David Bury: non-traditional extraordinaire

Kate Fechter / Washburn Review

David Bury is a non-traditional student at Washburn who draws much of his writing from growing up in Ireland during the conflict between the Irish Republican Army and the loyalists from Northern Ireland.  His play “Secret Policemen” was recently performed at the Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray Theatre on campus and may also be entered into a national theater contest. Oddly enough, Bury has not been writing for very long.

“I’ve only really started writing since I came here to Washburn,” said Bury.  “I started out as a computer science major. I started taking English classes and remembered how much I enjoyed writing.”

Bury grew up near Dublin and has been in the United States for 16 years. He has lived in Topeka for six years, four of which have been spent at Washburn University.  He is currently applying for citizenship. Bury is a double major in English and computer sciences. Bury said English is really his passion, but that computer science will put food on the table.

“I just don’t want to be a starving writer,” said Bury.

Bury was taught in one of his classes that writers often use fragments to make a whole story.  This is similar to how he writes his own work.

“That reminded me of ‘Secret Policemen’ because it was personal experience and a thing of coming to grips with my own history and the history of Ireland and how I feel about that history,” said Bury. “A lot of the characters are conduits for an argument that’s been going on in my own head for what’s gone on in Ireland over the last 30 or 40 years.”

The play takes place in the 26 counties in Ireland that are independent from the United Kingdom. For a little background, Ireland was partitioned in 1921. Before that it was 32 counties that were part of one country in the United Kingdom. Part of a truce between Ireland and the United Kingdom was that six mostly loyalist counties would remain part of the United Kingdom. Since then the 26 counties of Ireland are their own sovereign nation. What to do with the remaining six counties was a source of conflict.

Bury grew up in the 26 counties of the Irish Republic. He explains that although there weren’t soldiers in the streets shooting, there were bombings by those who wanted to stay loyalists and possibly parts of the British government.

“The largest was a bombing in Dublin in the 70’s that killed 33 people,” said Bury. “I was 10 at the time and I remember it vividly.”

The thing that affected Bury the most though, were hunger strikes that happened when he was 17 or 18. IRA prisoners were being stripped of their political status, which caused a major backlash resulting in hunger strikes. Ten prisoners died and there was a lot of political upheaval in the Republic.

“I was at an impressionable age at that time,” said Bury. “One of the things I talk about in the play is how you lose a lot of what it is to be human when you start losing sympathy for the other people. You stop seeing the other people as human beings with the same worries, fears and tribulations as you have yourself. You start seeing them as stereotypes. It’s hard to remove yourself when you start thinking that way.”

Bury moved away from politics about four or five years before moving to the United States.

“The play is cleansing and helps me come to terms with conflicting things in my mind about what I believed then and what I believe now,” said Bury.

Bury started writing “Secret Policemen” as a one act play. This one act play became the first act of “Secret Policeman.” Bury said that he realized he had a lot more to say.

“Originally the play was about the character Clancy trying to turn Danny into a police informer,” said Bury. “Danny is in the IRA, although we aren’t really sure of that until the end. At the end however, Danny actually turns the table on Clancy and Clancy becomes an informer for the IRA.”

After receiving criticism that Clancy turned too quickly at the end, Bury changed the play so that Clancy offers info to Danny and asks if he’d pay for it. In the second act of the play, Clancy is turning info over to the IRA at a canal. In the last act, Danny is killed and Clancy is being interrogated back at his office by British Intelligence, who killed Danny out of fear that he would tell about their operation.

“The play also has characters dealing with political beliefs and fanaticism as well,” said Bury.

When Bury wrote the last two acts of the play last summer, he went to the theater department for ideas for changes. They ended up liking it so much they decided to produce it.

When it was a one act play, “Secret Policemen” was submitted to the Kennedy Center of American College Theatre Festival, run by the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.  KCACTF has regional and national finals. If a play is chosen at national finals, it is fully produced at the Kennedy Center. It was talked of submitting the full version of “Secret Policemen” to KCACTF.

“A decision still has to be made about whether or not we are going to submit the play or not,” said Bury. “We’ll probably decide in the next week or so. They want us to produce exactly what was done here and I’ve done at least one rewrite and will probably do a couple more. Also, one of our actors Matt Steiner is leaving and may not be available in January, and he’s in every act; to recast him for one performance seems like an awful lot of work.”

It is unusual for a non-theater major to have their play selected to be performed, but Bury finds some advantages to not having a theater background.

“I think there’s an advantage because you have less of an idea about what’s expected of you and so you may be more creative and adventurous in what you do,” said Bury.