John O'Neal

John O'Neal 

Starting in 1963, John O’Neal led advocate of the view that politics and art are complementary not opposing terms. His work as a writer, performer and director was acclaimed by audiences in the US and worldwide. He was founder and artistic director of Junebug Productions, the organizational successor to the Free Southern Theater, of which O’Neal was also a co-founder and director. He was a field secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and worked as National Field Program Director with the Committee for Racial Justice.

O’Neal wrote eighteen plays, a musical comedy, and a substantial body of poetry and essays. He earned numerous credits as an actor and toured widely in the character of Junebug Jabbo Jones, a mythic figure who symbolizes the wisdom of common people, which was created by people involved in SNCC. O’Neal was a leader in the field of artists working in community and for social justice. His ColorLine Project, a multi-year story collecting and performance event about the Civil Rights Movement, received the prestigious Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award.

He won numerous other honors, including the Award of Merit from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and the United States Artists Award. His inititiative the Free Southern Theatre Institute, an educational program and artists’ laboratory focused on theatre for social change, opened in 2010.

Read updates from 2012 about John from the one-year anniversary of "Acting Together on the World Stage."


Remembering John O'Neal

ArtSpotCynthia Cohen, director of the program in Peacebuilding and the Arts, said, "One of the great privileges of working as the director of the Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts has been the opportunity to meet and work with people of enormous talent, courage and wisdom. Among these folks, one that shines brightly in my memory is the theatre artist and Civil Rights leader John O’Neal. He was a founder of the Free Southern Theater, an arm of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, and later, Junebug theatre. He invented the storycircle, a process that invites equal participation and embodies democracy in action. He participated in the Brandeis/Theatre Without Borders collaboration Acting Together on the World Stage, authoring a chapter in the anthology, appearing in the documentary, and participating in many events on the Brandeis campus and elsewhere. He cherished these opportunities to be in conversation with international colleagues. John passed away on February 15th, 2019. We will always remember him for his uncompromising politics, coupled with the warmest of embraces. It is an honor to share a bit of John’s unique blend of humor, passion, commitment and wisdom through his writing and his words. Please visit our Acting Together - Theatre & Conflict Transformation Youtube channel, and listen and watch as he discusses performance and peacebuilding. Please view his Acting Together case study, curator profile, and 2012 profile updates from the one-year anniversary of AT including John’s acceptance of the Otto René Castillo Award for Political Theatre. The title of John’s Acting Together chapter captures his spirit: “Do You Smell Something Stinky?: Notes from Conversations about Making Art While Working for Peace in Racist, Imperial America in the 21st Century." Also read the tribute by ArtSpot Productions.