Physics and drama a lesson in extremes

My school report

Neal Harvey, 33, is the creative producer of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. It ends this week and has featured more than 300 shows.

Schools attended:

St James Primary in Coorparoo, Brisbane, then my family moved to the US when I was seven. I was enrolled at Notre Dame Elementary in St Louis.

I had to skip ahead six months because of the timing of the school year but I struggled academically. The syllabus was so different and I couldn't catch up. I used to be good at school and now nothing made sense.

When we returned to Australia, I rejoined my former class at St James for a short while. I had a new appreciation for the way Miss Burn, my grade 4 teacher, understood that everyone learns differently. She spent as much time as she could with the students who were struggling and she tried to adapt the curriculum to each child's strengths. I then went to Villanova College, Brisbane from years 5 to 12.

Favourite subject:

Physics because I liked its discipline and knowing that the problems were, ultimately, solvable. I also loved drama for its playfulness and, in contrast to physics, unknowingness and uncertainty.

Teacher who changed my life:

Rosemary O'Neill who taught speech in action (a style of public speaking) from grades 5 to 7. When I was in grade 6, I and another student topped Queensland in speech in action in the Australian Music Examination Board awards. It was a turning point because I realised it was something I enjoyed and could pursue. Rosemary O'Neill was a very good teacher and the first person who had an impact on my future career.

Sports/academic prizes won:

The Philip Parsons Prize for performance research at the University of Queensland and an Australian postgraduate award to undertake my doctorate in theatre and cultural studies.

When I was 12 I wanted to be:

Marty McFly from the Back to the Future movies.

In grade 6 I sat next to:

Michael Baldwin, who was a very good friend through to year 12.

Why I took the educational journey I did:

I did drama, English, physics, chemistry and maths B in year 12, then enrolled in a science degree at the University of Queensland. However, the physics there was very similar to what I'd done at school. I also did a drama elective and found this more challenging and enjoyable.

I changed courses and enrolled in arts, with a double major in drama. I was fortunate to study with a great intake of students who encouraged each other. Quite a few are now my peers and colleagues in the arts sector. After I graduated, I worked as a production manager and stage manager, including at Brisbane's La Boite Theatre Company, the Queensland Theatre Company and with different arts festivals.

After about five years, I returned to the University of Queensland. Professor Joanne Tompkins told me about a project she was working on and I became her research assistant. She convinced me I had what it takes to do a doctorate. I studied this full-time for three years, and then part-time while I also did some tutoring. I've been with the Melbourne Fringe Festival since 2010. This year is our 30th anniversary and we're constantly trying to reinvent what we do.

We sell about 500,000 tickets for our diverse program, which ranges from the edgy and the new to children's shows. I love my job and work with a great group of people.

Best lesson ever learnt:

Not everything you do will work out, but it's important to get back up and try again.

If I could change anything about my education:

I would change nothing as I had a well-rounded education.

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