About Jim O’Connor
Jim O’Connor has maintained three careers; that of a professional theatre director, a university professor and as an administrator. He has directed in many of the professional Regional Theatres including the Alley Theatre, Stage West, Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Wisdom Bridge and Northlight Theatres in Chicago, and The Walnut Street theatre in Philadelphia among others. He has also directed in New York and for the Dublin Theatre Festival. He directed regularly at the Repertory Theatre of St . Louis and has done numerous productions for the Utah Shakespearean Festival. These included Peg O’ My Heart, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, All’s Well That Ends Well, and other Shakespeare works. Since leaving the academic world in 2014 he continues to direct regularly with the most recent a production being Doll’s House Part2 for the 2018 Aspen Fringe Festival.
He taught at Purdue University from 1970 until 1997 where he created the Master of Fine Arts programs in Acting and Directing that he headed for many years. He moved from Purdue to the University of South Carolina where he headed the MFA directing program. The 2008-09 year was spent as a Distinguished Professor at the Universiti of Creatif Technologi in Sha Alam, Malaysia. While there he also directed a production of Mid-Summer Night’s Dream (Mimpi) at the National Theatre, That production was performed in Malay. He returned to Malaysia for six months in 2016-17 where he taught in Kuala Lumpur at ASWARA, the National School of the Arts.
Jim Chaired the Theatre Division at Purdue from 1987 until 1997. He also served as the Artistic Director of the Professional Summer Theatre from 1987-1994. He occupied the Chair and served as the Artistic Director at the University of South Carolina from 1997 until returning to the teaching faculty there in 2004. Other administrative positions were serving as the President of the University / Resident Theatre Association, from 1995 until 1999 where he over saw the recruiting of graduate theatre students for a consortium of 31 universities. He also served as the President of The Nation Theatre Conference an organization of leaders in academic and professional theatre.
Jim studied Painting and Art History in Buffalo New York and at the University of New Mexico where he received his MA degree. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing and Acting from Penn State University where he was later recognized as a Distinguished Graduate Alumni. He was designated as a Legend by the theater program at Purdue. His has been awarded the Critic’s Choice award for Directing in Cleveland, Ohio and he has received a Joseph Jefferson Nomination in for his directing in Chicago. He was inducted as a Fellow, in the College of Fellows of the American Theater in 2016.
Jim O'Connor was interviewed by Jeni Mahoney the Players in New York City during the 2017 National Theater Conference.
What have you seen as positive change in the theatre in your lifetime? Are there negatives?
The positive change is that the quality of our work has vastly improved in my lifetime. The negative is that the popularity of the American Outdoor Historical Drama is waning.
3. What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
From Mark Sumner, the outgoing director of the Institute of Outdoor Drama when I was following him in the job: “Don’t get stuck in this chair. Go out and see what’s being done across the country.” Did or didn't you follow it? Indeed, I did follow it for my 18 years at the IOD, and I would visit as many as 25 outdoor theatres (history plays, Shakespeare festivals and religious dramas in 38 states), each summer season. What were the consequences? I had a reading of the pulse of the outdoor theatre genre in the U.S., and could address trends and concerns that best served the movement.
Margot Harley co-founded The Acting Company with the late John Houseman in 1972. She co-produced the Broadway productions of The Robber Bridegroom and The Curse of an Aching Heart with Faye Dunaway. She produced John Houseman's celebrated revival of Marc Blitzstein's musical play The Cradle Will Rock in New York and at the Old Vic Theatre in London. Off-Broadway, she produced Ten by Tennessee, a two evening retrospective of Tennessee Williams' one-act plays directed by Michael Kahn at The Lucille Lortel Theater, and the New York premiere of Eric Overmyer's On the Verge, directed by Garland Wright at The John Houseman Theater. She was Administrator of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School for its first twelve years, from 1968 to 1980. Prior to that she appeared in numerous Broadway and off-Broadway productions as an actress and dancer. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she attended LAMDA on a Fulbright Scholarship.
Influences and Changes
by D.L. Rosenberg - 2/19/17
As a teenager growing up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in the mid-nineteen fifties, I was taken by my cousin Ann, a concert pianist, to what was to make an indelible impression on my imagination. I did not understand it at the time but Brecht’s THREE PENNY OPERA at the Theatre de Lys on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village introduced me to a wondrous world of whores, thieves and corrupt politicians who certainly were not common characters on the polite drawing room stages of those days.
Marc Blitzstein’s text, Kurt Weiil’s music, Brecht, and what I later understood to be a magnificent performance by a woman named Lotte Lenya, in a small theatre with a shower curtain backdrop, simply became the most exciting thing I had ever seen. While I had been thrilled by the original production of OKLAHOMA on Broadway, this was “something else.” The eight-piece German ratskeller band, the thrilling words and music in the tongue-in-cheek satire and the messages sung directly to the audience by actors who stepped out of character showed me a new world of theatre. “What keeps a man alive? He lives on others.”
I thought it would be fitting to begin with the protean and erstwhile peripatetic Ted Herstand, who started the ball rolling while the subway rolled uptown. - David Fuller, NTC Vice President
My first experience with Miss Mullin was at the age of nine or ten when I became a student in her Saturday classes, one class for the younger children, one class for the older. I started in the early class, for one dollar per year, which my parents told me they could afford. The fee was obviously not for profit, but rather to make it seem more important to the kids. As I later figured out, this was the perfect class for developing some of the child and juvenile actors used in the theatre company's major productions. Soon I learned that it also could provide training for a life in the theatre in every other aspect of theatre employment and, of course, for the development for future audience members.
The genesis of the Living Legacies series began during a conversation I had on the Uptown No. 2 Train (7th Ave. Express) during the 2015 NTC Conference, when I shared the trip to Harlem with long-time member Ted Herstand. We talked about one thing and another, but got around to personal history and Ted told me some interesting tales of his time as a child actor at the Cleveland Playhouse in the 40's, as well as working in radio and early TV. With the passing this spring of my father, I got to thinking about lives lived and how often stories remain untold. Fortunately for my family my Dad wrote some of his stories down.
But what of our NTC family? Are we preserving the past for the future? Our members all have lived and are living wonderful, full lives, specifically in the theatre and in show business generally. Certainly, many have written books, but some books don't get written simply because the potential writer is too busy living! Living Legacies is an attempt to bridge that gap.
- David Fuller, NTC Vice President
CELEBRATING AND PRESERVING THE WISDOM OF OUR MEMBERS