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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewee: Sidney Homan
Interviewer: Dirk Drake
Date: March 28, 1996
D: This is March 28, 1996. We are at the home of Sidney Homan. The address is?
H: 1500 Northwest Thirty-Sixth Way.
D: In Gainesville, Florida. Dr. Homan's first name is Sidney, middle name?
D: And last name Homan. I would like to start with a little life history. You were
H: I was born in South Philadelphia in 1938. I am from a real blue collar family, my
dad was a telephone installer.
D: What was the day of your birth?
H: May 21, 1938.
H: Real integrated neighborhood and a highly political neighborhood too. We were
always organizing things in the city. I lead the childhood of a tough South
Philadelphia kid with a South Philadelphia accent that talked like this
[demonstrating the accent]. [I] planned to become an apprentice telephone
installer with my dad after I got out of South Philadelphia High School but my
mom was socially pretentious. She pushed my father, and pushed him and
finally in my high school years we moved out of Philadelphia to a suburb of
Philadelphia: 605 Roseland Avenue, Fox Chase Manor. We were sort of middle
class now. I finished my high school in May 1956, right in the middle of those
1950s. [I] had a summer job and then had a two week vacation before I was to
begin on September 1, 1956, as an apprentice telephone installer with my dad.
My mom was an actress, she just died recently. She was coming home from
work one night in the theater and she stopped by Leary's Book Store in
Philadelphia and they were having a sale of novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For
some reason, probably because it was cheap, she bought his novel Far Side of
Paradise which is set at Princeton. Fitzgerald went to Princeton for three years
and then got TB and had to drop out. The next morning when I thought I could
sleep late because this is my two week vacation she came into my room at five
o'clock as she always would during school days with her cheerful mothers, rise
and shine Sid. The subtext to that rise and shine was my mother was always
humiliated, this is my mom's mentality, that my father was only a telephone
worker and she wanted me named after my father to be something more. So
that rise and shine was get up, make something of yourself, be more than your
father, rescue the fortunes. I looked like my father. All that I wanted to be was
like my father. I adored him. I remember grumbling at her under the pillow, why
the hell do I have to get up at this hour? She said you are going to Princeton. I
said what is that? She said that is a college in New Jersey and a guy named F.
Scott Fitzgerald went there. You are going there. No one in my family or
neighborhood had ever gone to college so we had no idea how you went to
college. When you get into a new situation you tend to use old patterns to deal
with it. My mom was used to dragging me into the theater from about age four.
She would drag me into a producer or director's office and say this is my son
Sidney Homan. This kid has a lot of talent. Sid do a little dance for them and I
did. She just imagined Princeton as a great big booking agency and we get in
our 1938 dodge, black four door, bought the year of my birth to celebrate birth
because apparently I was a hard time coming. I was six foot even then. My
mom was four foot eleven, flaming red hair. I of course had a DA haircut,
pegged pants, pimples all over the face. I was just a South Philadelphia kid.
D: But this was from the suburbs.
H: Yes, but I was still in my zoot suit era. We drive right up to Princeton, right up to
their Tigert Hall which was Nassau Hall, and she takes me in tow and she
charges into the administration building searching for the dean of admissions.
Secretaries are shouting out, madame, can we help? My mother learned in the
theater you do not let secretaries interpose between you and directors. She
goes right to the offices of Walter Lipenkod of the publishing company family who
was the dean of admissions and she charges right to his desk. He shushes the
secretaries away. This is an environment I had never seen before. This is an
Ivory League dean's office. He had a pipe in his mouth and good books on the
walls and wines and things like that. My mom says to him in a wonderful, I will
tone down the Philadelphia accent a little bit because it is hard to hear. She said
Lipenkod, this is my son Sidney Homan. The kid, he has some talent, I think you
ought to look him over. I think you will like him Lipenkod. This wonderfully genial
man who later became a very dear friend said, Mrs... My name is May Homan.
Actually it was Mary but she changed it to May because she thought Mary
sounded too Catholic. This is my son Sidney. Mr. Lipenkod said, Mrs. Homan
why do you not have a seat in the outer office while I talk to your son. She does
not like that, she wants to be next to me as my agent. She gets up and looks a
little forlorned and crosses to the door, because she has got to have an exit line
as an actress, [she] puts her hand on the door handle, looks over and says,
Lipenkod let me tell you, you will like the kid. She goes out. He immediately
apologized to me.
D: She has read the Fitzgerald book?
H: Yes. So I immediately apologize to him. I said, I am sorry my mom is so forward
Mr. Lipenkod. This wonderfully kind man, he is my first real hero, he said to me,
no actually Mr. Homan I find your mother rather refreshing. You see most of my
days are spent speaking to wealthy Republican women from Scarsdale. We had
an hours conversation, an hour and a half maybe. I had never had a
conversation like this before. He asked me my thoughts on things. I had never
been interviewed like this before and he was in earnest. At the end of the
interview he said, I tell you what we are going to do Homan. This is the 1950's at
Princeton. There were no women, no minorities to speak of. They were all
Anglo Saxon Protestant boys from wealthy families whose fathers and
grandfathers had gone to Princeton. He said, we are going to admit you as a
special student. I in effect was the tough, white, inner city kid with this nice
acceptable last name of Homan but I was not black or hispanic, or a minority.
That is how I got to Princeton. I kept working in the theater but I fell in love with
the idea of professors. These are men who knew how to pour wine, they talked
about books. All of the other guys in my class, there were 800 guys, they all
became lawyers and doctors because this was the fifties. They all went into the
high power professions. I just wanted to become now like these new father
figures. In fact, I was the only English major. There were eight English majors to
graduate school in English. Things have changed a lot. All the rest of the guys
majored in English to go to law school and medical school. I went to Harvard to
be like these men, there were no women on the faculty then.
D: That is graduate level?
H: That was the graduate school, yes. That was in 1960.
D: I want to backtrack on your mom just a bit. Her name was Mary?
H: It was Mary Renock Homan, she was from Polish people upstate in the coal
mining district of Pennsylvania. Then she married my father who actually came
from a very famous family during Shakespeare's day. They were a part of the
Homans family. My father's part of the family argued with the main Homans, split
off and dropped the "s". For 450 years [they] were blue collar, but they kept one
aristocratic affixation. The first son of each new generation was named Sidney
Ramsden Homan. I am Sidney Ramsden Homan the seventeenth. I was the
last hope for my family to produce heirs, so when I produced my first son being a
democrat I thought I am going to get rid of this affixation. I abandoned the line
and called my first son Christopher Ramsden Homan. All sorts of Homans came
out of the woodwork to protest this.
D: That is a very Catholic name, Christopher.
H: Yes, that was my family background. My mother took great pleasure in marrying
my father who, though he was impoverished he was only a telephone worker,
was Episcopalian and she thought that was the religion that people like F. Scott
Fitzgerald practiced. There were Episcopalians at Princeton, so she wanted her
boy to be like that.
D: Polish-Catholic before that.
H: Changed her name never getting the official government sanction for it. I
remember her inquiring about that. You could change your name for $200.00
back in the 1950s but she just changed the Mary to what she thought was the
more Episcopal sounding May Elaine. That is what she imagined that women in
print dresses and holding martini's.
D: I have got the same parallel in my family. The Irish __ have always had
pretensions of being the __ Folks are currently Episcopalian now. Irish
grandmother became Episcopalian.
H: For me it was just a radical change going to a place like Princeton. Those guys
drank bourbon and seven. I drank Schmidt's Beer which is what we drank in
Philadelphia. Those boys had their wealthy girlfriends from Vassar and Smith
come down on weekends.
D: Argyle socks?
H: Yes! I tried to be like them. I bought a pipe. I tried to keep it lit. I saved my
money and got my first tweedy coat. I found very quickly at Princeton you got
positions in activities by inheritance whether as a football team or the editorship
of the newspaper. I managed to disguise myself, lost a bit of that South
Philadelphia accent, and actually grew to admire very deeply. We have to
combat class prejudices both ways running. I had to combat my own class
prejudices. I met guys in my class that are dear friends even to this day that I
very deeply admire. We were just on the edge of the great changes which would
come over the Ivory League schools. Like many of those so called private
schools, we needed a little bit more of the civil rights movement to come, and
Vietnam. It would be ten years after I graduated [that] Princeton admitted
women. I think we had three Afro-Americans in my class at Princeton.
D: Out of how many?
H: Three out of a school of 3,000. I do not remember seeing minorities there.
There may have been, but then things would change. I was the safe, white,
tough kid. That was my only credential.
D: Do you remember the date that you met Mr. Lipenkod and that admissions?
That would have been Spring of...
H: It was Summer of 1956.
D: You were able to attend the Fall of 1956?
H: I came in the Fall. It was a hurried application.
D: Lipenkod moved it over?
H: There I was. I was a bright kid, I had city smarts, but my schooling was
something out of blackboard jungle essentially.
D: Was it a struggle as an undergrad?
H: Yes, I remember the first grade I got in a political science course. I got a seven
and all of the other guys are getting twos or threes. I thought that is great until I
found out that one was an A, two was a B. I had to work real hard. I also fell in
love with those men that taught me. They were my heros. You would say
something and they would you. They would sort of love you to death with
questions. You would say something shallow like I think Hamlet was a little bit
insane. Well what do you mean by insane? It is the same methods that I use
now. Also there was a real tradition at Princeton in those days. We had two
things. We had on one hand the classes were called precepts. That was
Woodrow Wilson's idea when he was president of Princeton. He wanted
preceptorials in each course. They are not just small classes but they are
courses that there classes were seven or eight people and a professor talk about
the material of the course but you are continually interrelating that material
through all of your other courses. You have those precepts in whatever course
you are taking. Whether it is organic chemistry with 250 students or north
eastern poetry with ten. Small class seminar does not quite describe them. The
Princeton guys, we learned to speak a lot on our toes because in preceptorial
you were always interrelating stuff. The other tradition was to give real showmen
like lectures. The faculty used to almost without fail publish lecture notes ahead
of time. You would get the notes as you went into the lecture so you could watch
the performance of the lecturer.
D: Like a program?
H: Yes, and being in the theater I saw those as some dazzling performances. That
idea of performing, of loving an undergraduate to death, pursuing them, pursuing
the __ I remember one of my teachers once told me at Princeton he said,
when I am talking about Plato's Republic with you guys, the issue is not me, it is
not Plato's Republic the guy is dead, it is that pimply faced undergraduate
wrestling with Plato's Republic.
D: Soaking it in.
H: Yes. I thought that was the greatest profession in the world. I still think so. The
other tradition at Princeton had its motto Princeton in the nations service.
Princeton more so than Harvard or Yale had that notion that if you went to
Princeton, it was a bit snobby but a bit idealistic, that you were then to go out and
do something very useful in the world. Ralph Nader is the proto-typical Princeton
D: He is a Princeton man? I did not know that.
H: The irony was then I go to Harvard which was a wonderful place, but the mood
was so radically different. It was not activist. It was graduate school. It was
Harvard, it was Cambridge. I loved it, do not get me wrong, I loved it but that
was 1960-1965 and I was at graduate school the civil rights movement is heating
up and things are starting to happen in Vietnam. Here I am and now my hero at
Harvard is Alfred Harbidge who was their great Shakespearian scholar. Now I
am into an entirely different life. It is not that activist life of Princeton, it is
becoming a scholar. I always had the theater because the theater always
seemed a sort of activist expression. I just did not have to talk theoretically about
Shakespeare or the death imagery in Hamlet, I could get Boy, predictably
when I got to the University of Illinois which was my first teaching job right out of
Harvard, I was a young assistant professor. I was the new Shakespearian. I
was trying to publish and not perish. I was trying to teach the way my Princeton
teachers taught. A couple of assistant professors and I interested in theater
found out about this old abandoned train depot of the Illinois Central Railroad in
Champaign that had once been a passenger depot but now was unused. We
rented it for $200.00 a month and we established a theater there. The Depot
Theater. On one hand I am trying to write articles on Hamlet and I am talking to
that pimply faced undergraduate about Hamlet, but I am down to the theater
every other night staging stuff and acting in things.
D: Princeton gave you that sense of service.
H: Yes it really did.
D: It was originally a Presbyterian school was it not?
H: It was Presbyterian school with that sort of activist You work so you justify
your place in heaven and you prove yourself that Calvinist thing.
D: Harvard had been a Puritan school.
H: Puritan school and it was status quo. Harvard in the 1960s was not a Berkeley in
the 1960s. We had protests there. I got into the movement but in graduate
school it was just a sort of different mood. I loved it, do not get me wrong. It is
part of me which still... Oh, I love it. I have done nine books and now at age fifty-
seven I have made a promise to myself. It is funny. That does not interest me
anymore. Even as I know how lovely that is. I know how lovely it is being like a
monk in that cubicle fashioning that book, but of course what are you fashioning
it for? You are fashioning it for a university press run of 3,000 copies which
essentially go to university libraries and you are talking to a very small circle.
D: Cultivating elite information.
H: Yes, and I like that to some degree, I understand that. When one of my
colleagues rather snobbishly says yes, but we English professors are guardians
of the culture and the barbarians are at the gate. In a sense he is right. We
would not read Shakespeare's the Winter's Tale nowadays if it were not for
Shakespeare scholars who publish. There is part of me that likes that, but there
is the other part. It is the blue collar kid, it is the kid who maybe should have
become the telephone worker. When I go back to South Philadelphia, when I
used to go back to my old neighborhood my old neighbors would say, oh, yes
you are Sid Homan's kid. Yes, your dad was a man. When he came home at
night... He installed telephones... What do you do son? I say well I work in the
theater and work with words. Oh, a sissy's profession, huh? You do not do
anything. 97 percent of me wants to say, no you are wrong this is a man's
profession, but there is three percent of me that cannot refute their arguments.
As you get older you probably develop increasing to see yourself as you
are doing it. Look at my vita. You can just chart what has happened over the
last fifteen years. What has happened is as the body gets dried up and gets
more practical as that happens and you get a little bit more mellow and a little bit
more sure of some of your principles which is not a very good idea. I have found
myself trying to bend what I am doing to more and more practical things. That is
why I have taken my prison tours and things like that.
D: Yes, I want to get into all of those. You have jumped nicely from Princeton to
Harvard to now. At Princeton as the working class kid, were you a scholarship
H: Yes, I never paid for a penny at Princeton. It was great.
D: You had high school test scores that allowed that?
D: The audition with Lipenkod.
H: It worked fine. I also worked twenty hours a week making hoagie sandwiches
and things like that and I went out for everything. I was on all of the sports teams
and the newspaper and the radio and the humor magazine because Fitzgerald
had been editor of the humor magazine. First year I go out for Air Force ROTC
because my mom wanted me to come back on vacation to Philadelphia wearing
that blue Air Force uniform. I flunked our real quickly. I was not the type to do a
column left and spit shine my shoes.
D: My father flunked out of the Air Force ROTC.
H: Did he?
D: He later spent a career in __ in the Navy.
H: I ultimately wound up having a wonderful time at Princeton because once the
faculty, especially the English Department, found that I was not going to law
school or medical school but I was going to try to be like them. I had three of
them come to my wedding. I married a couple of days after I graduated. I got all
of that special attention. I became as much as one could personal friends with
those faculty members.
D: A real mentor relationship.
H: Yes, that was real good. I wanted to stay at Princeton for graduate school and
they said no, no, no you need to go somewhere else. They were right so I went
D: But you fulfilled your mother's legacy.
H: I fulfilled it, although the funny thing is my dad died about ten years ago but my
dad would call me about once a month where ever I was and we would always
have a wonderful conversation. He would say, so Sid you went to Princeton. I
said, yes dad. He said, and those boys, your friends they all became something,
lawyers or doctors but you, you went into the teaching profession. I said, right
dad. He said, but you could change could you not son? I would humor my father
especially as he got older. I would say, yes dad I am considering options. Later
in the conversation as he mellowed out he would say, but you know Sid I look at
it this way I install telephones and you are an English professor. You know we
are both in communication son. That was the way he would resolve that. He
D: I forgot to ask you about siblings.
H: My brother John, an interesting case.
D: You are the oldest?
H: I am the oldest.
D: First born son.
H: Right, I am the first born son and the only other child is my brother John who is
three years younger than me. That was real interesting. I am the right brain
character. I am after my mom. I have my mom's personality, although I do not
look like my mom. My mom was into theater, I am into theater. My brother is my
dad, left brained, great at mechanics and things like that. My parents probably
now that I look back at it had a very unhappy marriage. My mom resented my
father for only being a telephone worker. She was ambitious. If she could be in
the 1970s with Helen Reddy she would be the head of the woman's movement,
but she was frustrated. She felt little women stayed at home. She stayed at
home and she made Easter bonnets and made a lot of money selling. She wrote
a column for the local newspaper and got paid by the inch. But the idea of
leaving the home and taking a job was just unthinkable to her. She could not
conceive of that.
D: How many kids?
H: Just two. What happened was I was clearly to become the Sidney, I am named
after my dad, I was to become the Sid that would redeem that family. I would
become the type of husband that she wanted. This is real D.H. Lawrence Sons
and Lovers. I was my mom's boy in a period when you did not get divorced.
Only bad people did that. They stayed married but I was my mom's boy and my
brother was given to my father.
D: What is your age difference?
H: Three years. My brother went to technical school, became an engineer, and is
just as good at mechanical technical things as I am bad at those. It was
interesting. My brother and I were never close because we each were taken by a
different parent. He was sort of slopped off.
D: You had a younger brother who went on to be a technical engineer. A Princeton
man as well?
H: No, no John was taking to go to Ursinus College which is an obscure, piddling
little college in Philadelphia.
D: Sounds Catholic.
H: Might be. It is a college you would never want to go to. John flunked right out of
there. It was only later when John married and once you are married in my
family you are deserting your mom. Once John married then he went back to
school to Temple University, the city university of Philadelphia and did well. Both
boys really could not blossom on their own until they got away from their mom.
Then he proceeded to do okay. We are still as different as night and day. He
still lives in Philadelphia. He had worked as an engineer in a company in
Trenton, right across the river, but got laid off when the company down-sized and
now is one of those guys in his fifties, fifty-four, with like four jobs. Working at
Builder's Square things like that. Here is the older brother comfortable as a
tenured professor can be. We did discover something. As much as we were
taught that John was my father's boy and I was my mother's boy and that we
were as different as night and day, and we never saw each other. Never saw
each other as brothers. When we got married we never saw each other. We are
not close in that sense. When I remarried one of Norma's first suggestions was
why do you not go up an see John, this is ridiculous. We had not really seen
each other for years. We were in our thirties then. I married Norma when I was
thirty-eight. We go up to visit and almost from the moment we saw each other
we realized that the interesting thing was it was my father's values which are
those of relativity and compassion. My dad for example, this is my blowing, in
the racist 1950s my father was a boxing fan. Very unusual. My father did not
like to call Afro-Americans negro. He just thought that was demeaning.
D: That is pretty progressive.
H: Yes, it is interesting. In boxing, at least in those days, black boxers would wear
white shorts and white boxers would wear black shorts. So my fathers name for
blacks was white panties and whites were black panties. Even to this day
occasionally I will catch my self thinking of blacks as white panties. What my
brother and I discovered was my fathers principles were like still in deep water.
They ran deeper. It had actually been my father who in terms of our politics. Our
politics we found it exactly the same. In fact John became a Quaker, we are both
against the death penalty, we are democrats. It was my father, that quiet man,
that failure, that mere telephone worker. My father's values had run deeper. We
had some how felt them at some inarticulate level. I have go my mom's values
on the surface. It is the moving of the hands and the personality that is real out
there. It is theatrical. That is very much opposed. I can hear myself, even now
as I am talking, crafting the words the way an actor would. The way my mother
would. Norma catches me all of the time, come on Sid you are not a I cannot
dismiss that personality and I use it as a teaching personality, as a stage
personality. But it is all to me a transitory thing.
D: I know exactly what you are talking about because I am on stage seven, eight
hours a day.
H: It is my dad's values which are essentially those of the home, of relativity, of
perseverance. There was a wonderful episode [wherein] Dr. Johnson in the
eighteenth century was walking with his biographer Boswell down the streets of
London in a horribly made-up syphilitic [costume], [and] prostitute comes over to
Dr. Johnson and propositions him. Boswell, a fairly self-righteous individual
expected Dr. Johnson to deem her. Dr. Johnson put his hand on the prostitute's
shoulder. Boswell records this in diary and says, I am sorry, madame, it would
not do. I always think of my father when I think of that because that was my
father's way of handling things. It was always when humans failed him, when
there was someone who was strident in his or her view, my father always
understood the relativity of his own views. I try for that I do not succeed very
often in it. I try for it. It helped my father. It gave him an ease that he got
D: A lot of compassion.
H: Yes, yes.
D: I need to get back to your life? Princeton was undergraduate, English
department. Did you from the very first day know that you were going to get into
the theater? That is what you wanted to study? Did you dabble in anything?
H: I had always worked in the theaters from four years old. I sang on the Magic
Lady Radio Hour, station WIP in Philadelphia with Eddie Fisher. He would go on
to bigger and better things before his fall.
D: Were you neighborhood chums?
H: Yes, see South Philadelphia was a real neighborhood. The only way you got out
of South Philadelphia was on basketball scholarships or show business. Fabian,
a singer from the 1950s, you are too young for him.
D: I know who he is.
H: He lived just right down the street. He was that real handsome Italian boy, not
much of a voice but talent scouts came into the neighborhood. They saw Fabian
and they made __ Little Richard moved to South Philadelphia at the age of
seven. Mario Lanza was in that neighborhood.
D: Did you know Little Richard?
H: Yes, I knew that he was in the neighborhood but I did not know him. Mario
Lanza, those sort of guys. That is how you got out. I got out the atypical way.
H: Yes, academically. Otherwise, you stayed in that four block area, that was your
D: You knew from your first semester that you were going to pursue theater
D: Were you pushed into the law areas?
H: Oh, I wanted to become a lawyer like all of those other guys and I wanted to go
to the Woodrow Wilson School of Politics at Princeton. Then I sat down
sometime in my junior year and I said, what am I doing? I am involved in theater
all of the time. I wrote for the Princeton Triangle Show which was their musical
organization. I played in their experimental theater. I did theater all of the time. I
said, you do not go into theater. I know, I will compromise. I will go into
something respectable. I will become an English professor.
D: What you had admired from the beginning?
H: Yes, which I had admired from the beginning, but that was really respectable.
My mother would like that. She would not like that as much as a doctor or
lawyer. Even as a graduate student and all the way through the rest of my
career, I kept working at very least with my left hand in the theater. At very most
in more recent years, I have been able to work with my right and left hand but
that is a later story. I know why it is, again it is that blue collar mentality. Talking
about the theater is one thing, and do not get me wrong, you can skin that cat a
lot of ways. It is wonderful to talk about Shakespeare and write scholarly articles.
Yes, there is death imagery in Hamlet. He does not have to be just a dramatic
text. You know from your own work in the theater that what the text means just
becomes infinitely larger when you are working on stage. There is the whole
visual, physical, gestural, temporal thing not to mention the audience. There is a
little bit of me now in the middle of my career here which says that English
departments are cheating a little bit when Shakespeare is considered. This is an
old complaint, it is nothing When you consider Shakespeare as a literary
text it is a marvelous literary text. He had an Irishmen's vocabulary. We know
from running his plays through a computer he had a vocabulary of over a
100,000 usable words. You and I get along in life probably pretty well with
17,000. The text did beautiful things. I know the pleasure that an English
professor of Shakespearian can have with just the text. But the point is, once
you are seeing once you have known how it is to work with an actor with a
subtext and the gesture, once you know how the physical part is so significant
that Shakespeare himself was an actor, then I cannot in good conscience do it
the old way. Also it just pleases my practical South Philadelphia thing. When
you do a play, that is installing telephones because you have got to worry about
the physical part of it.
D: The way my Irish grandmother puts it is getting their eyes to light up. It is not just
from reading books. __ reminding me of that.
H: When I went to the University of Illinois, which was my first teaching position, and
those were the days when graduate students could have any job that they
wanted, it was a seller's market. My first wife and I, we said we want to go to the
D: Okay, let us get there after Harvard. We still have to cover Harvard. You had
been groomed by the English department at Princeton, you were excepted as a
graduate student. Were you an English TA there?
H: That is an interesting story. First year at Harvard in those days you were not
allowed a teaching assistantship. You had to prove yourself that first year. They
would flunk out about half of the graduate students the first year. You got the
terminal MA which was a badge of disgrace. Getting an MA from English in
Harvard in those days that was bad. The first year at Harvard you had to find
jobs. My first wife was finishing up her second year in social work. She was a
Simmons College getting a master's in social work. I had to get a job, but you
could not teach at Harvard. So there was an ad in the paper Garland Junior
College in Boston was looking for an English teacher. I go down and it is there
on Boston Commons, just seven blocks above the Commons. It is a series of
former old mansions along Connell Wealth Avenue, but I do not have any sense
of Garland Junior College. I go into the dean and he interviews me. He said,
now Mr. Homan if you were going to teach English, where would you start? This
would be the introduction to English. I said, I guess at the beginning. What do
you mean by the beginning? Well, Beowulf. Oh, so early? I said, I guess I could
start with Shakespeare. He said, you do not understand Mr. Homan. What he
wanted was someone to teach the latest novels to the girls at Garland. Garland
was in effect a two year finishing school. They were essentially girls from
wealthy families who were not very bright, who were sent to Garland so that they
could marry a Harvard or MIT boy. But they needed to get real cultured, real fast
so the English course was to teach them the latest novels so at cocktail parties
they could sound The coolest one that the French teacher was an elderly
D: What novels would those have been?
H: Just whatever was current back in the 1960s. That is what he wanted. I
prostituted myself. I wanted that $3,000 a year. There I was the poor South
Philadelphia kid teaching in this former ballroom and all of the Garland girls they
were all dressed in Bongratella dresses. They had nice Republican names like
Vaughn and Chadwick.
D: It was a strictly female college?
H: Strictly female college. The coolest one was the French teacher was a heavy
drinker, an old lady. She called up one day and she said, Sid, can you take over
my class in French, I cannot make it. I said, yes, Janet. Where are you at in the
text? No, no we are learning the word faux pas. I said, what do you mean? She
said, well do you not know what the hell we do here? They learned French
words to sprinkle in their conversation.
D: At cocktail parties?
H: Yes. I get in front of the Garland girls and I write faux pas out on the board. I
give its definition. Then the blue collar devil in me comes out and I said, now,
ladies, this is a word that as you know when you make some social blunder or
something like that. Here is how you pronounce it. Now follow me, I want to
make sure you pronounce it correctly. Fox's paw. I drove them bonkers
pronouncing it fox's paw. That is how I took my revenge on that pseudo wealthy
school. By the second year at Harvard I had been deemed worthy of continuing
on. Then it was something funny. It was a religious thing. There were three
types of jobs you could get as a graduate student at Harvard. You could be a
grader in a course, that was the c-level job. You could be a section leader in the
course. You could run the discussion section while the big Harvard professor
lectured to the 200. The top job you could have that was the best was to be a
tutor at one of the Harvard houses. They were like the individual colleges at
Cambridge or Oxford. You lived there, you ate your meals there, you had your
office there. They had a full faculty from famous [persons] to just TA's. Walter
Jackson Baite who was a great eighteenth century romantic scholar was at Elliott
House who was in the chairperson of Harvard's English department, he
recommended me to John Finley, third generation Irishman, classic scholar who
was the master of Elliott House. You had to be approved by Elliott House. I was
recommended by the English Department but you had to be approved, so you
had to be interviewed. I go into Master Finley's office, wonderful Irish man and
he said, Ah, Mr. Homans how nice to have you here. You know you come from
such a distinguished family. In fact, your great, great, great, great, grandfather
was the third cousin of Princeton. I noticed you went to Princeton. We certainly
would be thrilled to have a member of such.... There were many Homans in
Boston. The famous Homans were all in Boston. It would be wonderful to have
a member of the Homans family here on the staff of Elliott House. I had the good
and bad angels debating. I said, Master Finley, I am sorry but my name is
Homan. No "s"? No, no we cut that "s" off years ago. You are not a member of
the Homan's family? Well, technically not. Oh, I see. Nice to speak to you Mr.
Homan. The next guy going to the English Department and Walter Jackson
Baite became a dear friend. He is just enraged. He said, that goddamn Irishman
he is not approving of you. He said, how could it be Sid? I said, well professor
Baite I am afraid to say it is a little bit of bias. He said, God, that goddamned
__ third generation Irish. He charges down to Elliott House. Baite was one of
the most distinguished faculty members at Elliott House. I get a note later in the
afternoon that said, Master Finley would like to see you for cocktails. I go into
Finley is all and he apologizes. I said, no need Master Finley I
understand. We have a few drinks and he says to me, but tell me Sid, would you
indulge an old man? I said, sure. He said, if you become a tutor at Elliott House
you know occasionally one of our social gatherings would you let this old man
introduce you as Sidney Homans? I could hear my father Certainly
Master Finley it would be my honor. So, I was Sidney Homans as far as he was
concerned for the next year. I wound up being a tutor at Elliott House. That was
great. That was great because my Harvard and Radcliffe students would come
for individual tutorials.
D: That is an important theme in post-immigration American life. The grandmother I
referred to was a McCloskey which they changed to the Scottish McClaskey just
having pretenses of being less curt when they were shanty Same thing,
H: It was a __ experience being at Harvard at the Elliott House particularly
because in that English style every Friday afternoon all of the tutors ate at high
table while the undergraduates ate one foot below. My place at the table was,
get this, I love this. I was the nobody, one of the nobodies, but we had wonderful
faculty there. My place was between B.F. Skinner and Eric Erikson. They sat on
my left and right. You cannot imagine two people more diametrically opposed in
their view of life. There was B.F. Skinner with the Skinner box and everything is
deterministic and you are setting here because. Then there was Eric Erikson,
that great chauvinistic psychologist, psychiatrist, social critic. I never spoke, I just
listened to these two guys. Of course, I know where my liberal sympathies went.
They went over to Erikson. It was just great. It was great being at Elliott House.
D: When Skinner came to Gainesville in the 1980s did you network him?
H: No, no because all he knew of me was this is the guy that sat next... Typical of
Harvard democratic fashion, I sat at the head of the table. That is the lowest
member sat at the head. Harvard had that tradition. After all it was also a liberal
tradition. That was great. It was just wonderful being at Elliott House, wonderful
to have those scholars there, famous historians, Stanley Cavell and people like
that. It was just great. It was just a good experience.
D: What was your masters thesis?
H: I did not do a master's thesis. My graduate advisor Alfred Harbidge was a
Philadelphian and he was a real democrat. He believed in the public theater.
Shakespeare was good because Shakespeare wrote for average people. He
hated the indoors private theater of the Renaissance where there were all little
boy actors and there were __ He had a real democratic bias. A lot of
scholars have now corrected his view of it. The public theater was not quite as
public, there were intellectuals there. He had that idea that the public theater is
the people's theater.
D: The masses were down on the flag. The Globe theater?
H: Right the Globe. Shakespeare was strong because he, like Walt Disney,
perfected his art for the common person. Now to some degree I think that is right
but I __ also bought a private theater in 1607. They are playing both sides.
He and I got along real well because I had those same sort of blue collar biases
like that. I wrote my thesis. You were not allowed to write it on Shakespeare
with him. You had to win your right later in your career to write it on
Shakespeare they way he had done it at the University of Pennsylvania thirty
years before. All of this has changed. I have to pick a public theater dramatist,
Thomas Dekker and a private theater dramatist, Thomas Middleton. My thesis
was on Dekker and Middleton and the contrast between these two men. One
who chose to write for the people, and one who chose to write for the _
Probably one of the worst dissertations ever written, probably one of the most
boring. I got a couple of articles out of it early in my career, but it took me awhile
to get out... I had a problem with father figures all of my life. I had mother figures
as we all do. It took me a while to get out from under the shadow of Alfred
Harbidge to write my first article on __ and Shakespeare. The nice thing about
being in the theater was [that in] the theater you do the playwrights that you like
and/or are going to succeed with the public and/or will not be commercial bombs.
You do not do Decker or Middleton, you do Shakespeare. Even he is a little
D: At your graduate level at Harvard, we talked a lot about your academic pursuits
and the thesis, what was the social life like? You described some of that at
H: I was married when I got to Harvard, so I lived with all of the fellow and
impoverished graduate students. That was a nice bonding community. The
graduate students at Harvard were pretty much apolitical, overall liberals I guess.
I cannot imagine English professors not, point in fact that is not true. I have had
a couple of colleagues at Florida who were Republicans, but they were all liberal.
They were just too much embroiled in the English Department in their graduate
work just trying to survive as a graduate students to do anything political. I kept
working in the theater and I kept very much involved in the civil rights movement.
That is going all the way back to my dad's white panties and black panties.
D: I would like to talk about that.
H: So I was a little bit of the odd graduate student. I tried to balance all of that,
balance that marriage and trying to be active politically. Harvard was pretty
active politically but it was not a Berkeley. It was pretty good.
D: I know you had mentioned to my strike force students years ago that you had
worked with Dr. King. Were you a freedom rider?
H: Yes, I was part of the freedom riders for a couple of years on and off.
D: As a graduate student?
H: As a graduate student, yes.
D: Did you go to Mississippi in 1964?
H: Yes, I went all around.
D: I think I have some taped footage of you.
H: The kids were saying this.
D: I think I do, it is a guy that looks like you. You were there in __ and Jackson?
H: Yes and we went all about the South. I was in Washington a lot. When I got to
Illinois, my first teaching job, I was real active there as an assistant professor.
When I look back on those days I have a funny perspective on it. I am probably
not very unique on this. Of course we were doing the right thing and even as I
say that I am hearing that tone, of course we were doing the right thing. As I look
back on it now I begin to realize that our motives, that is whites motives, were
very complex. Our black brothers and sisters probably understood this. That as
we were doing a lot for other reasons to. I have not become moderate in my
political views it is just that I realized that when you support a cause, the cause is
also supporting you. It is doing things for you. The most graphic example was I
remember one time we were marching somewhere in the South. I had right
behind me one of those wonderful, old, liberal, white church ladies with a
flowered hat. You know those tennis sneakers. You know that type. She tapped
me on the shoulder and said, hey Sid, we are marching, is it not a good thing
what we are doing for those niggers? I remember that is one of those things
which stayed. I also remember conversely having one of my black brothers one
night we had a few drinks and he was real vulnerable. He turned to me and he
said, you do not think, Sid, that some of that stuff they say might be true? Like
we are not as smart as you all? That we are genetically inferior? The funny
thing was years later when I was writing an article on Othello being a scholar,
there is an extraordinary line in Othello. Othello was not black by our standards,
he was Moroccan, but black by Shakespeare's standards. Othello is convinced
that Desdemona had been unfaithful and he says "my name my reputation
which was once as white as Diana's visage is now black and begrim'd as my own
face" I was working with a black actor at the time and I said to him, what is he
saying? He said, I think you want to tell me, Sid. I said, he is touching that first
spot in his heart were the racist view even infiltrates the victim. Black is not
beautiful, he was raising that possibility. When I look back on that Civil Rights
involvement, I am glad we all did it. I think to some degree it made a change with
a lot of slippage since then. I also realize that we whites were not pure. I am a
little embarrassed by the 1960s in this since now that I look back on it and on
myself. It was an arrogance era, a sense that I would not have as a middle aged
man. That my dad would not have. I remember once someone said, what is
your aim Dr. King? He said, I want to learn how to love that redneck southern
sheriff who beats me. There is a wonderful line in Kinq Lear. King Lear having
suffered everything he says, "None does offend, none I say none. I'll label them.
No one offends. We have no right to make judgements on others as offending
more than ourselves." We need to extend that love to the redneck southern
sheriff. Dr. King had that sense which does not go very well with real black,
activist politics. It does not fit into the anger mode, not that he did not have
enormous anger. I heard a little bit of my father in his voice. That is something
that I am really trying to get. I like to imagine that Shakespeare has that. One
thing I know as an actor is when you are an actor you want the audience to love
you even if you are playing a villain. What is extraordinary with Shakespeare is
the villains are never cardboard villains. They have dimensions to themselves.
He does not just put them in easy categories.
D: With the Civil Rights thing, does not have the pure compassion that you would
H: It did not.
D: Your activities and what you saw and experienced because as an historian and
as a teacher trying to carry on that same legacy in my work with the decedents of
the same population, I see that horribly, romantically. There is such a glamour
attached to anyone who was a freedom rider. Anyone who really went that far.
H: Well, under a __ people like Mrs. Viezo, the one women who was killed with
six kids that came from the blue collar family. She was pure as an eye.
D: You knew her?
H: No, I did not know her, but knowing that type of background she was pure as an
eye. Her sacrifice was far greater.
D: The majority of them were college students.
H: The range of motives was...
D: A lot of white guilt?
H: Yes. I remember in fact years later when I was teaching at Boston University
during the Vietnam War, and I was the liberal professor, right in the middle of a
lecture one of my students, this is a student I loved, he and I had beer once a
week together, he and I were buddies, he came racing down the isle and
grabbed the microphone from me. He said, you cannot talk anymore because
you are an employee of a capitalistic pig, private University. I said, Oh, John,
that is an interesting point. Let us discuss that, that is the nature. Let us discuss.
No, there is no need to discuss with you capitalistic pig employees because we
are beyond the stage of discussion. There is no need for intellect. Oh, that is an
interesting point John, I said. I just wanted to play the professor. Mercifully the
bell rang. The next day I was in my office and he comes in hat in hand and says,
hey Sid listen man I am sorry I did what I did yesterday but it had nothing to do
with you. I said, what do you mean? He said, I was not attacking you. I said, no
but John I do not mind that I was glad. He said, oh, no it had nothing to do with
you. I said, what do you mean? He said, well you know Sid the VSDS is having
their elections in a couple of weeks and... I said, Oh, John let me figure this out,
you are running for president of VSDS and you need an incident to propel you
above another candidate. Yes, he said. Tell me something John, what does
your dad do? He says, my dad is a dentist in Brookline, Mass. How much does
your dad earn? I forget the figure, but today it would be comparable to like
$200,000 a year. Why do you ask Sid? Nothing, nothing John. There is a lot of
white guilt, anger at father figures. Yes the frustration of that and I understand
that. I am a little embarrassed by my fellow liberals, especially my fellow liberals
who have not gotten out of the 1960s. I like Bill Clinton. I am not so sure of my
views anymore. I want to be able to love. God, Danny and I were riding to
school a couple of days ago [and] we saw those damn 5,000 little white crosses
there all over that church and I wondered. Danny picked up my hand and goes
what do you think? I said, Danny, I would like to take this goddamn car and pull
it over the curb and run over them goddamn crosses. A women has a right to her
own body, blah, blah. Is it not interesting that the pro-life movement is headed by
D: Pearl War.
H: Yes, or Pearl War. Men also who do not want their power over women taken
away. They plant the seed. But saying all of that, I need, I try, I fail, but I need to
understand the human being behind that view and that is not some abnormality.
I keep invoking that image of my father and my studies as a scholar ought to lead
me to that. The theater ought to lead me to that to. One of the things you know
about the theater is it is full of options. There is not a way to do anything. It is
D: You have an overriding theme of over alterism and everything that we have
H: Yes, I believe in that. I like the rehearsal process in theater better than
performance. Performance always seems to me you are finally committing your
self to something, but rehearsal you are still playing options. You got that
D: Let us get some of the civil rights. We have got a lot of the theory, the ethics,
and some of your feelings about it in the past, but in those involvements you
came to the south during the summers [and] between semesters?
H: Yes and once you got a little further into graduate program, especially when you
are writing your dissertation, you just sort of take off. It was pretty flexible.
D: Was your wife involved with you?
H: No, she was a social worker. She was working at a wonderful name, New
England Home for Little Wanderers, which was the nineteenth century name for
adoption agency. That was our life.
D: Were you ever beaten? Gassed?
H: Yes, prison a couple of times. I got the cattle prod stuck on me. That hurt.
D: Where was that?
H: I think that was in Selma.
D: You knew Dr. King personally?
H: As one of the marchers, as one of the guys, one of his disciples.
D: with him?
D: Were you close to any of these figures we know about? There was that guy in
Mississippi Bob, soft spoken?
H: I am blurred.
D: I did not do my research good enough.
H: I have forgotten a lot of that. Typical as a scholar I guess I can remember the
details. I have been writing a collection of short stories about my life.
D: Historical details?
H: These are the stories I have told to the kids so I am just putting them down. I
have performed these stories as an actor. I do not have a lot of stories from that
whole period. Now there are a couple other probable reasons. That was an
unhappy first marriage, that was beginning to fail so I probably pushed a lot of
D: Emotional shelving.
H: Also I am a little embarrassed by protesters. One of the things I am doing
nowadays for example, I am working with the Arts in Medicine Program. They
have been connecting a lot with people who were into alternative medicine in
Gainesville. I believe in alternative medicines, I guess but maybe I am becoming
an insurance salesman in Orlando. Maybe I am getting that mentality.
Business is about motives. I am going to be embarrassed when I say this, I do
not want to spend too much time around scruffy people with beards who's social
statement is not taking bathes and There is a little conservative
streak in me there. I can feel that. It is probably middle age bit. It is funny,
artists no problem, actors no problem because the whole focus of the actor is on
performance. It is giving up themselves to their role. That is fine. Actors in real
life they are all sorts of loony types. It is when one tries to connect ones real life
activities with ones real life self, you begin constructing yourself in terms of what
D: It sounds like you are avoiding a lot of the ego that is part of that. There is a
H: Yes, it is. I even remember when I was at Illinois doing an evening of skits, I was
an actor and I wrote some of them, parroting the civil rights movement. I
remember one I wrote where I played the black guy and a black actress played
the white girl. [END OF TAPE A]
H: I was playing the black guy and as I remember the core of the skit was,
Strike force skit, she was so eager to prove to me that not only did
she think whites like herself were inferior to blacks, but could never repay blacks
for all they had done. This is affirmative action gone to the end degree in that
she needed to degrade herself. I as the wily black guy, I was taking advantage
of that. I remember that being the core of the skit.
D: Very cynical play.
H: Yes, it really was. We had a lot of blacks in the audience and they understood
this instinctively. They absolutely understood this. It was funny because the
white liberals in the audience they did not dig the skit. It may have been coming
a little too close to home. The dialogue was something like, yes, yes you are
inferior to me. She said, I am really inferior to you. I said, you are so inferior to
me, you are not even a toad. I keep upping the I remember that skit.
That is one of the things I remember from that really interesting period at Illinois
where the civil rights movement was still continuing. Although now I was on a
mid western campus. There are only five members of the SDS at Illinois.
D: Summarizing, historically it is obvious you know the contribution you made in the
civil rights movement, but personally, emotionally, ethically, you see through a lot
H: Yes, yes.
D: Now in hindsight as a westward parrot, teacher, we know there is still
a long hard road ahead.
H: When you are protesting for workers rights, it would also be rather nice if you did
the hard work of finding jobs for displaced workers. Do not get me wrong, that
was a wonderful, wonderful spirit but we have a South Philadelphia, well actually
it is an Amish expression, we grow too soon old and too late smart. The thing is
how to balance that. How not too loose that idealism, but at the same time put
that idealism in a context where you understand the full range of your motives or
your objects as we would say in the theater. I do not know if they are compatible.
Maybe they are not.
D: I would love to do this philosophical thing but I want to get back to some of the
historical details. When you mentioned your analogy with the workers protest,
did you get involved in any education projects? Were you a marcher, freedom
H: Voter registered but essentially a marcher, protestor.
D: So you were in the under privileged.
H: No, that is what...
D: You did not bring any theater to McComb, Mississippi?
H: No, and that is a wonderful question because without jumping the gun on this
that is what I realized I have been trying to make up for later in life. The practical
stuff like taking the theater to the prison, Strike Force, that sort of stuff. I wish I
would have been able to do emotionally both at the same time. More graphically
than that, although it takes it out of the area of race is I am really into the Arts in
Medicine Program now. What I do in the Arts in Medicine Program is for
example, I do an acting workshop every Friday for teenagers who are housed in
the psychiatric unit.
D: Eighth floor, Shands?
H: Eighth floor, Shands. I do not use the theater therapeutically for them, we do not
do skits directly that talk about the illness. I am teaching them a craft which lets
you get in touch with yourself and gives you pleasure in your body and your voice
and lets you step into other people's shoes. I have become really heavily
involved in the Arts in Medicine Program and I know exactly why because it really
comes out of your question. In fact that questions crystallizes it for me. It is the
other half of protest. I have been reading this wonderful biography, Doris
Godwin Kern's biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. They were the
perfect pair because Eleanor had the vision including [those] on issues of civil
rights. Franklin Roosevelt who was often a little bit too practical for her concerns,
he was the politician. He put to the best of his ability, but never enough for her,
he put those visions into very concrete policies. They were the perfect
complementary pair like that.
D: He had the kinetic energy and she had the....
H: She was the younger one in that sense. The younger version. We would not
have wanted her as president. We would not have wanted her as Eleanor
Roosevelt. As much as they did not work together maritally as a team, they
worked together perfectly as team in that way. Part of this current thesis is that
she deserves a lot of credit for the philosophical impotence of the new deal and
especially the post new deal period, but he however cynical one can be about his
personality and the things he did, he had that more mellow, more mature vision
about what would be possible for integrating. How far the Navy would go in
integrating the services.
D: Let us get back to Harvard. God, I would love to talk with you just on all of this
stuff in private. You finished your Ph.D in 1965 and took a position at the
University of Illinois [at] Urbana-Champaign.
H: Right in the center of the corn fields.
D: You were there for four years?
H: Yes, my oldest son, Chris, was born our last year of graduate school so when we
went out there he was a baby. Chris was unbelievably asthmatic. One of the
things we discovered was he was allergic to the smell of soybeans. There are
soybean fields all around. I loved it, I loved being in the mid west. I loved being
at a proto-typical state university. That was a good tonic after Harvard. I loved it,
it was great. I got involved in the theater. I began doing my articles as a scholar.
I kept active in both theater and the civil rights movement. We also by the way,
three years into that, because Chris was so allergic and because my wife had
been an adoptive social worker we adopted our daughter Elizabeth. We were
prime candidates since we knew a lot about adoption. By the beginning of the
fourth year we had to leave Champaign because Chris was just not
making it as a kid. I enjoyed those years, that was a good decision going out
there. It was a little bit ugly. All of the elm trees had died with the Dutch Elm
Disease. It was real flat and stuff. In fact I have a short story about those days
in Illinois. Those are my assistant professor years. I was heavily involved in the
Depot Theater and things like that. I began doing my scholarly articles, but was
not yet making a connection between my work as a scholar teacher and my work
in the theater or someone using the theater in an activist way. The two were a
little separate at that point although I knew I wanted to combine them.
D: Then you went to George Washington University?
H: No. Anyway I went to the chairman's office beginning of the fourth year and I
said we have got to leave. Chris my little boy cannot take it anymore. So I got
an offer from Boston University. I was at George Washington one summer, we
went one summer because I just wanted to be in D.C. One of the reasons why I
went to Boston University was a children's medical hospital was in Boston and
we had a friend who was the head of the children's allergy clinic. It was for that
reason primarily. It was fun to go back to Boston.
D: Was that the beginning of Arts in Medicine for you?
H: No, not really. That was just great to be able to take... Chris's asthma
predictably got better. Of course Boston University was then all aflame with
protests. Vietnam is beginning to heat up. The French are leaving then, and we
are beginning to make our limited, things like that. Am I right on that date?
D: Let us see, 1969, we were full tilt.
H: Yes, that is right we were full tilt in Vietnam.
D: You had a very radical student body?
H: Yes, BU was radical, real radical. It was great to get back to Boston. It was not
quite as romantic as when I was a graduate student. Now I am paying income
tax and I am doing that sort of stuff. Published my first edition. It was an edition
of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I was there at Boston University for three years.
[I] did not quite like the Boston University faculty. They tended to be old Harvard
Ph.D's who could not bear leaving Boston, but did not get asked to stay under at
Harvard. They kept their apartments in Cambridge but they condescended to go
and cross the river and teach at this public school. John Silber came to Boston
University. Matter of fact, I was on the faculty committee that hired him. That
was sort of interesting. I was on the faculty bomb squad. We had a lot of
D: Silber is the one who privatized the schools?
H: He had been the liberal chancellor at the University of Texas and fired from
Texas because he was too liberal. BU had a series of retired Methodist ministers
as presidents, so we hired him.
D: You hired him as president? So he has been president ?
H: Oh, yes. The trustees loved him, the faculty hates his guts.
D: Still do.
H: Oh, he will be there forever. Brilliant guy but dangerous, mynarical personality.
I remember the one time I had a wonderful run in with him was the students
wanted to stage a protest at the Navy recruiting base on campus. Silber had told
them they ought to stage the protest down on the Boston Commons. But they
wanted to go on the Navy recruiting base. The SDS was real powerful at BU at
that point, the administration and the students had to agree upon some mutual
observers acceptable to both sides. I was picked as one of the neutral
observers. I was a producing, up and coming faculty member, but I was also a
popular teacher with the students so I was acceptable to both sides. The Boston
Police had new regulations those days. Whenever you called them on campus
they could come in with their dogs, and their mace, armed because they had
been beat up too much. The hundreds of students are milling around the seven
steps leading up to the recruiting place. The SDS comes and They
said, let us occupy the building, burn it down. The students rejected the SDS's
extreme demand. The SDS Silber comes across the street to
address the students. Now they are all lined up on the pavement. As he goes to
the top step to talk to them, they will later claim that he stepped on them, and
kicked them with his feet. He claimed he was just trying to step He
gets on the top step and he tells them in a condescending fashion that they are
not mature enough to have profound political views about the Vietnam situation
and he does not speak to mobs so they should elect five of their members and
they can come across the street in the sanctimony of his office and he will
discuss the issue with them. The moment he goes the students start to [roaring
noise demonstrated]. Silber calls the Boston Police. The Boston Police come
racing in. The mace is flying, the guard like that. How do you tell when a
protester is about to throw a brick or when he is holding his ankle. There was a
bloody malay there. Me the wonderful scholar, the neutral guy, I right my report.
I try to be fair to both sides because I was condemned by both sides. That was
an interesting event that was the beginning of his decline in the affection of the
faculty and the students.
D: That would have been what year?
H: That was 1971. Now he did other things which angered the faculty, telling
apartment chairpersons whom to appoint to faculty and things like that. He was
dynamic, I liked him but he was a dangerous guy. Anyway, what happened with
Florida was... In the mist of all of this, the marriage is falling, getting worse. I do
not like the BU English department, they are a little bit too much watercress
sandwiched type of people, weak tea type of people.
D: This is part two of the Oral History interview with Dr. Sidney Homan. Back on the
porch not nearly as much wildlife or storms in the background. Today is the
March 29, 1996. So you did not like the English department at Boston
H: No, I I call it that sort of watercress sandwich type. Something
wild. The students at Boston University were great. When I went to
Harvard, BU was just a tough city school. When I went back there after teaching
in Illinois the students had become pretty good. Probably lured there because it
was in Boston. BU could always count on that. So the students were great and
they were in their radical phase then too, the Vietnam War protests.
D: We talked about some of that yesterday.
H: I was there for three years and then Richard Greene, who was a med-evil scholar
at Illinois when I was there, very much a father figure, man I liked a lot, he had
come down to the University of Florida as the new chairperson of the English
Department. He asked me just to come down and spend a couple of days
visiting him and his wife, looking around the department, maybe being looked at
a little bit. It was not the formal process of the job. What was interesting was,
never having been south of Philadelphia in my life, not knowing that you fly to
Gainesville through Atlanta, I got this flight to Jacksonville and then got this little
single engine plane from Jacksonville to Gainesville. I get to Jacksonville and I
am one of these people that has to be at the airport three hours before the plane
leaves. I need to be settled and ready. It is part of my fear of rejection if I do not
get there on time. I am there three hours before I have to leave and it was a
lovely day. I go and just check out where this little airplane is supposed to be. I
see where I am to get it and that is fine. This guy comes walking up and says,
are you Professor Homan? I said, yes. He said, I am the pilot. You are going to
be leaving on the six o'clock flight but would you like to fly around a little bit? I
said, sure! He said, you are my only passenger. I get in and I sit next to him.
He takes me on this wonderful tour of Florida. We are swooping down over
orange groves. For a kid from Phili this is all new. We are going along the
Ichetucknee and things like that. We had a really wonderful flight all over. This
was a brand new world to me. I had not seen anything like this before. He finally
gets me there around six o'clock. It was a good introduction. I had a good four
days down here. I am a person who is pretty conservative when I make
judgements. In fact, very conservative, everything is weighed carefully. One of
the things that pushed me into the judgement was the marriage was failing and I
had this absurd notion that somehow if we change scenery things would change.
That was one of the ten factors. The other nine factors were I just liked, there
was a nice feeling about the place.
D: You had a bird's eye view of it.
H: I had a bird's eye view of it, I stayed at the Reitz Union. At the same time I was
there the ROTC was having the Miss Military beauty contest. Here I just left
Boston University with mace and guard dogs and violence and things like that.
On one hand I thought, oh, my god you would never have this at Boston
University. On the other hand that sort of proletariat part of myself said, ghese,
you know that is something too. You just get enough of muted intellectuals
sitting over bad coffee at Harvard Square. You just get enough of protesters who
are patting each other on the back reminding themselves of how bad the
establishment is. I liked the whole feel of the place. It was really just an
emotional feel. Florida's English department at that point in time had been in a
long state of decline. It was an old boys English department, a lot of Florida
Ph.D's in the department. Nothing particularly wrong with that but these are
people who would have never gone anywhere. It was insular. Florida brought
Richard Greene in he was a John Hopkins Ph.D. and a distinguished medievalist
at Harvard and Princeton. They had brought Richard Greene in as the new
chairperson, the new blood. I was his first appointment. Ira Clark who was
another Renaissance scholar. I and Ira were the first two appointees. Richard
Greene helped build that department back up.
D: This was the fall of 1972?
H: 1972, I came down here then. Now you ask me any questions you need
otherwise I will just go on narrative. I guess for the first couple years here I was
the dutiful associate professor trying to get things published. [My] marriage [was]
failing and now at a quantum rate. [I] loved the place, I liked the whole feel of the
place. Richard was succeeded by a fellow named Ward Helstrom. In fact you
have got the son, that is Ward's son at Westwood.
D: Josh Helstrom.
H: Ward is a great big, tall, six foot five former basketball player. Ward really
pushed the notion of the department as a service department. Teaching never
quite enters into the equation here. Are we going to try to be like Harvard, are
we going to be a scholarly department or are we going to try to be a service
department? Not that Ward neglected scholarship or teaching, he published a
book himself and was a moderately decent teacher. He really got into the
service business. We would do the composition courses and go out into the
community. I sort of got bitten by that bug. Although I suspect it was not so
much Ward's influence as I started publishing books. My first book was a
collection of essays by various people in Shakespeare. Then I published my own
book on Shakespeare.
D: So Shakespeare was your full focus at this point?
H: Yes, Shakespeare was my full focus. I thought publishing the first book would be
a bigger thrill than it was. Oh, it was a thrill do not get me wrong, but still the blue
collar kid in me came. What got me was I had been appearing as Vladimir in a
production of Beckett's [Samuel Beckett, an Irish novelist and playwright] Waiting
for Godot twenty years after Beckett had brought that play to this country. We
had performed all around the south east, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Miami, Atlanta.
D: This was a UF theater production?
H: No, it was a production with some Hippodrome friends many of who finally went
into the Hippodrome.
D: Were you a part of the founding of the Hippodrome?
H: No, I was one of the people who was on the first board. I was with them when
they were still out in the little former 7 Eleven way up there. Then they moved to
George Kirkpatrick's bar up near 441. Part of my connection with the
Hippodrome had do to do with this production of Waiting for Godot because
Rusty Soiling was in that production. He is still at the Hippodrome and Dan
Jesses is working now in town. We had done this play, but I was a
Shakespearian scholar and Shakespearians tend to be very snobby.
Shakespeare is the best. How could you possibly have room for any other
playwright in your mind, in your heart? I did not know much about Beckett. I
knew my part. I knew a couple of plays by Beckett, but I was not a Beckett
scholar. I got a call one night from the father of one of my student's she had
mentioned that we had this play Waiting For Godot and the father was the then
warden of Florida State Prison in Stark, the maximum security prison. He said to
me, Sid my daughter Jenny tells me you have a play called Waiting For Godot. I
said, yes. He said, would you like to bring it up here and do it for the inmates? I
said, gee, I never thought about that. I knew nothing of the history of Waiting For
Godot. The history is when they brought the play to this country in 1952, 1953,
they could not get a New York theater to take it because the argument was who
would want to see a play about two men waiting for someone named Godot who
never comes? There is no plot. They premiered it at the Coconut Grove in
Miami Beach and all of the tourists walked the hell out the production was so
boring. Then they finally got a New York theater to take it and the company took
out an ad in the New York Times saying that they would like intellectuals to come
to see this new play by Samuel Beckett. Every pseudo intellectual in New York
came and they all walked the hell out because there were not any ideas they
could grab on to it was so relative. Then the American Theater Company had a
wonderful idea. What about if you put on this play about men waiting before an
audience of men waiting. So they took it out to San Quintan and the inmates dug
it. They loved it. Two of those inmates later got playwrighting fellowships and
lived with Samuel Beckett and his wife in Paris. I knew none of this.
D: Did the warden know this?
H: The warden knew nothing. He just knew that we had a play and as he said the
guys just watch television at night and are unruly, maybe we could give them a
play. As a matter of fact he said, is it a radical play? Do you think it will stir them
up? I said, no.
D: He did not know the San Quintan history?
H: No, and I did not know. I did not know at all. I said, no it will not stir them up,
nothing happens in the play.
D: What year was this?
H: This was 1973 maybe. We get up to prison and I had no experience with the
Florida prison system then. I have had a lot of experience since then, but I had
no experience then. We get outside this massive gate and this big spot light
shines on us and a voice comes, who are you? What is your business? I said,
Sid Homan with his company. We are going to do a play called Waiting For
Godot. He said, all right and the gates open. It takes a long time to get into a
prison. You have to go through all sorts of locks and gates. So we repeat this
process of being interrogated two or three times and we finally get into the
cafeteria. That is where we are going to do the play at eight o'clock. The
cafeteria held about 1500 inmates and there were then three thousand inmates
in the prison. Pally did a lottery earlier that day to see which half of the inmates
could come to see us. We get ready, we have got ten minutes, we put the rock
down in the center with the tree upstage right. We get into our costumes and at
eight o'clock promptly comes 1500 inmates, 80 percent of them black which is a
commentary on our justice system. They are all noisy and they all sit down. We
are back stage. The warden gets up and he, I am not even going to use the
language on this tape, but he tells these inmates you goddamn, fucking,
cocksuckers, you unworthy bastards you, we have got some visitors from
Gainesville here who have been kind enough to bring up a play for you goddamn,
fucking I want you to shut the fuck up. You are not worthy of even
seeing this. I am sitting back stage just saying, oh, god this is a warm up act.
Oh, this is great. He gets off of the stage and he calls the playwright, Beckett
and it is Waiting For Godot. We come on the stage, well nothing to be done.
Come around to that same opinion myself. Yes, I keep asking my... We get to
about the third line of the play and you know when you do a play fifty times every
audience is different but you get used to the variation. You generally get this
much of a laugh at that line. If you get a little bit more it means it is going to be a
real good audience that evening. If you get this much a response to that line, if it
is a little less, you have got to do some stuff. Nothing in all of my experience in
the theater can ever match what then happened. We got to the third line of the
play and this inmate gets up and he says, hey, stop it. Hold it, hold it, hold it.
What did you mean by what you just said to him? I look at my fellow actor and
do we answer this? The guy says, hey I asked you a questions buddy. I look at
him again with his eyes he says, Sid you better answer him. I said okay. So I go
walk down stage and say well here is what I meant by what I said. He said oh,
okay yes. Get back in the play now. So we get back in the play. Two lines later,
hey, wait somebody else says. What we did not know was that we were getting
the very same response that Beckett's company had twenty years before, exactly
D: At San Quintan?
H: At San Quintan, exactly the same. That is every two or three lines they would
stop, hey why are you talking to him like that? Now you two come down here.
Now let us just talk about that.
D: Interactive audience?
H: Yes, interactive. These inmates, of course probably none of them had ever seen
live theater. They did not know you were supposed to shut up and not ruffle your
popcorn bag. What was really happening was, what I know had happened to
Beckett's company, these men they were seeing themselves in that play and that
so called fourth did not exist for them. In fact, the stage was not just
what we were on, but the stage became the whole house. At first it was very
frustrating because you are trying to stay in character and you are talking to
these, but after a while we began realizing they were not being rude. They
wanted to be in the play. They were in the play. Once we did that it was
exhilarating because it was like we were putting on two plays at once. A play we
had carefully rehearsed and done fifty times before straight audiences, and this
new play which had 1505 characters. It took hours to get through it because we
are running two plays simultaneously. When we finally finished, the warden was
angry as the devil at me because I had fouled up the bed check. The whole
prison operated on absolutely rigid schedules. He gets up on the stage. We are
just back stage. We are back stage behind the curtain trying to get into our
clothes to get back to Gainesville and he says, you goddamn line up
So the guys all line up like one of those Jimmy Cagney movies.
Suddenly, totally disobeying the warden they all come moving towards us. We
panicked. I thought, god are they going to rape us? We had two women in the
cast, a woman playing Pottso and a woman playing the boy. I had those
phobias you get when you are ignorant of a situation. I thought, did I remember
to leave my credit cards in the car? This huge black inmate, a foot taller than
me, comes right up to me, he is the sort of spokesperson for this group. He picks
me right up and he says to me, hey, Homan we want to talk to you, we have
some ideas about who this Godot fellow might be. Now of course, who Godot is
has been the subject of scholarly essays and books, and actor conversations for
years. We made some quick negotiations with the warden and for the next
couple of hours with each one of us handling hundreds of inmates, you talk, you
talk, no you just talked. We had the most elegant, eloquent conversations that a
teacher could ever have with these inmates. They each were reading
themselves into Godot. Godot was death. Godot was all the things you wait for.
Godot was a woman. It was just mind-blowing. When we finally got back to
Gainesville we were just all hyped from this experienced. I wondered what would
happen if we took more people around for the discussion sections? What would
happen if I involve my students and colleagues? I applied for a grant to the
government and we got a grant to take the production around to nine other state
prisons, male, female, minimum security, maximum security. Now taking along a
lot of people and having negotiations ahead with the warden and his/her staff
which said we could have discussions.
D: And discussion groups after it?
H: And discussion groups afterwards. Those discussion groups just became a
natural extension of my classes. At every prison we played at it was always the
same, this wonderfully productive interruption by the audience and these heart
felt discussions. The performance I remember best of all was our last one. It
was at Cross City Prison. Cross City is on the Gulf Coast. It is a former army
base. The prison is not a single monolithic building it looks like dormitories. We
had a typical four hour production of Waiting for Godot and then our scheduled
two hour conversation with the inmates. Then after the inmates were sent back
across the prison yard to their dormitory like cells in the far end of the yard. Then
we had an hour discussion with the warden and his staff. You could not talk to
the warden and his staff and the inmates at the same time. There were about a
100 of us going around, my students, my colleagues. We finally finished talking
with the warden and his staff. It was April.
D: Were they receiving the play critically as well?
H: Oh, yes.
D: They wanted to know?
H: Oh, yes.
D: So you educated the staff and the warden and then the inmates?
H: Yes, well they educated us because it was one of those types of conversations.
We are getting out near the gate and at the far end of the prison yard we could
just see the darkened outlines of the dormitory like cells where the inmates had
supposedly been asleep for an hour. There is a big falix of guards leading us
out. There had been some riots at the prison the week before so they were a
little edgy. We just get to the gates and suddenly all of us, guards and
Gainesville we hear windows, barred windows to be sure, being
pushed up. The guards they go into attack formation. It was the inmates, they
were waiting up to say goodnight to us. So across this darkened prison yard, just
voices, no faces, just goodnight Sid, goodnight Betty, goodnight Bill. The guards
their subtext is these liberals from Gainesville. In the mists of all of these
goodnights, just tender goodnights, this inmate named John... John was from the
Bronx, we all knew John. John was a troublesome inmate and when you are
troublesome they tend to move you from prison to prison to break up your drug
connections or your power connections. Tonight's performance of Waiting for
Godot was the fourth one John had seen. He had seen our production four
times. He was our resident Beckett expert. We all loved John. John shouts out,
hey Sid. I said, hey John. He said, that Beckett fellow, he wrote another play
called Enging did he not? I remember this thrill coming up in my chest, he knew
Beckett's second major play, Enging about the old man facing death. I said, yes
John, he wrote Enging. What John said to me sounds so absurd, so simple and
yet so profound. He said, well look buddy, why do you not all come here
tomorrow and do that Enging thing for us? As we got back in the car the kids
were saying, Sid does he not know you have to rehearse a play over weeks?
How can he be so stupid? Then we flipped and we said but wait, look at this
guys concept of the theater. The theater is a conversation, the actor is the one
who talks, the audience is the one that listens. Of course in our prison
experience with Godot those roles of actor and audience kept reversing
D: You thought you knew all of his plays?
H: Yes. What a profound concept this guy had of the theater. When I got to my
faculty cubicle that next day, it was like one of those things that Joyce talks
about. One of those epiphanies where something happens and your life
changes. Now it does not change like that, it has been building for years. Some
of your questions yesterday now put this epiphany within a context. It is more a
process. I did something no Shakespearian ever does, I took that book of
Shakespeare and I pushed it to the far right corner of my desk, let him stay there
for a while. I took my Beckett and I plunged into Beckett. I read everything that
he had written, everything about him for the next couple of years. I dragged my
students and my actor friends through every production of Beckett I could do.
Out of that came a book called Beckett's Theatres: Interpretations for
Performance. It is a book from a director's perspective. It really came out of that
experience with Waiting for Godot. It really came out of that seemingly simple
but also profound comment that that inmate named John said. I found this
gradually beginning to influence everything I did as a teacher and scholar here at
Florida. Influence in the following ways, one, I stopped lecturing about
playwrights. That is not interactive enough. Discussions about the play
gradually gave way to the method I use today which is I do not care whether they
are freshmen in a freshmen course with me or graduate students in English
seminar, I explore the theater with my students by doing it.
H: Every student gets a partner and they do scene work. The class is a rehearsal.
You and your buddy have gotten the last part of Godot to do and you rehearse it
together and you come work with me if you want. Then you do it in class and I
work with you as a director with all of the other students directors over my
shoulders. We begin to pay attention to the text in a very large sense, the
dialogue, subtext, etc. I do it that way.
D: Just the way I wish I could teach history. I tried for a year.
H: My publications they took a radical turn. The books that then came out after this
were all books that came out of my own experience as an actor and director.
Before that my critical approach had been medrodramatic. The theater sort of
self-reflects of dimension, the ways in which the theater is talking about itself. I
think that is the scholarly other side of the moon here. For example, Beckett has
written five television plays. I had commented on those television plays in a
subsequent book on Beckett. I looked at myself one day and I thought, christ, I
do not know what I am talking about. I have never directed for television, I have
directed on stage. I got a grant from the Office of Instructional Resources at
Florida, gathered my students together, gathered technicians together, and I
made television films of Beckett's five television plays. I made every mistake you
could ever possibly make in the book and I corrected every mistake. When we
finished, we because I am relying as much on my technical director, we had
videotape of Beckett's five television programs.
D: With channel five studio?
H: No, in fact of all places and I say this with a little bit of dismay in front of a
teacher, with a guy named Don Loftis in the basement of Norman Hall. The
television studio there was mostly meant just to film three heart surgeons setting
around a table talking about a cardiac arrest. It was the crudest of all studios.
We all learned a lot about Beckett. When we finished the tape that was it for me.
Now I could write a book, which I did, about Beckett's television plays. Now I
had something I could say. Some of the people connected with productions said,
hey Sid, why do we not make these tapes available no cost, to people about the
country? I wrote to Beckett's agent, and he sent me back a really
snobby letter. He said, you are nobody, you are at Florida. Besides we are
public television, we have got a million dollar contract we are going to be
So you do not have my permission. If you want you can write to Mr.
Beckett but do not expect an answer. So I write this letter to Samuel Beckett in
Paris and I tell him who I am. Norma, the kids and I had just the year before
gone to China where I taught and directed and things like that. The Chinese
were very interested in Beckett. I did a lot of Beckett with the Chinese. I had
written an article about that. I said to Mr. Beckett in my letter, I have learned so
much about... I know why you wanted exsolve there instead of a cut and I know
why you wanted that shot held for three seconds. Look I would like to have your
permission to make these films available. I would like to have your permission
and I am glad to pay royalties, but if I do not get your permission, if you say no,
that is fine too because I just feel I know so much more about your television
work. By the way here is a copy of an article I wrote. I thought it might interest
you. It is an experience I had with your plays when I was in China with my
D: Did you send him the videotape?
H: [I] did not send the videotape. Two weeks later, going through the English
department mailroom to get my mail there is this little tiny envelope [with] Paris,
S. Beckett on the top. I open it up and it says, I have got it verbatim, Dear
Professor Homan, I am so thrilled that you would want to make my television
plays available most especially to students. I thank you so much for that kind
remembrance about China. Of course you have my permission, I would not think
of your paying a cent of royalties. Of course you have my permission to do
whatever you want with those. Would it be too much trouble, and I would be glad
to recempence you, if you would send me a copy of it. Yours, Sam Beckett. I
felt like some high school student getting a fan letter from a movie star. What I
am suggesting with all of this is what has happened over the years is my
teaching and my scholarship had gotten increasingly just to reflect the work I do.
D: That was my next question. You mentioned that your books were no longer
medodramatic, but what would you...
H: The critical term they call it generally is performance criticism and what
Shakespearians and modern dramatists tend to mean by performance criticism is
pretty much what the name suggests, scholarly criticism that is based on actual
performances. The scholar will go and spend three months with the company or
the scholar will go and observe five productions of Hamlet or he will interview
actors and directors. Mine is like that, the only difference of mine is it is also
performances in which I have worked as a director or actor and often involved my
students. That has made me feel much, much better. That has allowed me to
begin to resolve some of these feelings. It is a sensitive issue. I have some
problems with my colleagues in the English department sometimes. I think
sometimes they think that I am saying that only someone that actually does it can
talk about it. I am not saying that. Once a text comes out of an author it is on the
Internet. You can do anything you want with it. One can take Hamlet and look at
it as an example of Shakespeare's colonious views. All that sort of stuff. I
cannot do that. I have got to do it within the medium for which he wrote.
D: Hands on?
H: Yes. Also I must say the one case where I do put my foot down. The problem
with most English departments and most courses in English departments in the
theater on plays is they are only touching the iceberg of the text because what
about the subtext, what about gesture, what about blocking? A play is not just
verbal the way a Henry James novel is. I guess I am a little bit of a crusader on
that issue. Going back to that point yesterday, my views about what the truth are
all far too relative for me ever to dictate anything like that. All that I know is just
for me personally and from my sense of integrity as a teacher. I cannot do it
otherwise. I cannot have a discussion on the reiterative death imagery of
Hamlet. There is reiterative death imagery in Hamlet, right, but that is not how an
audience responds. The audience is not saying, oh, here comes the third
example of that... The audiences like the actor. You know this as both an
audience and actor. You go with that play moment by moment like breath. We
know the ending in Hamlet. We know how it ends but we do not experience it
with the end in mind. We are going moment by moment, beat by beat. That is
the way I have done it and that has lead me over the years to expand the
definition of what my classroom is because I think I must have had maybe ten
grants over the years from the Florida Endowment for the Humanities. The state
agency which is the small version of the state version of the National
D: I worked from them.
H: Their principle is you bring humanist university scholars which is a wonderful title
it seems to me. Humanist, our concern is humanity. Bringing him into contact,
get him off campus, bring him into contact with the general public.
D: They rode me down to the Seminole Reserve.
H: Oh, yes. I have done the theatrical complement to the sort of stuff that you have
done. We took a production for example, David Mammoth's play Duck
Variations about two old men setting on a park bench talking about the ducks in a
pond, but really talking about themselves. Well, where do the ducks go during
the winter? We took that and we played it at twenty retirement centers around
the state. From wealthy retirement centers to despicably poor retirement centers
and then engaged the audience in conversation with that.
D: That was Florida Endowment Humanities?
H: Yes, yes. So those grants, all of those I have involved my students. In fact the
most radical involvement I have had with the students happened a couple of
years ago. For four years I had a joint appointment in the theater department.
That was great. That is where I got to head Theater Strike Force and that was
something I was glad to do because that satisfied my notion that theater is not
just for the watercress sandwich crowd. Some of the people in the prison had
called me up and said, hey you know we are still talking about that production of
Waiting for Godot. Somebody had made some formed acting companies and we
knew that. He said, do you have anything that you can do for the prisons? Well I
had Theater Strike Force at the University [with] about seventy or eighty students
in it. I went up to Tallahassee to talk to the Bureau of Corrections and what we
proposed talking together was what about taking some of my best Theater Strike
Force people around for a week to prisons all around the state doing skits on
topics of interests to the inmates. Very intelligent and sensitive people in the
Bureau of Prisons, you tend not to think of that but they are, beginning with Mr.
Singletary. We met and I got a list of topics that were of interest to the inmates.
So we knocked out over the next couple of months typically Strike Force stuff. I
got an assistant director, my assistant director with Strike Force, then we had
auditions and we picked four men and four women undergraduates, got a grant
from the Florida Endowment with the Humanities and we had a schedule. We
were going to travel for seven days in a big van, playing a prison in the morning,
driving, playing a prison at lunch, another one in the afternoon, another one in
the evening. All types of prisons. We played them all over the state. We would
finish a performance, hop in the van.
D: All state facilities? County jails as well?
H: County jails, everything. All types of prisons. We wanted a geographic spread
panhandled down to Miami. We went to all types of prisons. The first prison of
all things was Rayford. You get in there, I had not been there for years, and you
go into that yard. It was a cold morning, we were all scared to hell. A 1,000 men
milling in that prison yard. You start moving among them to the basketball court.
You are the do-gooder intellectual, they think, coming to look at them. You are
invading their home like my coming into your home, even though it is a parody of
D: Do you get a sense even in these early performances that they thought you were
reform-minded? That these were reforming type plays?
H: No. They are whispering, they are shouting obscenities at you and we have
women and we got men, and we start performing. I told the guys, come on I am
scared too but you have a responsibility. Gradually as we start performing they
start coming around and soon we have the 1,000 there. They are challenging
D: But they do not think you are reforming morals?
H: Once they understand that our Strike Force was not a preach shop. One of the
things I did not want Strike Force to be was I wanted to be absolutely neutral.
For example, I wrote a skit once we were doing parallel skits we did use in the
prisons. One was making fun of pro-lifers, the other one complementing it
making fun of pro-choice. There is a general liberal view to Strike Force but we
tried our very best.
D: These are not morality plays to reform the inmate?
H: No, I was under a lot of pressure in the theater department from the chairperson
to do that and I said I just think that is a useful function of theater but not theater
at its highest. I wanted to be more Brechtian. You sort of put out complex
signals and the audience has to work on it. They have to come to
After a while you win the inmates over. By the end they want to come up and
touch you and talk to you but we had to jump away to the next prison. For the
first couple of days we did their material. The first couple of nights I made sure
we stayed in really good motels.
D: You said Brechtian like?
H: Berto Brecht. Brecht's notion that the theater does not argue for something it is
flexible, it is neutral in that. In fact, Brecht wanted [the] lights to be on [in] the
house all of the time. He did not want the audience in the dark. They are co-
equals. I have done a production of Brecht's Galileo at the Acrosstown back in
1985, typical of Galileo. He is not the champion of science he is not the pathetic
victor. Brecht wanted a thinking audience not a theater that served to the
establishment or liberal views. What was fascinating was the first couple of
nights when we got to the motels we had our drinks and dinner and parties and
stuff like that. By the third day we were playing somewhere on the west coast of
Florida and there is a sort of underground railroad in prisons, in the spreads that
we were covering. We got up to prison to do a skit that we had planned and this
inmate gets up and says, hey Sid, you are actors right? I said, oh, yes. I want
you to do something about Jody. I said, Jody? Yes, Jody. You do not know
who Jody is man? I said, no. The inmates all start laughing at me. I said, I do
not know who Jody is. Jody is inmate slang for the guy who takes your girl while
you are in prison. The inmates are obsessed by this. The are obsessed by the
fact that someone will take their girl. All this made more complex by the increase
homosexuality. They feel very defensive about it. It is very complicated. He
said, you do something about Jody. I turned to my kids I said, hey, we are
supposed to be an improve company. let us do it. We start this skit where the
inmate decides after he gets out of prison not to call his girlfriend but to make a
surprise visit. He gets to a door, knocks on the door and Jody of course is in the
bedroom. I say freeze. I say okay you guys, does she open the door and let him
in or does she pretend she is not home? They start debating this. Okay you
want to let him in, so we let him in. He comes in. Hey, what is that
jacket on the chair. Freeze. I say to the guys, look at that jacket. Does she say
that she has knitted it for him or does she tell the truth? Lie. He goes to put on
the jacket it is too small. Finally, the Jody character comes out. Freeze. Does
she try to pass him off as her brother? Pretty soon the inmates, I did not even
have to shout freeze, they start shouting freeze themselves. [laughter] At the
end of the skit it was funny because now everything has been revealed. I say
freeze. You guys, you have got to end this skit for me. How do you end it? They
had unbelievable endings. Let her go stay with Jody, kick the goddamn inmate
out. Let her go with the inmate guy. The most popular one which was very
revealing I thought, kick the bitch out. That is what they wanted. Two guys, your
buddies, get drunk together and go play some pool.
D: So they do not have them kicking Jody's ass?
H: No, no the two guys which is real interesting. From then on we had to throw
away all of our skits we had so carefully prepared. We are improvising for two
and three hours at every performance here. This is an audience that is not
polite. Your not funny, your not funny. The kids and I we learned more about
improve let me tell you. What was fascinating was that Wednesday night and from
then on talk about class, we were traveling all about Florida but there was no
Florida for us. All our focus was on how can we improve that, how do we this?
We would get into the motel at night, did we fool around? No, let us get some
D: Strategy for the next prison?
H: Yes. We had wonderful experiences playing in women's prisons, etc. When we
got back after seven days, we found it took all of us about ten days to get
debriefed. The University seemed so small, so insignificant. It was one of those
H: Yes. I had a wonderful time with those kids it was the best possible teacher-
student, but it was a nice, fair teacher-student because I was on stage with them
trying to hustle and trying to do my best as an actor too.
D: What I need to do for the sake of history right now is get some dates. You were
full professor of English at that point in 1981. In 1991 you became an English
and theater professor. These prison tours..
H: They were 1992 I think.
D: The very first one though where you met John and you were doing Waiting for
H: Oh, that was 1973 I think. In fact, yes it is that grant
D: Did that grant just go for that season or did that carry...
H: It was typical it was like a two month grant. We went for a couple of
months on it.
D: From 1973 to 1991 you were not touring prisons?
H: No, no I was doing other variations of that, the nursing homes..
D: Right, the retirement villages and focussing on Beckett. Then you reached this
expanded definition of the Homan classroom. I am just trying to put some dates
in my notes here.
H: Those will correspond to the list of grants in the back of that vita. You will see
that and you will see exactly where the second prison tour was and things like
D: Okay so I can get that, the vita has the grant dates there. But the Theater Strike
Force when you were a theater, English department professor from 1991 to
1994, that first seven day tour, the Jody experience, what was that? Was that
H: That was 1991. Well I should tell you about the Arts in Medicine too because
that is the final thing in here.
D: Okay and that started?
H: That started five years ago. That is also 1991. That made the final change.
D: How did that come about?
H: You have really helped me put this in perspective. As my interest in scholarship
in the pure sense of that word, as that began just for me to wane, as my concern
for bringing the theater into my classrooms or bringing my classrooms into the
theater for performance criticism as that began to grow along with those public
service type of grants from the Florida Endowment of the Humanities... You
know my daughter is figured into things so often. I did a stage in a film version of
Pinter's play Old Times for no other reason in that my daughter is now a doctoral
candidate in theater in Missouri. She asked me to read the play. That lead to a
book. My last book was on Pinter. It was an account of directing the play for
television and also for the stage. Just from my perspective, it is not a criticism, I
just found things have changed in the English department so radically. English
departments are now into television scripts and movies. They have a very
flexible definition of communication. They are into third world literature. We are
in all of those debates about challenging what ought to be the cannon. We are
into computers. When I was at Harvard, the graduate students in a typical
course, let us say on Spencer, you spent half of the course studying history of
the period and then studying Spencer for the other half of the course to show
how Spencer gave voice to the issues of the age. It was that all historical
criticism. Things have changed so radically now. Now we are talking in English
departments about what the author does not say. We have those
deconstructionist notions that the author is not fully in control of the text. That he
is a product of his or her culture of all sorts of forces that he is not aware of. That
the text is not just the responsibility of the author but it is sort of written by the
culture. Working in the theater a lot helps cure you a little bit of that because I
essentially have to deal with the text that Shakespeare gave me. I have not kept
up on these things. These things do not interest me. They are all the rage
nowadays. When I say all the rage I do not mean that in a critical way. I am not
interested in that. I am not interested in, just for myself, applying some
preexisting critical design... [END OF TAPE B]
D: The English department is changing?
H: Yes, they have changed but to me it is still the sort of crafts type of work that you
would find in a medieval guild, illustrating medieval manuscripts. One scholar
with a preexisting critical design and a gender exploring literature and
announcing his explorations, and let us be honest about it, in print to a small
body of fellow scholars. In those wonderful moments when the scholarship is
related to the teaching, conveying in a somewhat diluted form that scholarship to
his or her students. Understand me, that is the noblest possible calling
imaginable. I cannot do it. I cannot do it that way. I have got to have a public. I
have got to make my work immediately useful to a public. It has got to be hands
on. It has got to respect the nature of the medium, mine just happens to be
theater. I have got to become a student with my students. One of my biggest
thrills is acting on stage with my students because I am there just as vulnerable
as they are. I am not a 1960s guy, I am not denying the authority of the teacher.
I am driven by my own needs and those are needs to be as useful and
manifesto at what I do as my father was installing those telephones.
D: It sounds like your mother is involved there with getting into the community.
H: Yes. In 1991, my daughter asked me to meet a wonderful, which turned out to
be a close friend, John Graham-Pole. He is a professor of pediatric oncology at
Shands. He is one of the worlds authorities on children's cancer. Of all of the
jobs doctors could have I cannot imagine that one wouldbe ore stressful or
painful. He works with children with leukemia. We are roughly the same age.
He is a professional clown, a poet of real ability, and while he is perfectly part of
the establishment in medicine he is also very much interested in alternative
medicines and in the role of the artist in the hospital. The connection between art
and medicine is a very ancient one. Physicians in Greek society were
acquainted with artists. The basic principle behind Arts in Medicine as John
explained it to me is that performers have just as much to do with health and
wholeness as physicians. His vision is a vision of a hospital in which artists are
part of the staff. Artists and physicians work together. This is not just bringing
art, for example theater into the hospital to cheer up patients although if it does it
that is certainly a positive thing, but to use art as a mirror to pick up
Shakespeare's word in Hamlet. As a mirror by which patients can themselves
contribute to their health.
D: How long has he been running this?
H: He started it in 1991 and I joined him at the beginning. It is a large part of my life
right now. I am on the executive board. I edit the newsletter. I have gone about
the country delivering papers and giving workshops. We have had a national
convention in which I played a part. I have staged productions that focus on the
issue of health. For example, Pinter's play A Kind of Alaska which is based on a
real medical case. Typically what I am doing right now is on Fridays I work with
teenagers in the Psychiatric Unit at Shands. [Doing] acting workshops because I
find that the theater and theater workshops, the exercises we do as actors, are
the perfect thing for teenagers who are mentally ill because teenagers who are
mentally ill shrivel up. They loose their imagination. That is one of the first things
you discover. They cannot make those imaginative connections. They loose
their imagination, they loose pleasure in their body, in their voice and they most
certainly do not interact with other teenagers. Mental illness closes you down.
Theater exercises are all designed to... They are ensemble work, they are
designed to stretch your imagination, your body, your voice. I work with a
recreational therapist, Maggie Hennen, I just did it today, and that is how I use
my work in the theater. This in a sense brings to a close I think the things you
probably want about my pedagogical, philosophical, psychological history here
as a teacher at the University of Florida. I came here in 1972 and now it is what
twenty-six years later and I am very different as a teacher and a scholar and
even as a member of this University. I do not just stay in Turlington Hall. I walk
down to Shands everyday.
D: Let us talk about being a member of the University.
H: I love the concept of the University and I feel that with some exceptions it is our
best and last hope for a strong, healthy society. I like the diversity at a university.
I certainly like having as my clientele people who are forever eighteen to twenty-
one years of age because I like that sort of idealism. I like being at a state
university. That is just part of my political emotion having gone to two private
universities as an undergraduate and graduate student. Do not get me wrong,
Princeton and Harvard are marvelous places but they are not as marvelous as
D: What are the strengths at UF?
H: The strength at UF are it does not have to much room for pretension because it
certainly is not a Harvard. There is a sort of vulgarity here. There is a sort of
vulgarity about Florida. Vulgar, I am going back to the Latin roots of vulgar,
common, not spitting on the floor. I think one of the reasons that attracted me to
Florida back in 1972 when I came here was... After all I was living in Boston.
Who would not want to live in Boston, the hub of the universe, Boston Fine Arts
Museum, Boston Symphony? But I come from South Philadelphia. One of the
things I liked about Florida was it did not have the brains to have pretensions.
D: Nobody is eating watercress sandwiches.
H: Yes, no one is eating watercress sandwiches here. I sort of liked that because I
went to elitist universities. Now they were elitist but they were also highly liberal
and democratic. A lot of my colleagues get very nervous about the fact that
Tallahassee is breathing down our back and all of those yokels up there, some of
them are not UF graduates, and they want to make sure that we teach maximum
D: Maximum what?
H: Maximum moral. My kids laugh at me. I teach two courses a semester. I am
saying this to a middle school teacher. If I wanted to I have got tenure, unless I
rape a student or stab a student I do not need to publish anything more. I am a
full professor. If I wanted to I could go in there and teach two courses which
have under fifty minutes each a week and that would be it. If I wanted to.
D: What are you doing as opposed to that?
H: I teach them. I am directing students in plays, I am taking on independent study
students, I am publishing, I am working in the community. I view, for example,
my work with my wife, Gainesville Association for the Creative Arts as part of my
job description now. That might not be necessarily the Universities notion. Now,
I have the leisure to do that because it is an argument for tenure in a way. I am
working harder now than I have ever worked in my life. I worked harder when I
went on sabbatical than I ever worked in my life. I am defining that work and I
define that work fortunately in terms of those guys in Tallahassee. In terms of
public service. You know universities, including Florida, for too long had it for too
good. They were like corporations in which the people gave their money but had
no control over the product. We get all huffy at the University of Florida when
those yokels in Tallahassee tried to tell us about the product.
D: It is a credibility issue.
H: I am not so sure that is such a bad idea. I will tell you frankly and I guess my
colleagues would put me down as an anti-intellectual, I think that most scholarly
work and scholarly publication is absolutely useless. It is not thought that way by
the person doing it, but I cannot be convinced and I will include some of my work
in this, that it makes its way into the persons teaching, that it is new in any sense
of the word. It is essentially to gain points, to gain tenure, to please the individual
psyche of the person writing. Do not get me wrong, I know how pleasurable that
can be. Less of that goes on at the University of Florida than at Harvard because
first of all we do not have the same high percentage of brilliant researchers.
There is a fascinating thing, I do not have the figures exactly right. Sam Proctor
would probably know them better, but apparently the American Historical
Association did a study of the last 1,000 Ph.D.'s granted by American universities
in history. This is just going to be rough. Of those 1,000 Ph.D.'s, 600 never went
into the teaching profession in any sense of the word. Of the other 400,
something like 300 of those went into teaching but not teaching that would
demand publication. Of those 100 who went into universities or colleges which
were saw as published, of those 100, and I know I am right on this one, only six
can be considered of those 1,000 really publishing scholars. The point of this
was, and this is an extreme argument do not get me wrong, why have Ph.D.
programs in history if you are only going to get six real publishing, researching
scholars out of every 1,000? Those are real bad odds. As classically
understood the primary function of doctoral programs is to create researchers.
Now one can argue, researchers who are also university teachers. We all know
the truth about that. I do not mean to get on my high horse here. Until we have
been made to be a little bit more accountable, teaching has absolutely nothing... I
am not a full professor because I try to be a good teacher. I am a full professor
because I have got nine books. All those tenure meetings I went to in the
English department and it does not mean We are all decent people. I
do not ever remember, maybe once or twice in twenty-five years, a comment
ever being made about someones teaching. Never anything positive, no need
D: The focus was on the publications?
H: The focus was on publications absolutely.
D: If I interpreted it right one of the strengths of UF in this vulgaric theme is that
there is strong teaching going on.
H: Well the strong teaching is going on because, point in fact, we have not had the
leisure or the talent across the board fully to indulge in ourselves as a research
university. Now we do a lot of research. My ideal is the person who publishes
twenty-five books and is a great teacher and coaches at the Boy's Club on
Saturday and goes out for the Florida Endowment of the Humanities and is a
visiting humanist in Podeque that is the idea. That person, and I know some like
that, and we have them here at Florida, they need to be rewarded at the highest
level. What we get from that on downward are some wonderful teachers who
have never published anything, some lousy teachers who have never published
anything [and] some researchers and publishers who are not good teachers and
we have them in the English department. I am not too sympathetic to the last
group because they are getting subsidized to do that medieval guild
D: That just serves a very small elite?
H: Yes. I like Florida in that sense. When we are bad, we are real bad.
D: Give me some examples.
H: Despite all that talk about merit scholars and fantastic students here, we have
some students here who should not even be in universities. I just finished
marking some papers in a Shakespeare course today, middle school level. We
have some people here, especially some of those who have gotten
grandfathered in the old days, who really need to be teaching at perritory
schools who are not real scholars. We have got some scholars here who are
terrible teachers. My vision of the University is its primary function is
undergraduate education. That ought to be the very core of the University but we
all know that some people get a kick out of just being surrounded by their
graduate students. I spoke to a friend of mine at the University today, Keith Leg.
I do not think Keith would mind. Keith who is in the political science department,
is the head of the honors program. One of the kids in my sons class
wants to major in political science and I said I will call up Keith and ask him to
give me the names of the ten best universities. Keith's answer was one I should
have realized. He said, Sid, for an undergraduate do not pick the department in
terms of the quality of the political science department because in point of fact if it
has a great political science department probably all of the focus goes on the
graduate. Just pick a good university. A good university is Oberlin who has
good people in the political science department he says, and I tend to agree with
my friend Leg on that. I think essentially undergraduate education has been
historically cheated. In this wonderfully vulgar state responsible to those yahoos,
I like to call them that, most of them are yahoos.
D: The good ole boys in Tallahassee.
H: But there is something nice, those good ole boys have a set of practicalities that
academicians would be well to look at. They got to worry about being elected. I
sort of like that. I like that it sort of brooms the University down a little bit. It
makes it a little bit more common. I have had offers to go to other universities,
prestigious universities and I have never taken them. I am very committed here
to the University of Florida.
D: You are a Gator?
H: Yes. Even as I say that I am probably not a very good University member in the
sense that I am not interested in the workings of the University. I am not
interested in department politics. In the best sense of the word politics. I guess
to be honest I am not even really interested in the latest teaching methods and
things like that. I am happy in the classroom but it is not quite enough for me so I
have to walk down to Shands.
D: Are you involving English students in the Arts in Medicine Program?
H: Oh, yes, yes. I have a lot of them involved there.
D: And they are there as volunteers or do they get course work out of this?
H: Oh, sometimes I give them independent study for it, sometimes I am just pros to
the honors programs that I give a course in theater in which they will also do a
practicum by coming over to Shands with me and working in the theater with
patients. I do not want to publish anymore books. I am being a little fake here
but I have published enough already and how many books do you have to
publish? It does not turn me on anymore. I had a talk with my chairperson about
that, my chairperson Howard Clark who is a wonderful chairperson. If the
function of the University is research and publication and trying to make
improvements in undergraduate teaching... I just got one of those TIP Teaching
Awards so that means my salary gets a $5,000 edition every year.
D: Congratulations, I wish I could get
H: Yes, I wish you could get it too. Universities are struggling. We never had
teaching evaluations when I was an undergraduate. Universities are getting
pressured and it is not just the state universities. If my son goes to Emory that
will be $29,000, short of what Emory will give us. You be damned sure I want to
make sure that at $29,000 is worth four times the University of Florida at $6,000.
I am not so sure about that.
D: Is your son considering UF?
H: Oh, yes. I hope they consider him too. It is such a paradox. Florida is so proto-
typical. It is way too big, it has way too much emphasis on research. I think
there is a real cleavage, I can speak mostly of my own department, between the
interests, scholarly abilities and things of the faculty and the so called Republican
trickle down theory about how that gets into teaching. I cannot imagine any
place more beset by problems than Florida but with more promise.
D: What is the promise?
H: For me the promise is that given this pressure we could really become of service
to the state. That is my notion of it. Maybe that means by the way we do not
have room for the scholar who publishes that book on that obscure eighteenth
century figure. Not that obscure eighteenth century figure is not significant and
not that in some very vague way his work on that eighteenth century figure gives
him some insight into the literary process and that influences Maybe
we do not have room for that.
D: No, I am with you man. This state is beset with a lot of big problems.
H: Maybe it means the University has to do more things with the public schools.
This is going to sound boastful and I do not mean it. I am just struggling, I am
just trying to do the best I can. We have Marjorie Kenning Rollings Society
within in the English department because Rollings and my colleague John
Check, the wonderful scholar teacher of children's literature theory. He has
taken one of Ms. Rollings short stories and made it into a play and asked me if I
would stage it for the Rollings Festival. Now typical my fashion I have take
twelve of my undergraduate and graduate students they are working with me in
independent study and we are working on the new play. That is different than
working on a play where the text already exists. But Norma and I have a grant in
with the GACA for the fall to take that play to ten public schools in this city,
elementary to high school, and to combine them with workshops. Joel Sakke
Henderson one of Norma's teachers will give a workshop for the public school
teachers and kids on how dancing can express ideas. I will do one on acting and
John will do one on writing. It did not take me long to think of that. That seems
to me natural. It seems to me that universities, I would like the University of
Florida to do more of it. We do not do very much. A wonderful teacher in the IB
program at Eastside. I adore her, she is David's eleventh grade English
teacher, Denise Sanderford. I have come in a couple of times because I love to
do that because that is my boy. When I come in I take over the classes for the
D: Come into my middle school class, I have got one of your sons there.
H: She was saying she has not much success in getting faculty members to come in
even though those faculty members have kids in that IB program. I do not know
what the reasons are. I would like us to be much more of service than that.
What passes as profound literary scholarship for the most part is shop-talk. You
purposely create a complex language.
D: Crafty shop-talk.
H: Yes and that book Prof Scam, I do not know if you know that one. A wonderful
expose of what goes on and it struck me. I forget who the author is, it is called
Prof Scam. It is essentially making the point I am making but with much more
D: Is it a new book?
H: No, it is an old book, maybe ten years old.
D: I see the same things. I came out of the Proteach program with my masters and
the longer I have been in the field teaching public school the less relevant that
H: All that I know is for whatever reason because it does not have full confidence in
itself as Harvard has, because it has got those guys up in Tallahassee, because
it is so vulgar. I have had the liberty and the privilege of trying to be a more
useful person here. Nobody cared. As long as I am there teaching those two
classes and do not do anything illegal I am free. You find often when you are
given absolute freedom you can find yourself by your own principles, needs and
agenda more. My schedule is obsolete. if I were teaching. I know the
legislators would like this as if I were teaching instead of two courses a semester,
fifteen as if I were a middle school teacher. It is just as locked in. I am doing the
locking in myself.
D: That is a strength at UF that you have been given that freedom?
H: Yes, it is. It just represents some real democratic principles. When David
applies to colleges, one of the colleges he might apply to, and whether they will
accept him or not we do not know, Oberlin. Oh, boy Oberlin, 1,500 students,
magnificent faculty. David, University of Florida, 30,000 students. They are
balancing things, not just the cost factor. They are balancing things.
D: You said it was too big and you have seen UF grow, what was the student body
when you came here?
H: I cannot remember but I bet it was not more than 2,500.
D: Dr. Proctor would probably know. For its infrastructure?
H: It is a little bit big.
D: Too big for its paradigm?
H: Not to big for its infrastructure just too big in the sense of working against that
close community for undergraduate and their teachers. I know what it is like.
When I was at Princeton it was 3,000 students, it was roughly that then. But you
are there with the faculty all of the time. You see them, you have coffee with
D: That does not happen often here.
H: It happens enough because the real great teachers, the wonderful teachers who
tend to also be wonderful scholars it does work kind of in hand. I really believe
D: My favorite professors were the ones I smoked cigarettes with.
H: They make it happen. They have got the extra time for that.
D: Or the eviction.
H: They have got that extra time.
D: But the larger school does not allow that like it should.
H: Well a loss of physical invitations. One thing I loved about Harvard was, it was
broken down into houses the Harvard Houses were like the Oxford College so I
was a tutor at Elliott. That worked nice. University of Florida has a lot of masters
that it is serving to. There is research we have got to do for Ithis and this and
that. I am not real proud of writing nine or ten books. I did not need to write so
many. That took time away from me, from my students. Especially those earlier
books. I enjoyed being in that cubicle writing that book, in control of my world,
not having to worry about that snot-nosed little kid who comes to me arrogantly
asking why he got a "D" having only written one paragraph on a three hour exam.
There is that monkish pleasure in doing that and just being with Shakespeare.
D: But you would have liked the time to have dealt with his...
H: I should have. I was thinking of that just recently one of my boys called at the
house and I said, oh, shit I told him I did not want them calling my house. He
called back again and Norma said, Sid, you need to talk to this guy. He said,
Sid, can I talk to you?
D: A UF student?
H: Yes. What happened was he and his girlfriend were going to get married and he
does not want to marry her. He just wanted to talk with me about that. He was a
wonderfully sensitive boy. He was worried about what might happen to her. We
sat and talked.
D: Not related to the course material?
H: No, not related to the course, he was embarrassed by that. In some sense it is
related to the course because he had been picking up signals from me in the way
I handled him as an actor in the course and the way we worked together that I
might be someone on whom he could depend for good advice, who might listen
to him or who might understand him if I could understand the character I was
working on with him. He did not say that but that was what was happening. I felt
real good about that conversation. The only advice I gave him was the advice he
was already giving himself. He needs to talk to her about it and maybe take a
walk in Kanappa Hill Gardens when they are talking about it. We hugged when
we finished. I told him, Norma and I will be around this weekend give us a call if
you need us. I do not have any abilities as a counselor or anything like that, I
have abilities as an actor and teacher. He was responding within a larger
definition of that medium. University of Florida is like an old car with its oil
leaking out, and its parts hanging out but there is a sort of pleasure in that.
D: It has got charm.
H: Yes, I sort of like that.
D: What do you think of the sports program at UF?
H: I played sports in college although and I it did not matter. I
have a typical faculty view, I wish they were all just intermural sports. That is
foolish we have to have a football team and then that brings us some recognition
and we have to have a basketball team.
D: It seems to be the only focus in society.
H: Yes, I agree with most of those studies which really suggest it is a separate world
here. It is not connected. I do not have to lecture anyone on the facts which
show there is not correlation between good sports teams and support for the
academic life of the university. in Chicago would be bankrupt. I see
no reason for the existence of sports at this level and this expense at a
university. I reverse myself of course we have to have it. I am watching those
with my old football in my hand and I am loving every minute of it. I think it has
no real relevance to this University. People do not need to lecture me in athletics
about healthy minds, healthy bodies. Shit, my undergraduates we do half an
hour theatrical warm-up exercises, we are getting healthy enough. But I am one
of a million voices whistling in the wind, that will never, never change because
there is something deep in the psyche of people. It is just like some alien that is
in our bodies and it is there.
D: You have got to have a team.
H: You got to have it, everyone else has it.
D: Does it bring a lot of money to the University or does it bring money to the sports
H: Well I would like to see those records. I think it brings money to the sports.
Figures are that once and a while they will make a donation to the library or
something like that, but the sports program is self-sustaining. My
undergraduates they do not want to be into classes all of the time, they want to
be into sports but the percentage of them who are really on sports teams is
infantestently small. I am all for big building as we just did, big Gainesville
Health and Fitness clubs on the University. I am all for that, that is great. I am
into that myself but these are foolish thoughts of a middle-aged man. Nothing
will ever change that. Nothing will ever, ever change it but it does not help us in
the academic profession when they only know about our sports teams or when
there are scandals in our sports teams.
D: I see that in middle school. When I teach middle school kids they know more
about the Gators than about Ponce de Leon.
H: Yes, but that is so deeply rooted in the American psyche. The land grant
universities and the sports. It is a nice preexisting professional league. You
have got college teams to play. I love sports, I adore them. I read the sports
pages first. I have read everything about the new basketball coach. I love all of
that. I just think we are not in the same world, physically, most certainly not
academically. Do you learn things playing sports? Yes, for example Danny is on
the select soccer team. He has learned an enormous amount about team
D: He is your youngest son?
H: Yes. Sure I guess those guys and girls are learning that sort of stuff...
D: And he is a great student by the way.
H: But that stuff can also be taught by giving kids a team project in the course. My
kids with their acting partner they learn how to work with another person. I give
them the same grade. So when you work with Sally as your acting partner, you
get the same grades in acting. You are dependent on each other. The one
academic value of sports it can be done in so many other ways.
D: Are you happy with the facilities at UF?
H: Yes, I think we have a good facility. We have lousy salaries. The salaries are
way too low. There is a real problem with moral in the faculty. We are ranking in
salaries and things like that. We are way, way too low. Facilities, yes and no, we
do not have enough classrooms.
D: You have crowded classes?
H: Not so much that the classrooms are crowded, it is harder in scheduling.
Physically though, I like this University and I have been to worse. Boston
University, see what that looks like.
D: You have made your home in Gainesville for fourteen years now?
H: Since 1972.
D: No, twenty-four years.
H: Twenty-four years and I am never going to leave here. Never ever, wield my
body to Shands. I have got to stop.
D: We are going to pick it up here on April 2, 1996, Dr. Sidney Homan, the third of
our interview sessions. What do you think Sid?
H: I am speaking to the larger purpose of these interviews, whatever use they are
or are not to other people, they are of enormous value to the person being
interviewed. 10 percent of that is the ego. It is very satisfying being asked to talk
about yourself and being able to do it without appearing immodest. Maybe you
do appear immodest. The 90 percent is the reverse side of oral history. It is the
person talking knowing that it is not natural talking. Knowing that it is going
down. It is like writing a diary. Knowing that it is not it seems to me you
inevitably put an intellectual or historical or philosophical grid on what you are
talking. So you start putting your life in order. I thought of some things in this
interview that I guess I had way back in my mind about patterns of ones life and
things like that. When you are living you are not so much thinking in terms of
patterns. If you think too much then you start living it. It is the old Hamlet
problem. If you act without thinking you are an animal, if you think without acting
they are contradictory so you have to navigate. Universities are peculiar in that
sense because they are primarily thinking places but since the 1960s onward
they have not been allowed to be just thinking places. For example, I remember
that my undergraduate school Princeton, during the Vietnam War took a position
as a university against the war. There was a lot of controversy about that. Are
universities people, that is can we without being like a theological school, can
universities have positions? Do they have political positions? I remember for
example, a couple of years back, this is so typical of the University, my friend
Hernan Vera in sociology... Hernan had been with the Aliendian government
during the liberal days of Chile and then was kicked out with the Peoshay
government and the rightist coming in. Then he came to this country and
became a sociologist.
D: You worked with him?
H: Yes, one year we and eight others were selected as Lily from the pharmaceutical
company, a mixed blessing. It was like this Lily Teaching Fellows. We were
given a semester off just to meet with each other and talk about our teaching
because you know university faculty never talk about their teaching. They only
do that in the College of Education. Of course we are to "good for that". Our
only charge was to talk about our teaching, to meet once a week and possibly if
we wanted to join courses. My son, Chris was then a teenager and pretty sorely
and inarticulate. I discovered that the one time we could talk together was we
liked to watch the old TV show Wild, Wild West which had been new in my day
and now we are watching re-runs. We would watch it every afternoon together
and it was a sort of historical bonding. He knew that when I was a kid I saw that
new and now we returning to that.
D: Oh, yes, I love those re-runs.
H: One day as I was flipping to it [and] I accidentally flipped on the public television
channel. This is perfect for a UF historian, they were having that Steve Allen
Meeting of the Minds Show which is an old format. Martin Luther was arguing
with the Pope and Marie Antoinette and Resputen, those various characters
around the table. Chris said, dad get Wild, Wild, West on. I said, just a second
Chris, let us just watch it for a second. We watched for a couple of minutes then
we got Wild, Wild West. Our routine was after we would watch Wild, Wild West
we would get on our bikes and just ride around Gainesville for a while. Riding on
the bikes was our chance to talk to each other. Those were the conditions. We
are riding along and suddenly he starts talking about the difference in
Catholicism and Protestantism. This non-intellectual kid, he just picked it up
from that Meeting of the Minds. I get back to the University and in the next
couple of days the dean asked me to be head of the honors program for the
D: What year would this have been?
H: Oh, boy, it was probably 1974 to 1976, for several years. It was just during that
phase when the College of Liberal Arts and University College, which they were
two separate entities... University College was for the first two years. The
University College was on its way to being disbanded and made part of the four
year school. I was to head the honors program during that transitional year. I
met with the potential honors kids and I said to them, tell me real bluntly, what is
missing here academically for you? With that wonderful naivety of youth and
disarming bluntness they said, too many dull teachers. I said, what does that
mean? When I got them to refine it a bit they argued that they were not sure
whether the teachers here, we are talking about politics, were committed to
anything. Was there any relationship between a scholars work and his or her
world views? I said, that is interesting. I put that together with this experience
with my son riding down the hill talking for a couple minutes about theological
issues and I proposed that we would have an honors seminar which would be
like Meeting of the Minds. What I would do would be, I would call in colleagues
of mine and the only requirement was they not be themselves, that they be an
historical figure. Usually the historical figure on which they had spent a lifetime
working [on]. They did not have to dress up like the historical figure, they just
had to be addressed as it. In other words if your thing was Abraham Lincoln, we
would address you as President Lincoln.
D: Did Seldon Henry do that part?
H: No, I just pulled that out of the thing. I remember Greg Altmer did Una Mono
and Hernan Vera did Lupes de Vega or something like that. I did Shakespeare's
Yago. A woman colleague in the German department did Kafka, etc., like that.
Then we could bring combinations, Kafka and Rousseau would be both guests
one day. Now, some of them dressed up for it. Again the minimum requirement
was you not speak in your own person, you speak as if you were that person.
Omer had just published a book on Rousseau. He could certainly speak more
like Rousseau in terms of for Rousseau than probably anybody around. There is
a confidence factor. The role of the honor students was just to be like hosts at a
cocktail party, just chatting with these famous guests. What we found was first of
all the kids loved this. It gave them a sort of power. It was not teacher-student it
was host and guest. Secondly, my colleagues under the guise of playing a
character, not having to be "themselves", began speaking very often
passionately and out of deep conviction as if they were really playing somebody
else. In other words they could be more committed to things playing a role than
being themselves. We began to get requests to come back and return visits and
things like that.
D: What did you call the program?
H: I just called it a sort of meeting of the minds. It was the core seminar of the
honors program. It was a wonderful thing. It was just absolutely wonderful. It
was one of those early moments when the theater loosely defined here, for me
crossed over to academic life. That is when I got to know Hernan Vera. A few
years later after that honors program had been disbanded when the colleges
D: Do you remember what year that was?
H: This was 1984. Hernan and I kept our friendship up and in about 1984 you may
remember there was a big controversy here in Gainesville. There were some
allegations that Marshall Criser who was then president, and the head of the
Chamber of Commerce were getting together and advocating increased business
growth for Gainesville. The developers and non-developers. Some faculty
members [had] apparently been drafted to speak the University Chamber of
Commerce's position to the community. Hernan was then head of the new
faculty union at Florida.
D: What department did he teach in?
H: In sociology. There were several faculty members who as private citizens had
gone to speak against Marshall Criser's position, this endorsement of unlimited
growth for Gainesville. Apparently Criser had stereotyped these faculty members
as no growther's, wide-eyed liberals and things like that. Hernan sent a long
letter to Marshall Criser saying, I protest this. I protest that you and the
administration and you as the president take a position on this. You are
supposed to be neutral as a university. I resent your intimidation of faculty
members who are speaking out against your position.
D: Very confrontational.
H: Well, hell Hernan had battled the rightist in Chile for twenty years. As the head of
the new faculty union that union was meeting a lot of opposition. Faculty
members tend not to unionize. We are "too good" to be union members. Me, the
son of a member of the telephone workers...
D: Were you a member of the union?
H: Yes, I had just joined it. Criser sent Vera back a sort of generic letter saying,
professor Vera there is no problem here. I have always supported freedom of
speech, rights of faculty members. That is it your letter is not to the point.
Hernan went into a fit and called me up one night. When Hernan gets angry he
starts to stutter. He is a former stutterer. He was stuttering in anger. I said,
Hernan you have got to channel that anger. He said, all right I will get back to
you in a day. He comes back to me in a day. He says, I will tell you what I am
doing. He said, I am going to have a conference here on freedom of speech and
faculty and I will invite that marxist professor in Maryland who had been kicked
out for his marxist views. I will invite various faculty...
D: Was that Eugene Genovasi?
H: I cannot remember. He was going to invite a variety of speakers on the issue. I
said, Hernan, that is great. That is really a productive use of your anger. He
said, but Homan, you have got to do something for me. I want you to stage
something dramatic for the opening night of this three day conference. You have
got to pay me back. Well, I said, okay I will do it. I will do a readers version.
D: Pay back for what?
H: For telling him to channel his anger and now he has to organize this three day
conference. I said, okay I will get back to you. I thought what play would be
appropriate? Brecht's Galileo, because Brecht revised that play before the
dropping of the atom bomb when he wrote it. Galileo was the bold, inquiring
scientist venturing into unknown lands opposed by this irresponsible, repressive
Catholic Church. After the dropping of the atom bomb, Brecht seriously revised
the play and tried to present a more balanced view suggesting that indeed we
cannot in a society exist unfettered. Scientist have obligations that we
continually have to make our research meet political and social needs of society.
The bold individual adventurer can often be counterproductive to a society. This
was a bit of Brecht's marxist views here. Now whether the play has ever
succeeded that way, I do not know because we tend to identify with Galileo. I
decided I would do a readers version of [it], no memorization. We just get some
actors and do it once. Then the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre heard that I was
doing this and they said, hey how would you like to do a run of Galileo? I said,
okay. Well talk about the relation of the University and ones life in the
community, I had a colleague Andy Gordon, very fine actor, very good scholar.
He was at that very moment in time about to go into a legal suit with the
chairperson of the English department a fellow named Melvin New who is no
longer chair. This is Andy's version, I will be neutral in the issue. Mel had told
Andy that Andy had to publish so many more pages per year if he wanted to be
promoted. Mel had criticized according to Andy some of his scholarship. In
effect, Mel was as chairperson dictating the nature of Andy's scholarship if Andy
wanted to be rewarded with promotion and tenure. From Andy's perspective this
was an infringement on his rights as a faculty member. Andy and Mel were really
at odds with each other. So, I cast Andy as Galileo.
D: In the Acrosstown Repertory?
H: Yes, in fact Andy would pick me up every night for rehearsal and drive to the
theater and on our way to the theater we would not talk about his part, we would
talk about his latest skirmish that day with the department. So by the time we got
to the theater Andy was really in a mood. Quickly the allegory became clear, the
Catholic Church was Mel New and the English department and Andy was
Galileo. Andy had a rather romantic view of Galileo. What I tried to do as a
director was be more balanced the way I knew Brecht wanted it to be. It turned
out to be one of the best experiences I had as a director. It was a play which
was at every performance having ramifications and spilling over into my real life
role as a faculty member. Hernan and the union came to see it and enjoyed it.
The other thing which was amazing was we expected to have only a three week
run, that is three weekends, which would be the typical thing for the Acrosstown.
The Acrosstown in those days, and still today, always has a problem attracting
an audience. [There are] a lot of productions at the Acrosstown with six or seven
people in the audience.
D: I guess Marshall Criser did not show?
H: No. But for whatever complicated reasons we had to extend that play for several
more weeks. We had full houses, we could hardly manage the audiences. I do
not know why. Maybe the production was okay, I hope it was. There must have
been some other reasons. It may have been the University kind of touched those
D: I was an undergrad then and I remember hearing it was good and planning on
taking a date and it was sold out.
H: Yes, it was always sold out. Jimmy Evangalista the muralist he did a mural
around the entire theater of the heavens and the stars. We dressed all the
monks and officials of the church, and Galileo and all of his assistants in the
same non-descript robe to try to make it as neutral as possible. We did not use
any scientific equipment. We mimed all of the telescopes, and everything like
that. It had a historical setting, it was sort of timeless. You were not actually
seeing physical things. The other thing, you know that space in the Acrosstown,
we took three stages. Each of the stages was a twelve foot circle raised a foot.
We had three stages like islands. The audience sat like an ocean all around
those stages. So when Galileo moved from his living room to his laboratory he
had to walk through the audience. There was no off stage, when actors finished
a role in a particular scene they would just sit with the audience. Brecht had all
of those notions that the audience was to be actively involved.
D: I was going to ask you that, is that
H: Yes, I try to do it as faithfully as I could to his concept of where the audience is
not just sitting there in the darkness, insignificant as the meaningful illusion on
stage takes place, but the audience is a co-equal partner. That really has a lot to
do with the way I perceive my role as a teacher in the classroom.
D: Hands on, interactive.
H: We are partners. I probably know a little bit more about some details of Hamlet
than my students, but that needs to be shelved when that student is trying to do
Polonious to my Hamlet in Act II, Scene II. There is a bit of the 1960s guy in me
where we are all equal. It is all very democratic. This is not fully compatible with
the classical definition of the University were the faculty member/researcher has
been to the promiseland and found out some things and here come the students
and they are under his/her tutorage go through those steps. That is a
beautiful, romantic, classical, significant dimension of the teaching process. For
me it is not the full way of doing it. It is a little adverse to the way theater works,
which is much more collaborative. Theater is a good analogy. The director is in
charge of the production but the actor after all is in charge of the part. Or as my
actors like to say, Sid, opening night you are just going to be sitting there.
D: It sounds to me and I have heard it referred to as such, that your teaching style is
very unique and very pioneering. Have you influenced other departments? Are
there models of your teaching style out there in academia?
H: I am not sure I know a lot about that just statistically. In a very large sense even
English departments, I say even, I do not say that sarcastically, move towards a
more co-equal balance between the text and the reader. We talk about reader
response criticism. For example, my colleague Norman Holland is involved in
that at work. The readers response to the work becomes text in itself. When you
read King Lear it is the text of King Lear as it exists in your mind which is at least
as significant as Shakespeare's document. There are lots of movements to
make a more equal balance between the person receiving the text and the text.
That eventually is going to influence teacher-student relationships. The problem
with English departments is most of the people teaching Shakespeare or modern
drama do not have stage experience, but I have no problem with that because
we all have audience experience. From my view the audience and the actor are
co-equals, they are just as significant. Actors without an audience are just in
rehearsal, they are not in performance. Audience without actors are just people
sitting in the house, but they are not at a performance.
D: Echoes of those prison performances.
H: Yes, and I do believe that as a matter of principle. That latent leans to a sort of
flexible definition of theater, but saying all that the notion of your teaching style
being influenced by the nature of the medium in which you are working. I do not
think that is very common. I do not mean to say that I am unique or anything like
that. To put it the other way around a more modest way is drama in an English
department is always sort of an odd duck anyway. It is not literary but because
English departments appropriate Shakespeare. After all if you are loosing
Shakespeare in the English department you are loosing your star, right? For
example in the film studies program of the English department, there is a case
where it is hands on stuff. They are not just studying films theoretically, or having
discussions about the philosophical issues in 2001 as we used to in this
department when we first started having courses in films.
D: They are making films?
H: Yes, they are making films.
D: Is that what cross-cuts is?
H: Cross-cuts, they are making films, they are making documentaries. There is a
parallel. I think when a scholar writes an article let us say on a Shakespeare
play, that article is properly a critical performance. That is the recreation of the
play in the mind and imagination of that scholar. That interested me much more
than the notion of, and again I am going back to the way I was taught in graduate
school which strikes me as a fallacious way of teaching, that is the older notion
which is still very much practiced that the function of the scholar is to unearth the
facts and the context of the work so that armed with those facts and context we
can come to a true understanding of the work. I have no interest in true
understanding of works. That smacks to me of search and destroy methods.
You know, there is a truth at the center of that work and somehow if we arm
ourselves we can get oh, wow. Not in this extrastensisal age of ours.
D: I think you described that old school style as metadynamic?
H: No, my first scholarship was metadramatic scholarship. That was not something
that senses old school, that was an attempt to see what the work of art was
saying about the nature of the medium.
D: So, Sid where is your mind right now in the department of English at the
University of Florida?
H: Well, it is in a funny state and I can mark exactly where that state began. Two
years ago I had my first ever sabbatical at the University. You can get the year
sabbatical at half pay easy, but who wants to have half pay? To get the one
semester at full pay those are few and far between. I got the one semester one.
I made up my mind during that one semester that I was not going to do more of
the same. It is not a case of getting burned out. It is just a case of interests
changing. I have kids arranged from Danny at fourteen to Christopher thirty-four
so I have been telling bed time stories to my kids for two generations now and I
have been telling them stories about my growing up in Philly. I decided to take
all of those stories I have been telling them and write a novel collection of short
stories. I did a play Boston Baked Bean. This time I did a play in which I
controlled the whole play instead of working out of a theater department I did it
all. I did a bunch of other things. I also spent a lot of time at my home which was
nice. Me, who normally is at the University at seven thirty rolling up his sleeves
getting ready to... I have my father's union mentality. You put in eight hours like
D: I have seen you on your bike.
H: I came out of that semester, it was a good semester for me because when I got
back it was not that I had lost taste for my regular routine at the University...
D: Was that Spring of 1994?
H: Something around there. I have no sense. All that I know is I just could not go
back to the same old routine. I guess what I am saying is I find myself an
embarrassment. I am fifty-seven and I can retire at sixty-five. I can retire at
seventy. I do not want to have early retirement, my wife would go crazy.
Besides we need the money [with the] kids going to college. So something
confedered with the fact that I will be teaching maybe thirteen more years at the
University. The issue is either to change my career completely become an
actor/director [or] run a health institute. I do not want to do that. I think what I
would like to do is see to what degree at the University of Florida I can use the
flexibility of the University so that without cheating them, that is I will do my job, I
will write my books, I will teach my classes, but I can begin reshaping my sense
of how I am supposed to work within the University. I have an abiding faith that
the University is flexible enough, liberal enough to let me do that.
D: Great, okay. Any interesting ideas you are going to throw into the tail end of this
H: No, no that is essentially it. What that really means is here it is 8:57 I am
beginning to redefine things all over again and just when I thought I was safely
home as Beckett's home talk about an Irishman, safe to haven. No, no that
haven keeps changing it seems to me.