Professor Peter John O'Connor

PhD, BA, DipTchg, DipRSADrama


Professor O’Connor is the Director of the Centre for Arts and Social Transformation, He is an internationally recognised expert in making and researching applied theatre and drama education. He has made theatre in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, earthquake zones and with the homeless. He is the Academic Director of the Creative Thinking Project, a multi and cross disciplinary research programme that investigates the nature and application of creativity in everyday life.  His work in Christchurch schools following the series of earthquakes  led to UNESCO funded research and programme development and the development of the Teaspoon of Light Theatre Company which then worked in Mexico City after major earthquakes in 2017. Peter's most recent research includes multi and interdisciplinary studies on the creative pedagogies and the arts, the nature of embodied learning and the pedagogy of surprise. In 2019 the play he directed with the Hobson Street Theatre Company, New Zealand's only theatre company for people who are or have been homeless, won the Arts Access Creative New Zealand Community Arts Award. He continued his theatre making with the homeless at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in conjunction with the Skid Row Housing Trust. In 2020 He was presented with the President's Award by Drama New Zealand for his life long contribution to Drama education and social justice. He led the development of Te Rito Toi, an on line resource to support the return to schools during COVID 19 by using an arts and well being approach. Used in 120 countries around the world, the site had over 280,000 page views in its first month of use.




Research | Current

  • The arts and social transformation
  • The creative process
  • Applied theatre in marginalised communities
  • Creative pedagogies
  • Embodied learning

Teaching | Current

Postgraduate supervision

  1. Esther Fitzpatrick. Bringing home the Pākehā: a postcritical ethnographic study of what it means to be a Pākehā educator.  Enrolled 2011.
  2. Claire Coleman. Dancing through the fourth wall. How can the philosophical underpinnings of process drama and critical pedagogy explicitly interrelate?  Enrolled 2011.
  3. Sasha Mathewman. Ecocritical Education: the potential of a subject-led approach to sustainability.  Enrolled 2012.
  4. Katherine Thomas. Youth-Full Theatre: A definition of best-practice in fusing arts practices and positive youth development in New Zealand. Enrolled 2012.
  5. Deborah Greene. Quake Destruction/Arts Creation: Becoming an arts therapist during the Canterbury earthquakes. Enrolled 2013.
  6. Simon Dennan. Reggae Pedagogy. Possibilities of revolution.  Enrolled 2014.
  7. Amber Walls. Creative approaches to improving youth mental health and wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand: an evidence based framework to inform practice. Enrolled 2014.
  8. Leny Woolsey. Business theatre and the nature of Community.  Enrolled 2014.


  • 2020 President's Award, Drama New Zealand for life long service to drama education and social justice
  • 2012 Griffith University School of Education and Professional Studies, Alumnus of the Year Award.                                            
  • 2012 Inaugural recipient of the Antonio Rosmini Award for contributions to Social Justice.  Presented by The Rosmini Order.
  • 2011 Named as one of the New Zealanders of the Year by North and South Magazine for contributions to the children of Christchurch following the earthquakes.
  • 2009 Garth Boomer Memorial Address, Australian Association of Teachers of English, Tasmania                                                                                                                                                                          2006 American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE) Most Distinguished PhD Dissertation Award,Washington D.C.        
  • 2006 Life membership of the New Zealand Foundation for Peace Studies.


  • Director: Centre for Arts and Social Transformation

Areas of expertise

The arts and social transformation

Creativity and education

Creativity, criticality and citizenship

Creative practice research

Applied theatre as research

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Creative Thinking Project Board

National Education spokesperson, Child Poverty Action Group


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • O'Connor PJ (Ed.) (2016). The Possibilities of Creativity. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholar Press. Pages: 19-.
  • O'Connor P (2016). Moments of beauty and resistance through drama education. In K. Freebody, M. Finneran (Eds.) Drama and social justice: Theory, research and practice in international contexts (pp. 133-143). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  • O'Connor P (2015). Things have changed. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 20 (3), 369-371. 10.1080/13569783.2015.1059750
  • O'Connor PJ (2015). The Arts: Resisting the GERM. In S. Schonmann (Ed.) International Yearbook for Research in Arts Education,Vol 3: The Wisdom of the Many - Key Issues in Arts Education (pp. 464-470). Munster: Waxmann.
  • O'Connor P, & Anderson, M. (2015). Applied Theatre: Research Radical Departures. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. Pages: 312.
  • O'Connor PJ (2015). Theatre in Crisis: Moments of Beauty in Applied Theatre. In T. Prentki (Ed.) Applied Theatre: Development (pp. 185-201). Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Fitzpatrick, E., Mullen, M., & O'Connor P (2015). Creating CRUAT: Disrupting supervision and research through collaborative performance. NJ: Drama Australia Journal, 39 (1), 31-44. 10.1080/14452294.2015.1083140
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Esther Fitzpatrick, Molly Mullen
  • O'Connor PJ, & Fitzpatrick, K. (2014). One More Cup of Coffee: the body and embodiment in education. In O'Connor P, K. Fitzpatrick (Eds.) Education and the Body (pp. 1-11). New Zealand: Edify Ltd..
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Katie Fitzpatrick