Featured Professor: Daniel Roy Connelly
Watch the video and read the interview!
A former British diplomat, Professor Connelly has been an academic since 1999. He has directed theater on three continents and was until 2010 the Artistic Director of Zuloo Theatre in Shanghai, where his production of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly was forced to close down by the Chinese secret police. He is also a published poet and playright.
Professor Connelly joined JCU in 2011 as Adjunct Assistant Professor of English. He teaches Shakespeare, Public Speaking, and the very popular Introduction to Theatrical Performance.
Where are you from?
I grew up in the east of England, in a sea-side town called Southend-on-Sea.
Tell us about how you became a diplomat.
I was just 17, straight out of high school, when I started my diplomatic career. I borrowed my dad’s suit for the interview and he was shorter than me so you could see the top of my socks. This gave the interview panel a good laugh and in any case, I wasn’t terribly nervous since I was 17 and had nothing to lose.
What was your first position as a diplomat?
Making tea and photocopying in the Cultural Relations department of the Foreign Office in London. Then I got moved to the U.N. department, where I made a broader variety of teas. Next they sent me to the British Embassy in Rome when I was 20, and I worked there for nearly 3 years, making coffee instead. That was my very first contact with Italy and I fell in love with the country.
Where else did your diplomatic career take you?
I went to Bombay, India after that. And then Dacca, Bangladesh. I spent 6 ½ years in India and Bangladesh, an amazing and very humbling experience. I learned a lot about the desire to survive, the ability to get on with things, despite extreme poverty. Then I was promoted to Vice Consul in Bangladesh, running around looking after the British community, and issuing British passports.
When did you decide to enter the world of academia?
I was sitting in a canoe, riddled with mosquito bites, helping out on some high profile consular case, working very hard but seeing others take the credit. At that point I thought that there must be more to it than this! I wanted some sort of intellectual freedom; I wanted my creativity to be my creativity, not someone else’s. So that’s when I decided that I wanted to go to a university. One of the best choices I have ever made.
Tell us about your undergraduate degree.
I received a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Columbia University in New York City. I had a brilliant time in NYC and Columbia opened so many doors for me. Lights came on.
What made you decide to continue your education?
Once the lights had been switched on there was no switching them off; that’s what a good education does. I talked to my professors and they said “You are mad if you don’t go to graduate school. You can do this stuff!” And that’s what I needed to hear. So I applied to do a Master’s at Saint Andrew’s, an excellent university and a beautiful place, despite being right in the middle of nowhere in Scotland. At that point I knew that I really wanted an academic career so I continued at Saint Andrew’s for my Ph.D.
How did your interest in theater begin?
It actually began with the High Anglican Church: when I was 9 or 10 I used to help the priest administer the sacraments and the whole thing looked like a theatrical performance. I did the readings and ran around with all these props with everyone looking at me; it was kind of like being a magician. That’s when the love of theater really began for me.
Tell us about your experience in China
I lived in China for 2 years, as head of drama at an international school in Shanghai, and artistic director of a theater company as well. It was very exciting since there was not a big English language theater scene in China at all and there is a great market for it.
But your Chinese career ended abruptly.
It all ended in great infamy, which was marvelous, the best publicity one could ever hope for. I was closed down by the Chinese secret police who turned up to a production I directed of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly, a play about a gay transvestite spy during the cultural revolution. You don’t know what the boundaries are unless you push against them, right? The police came to the theater and said “This place has got to close now!” I thought of ways to try to sort it out peacefully in that moment, but my manager reminded me that I had two Chinese actors on stage; all that would happen to me was deportation but they could go to prison, so I concluded that it was time to stop. It was wonderful, even the BBC was calling me. But as soon as they discovered I hadn’t been arrested the phone stopped ringing. I could go on with my life again.
Tell us about your Introduction to Theatrical Performance class.
This was a new course at JCU, there was nothing like it previously. It’s really a process of self discovery through practice, as opposed to self discovery through theory. It’s about locating what’s unique in each student and making sure that student knows why he or she is a unique individual. At that point, students are encouraged students to open themselves up emotionally, in order to look at their vulnerabilities and strengthen them.
What are the benefits of taking a course like this?
It’s a challenging class, but the benefits are many: it sharpens students’ ability to communicate while strengthening their resolve and motivation. It opens you up completely and makes you much less fearful. And the students leave that class great friends with one another. You are dependent on your classmates in many situations and if they let go of the rope, you go down and vice versa. In that sense it’s great for bonding.
Do you think Rome is a good place to study English Literature?
For my subject, Shakespeare, Rome is amazing. I can get Julius Caesar or Anthony and Cleopatra off the page and take students to the Roman Forum, the Theater of Marcellus, so they can really engage with Shakespeare’s intellectual imagination.
What is your advice for prospective students?
At certain points in my life I have encountered a crossroads, a situation where I had to take a chance and a leap into the unknown. And it worked for me. If I could do that I think anyone can. So unquestionably I would say, “Do it. Take the leap, you’ll be fine. ”