Today we’d like to introduce you to Bart Debicki.
Hi Bart, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was born in Lublin – a city of 400.000 in southeastern Poland, in 1976, when the country was still under communist rule. Not much made it through the iron curtain back then, but some things did – some movies and tv shows, books, etc. – so we did have a decent awareness of what life was like in the West. Thankfully, my parents were very much in opposition to the government, were well educated, and spoke foreign languages, so my sister and I learned English from my Dad (in school, we only had Russian as a foreign language). My parents wanted us to travel and see the world, so they took every opportunity to take us places – as much as the government allowed Polish people to travel out of the country, which was not much. My Dad was a geologist specializing in soil physics, so he was able to spend some time in Belgium on research stays with various universities. My first big trip beyond the communist states of Eastern Europe was to India, where my Dad had an 8-month long research contract. It was an amazing experience for a kid from Poland to see such an exotic natural environment and such an exotic culture.
Then, things changed completely – the government went through a turnover, communism was abolished, and Poland became a democracy with a free market economy, and Polish people were finally allowed to travel the world without much restriction (apart from visas to some countries). I first came to the US as a foreign exchange student during my senior year of high school. I went to Skaneateles Central School for a whole year, stayed with a wonderful host-family, played football on our high school team, and did all things American high school kids do. It was a year that shaped much of what I am today.
I went back to Poland for college, got my Master’s of Business Administration at the University of Marie Curie-Sklodowska in Lublin, then moved to Germany for five years and worked as a marketing manager in Munich for a Canadian clothing company. Learned German, perfected my skiing, and developed an affinity for German beer and delicious Bavarian food. Munich was great, I had a good job and many good friends, but… I was feeling stuck like I was not developing intellectually anymore, and I felt I was too young to stop there. So, I decided to follow my Father’s footsteps and get a doctorate. My sister and her husband lived in Starkville, MS, and worked for Mississippi State University, so I applied there and was accepted. For the next five years, I was living in Starkville and worked harder than I ever had before on my Ph.D. in Business Administration. During my 5th year in the program, when most students begin to feel the burnout and exhaustion, I decided to look for a distraction – something else to do to get my mind off of academic work.
I have always wanted to do acting, but in Poland, acting is reserved for professionals, there is no such thing as a community theatre, for instance (or at least there wasn’t when I was growing up), and I did not have the resolve to pursue it professionally – which would mean going to acting school and getting a formal acting education. But now that I was in the US, the opportunities were everywhere. They don’t call America the land of opportunity for no reason… It might sound like a cliché, but it is absolutely true. You can do literally anything you want here, pursue whatever hobby, and realize any dream if you work hard enough. I looked up a local theatre (Starkville Community Theatre) and it turned out that they had auditions in just a few days. So, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos because, having never dabbled in anything acting-related, I had a few questions. Like, what is an audition? What is a monologue? What monologue to choose, how long, what to wear? Etc., etc., etc. Sounds trivial now, but I had no idea about any of it. I picked a monologue, went to the audition with an attitude of “I will just have fun with it and see what happens.” I got the leading role (Vernon “Winky” Flynt in Feeding on Mulberry Leaves). I guess you might say that’s how I caught the bug. Three months later, in 2011, we were moving to Baltimore – I got a job at Towson University as a faculty member in the Department of Management.
Once settled in Baltimore, I began looking for auditions – a little intimidated, I must say – a little community theatre in Starkville was one thing, but Baltimore was a city with a very vibrant arts scene. My first audition was at Spotlighters’ – for a musical – again, something I had never done before, and again, I got the lead (El Gallo in The Fantasticks). Another great experience, and then it just went from there. Plays, musicals, and later expanded to camera work and became a member of SAG-AFTRA. A few years ago, I decided to polish my acting chops through education, so I enrolled in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York, which put everything I had learned solely by simply doing it in a more structured context and helped me work on some of my shortcomings and inhibitions as an actor. Eventually, acting became a big part of my life, even resulted in some income here and there, although I do try to keep it in the hobby zone with my main job being a professor at Towson. During the pandemic, due to the lack of any type of acting engagements available, I began producing my own documentary films – my current project being about Baltimore theatres and how they cope with not being able to have live audiences for over a year.
In the meantime, I have pursued other passions and hobbies, all of which are a big part of who I am. I have always enjoyed music in general, which began with piano, singing, and musical theory lessons early on, then transitioned to guitar, rock singing, then eventually musical theatre. I have been in several metal bands over the years. My travels have taken me around the world (I have been to 37 countries), teaching seminars and courses in Mexico, Panama, Poland, Italy, among others, surfing in Costa Rica, skiing in the Alps, among many other interests. I have also always loved combat sports and martial arts (boxing, kickboxing, taekwondo, judo, ju-jitsu). I also run half-marathons, love my cruiser motorcycle, and really enjoy good food, wine, and whisky.
In short, life has been generous to me in its variety.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
As I suppose is the case for most – my life has had its ups and downs, “strikes and gutters,” to quote my favorite film character…
The main struggle has always been balancing the happiness of living in the US, enjoying all the wonderful things this country and this culture have to offer, against the longing for my home country, friends and family, most of whom live there. During my doctoral program, there was not a lot of time (nor funds) to travel across the ocean, but I tried to go back whenever possible to “recharge my batteries” as my Dad says. The stress of the program (exams, comps, dissertation defense, etc.) and the cultural adjustments along the way, being away from home and old friends, certainly took their toll. It was noticeable in my behavior, well-being, and, most importantly, in my relations with friends and loved ones. Thankfully, acting was a great outlet and once I began working at Towson University, I was able to plan my time better, do some of the work remotely (like online teaching), leaving more time to travel and spend more time in Poland and other places around the world. My wife is an academic, as well, teaching creative writing at Loyola University, which allows us to travel together when school is not in session.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am an associate professor of management in the College of Business and Economics at Towson University. I specialize in management strategy and, within this realm, I have two main areas of interest: (1) family business management; and (2) the video game development industry. In family firms, I study issues related to “socioemotional wealth” – the value that a family places on non-economic benefits of running a business (like the ability to provide employment for family members, create an environment in which family members can feel a sense of belonging and commitment, contribute to the family’s overall well-being through the actions of the business, contribute to the community, etc.) – all those aspects span beyond the financial benefits of owning a company. These socioemotional wealth benefits, however, often have a detrimental effect on the firm’s actual performance (for example, hiring an underqualified family member for a management position in the family firm may have a negative impact on the financial outcomes) – and this is what we are trying to understand and help family business owners overcome. Within the video game development industry, I research many different topics, the most recent one being the success factors – how to maximize the chance that your game will become successful and how best to manage such a company. The interesting fact is that many of these firms do not manage their operations in accordance with any of the prescriptions that the science recommends, and yet some of them become multi-billion dollar enterprises. In this capacity, I often serve as a judge in video game pitch competitions and other events where aspiring designers present their games to industry professionals in hopes of receiving funding. It is a fascinating industry and gaming is becoming a huge part of our culture – which makes it worthy of scientific inquiry.
In my acting career, although it is something I began relatively late in life, I have been able to experience an industry that would otherwise be a mystery to me and seem far out of reach, as it is to most people. I have developed many friendships and shared the stage with wonderful people, and had an opportunity to work on the sets of some of the most successful films and shows (Veep, House of Cards, Killing Kennedy) and with some of the world’s most accomplished professionals (including a scene with, now defamed, Kevin Spacey). I even did a Democratic party campaign spot a few years ago that was featured on the Rachel Maddow show. A kid in a town in communist southeastern Poland 40 years ago may have dreamt it but certainly never believed it could happen.
What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
The most important lesson I have learned is that if you work hard, if you give it your best, if you do not give up, and apply a good work ethic – someone somewhere sometime is going to notice it, recognize it, and grant your opportunities. I do not always have the stamina, conviction, and dedication to apply this philosophy myself, although I do try, but I do notice that when I apply myself and put a lot of work into something, good things happen.
Secondly, nothing will teach you tolerance, acceptance and cure your ethnocentrism like traveling the world and immersing yourself in different cultures. That is what the world needs. Ethnocentrism, thinking we are better and more righteous than others is the cause of most conflicts.
Third motto: life is too short to deal with ass*!#les.
Bart Debicki 04 – by Amy Jones