Barry John is a British-born, internationally noted Indian theatre director, actor, writer, and teacher. He has been based in India since 1969. Barry is recognised as the inspiration and teacher of various popular Bollywood and Hollywood actors.
Barry John was born in 1944 (age 77 years; as of 2021) in West Midlands (County), England. At the age of 12, Barry John started selling newspapers along with pursuing theatres in the evenings. He shifted from England in the late sixties. (Mumbai Theatre Guide). After ten years, he noticed an advertisement in the newspapers regarding the vacancy for an English Literature teacher in Bangalore (now Bengaluru). At the age of 22, Barry John decided to join as an English Literature teacher in Bangalore with a salary of Rs 200 per month. When he wasn’t engaged in teaching, he pursued his career as an actor at Bangalore Little Theatre. In 1970, he was invited by a friend to Delhi. In 1971, Barry John joined Yatrik , a theatre group founded in 1964. Barry started working as a teacher and director. He taught drama at Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi, and directed student productions at different colleges in Delhi such as St Stephen’s, Hindu College, Miranda House, and Lady Shri Ram College, among others. In 1773, he established the foundation of the ‘Theatre Action Group,’ which included Abba Sooth, Asha Kochar, Khalid Taibji Rileth, Manohar Singh, Mira Nair, Pamela Rooks, Pankaj Kapoor, and many more. The group became famous with a huge following and created a history for over two decades with productions of various plays. Barry John became an inspiration to young actors like Deepika Ameen, Divya Seth, Manoj Bajpayee, Radhika Singh, Rituraj Singh, and Shah Rukh Khan along with others. His inspiration to enter theatres was John Hodgson, who is one of the instigators of theatres in the United Kingdom. In an interview, Barry John shared his experience when he met John Hodgson as a student of art, drama, and English Literature. He said,
“He would never answer our questions but say, ‘Just find out’. What is important is the homework you do to bring out a character who is not you. This is difficult to explain to people who cannot imagine anything other than a traditional approach.”
Barry John became the founder – director of the Theatre In Education (TIE) Company of the National School of Drama. With the Theatre Action Group (TAG), he set up ‘Nukkar,’ a theatre project for street and working children, which became a part of the Salaam Baalak Trust; Salaam Baalak Trust is a non-governmental organisation, founded after the release of Mira Nair’s award-winning film ‘Salaam Bombay’ which revealed the bitter truth of the life of the homeless children. This NGO provides complete care and protection to street children through education, mental health facility, and vocational training. After 36 years in Delhi, In 2007, Barry John shifted to Mumbai. In an interview, Barry John pointed out the reason for relocating to Mumbai. He said,
Delhi has become a haven for corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, land and property speculators. Culturally, it is a virtual desert. Theatre activity has sunk to an all-time low; television offers few and uninspiring opportunities, and film is virtually non-existent. So, just as my student has little option but to migrate to Mumbai to improve their prospects, the same now applies to me.”
Imago Acting School was renamed ‘The Barry John Acting Studio’ due to Barry’s popularity in Mumbai and to give his acting studio brand recognition by adding his name. The last work of Barry as a director was a play titled ‘The Honey Trilogy.’ This includes the three individual plays – It’s All About Money, Honey; It’s All About God, Honey and It’s All About Sex, Honey. Reportedly, John stepped down from the theatre when he turned 70.
Barry John’s childhood picture
Barry John in 1980
Hair Colour: Grey
Eye Colour: True Grey
There is not much information about his family.
Barry John Acting Studio
In 1997, Barry John started Imago Media Company, along with Sanjay Sujitabh and also started his acting studio in 1997 as ‘IMAGO School of Acting’ in film city, Noida, Uttar Pradesh. The inauguration of the studio was announced at a small press conference. During the conference, Barry John said that it is a small organisation which came into existence with his savings and the financial contribution of his friends. According to Barry, the studio would help provide full-time and part-time courses in arts, electronic media, and drama therapy. In March 2007, both the acting school and the company moved to Mumbai, after which the studio was renamed ‘Barry John Acting Studio,’ situated in Andheri. The Barry John Acting Studio functions under the Theatre in Education Trust, a non-profit organisation which aims at spreading knowledge of and building interest in arts and acting through the medium of education.
Barry John with the members of the Barry John Acting Studio (BJAS)
According to Barry John, he resigned from Barry John Acting Studio for various reasons. According to him, there was still some confusion about his resignation, which he cleared in an interview. He said,
“There is some confusion about BJAS. My name is still being used and abused by certain people in another organisation called BJAS but I’ve no contact with them. I’ve resigned from that company for various reasons.”
The Free Birds Collective
After resigning from Barry John Acting Studio (BJAS), Barry John founded a performing art school which was named the ‘Free Birds Collective.’
Barry John with the students of the Free Birds Collective
The Theatre Action Group (TAG) created by Barry John came up with various plays like Equus (1973), Noises Off (1982), Agnes Of God (1979), Cactus Flower, Teahouse of the August Moon (1953), Suno Re Kissa, Rough Crossing (1984), and Baghdad Ka Ghulam (1984).
Picture of the Theatre Action Group members rehearsing Oedipus, directed by Barry John
Still from the play ‘Suno Re Kissa’
Peter Sheffer’s ‘Equus’ by Theatre Action Group – poster
Poster of the play ‘Teahouse of the August Moon’ (1953) by TAG
‘Noises Off’ – Theatre Action Group production
Poster of the play ‘Baghdad Ka Ghulam’ (1984), a Theatre Action Group production
Barry John has played different roles in various films such as Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Player) 1977, the role of Police Superintendent in the film ‘Gandhi’ (1982), Charles Adam in ‘Massey Sahib’ (1986), John Westtcot in ‘Miss Beatty’s Children’ (1992), Michael Atlee in ‘Shaheed Udham Singh’ (2000), Lago in ‘ In Othello’ (2003), the role of a priest in the film ‘Thanks Maa’ (2009), Ted Wood in ‘Tere Bin Laden’ (2010), Wilkinson in ‘Chittagong’ (2012), and Vishnu Das in ‘M Cream’ (2014).
Barry John in the film, ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players)’ 1977
A picture from ‘Massey Sahib’ (1985), featuring Raghubir Yadav as Francis Massey (left), Arundhati Roy as Saila (centre), and Barry John as Adam Charles (right)
Barry John as Ted Wood in ‘Tere Bin Laden’
Barry John (centre) on the sets of ‘M Cream’
Barry John has also acted in the play ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White,’ directed by Roysten Abel; the play was praised at the international level and won the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival which is considered to be the world’s largest arts festival.
Still from ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’
Barry John (left) and Adil Khan (right) performing the play ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’
Still from ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White,’ directed by Roysten Abel – Barry John and Adil Khan at the performance
Barry John’s work as a writer came out with a handbook titled ‘Playing For Real: Using Drama in the Classroom.’ The book consists of 178 drama exercises and games for actors. MacMillan has published the book. According to Barry John, the games help in social bonding and individual development.
Barry John’s ‘Playing For Real: Using Drama in the Classroom’
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- Barry John has been honoured with META 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award, an appreciation for the dedication, efforts, and hard work invested by the theatre practitioners in India.
- In 1993, Barry John received Sangeet Natak Academi Award for Theatre Direction by Sangeet Natak Academi.
- Barry has also been honoured with the Sahitya Kala Parishad Award.
- Barry has been involved in the introduction of Drama and Theatre as subjects at the school level and in framing the syllabus for these subjects for the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).
- Reportedly, Barry owns a house in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Barry John at his home in Himachal Pradesh, India
- Barry John has taught many actors including Shah Rukh Khan, Freida Pinto, and Manoj Bajpayee, and many more.
Barry John with Manoj Bajpayee
Shah Rukh Khan (right) with Barry John (right of SRK)