New Gift Brings English Classes to Area Theaters

Alum Richard Donovan introduced English students to Twin Cities theaters in the 1960s—and again in the 2020s
Maroon trim around photo of 13 people standing in hallway, five crouching down in front row, all wearing masks
Through the Donovan Fund, English student group FUSE brought English students to see the Guthrie's production of The Tempest

In winter 2022, the Department of English was honored to receive a gift from alum Richard Donovan (PhD 1968), a former professor and senior administrator at Bronx Community College, City University of New York (CUNY). He had heard about English's pandemic-sparked collaboration with Mixed Blood Theatre, bringing professional actors to English classrooms (online and in-person) to perform course readings. As theaters began opening this year, Donovan sought to further encourage our engagement efforts, funding opportunities for instructors to bring students to theater performances.

"I have always believed in exposing students to the live theater," Donovan says. "When I was at the U [as a doctoral student and teaching assistant], the Guthrie was just beginning. I was able to bring my classes not only to see plays at the Guthrie and other theaters, but to have them meet with actors and directors after performances for Q and A. I’ve done that all my life. In the mid-60’s. I learned of a much-heralded production of Moliere’s Le Misanthrope at the University of Chicago and hopped a train with 20-some U students for a weekend of theater and art. In New York, my students have subway-ed to dozens of Broadway and off-Broadway performances, as well as taken side trips to Hartford Stage and Yale."

This spring and summer in Minneapolis, the Donovan Fund has been used to introduce students in English classes to productions at the Guthrie, Children's, and Jungle theaters, as well as Theater in the Round.

Donovan can tell numerous stories of the impact of live theater on students, especially for those who'd never seen a play. He also knows the personal and social impact theater can have. Donovan was a pioneer in creating meaningful college access for underrepresented students via Open Admissions. His first-generation students, struck by the power of performance, often invited friends and family members to attend with them.

As an education consultant to the post-apartheid South Africa government in the mid-1990s, Donovan met John Kani, artistic director of Johannesburg's Market Theatre, the theater of protest during apartheid. Donovan later helped arrange for Kani to receive an honorary doctorate from Bronx CUNY. "Visiting the campus, he addressed the students about theater in South Africa under apartheid and the physical threats that an integrated company faced," recalls Donovan. "As in being assaulted on a highway after a performance and left to die. Our students were absolutely breathless."

In theater, social issues can be dramatized. "We live in a fiercely divided society. How do we get beyond where we are now?" Donovan asks. "What are ways to develop certain skills like listening, listening beyond our beliefs? Theater so often presses us beyond our comfort zones. I believe in using literature to get to hard questions," he says.

The English department is grateful to Donovan for opening up such experiences for our students.

Contribute to the Donovan Fund or other English funds by contacting John Meyers at 612-625-1065 or


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