you graduated from Harvard.


Henry Bial  00:27

Okay, well, it’s been a while hasn’t it? I, I got out of Harvard as, as all of us in the class of 92 did into a very bad job market. And I had quite with a lot of foresight chosen to major in or concentrate in folklore and mythology. Because you know, if the folklore doesn’t work out, you have the mythology to fall back on. And, and surprisingly found myself a little bit at odds and ends with what to do next. And I had spent most of my time at Harvard, making theater mostly in the basement of Cabot house. So I had a sort of loose idea of wanting to get involved in the theater long term. But first, I had to pay rent. And so I picked up a variety of survival jobs. And one of them I was teaching test prep for Stanley Kaplan, because it turns out that while a degree in folklore and mythology doesn’t necessarily register as a credential to some people, having the kind of SCT scores that that got you there in the first place, is a credential down at the Stanley Kaplan corporation. So I got into teaching sort of sideways and found that I really, really enjoyed it. And so I had been intending to go back to grad school for an MFA. And I sort of tore up those applications, and started looking at PhD programs with the idea that I would would love to go into teaching full time and long term. And that’s kind of what happened. I went to the only Ph. D. program that accepted me, which was the program and Performance Studies at New York University.


Will Bachman  02:23

And that is such a good decision criteria to follow some. I mean, like Garry Shandling you so joke like, yeah, I only go out with women that will say yes, when I asked them. Okay, so?


Henry Bial  02:38

Well, I’ll tell you, I was fairly naive, about the grad school application process. And I was also very idealistic. And so and my grades at Harvard were good, but not off the charts. And so I decided, first, I’m going to decide what I want to study. And then I’m going to send the same personal statement to all the graduate programs to which I want to apply. So I do believe that there were some programs in more traditional fields like English, that if I had been willing to write an essay that said, it’s my lifelong dream to study the use of meter in the first place, if TS Eliot, that I could have gotten into some of those places. But instead, I was really looking to combine my interests in folklore, which had been my curricular interest in theater, which had been my extracurricular interest, and go someplace where I could really study theater as a social cultural phenomenon. And it turns out, they’re at, you know, 9094, there was really only one place that was really into that idea. And that was Performance Studies at NYU. And it turned out to be just really life changing and transformational for me. And I was there seven years in grad school. And then from there, I jumped my first teaching job was at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, which was great. And I loved it. It was there for four years, but it was just very far away from everything. And, you know, I found myself around 2004 2005 with two small kids and the nearest relatives being more than 1000 miles away. And I just realized, oh, I need to get back closer to family on the East Coast. And the same week, three things happened. One was that I got back from a like 2000 mile road trip with two kids in the station wagon so that they could see family. The second thing was that my dad had a sort of minor health crisis not it turned out thankfully too big a big deal, but made me realize just how hard it was to get from Albuquerque to New York in a short period of time. And And then the third thing was that a colleague from the University of Kansas, came up to me and said at a conference and said, Hey, I’m using your book in my class. And by the way, we’re going to be hiring for somebody this year you should apply. And that was ultimately how I ended up here in Lawrence, Kansas. And I’ve been here 17 years now, doing a variety of different things around the university, currently as the head of the theatre and dance department.


Will Bachman  05:30

Okay, well, I got a lot of questions. First short, is you’re sort of making fun a little bit of your own major at Harvard. It’s one that kind of maybe invites it a little bit. But I took one folklore mythology course, I think it was the it was the core course lit and arts a something that the sixth maybe that was one of the best courses I took at Harvard for a while I was thinking, wow, I could major in folklore and mythology. It just was so fascinating way of looking at the world. It’s like a little bit of anthropology, but stories people tell. Tell me a little bit more about what got you excited about folklore, mythology, and what sort of what you studied? You know, what, what particularly you studied at Harvard in that in that field?


Henry Bial  06:19

Absolutely. And, for me, the real appeal of folklore and mythology, aside from just the sort of, you know, weirdness cred, the fact that, you know, there are only five schools in the country where you can major in it at all. And that it was was a little bit quirky, was that, that it was inherently interdisciplinary, that I could take some literature courses, but not have to concentrate, take 16 literature courses, that I could take anthropology courses, but not have to take 16 Anthropology courses. You know, I could really sort of follow the ideas where they led me and basically choose courses based on Oh, that sounds cool. I’d like to learn that rather than a kind of more lockstep curriculum that some of the other concentrations might have. And as I went through it, I developed real interest in particular, in what now is sort of obviously recognized as popular cultural studies, as the study of popular entertainment, film, theater, television, you name it, which, at the time, was it wasn’t obvious that that was folklore. And in fact, some of the folklore faculty liked to remind me that it wasn’t really what we do here. But it was it was obviously it didn’t fit neatly, anywhere else. And so that’s where also the loose structure of the concentration really worked to my benefit, and allowed me to sort of pursue some of the things that I was really passionate about.


Will Bachman  08:09

And then at NYU, tell me, did you tell me about your, your area of focus? And did you do imagine you did a thesis? What What was your workload?


Henry Bial  08:18

Sure. So NY US Department of was the Department of performance studies at the time, it was one of only two such programs in the country. Now, there are a few more. And performance studies is kind of a merging of theater Studies and Social Sciences, anthropology, sociology, so that you have a lot of work that is basically looking at what we might call the theater of everyday life. The social roles that people play in their jobs are the sort of visual and and theatrical cues that constitute everyday interactions. And then on the flip side of it, it’s applying the lessons of anthropology, sociology, gender theory, psychoanalysis, to understanding what might happen on a stage and kind of everything in between. And so in many ways, it was sort of perfect for me in terms of what I was interested in. Very much like folklore and mythology. It was a program that was loosely structured. In fact, there were only two absolutely required courses in the whole program, Introduction to performance studies, and dissertation. And everything else was just take the classes that we teach that seem cool to you. And I was able to work with some really outstanding scholars, some people who were really defining the field of performance studies at the time that I was there, and it was just a really Exciting time, in terms of my actual research, dissertation, this was, you know, the mid 90s. And that was sort of the beginnings of a lot of identity based work in the humanities in the arts. And there was a lot of theory that we were reading and a lot of work being published, having to do with representation of various minority identities, representation of African Americans, representations of LGBTQ folks, and so on, in theater, film, TV. And at the time, there was the basic sort of basic unchallenged premise in the field was that representation was very much tied to access, that the reason that you don’t see more black characters on NBC Thursday night is because there aren’t more black writers, the reason that you don’t see more positive representations of women in Broadway is because there aren’t enough women doing the producing, or the directing, and so on. And that’s not not true. But what I found as a sort of middle class, straight Jewish guy was, I was also not necessarily seeing myself represented on stage. And it wasn’t because there’s a shortage of middle class straight Jewish guys in the industry. In fact, you know, Jews at that time, were probably numerically over represented in American entertainment. And yet, Jewish stories weren’t really being told Jewish characters weren’t. Not obviously, there were exceptions, but that there was a sort of a very limited range of Jewish representation in the pop culture that I was seeing. And so I sort of got interested in how that happens. And that led to my dissertation, which was also my first book, which is called Acting Jewish, and has to do with the way that Jewish performers often would kind of encode their identity in a way that Jewish audiences might be able to recognize, but which would be neutral enough that the kind of Jewish producers who were self policing representation would be willing to kind of put this on on the air or on the stage.


Will Bachman  12:38

And that’s interesting, give me an example of that of how they would, you know, encode it. So insiders know what they’re talking about, but the unsophisticated going would sort of go right over their heads.


Henry Bial  12:53

Well, so there are any number of of examples out there. A couple of them that I talked about in my book. You know, one is the example of Seinfeld, which is, you know, sort of, if you if you know, what you’re looking for, it’s an extremely Jewish show. But it’s not really mentioned, until three or four seasons in, you don’t even hear the word Jewish. And when you do hear it, you know, they make a certain amount of hay out of this idea that well, Jerry is Jewish, but George isn’t and Elaine isn’t, but in fact, like for an insider audience to say, well, the real joke is they’re all Jewish. And we can tell by the way they talk, we can tell by where they live, we can tell by the kinds of conversations that they have. That’s, you know, that how do I put this but mostly, we experienced Jerry Seinfeld’s tuition this as an absence. It’s not that he’s hiding it. But he also doesn’t have to say it out loud. And if you if tuition isn’t on your list of things, that that people could be even maybe you don’t notice, or instead gets coded as New York, instead of as Jewish. There’s also a phenomenon which is that within the Jewish community, people tend to know which actors are Jewish so that if you know that, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner are Jewish, then there’s a Jewish subtext to Star Trek, even though there’s no Jewish subtext to Star Trek. So you know, we have this kind of extra textual mechanism for connecting to the show. And ultimately in some ways, a lot of the research that I was doing wore a kind of scholarly version of the you know who else is Jewish conversation? That a lot of A folks may have had around the dinner table or the dorm room. Because where I’m going with this is that in an era where there’s a lot of kind of a lack of Jewish cultural continuity, particularly amongst our generation, people feeling alienated or not particularly active in synagogues and so on, that one of the ways that we show were members of the tribe, one of the ways we demonstrate that we belong, is through these kinds of Jewish reading strategies. It’s through having these conversations, and I can show how Jewish I am by knowing who’s Jewish in Hollywood or knowing how to spot the Jews subtext in a sitcom.


Will Bachman  15:50

Interesting, this the, getting just the sort of the broad program of performance studies. What are the you know, are there any sort of books that are for a general educated reader, not textbooks, and not deep academic books, that kind of help given a sense of that field? It sounds quite fascinating to this idea of, you know, thinking about everyday life as a, you know, where you’re playing these roles? What’s, what’s some good books around that topic?


Henry Bial  16:23

Um, great question. The phenomenon isn’t new, completely new. I think many of us may have read back at Harvard, Erving Goffman associate presentation of the self and everyday life, kind of a standard sociology texts from the 50s. More recently, in the late 90s, the film critic, Neal Gabler wrote a book called Life the movie in which he talks about how capitalism encourages us to think of ourselves as the star of a movie, and we furnish our homes like their movie sets. And we dress ourselves like we’re in costume. And so there are a handful of popular texts. There’s not a kind of easy non specialist book on performance studies. Although I’ve, I’ve got one on the backburner somewhere, I did edit a collection of essays called the performance studies reader, which is a kind of an undergraduate level text that includes 40, or 50, different excerpts from the various disciplines that kind of feed into performance studies.


Will Bachman  17:37

I very much felt that kind of concept of, you know, life being this, you know, playing these roles, particularly when I was in the Navy, and you’d be, you know, standing watch in the Navy, and you are literally, you know, stating these lines that you’ve been taught to do certain things like to bring the SIF to periscope depth, you’d have this whole kind of play out the scene that, you know, tension, all stations con, make preparations for proceed your Periscope, depth, dive, make up six, zero feet go through all these statements. And it was very much, you know, playing this role. So I’ve, I’m interested in that that concept.


Henry Bial  18:19

It’s fascinating, really, that, that there isn’t a great study that I’m aware of about how this works in the military, because I think that my you know, and I haven’t served, but my conversations with folks like yourself who have suggest that that folks in military understand something really important, which is that performance may be rehearsed, it may be repeated, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unreal or fake. It doesn’t mean that it’s insincere. And that, in fact, part of being a good officer is acting like an officer is supposed to act. And that’s, that’s not because you have a lack of sincerity. It’s not because you’re faking anything. Right? It’s because you understand that performance is really important in the group dynamic.


Will Bachman  19:14

Yeah, absolutely. You’re embodying this role. And you have, you know, certain culturally expected lines that you’ll say ways you’ll interact with people and ways that you’ll sound you know, you don’t want to sound tentative about it, like, Hey, I’m kind of thinking about going to periscope depth, but yeah, we’re doing this and give people confidence that you know what you’re doing and for me, that’s very minor, you know, the, but you know, folks that have actually been in combat I’m sure it’s even much more, much more real thing. Now, talking about your current role, like I guess, I’m a little surprised, maybe not shouldn’t be too surprised, but that you know, it would be a In that it would be nice to have a PhD to be the head of the theatre department. Or there are some folks that are imagined that that might be one of the fields at a university, that sometimes they’ll get in someone who’s a industry practitioner who, you know, was a theater director or something who, you know, has, you know, been an actor been a theatre director. Are there some folks like that in your department? Or is that pretty sad?


Henry Bial  20:22

Absolutely. And in fact, when I worked at University of New Mexico, we had one faculty member, he was the only full professor, I think, in the history of the university, who had not graduated from high school, but who had sort of gotten involved as a professional actor from a very young age and, and went on to a long and distinguished career as a television writer and won an Emmy. And at some point, the universe is like, well, we don’t care. He doesn’t have a degree. But what I would say is, if you look nationally, and I can speak with some authority about this, because that 10 years ago, I did a term of office as President of the Association for theater and higher education, which is the kind of trade organization for people who teach cars theater. That about about a third of faculty, a third to half of the faculty in the field, have PhDs. Most of the others have MFA degrees, and it’s considered a terminal degree for us. And then there are still quite a number of people who like my my colleague, who maybe just have a bachelor’s degree, or in a few cases, not even that, but who have sufficient professional experience. It really a lot depends on the kind of university it is. So at a big research university. Like Kansas, or Harvard, or, you know, University of Minnesota, there’s an expectation of, for the most part, that if you’re going to be tangible, that you are going to need a PhD, you’re gonna need to publish fairly traditional scholarship at other schools that are more teaching focused, that’s less of a deal. And it’s shifted over time. I think that if you want I look at a sort of an earlier generation, look at the sort of late 90s. You know, when we were college students, there was I think, more PhD snobbery in those institutions, and more insistence that your sort of research agenda would look like the research agenda of the people in literature or history. Nowadays, in part because of advocacy by people in the field, you know, I look around and my colleagues and some of my colleagues have PhDs and write books and scholarly articles about theatre and performance studies and so on. But some of my colleagues have professional, professional world experience. A lot of us of course, have both. But there are definitely people who get tenured at universities or promoted at universities on the strength of their work acting in films or directing plays, or you name it.


Will Bachman  23:27

What are you particularly excited about in the world of theater in higher education, these days, like what sorts of either courses or particular assignments or, you know, approaches to teaching theatre or theater just kind of getting you pretty excited?


Henry Bial  23:47

I would say that what I’m most excited about, and also most uncertainty right now, is that we are as a field are starting to come to terms with the idea that many of our kind of cherished traditions and practices are not super applicable to today’s students, either because the student, you know, how we think about consent is different than it used to be. You know, when I was coming up, the assumption was the the only right answer an actor could give in a class or in a rehearsal to request was yes. And the best thing you could say about an actor was they were fearless. And we are recognizing starting to recognize now that that has the unintended consequence of of keeping a lot of really smart people out of the field or chasing them out. You know, that a lot of unfortunately, a lot of abusive behavior was sort of hidden behind this idea that like, oh, well Oh, it’s it’s theater world, you have to deal with it. If you can’t handle that you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t be a major if you can’t handle people making nasty remarks about your body don’t don’t go into a business where you have to be looked at that kind of thing. And we’re trying to be more enlightened. Now. We’re trying to revisit some of those practices, those practices that maybe without intending to, or sexist or racist or ablest. And that means really reinventing a lot of very basic premises about, oh, well, what’s on the syllabus? What what is an acting exercise look like? Those kinds of questions.


Will Bachman  25:40

For students that are not theater majors? What could they benefit from taking, let’s say, One really great, or maybe two great theater classes? Like what what would be something that you think the the ordinary student is planning on just like, just regular career and to get a regular job job? What could they draw from the sort of the insights or the secrets that are in the theater department?


Henry Bial  26:12

That’s a great question. And it’s hilarious in some ways for me to be giving this advice, because of course, Harvard famously didn’t have a theater major. When we were there, they have one now. So, so I am in the position, often of of talking about how do we build a theater curriculum. And, and I like to think it’s liberating that I didn’t get a theater degree myself. But it does, it does put me in an awkward spot. What I would say, and this goes back to this idea of the importance of performance in everyday life, is that almost anyone can benefit from an acting class or an improv class, from being comfortable in front of a room. You know, we teach a class here in in my department for not specifically for non majors, called public speaking as performance. And unlike a lot of other kinds of public speaking classes, we really look at the kind of accurately elements. How do you stand? How do you move? How do you make use of visuals? When do you pause all of these things. And it’s not that any of the tricks of the trade themselves are that important. Having some things in your bag of tricks, having the confidence to be up in front of a room is really, really important.


Will Bachman  27:42

I can imagine even a class not necessarily even so grand is public speaking, but just maybe even know how to be effective on Zoom.


Henry Bial  27:52

Yes, we’ve been talking about that a little bit. Here in our department, as well. And and, you know, not we don’t get too much down in the weeds with lighting, and makeup tips for zoom, although we’ve talked about it a little bit. But certainly one of the things that we find is that students who’ve had theater classes often do very well, in fields like management consulting, because, you know, they, they often have a hard time getting in the door initially. But once they’re there, you know, they win the meetings. Because they’re just comfortable thinking on their feet, they’re comfortable being the center of attention. And I don’t have to tell you that those two things can can take you a long way in certain environments.


Will Bachman  28:44

Yeah, I mean, a lot of management consulting, which in my area is, is playing this role. And we some of the best training I’ve ever had an education anywhere was at this two week McKinsey training called the initial leadership workshop, where a lot of it really was teaching performance, where they would give us these role plays, right? Either negotiation roleplay, or an influence roleplay. And just kind of the tips on how to hold your body, how to look at the person how to use your voice, how to pause, you know, add to help, you know, ask open ended questions, and then make the person not feel defensive. It’s not so much about content, it’s about these performative aspects. And so, I think a lot of being a kind of business professional is learning those kinds of aspects of performance as opposed to, you know, understanding how to calculate a discounted cash flow.


Henry Bial  29:50

Absolutely. And again, as with the military context, the important thing to keep in mind is that though there is performance involved in those things, that doesn’t mean that you’re faking it. Right. And in fact, one of the things that, that we learn very quickly in theater is that that something can be an act and be sincere simultaneously. And that you can have to learn to kind of live in that double space in order to really be effective.


Will Bachman  30:25

What are the kinds of other things that a theater major is going to learn? So someone who’s focused on this? Is it a lot of you know, here’s how to perform Shakespeare or are there you know, what sorts of content?


Henry Bial  30:43

Well, it’s gonna vary a little bit depending on the program. Our program is a Bachelor of Arts program, meaning that it’s while we do some professional training, that it’s in the context of a larger liberal arts degree. There are BFA bachelor fine arts programs, which are much like at Juilliard, let’s say which are much more like a traditional conservatory, you know, a student at Juilliard or SUNY Purchase is spending 75% of their time in the studio, working on shows or working on costume design, and so on. For us. Our students are spending a third to half their coursework on theater or theater and dance. And then they’re also doing their core curriculum. They’re also doing their language requirements, and their math requirement and everything else. But within our curriculum, we have a mix, we have some core technique areas, everybody has to study, couple semesters of acting, semester voice, semester of movement. We require our students to do two or three of the technical areas. So an introduction to costume production, Introduction to lighting, Introduction to scenery, our scenic design. And then we offer more advanced work in all of those areas, depending on the student’s interests. So some students will end up going really deep into acting work and will continue through acting two and three and acting for camera and movement to and stage combat. And then other students will be more focused on design, and they’ll be taking, rendering and 3d modeling, and lighting, projection and so on. So and then we also have intellectual academic component to the curriculum, we don’t just teach students how to do theater, we teach them about the history, we have require two or three semesters sequence of courses on history of theatre and performance going back, depending on on who’s teaching that semester, going back to the Greeks, or going back further, or, and working all the way down to contemporary stuff. And we also have some some coursework, which deals with I guess what you’d say is the why of theater, kind of where I started with performance studies. Why does it matter? What what is the social work, the cultural labor that theater does? So that, you know, when you go out into the world, you are more thoughtful about the roles you’re taking on? Or the projects that you’re choosing to work on?


Will Bachman  33:37

Oh, tell me a bit about your role as the chair of the department, what’s that entail?


Henry Bial  33:46

department head in higher ed. And I’ve I also did, it’s my second time as a department head, I was also chair of the American Studies Department for three years here. Since as you might imagine, American Studies has a lot of interesting intersections with performance studies. But department chair is essentially middle management. You know, but to use it in military terms or enable terms, right? It’s like being a ship’s captain, right? In the sense that you’re definitely responsible to people above you for a lot of it. But then you have a lot of independence on a day to day basis with how you’re running your piece of the larger operation. So, you know, I, I am, I work with, with my team of faculty to decide what courses we’re going to offer any given semester, who’s going to teach them you know, we go through, you know, how are we going to assign graduate teaching assistants, you know, what we call teaching fellows at Harvard? The we deal with the main difference for being a A compared to, to other fields of courses that is the chair of a theater department, you’re also essentially the head of a small producing organization. So my in addition to having to worry about courses and students who need permission numbers to get into such and such a course, and recommendations for grad school, and all of that, is that we’re also hiring guest artists, you know, we were, we fly in directors from New York to do shows for us, or, you know, we have a, sometimes we’re bringing in actors from outside to take on certain roles, we have to worry about making sure the sets get built, we have to come up with a budget, you know, we’re producing six to eight shows a year. And that can be very complicated. Yeah, and then we’re also producing special events, and receptions and things around each of those shows. So it’s, I don’t know if I’ve given you a really good sense of the day to day. I mean, I enjoy it in part, because you never really know what’s going to come through the door on any given day, and every show is a little bit different. So you know, even you know that that definitely keeps things, keeps things very vital and interesting.


Will Bachman  36:30

How do you stay plugged into the world of theater? Do you make some periodic pilgrimage to some of the big theater cities to catch a week’s worth of shows or something?


Henry Bial  36:42

Absolutely. You know, there is a decent theater scene here in Kansas City. But I would say that, prior to the COVID pandemic, I would routinely be in New York between four and six times a year. Now some of that is I have family there. So I am able to do it without paying, you know, 300 bucks a night for a hotel room, I can just spend my my budget on theater tickets. And because it’s my job, the the tickets are always tax deductible, and occasionally can be expensive to the university. But So mostly, mostly, I go to the theater in New York, but certainly also Chicago. More rarely London, and then I like to go, you know, if I find myself in Pittsburgh for a weekend and like, oh, what’s playing right? And this is, you know, I go all the way back when I was at Harvard, I was the theater critic for independent for a while. So there were a couple of years there where I was going to the theater three nights a week. And, you know, that’s really exciting.


Will Bachman  37:57

And how do you decide what to go to? Are you kind of go into big Broadway shows, or the off off Broadway, little hole in the wall kind of shows? Or?


Henry Bial  38:06

Oh, it really depends on the trip. I not being based in New York, I am often dependent on my professional network to kind of recommend things and to have people say, you know, and, and so for example, when the big immersive experience Sleep No More was brand new. I had a former student from Kansas who had been working on the installation, and they were here in town visiting and they said whatever you do, you have to see this. This is like nothing you’ve ever seen before you have to check this out. So I was in early on that one just because I happen to know someone who was involved with it. In in other cases, sometimes I have a particularly for Broadway I often go because I have a research interest in the show. So for example. You know, I did a book called playing God, which was about Broadway adaptations of the Bible. And that meant that every production like that for a few years, you know, every revival of Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, I had kind of a professional obligation to go check out. And, you know, and then sometimes it’s, it’s a little more random. I mean, the the tricky part for me is, is if I’m only in New York, say for three days, do I go with a known quantity, you know, with with a big Broadway show or big off Broadway show with the star, which may not be a transcendent experience, but Uh, you know, there’s going to be a certain basic level of quality there, versus taking a chance on, you know, as you said, a hole in the wall in Brooklyn somewhere, which might be transformative, or it might be like two hours of your life, you’re never getting back. And so, a lot like, well, what’s what’s my risk level, you know, when I lived in New York, was so amazing, because like the opportunity cost of checking out some, you know, somebody’s doing something in a loft somewhere in New Jersey was pretty low, right? Because if you you, you could always then go see Phantom of the Opera The next night. But when you only have a few a limited number of nights a year to go to the theater, then it’s, you become a little more risk averse.


Will Bachman  40:56

That’s certainly a classic problem for visitors to New York. One section of the show is I asked covered a little bit before, but are there any courses or professors you had at Harvard that have really stuck with you?


Henry Bial  41:14

I would say a great many of them have. In some cases, I’d say sort of an obvious one was my first semester, I took American drama since 1945, with Arthur Hallberg, and I remember that he has a kind of a treat. For us at one point in the semester, he had in the performance artist, Spalding Gray, to speak to the class. And at another point, during the semester, he screened the film version of the 1968 performance group production, Dionysus 69, which is kind of a wild experimental film. And I didn’t realize that at the time, but both those things really energize me. And you know, five years later, at NYU, I was taking classes from the director of Dionysus 69. And we were studying Spalding Grey’s work. So there was sort of a direct connection between that class and of course, what I do now, but more importantly, I guess what I would say is, so many of, of the classes I took at Harvard, emphasized the importance of performance in general, not just especially the performance of intellectual inquiry, I can remember, you know, John still goes classes in Bs, and the way that he would sort of perform his intellectual interest, you know, that he would stand up there and say, These are the things I wonder people. And, and his persona was a big part of what and why I learned things in that class. And that’s something I’ve tried to take with me into the work that I do as well.


Will Bachman  43:16

Still has been mentioned a couple of times. How many of you have been to Michigan Wisconsin? A big a big favorite of many of our classmates, John still go.


Henry Bial  43:29

Indeed. I mean, I got to see him, just bumped into him in the procession line at the 25th reunion. It was one of the highlights. For me.


Will Bachman  43:41

That’s fantastic. So what about how your journey has played out so far would surprise your college age self?


Henry Bial  43:50

Oh, um, let’s see, I guess. What would surprise my college age self? That’s a wild question. Um, I guess partly that, you know, I’ve been living in Kansas for 17 years and, and find myself very much enjoying it. I was. I grew up in Westchester and I was definitely one of those kids at Harvard, who was sort of a little bit snobby about people who weren’t from New York. And you know, and now here I am, I live in Kansas, I drive a pickup truck. And which is another stilgoe reference, but the you know, I was I was also very much a kind of a long haired, scruffy college kid. I was on the ultimate team. And I think that kid would look at me today and think that I’ve become very square.


Will Bachman  45:03

What is it about Kansas that, you know, a New York City raised kid would not know that is some of the benefits of being out in Kansas.


Henry Bial  45:16

Benefits? Well, I will tell you that my my morning commute is to stop signs, no traffic lights. And, and honestly even even free to I can’t even just in New Mexico when I first moved from New York to Albuquerque, I couldn’t feel real, figured out why I was suddenly so much more productive with my scholarship. And then I was oh, yeah, that’s the 75 minutes. I’m not spending every day on the subway, that I now have to spend on other things. So maybe that’s obvious, but it’s it never gets old. And whenever I go back to New York, the kind of extra layer of difficulty in doing anything, getting somewhere buying milk. You know, it reminds me like I’m reminded of all the things I miss, but I’m also reminded of the things that I don’t miss. I will also say that the compared to what you might imagine, on the east coast, there’s actually quite a large kind of liberal progressive community out here, particularly in a college town like Lawrence. And so you know, it’s not all. It’s not, maybe the sort of stereotype that you think of when you think is middle America, or Kansas, just sort of the universal signifier for the middle of nowhere. We’re actually pretty on top of things.


Will Bachman  47:02

Henry, if listeners wanted to follow up or keep track of what you’re working on, would you share any links? Or where can people find out more about what you’re doing? Sure,


Henry Bial  47:15

I do have a professional website. It’s just n revile all one And that usually has a try to keep that updated with notes about appearances, publications, and things like that. You can also find me on the University of Kansas is website. And in fact, I am probably one of the because Henry Bile is a very uncommon combination of names. I think I’m the first like 9000 Google hits for it. Like I’m very, very easy to find.


Will Bachman  47:52

Alright, well, we’ll include those links in the show notes, even though it sounds like they’re not completely necessary, because you people can Google you. Henry has been great speaking with you. Thank you so much for coming on the show.


Henry Bial  48:05

Well, thanks a lot. I’ve enjoyed listening and I’m honored. You know, when I heard you were going through the class 90 to once a week, I figured I was going to be at least seven or eight years deep before you’d get around to me. So I’m flattered and I appreciate the chance to talk with you and your listeners.


Will Bachman  48:26

Thank you. And listeners. If you haven’t already, you can go to 92 It’s 90 Sign up for the weekly email to get notified of the next episode. Thanks for listening