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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Interview with John Conlon

Twenty-nine years after coming to UMass Boston, Performing Arts Professor John Conlon is preparing for retirement. In an interview Wednesday, Conlon reflected on almost 30 years of teaching and doing theater at UMB.

“I have been in theater all my life,” stated Conlon. An actor and producer, he has played a variety of roles on and off campus. This semester, he directed “The Real Inspector Hound” at UMB and had a part in “Working, A Musical” at Wellesley.

“After I got my Ph.D., I applied to about 172 different institutions,” but UMB attracted him because of its location, diversity, and newness. He came to UMB in 1974, shortly after the Harbor Point campus opened. “It was an up-and-coming urban institution,” Conlon said.

The Lowell native spent 14 years in the English Department and moved to Performing Arts in 1988. “There have been a lot of changes in 15 years…[the department] has become more student centered.” Among other changes, the department now produces two shows per semester and hosts a yearly New Works festival.

Conlon also publishes “Now Playing,” an e-mail newsletter for Performing Arts alumni. “I keep in touch with a lot of alumni,” he said, including Dennis from NBC’s “Average Joe.” “I got a call from E! network last week about him. I cast him in a show in 1991 or 1992.” Conlon’s efforts have resulted in alumni donations that have funded costumes, a green room, and other theater projects for the Performing Arts Department.

Though Conlon says his post-retirement plans “are to have no plans,” he would like to keep teaching, acting, and directing. Conlon has applied to become a Fullbright Senior Specialist, which would entail traveling to schools and acting as a consultant for two to six weeks. “Long enough to put on a play. I can take my Shakespeare show on the road,” Conlon said, laughing.

Another project under Conlon’s belt is “Shakespeare’s Sound and Noises,” a project that explores the creative use of moans, sighs, gasps, and other noises in performances of Shakespeare’s works. Conlon said his idea for the presentation came from “hearing people not use them and being a Shakespearean actor and teaching Shakespeare classes.”

“People take it as gospel that you only say what’s on the page. But every scene has an unwritten scene beforehand. Because we’re a text-based society, we seem to revere it. If it’s in the text, it must be true. But we know that characters in plays lie to each other,” Conlon said.

Pointing to the stage directions in a reproduction of Shakespeare’s first folio on his desk, Conlon remarked, “That’s a project that should keep me busy for awhile.”