Orange Alert

Humanities Center, Syracuse Stage Present Panel Discussion on Mental Health, Sense of Belonging Jan. 28

Event follows matinee performance of rock musical ‘Next to Normal’

Jan. 23, 2018, by Robert M Enslin

Kyle Bass

Syracuse Symposium resumes its yearlong study of “Belonging” with a special panel discussion at Syracuse Stage.

On Sunday, Jan. 28, a quintet of experts will discuss “Theatre of the Mind: Staging Mental Health and Sense of Belonging” from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in Sutton Pavilion at Syracuse Stage (820 East Genesee St.). Free and open to the public, the event follows the matinee performance of Syracuse Stage’s production of “Next to Normal.”

The panelists are Robert Hupp, artistic director of Syracuse Stage and a drama instructor in Syracuse’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA); Christian DuComb, assistant professor of theater at Colgate University; Rebecca Garden, associate professor of bioethics and humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University; Carole Hayes Collier G’98, director of community-based peer initiatives at AccessCNY; and David Keith, professor emeritus of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate.

The event is curated by Kyle Bass, Syracuse Stage’s associate artistic director, a playwriting instructor in VPA’s Department of Drama and a part-time instructor of African American studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). An award-winning playwright, screenwriter and dramaturg, he also teaches playwriting at Colgate.

For more information, visit, or call 315.443.7192. The Humanities Center, which presents Syracuse Symposium, is in A&S.

Tickets and information about “Next to Normal,” the acclaimed musical drama about a family’s struggle with mental illness, are at

“We are excited to collaborate with Syracuse Stage in this in-depth public discussion,” says Vivian May, director of the Humanities Center and professor of women’s and gender studies in A&S. “‘Next to Normal’ grapples with mental illness in a suburban family. In addition, the show addresses other issues—trauma, loss, treatment, the meaning of family—that cut across socioeconomic lines. Our event will examine the complex relationship between mental health and a sense of well-being and belonging.”

Bass echoes these sentiments, calling theatre the "most powerful art form" in which to investigate what it means to be human. "Our communities—faculty, students and the general public—are enriched by the intersection of theatre’s live depiction of human experience with a thoughtful discussion around the important topics each elucidates," he says.

Robert Hupp

Fresh off his Syracuse Stage directorial debut with “Three Musketeers,” Hupp directs “Next to Normal" through Feb. 11. The VPA instructor, in an interview with, described the rock musical as the “complete opposite” of Dumas’ classic tale.

"'Next to Normal' is an interior landscape revealed through song and dialogue. It is a hard-hitting drama with amazing rock music. It is painted within very fine lines,” said Hupp, drawing a comparison to “Musketeers,” which required a “broader brush."

Described by The New York Times as a “brave, breathtaking musical,” “Next to Normal” marks the first Broadway collaboration between composer Tom Kitt and writer Brian Yorkey (“13 Reasons Why”).

On the surface, the 2009 show is about a seemingly typical American family. Dad is an architect. Mom is a homemaker. Brother and Sister are wisecracking teens. Dramatic complications ensue, however, when Mom no longer is able to disguise her 16-year battle with manic depression.


“'Next to Normal’ takes audiences into the hearts and minds of each character, presenting the family’s story with honesty and compassion,” says May, adding that the show has won three Tony Awards and one Pulitzer Prize. “Next to Normal’ may very well be the ‘new normal.’”

May says the panel discussion also signals interest in a relatively new field called medical humanities, which brings applications of the arts, humanities and social sciences to bear on the study of health care, medical practice and education.

“It’s important for people to understand the social and cultural factors that contribute to health, illness and disability,” says May, whose Humanities Center is in its 10th year. “We need to draw on other disciplines and frameworks to practice effective, empathetic care.”

Syracuse Symposium is a public humanities series that revolves around an annual theme. Programs include lectures, workshops, performances, exhibits, films and readings. Located in the Tolley Humanities Building, the Humanities Center serves the campus community by cultivating diverse forms of scholarship, sponsoring a broad range of programming and partnerships and addressing enduring questions and pressing social issues.

Media Contact

Robert M Enslin