B.A. – Susquehanna University
M.A. – Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus
Graduate Certificate in Grant Writing – University of Missouri-Columbia
Ph.D. – University of Missouri-Columbia
Research & Creative Interests:
A student of the work of such artist-scholar-theorists as Anne Bogart, Peter Brook, Tadashi Suzuki, Richard Schechner, Susan Foster, Jerzy Grotowski, Vsevolod Meyerhold, and Robert Wilson, I am interested in psychophysical methods of performance making and performance training; exploring both the meaning and capabilities of the material body in time and space and examining how the movement of the body communicates meaning; and the connections between performance and recent neuroscientific discoveries – all within the context of the performer-spectator exchange.
In A Director Prepares, Anne Bogart writes: “The artist becomes the creator of the future through the violent act of articulation” (2). Violent, indeed, because the act of articulation is aggressive and forceful. Action is the basic grammar of the theatre: performers activate audiences via synaptic stimuli, rendering the experience physically, and thus linking performer and spectator in galvanizing symbiosis. As a theatre artist, it is my task to enter into the maelstrom and make certain my actions – rife with aesthetic, cultural, social, and ethical consequences – are executed with clarity, precision, and intense focus. The theatre is the real, three-dimensional time and space for heresy, a space in which to tell difficult truths, a space where that which cannot not be spoken must be said. Therefore, I consider the training and performance space a laboratory in which to endeavor profoundly visceral experiments of great transformative value.
The world is becoming increasingly digitized, perhaps faster and more thoroughly than some of us would like. We live in an often fragmented and detached digital moment in which it seems many fear thorough and profound self- and communal-interrogation, would rather observe than participate, and are exhausted by enduring commitments and face-to-face interaction. I wonder how we can still achieve physical, visceral affective-ness in the theatre? Has the definition of what it means to perform – on the stage, yes, but perhaps more importantly as a productive world citizen – changed fundamentally? And what better space than the performance laboratory to field the significant and difficult questions the theatre faces at this crucial moment? What makes the theatre remarkable, for me, is its immediacy; the experiential exchange between performer and spectator. Therefore, I remain invested in what happens when our molecules vibrate in space together; I remain invested in the physical intensity engendered in the communion of performer and spectator.
Recent remarkable discoveries in neuroscience have taught us about mirror neurons, specialized nerve cells that mirror observed action, activating in the observer similar synaptic pathways as those of the doer. While one is doing, the other is restraining from doing, each engaged in an acute and profound moment of heightened, linked activity. This research demonstrates that the act of watching is not merely interpretative, but rather physical and energetic. This means that in such moments the brain of the performer and the spectator are synchronized, and, by sharing brain activity, one is allowed to enter fully into the thoughts and feelings of an other. In this way, the theatre entreats us to a deeper understanding of the other, and may even change the way we act in life. As neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti has observed: “If we want to survive, we must understand the actions of others.” (“The Mirror-Neuron System” 169). Mirror neurons are the cells that speak to empathy, the foundation of theater experience and the bedrock of that which we all have in common: our shared humanity. Understanding mirror neurons – and therefore the dissolving of the boundary between self and other – allows us to modulate the theatre to encourage us to reach outside of ourselves and toward an understanding and an appreciation of the actions of others. Remembering that the birth of tragedy occurred contemporaneously with the birth of democracy in ancient Greece, theatre is, after all, the space for us to come together as a society and think and ‘do’ through the issues of the day.
Moving forward, my inquiry is three-fold: (1) How can the physical experience of witnessing help you comprehend what you are watching?; (2) What is the ontology of presence; and (3) Can performance engender an active sense of empathy? However we parse it out, I think it’s of vital importance to address such questions, fully aware that our very foundations may crumble below us, fully aware that the comfortable ideological and aesthetic rugs on which we stand may be pulled out from under us in ways we may neither anticipate nor appreciate.
Although my preference is for classical texts – especially those of ancient Greece – my interests range from the canonical to the contemporary and the experimental, and include site-specific work, devised theatre, music theatre, and opera. I prefer lyrical, poetic texts such as those of Williams, Albee, Beckett, Chekhov, and Kushner. Current works of interest include Euripides’ Trojan Women, Bacchae and Medea; a bilingual (English-French) production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame; a site-specific production of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children featuring live digital feed from remote locations; a production of Anton Chekhov’s The Sea Gull performed in repertory with Tennessee Williams’ The Notebook of Trigorin; Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade; Overmyer’s On the Verge; Genet’s The Balcony; Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day; Shakespeare’s Macbeth; Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque; McDonagh’s The Pillowman; many works by Caryl Churchill, Sarah Ruhl, and Charles Mee; Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along; Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret; and the irreverent contemporary rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
My written scholarship confronts the traditional normative project that works to cleave scholarship and practice, a divisive act that inevitably privileges the mind over the body. Therefore, it has been my agenda to craft a career that exhibits a synergism in which practice and research are cast in a joint endeavor. My directing practice, therefore, is the central feature of work; my directing practice exhibits my interest in fashioning research and practice into equal parts of an aesthetically-refined, intellectually- and physically-rigorous, and civically-engaged artistic whole. When I direct a production, I engage in research no less intellectually rigorous than I would in writing an article or book, and craft the production process as an interrogation of theoretical and practical suppositions. In my work, rigorous intellectual investigation and the visceral, moment-to-moment work of the body in space are not divorced from one another but rather are integrated as critical praxis, a process of “making active choices that reflect an intentional engagement with the dialectic between theory and practice” (Alrutz and Listengarten, Playing with Theory in Theatre Practice 6). Critical thinking does not shut down creativity. Quite to the contrary, such forceful execution needs intelligent forethought, not to regulate and restrict but rather to pave the way for possibility.
But the relationship is reciprocal. In Research Methods in Theatre and Performance, Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson note that “ephemerality and materiality” is “the most elusive binary in theatre and performance research” (11). Therefore, when I write about my work, I do so in a performative manner. This involves a muscularity and physicality in writing: “writing eager to mirror performance patterns” that recognizes “the ability of words on the page to perform and an attempt to write in such a way that draws attention to that performance” (Jonathan Gray, qtd. in Miller and Pelias, The Green Window vii). Performative writing is a method in which “the body and the spoken word, performance practice and theory, the personal and the scholarly, come together” (Miller and Pelias v). I engage such practice because, in the words of Peggy Phelan, “rather than describing the performance event in ‘direct signification’” I want my writing “to enact the affective force of the performance event again,” playing itself out in an “ongoing temporality” (Mourning Sex 11).
In Practice-based Research: A Guide, Linda Candy distinguishes between “practice-based research” – creative practice that functions as research and generates scholastic output – and “practice-led research,” or practice that leads to the scholastic insights that can be gleaned when reflecting on and documenting one’s creative practice. My voice is but one in the cacophony of those that comprise this recent movement, whose “singular contribution … is the claim that creative production can constitute intellectual inquiry,” and which has done much in “legitimizing creative production as a site for producing new knowledge” (Riley and Hunter, Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research xv; Alrutz and Listengarten 3).
I am working on two larger scholastic projects. The first is a monograph titled Theatreing the Sacred, which traces my exploration of theories-in-practice in my directing work (in this case, my revisionist production of Agnes of God). Theatreing the Sacred – employing the method of performative writing – is crafted as an auto/ethnographic memoir that evinces my belief that we must be as articulate when we write with pen and paper as we are when ‘writing’ in time and space with voice and movement. I am committed to the exploration of the ways in which embodied practice and embodied writing may engage a sort of corporeal intelligence that tempts an active reading experience. Rather than merely inscribing the process of conjuring the extra-ordinary on the page, the manuscript tempts embodiment in a complex marriage of form and content, bridging the corporeal and the textual.
Secondly, I am working on “Re-Composing History in Iphigenia and Other Daughters: Cixous’ Écriture Feminine as Écriture Corporelle,” a chapter submission to Physical Dramaturgy in the 21st Century currently under consideration at Routledge. This chapter forms as an extension of my research in performance and neuroscience, exploring mirror neurons and the actuality of physical and energetic witnessing. As a director/physical dramaturg, I work to cultivate in performers a specific, expressive gestural life: a way of engaging physicality in a manner that summons other bodies. I explored this work in my production of Ellen McLaughlin’s Iphigenia and Other Daughters, a contemporary feminist re-imagining of the fall of the House of Atreus that reconsiders the role of women in history. We crafted a performance text that could be felt, kinesthetically, using Composition: a process of ‘writing on your feet’ in which actors – also trained in Suzuki/Viewpoints – excavate their richest expressive capabilities. We explored Hélène Cixous’ notion of écriture feminine, or ‘feminine writing,’ which, she says, has the potential to reformulate existing structures through the inclusion of ‘other’ experience (Sellers, Hélène Cixous Reader xxix-xxx). Our work with Composition translated the play’s feminist perspective into a kind of écriture corporelle, a poetically charged writing of and with bodies exhibiting a heightened, detailed attention to the locomotive capabilities of the corporeal frame, entreating the audience to a moment of deep, muscular connection that put Cixous’ theory – and the profound essence of McLaughlin’s play – into practice.
In July, I attended the 14th Annual La MaMa International Symposium for Directors in Spoleto, Italy. In Italy, I spent two intense weeks studying with Academy Award-winner Estelle Parsons; Dan Safer, Head of Movement Training at Playwrights Horizons Theater School/NYU; internationally acclaimed theatre director, playwright, and pioneer in the use of media in theatre Ping Chong; and Vít Hořejš, founder and artistic director of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre. In September, I gave a teaching demonstration, based on my experiences with these master teachers, to the SLU community.
In August, I attended the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference in Orlando, Florida. At ATHE, I presented in the Theatre as a Liberal Art Focus Group Pre-Conference, engaged in a Moment Work workshop with Tectonic Theatre Project, and presented my new work in the area of performance and neuroscience in a session I coordinated: “Atomic Dancing: The Science of Viewpoints.” I also presided as Secretary of the Association for Theatre Movement Educators (ATME).
At the end of November, I completed my term as Vice Chair of Programming of the Theatre, Film, and New Multi-Media Division of the National Communication Association, and have been installed as Chair of the Division. I also presented my essay “Digital Technologies: Disrupting and Transforming the Ontology of Presence,” and participated in a pre-conference with internationally acclaimed solo performer and devised performance director Tim Miller entitled “Word of Mouth: Making Connections in and with Devised Performance.” Under the direction of Miller, we created a devised ensemble piece, and then performed it as part of NCA’s 2013 main conference program. The workshop focused on the process of devising original performance work from our lives, dreams, obsessions, peeves, memories, and desires as performance scholars, and the performance focused on the connections we (can) make, break, or remake in relation to the practices of performance-making.
In March, I will lead a workshop at the Southeast Theatre Conference (SETC), entitled “Physical Approach to Character: Composing Presence,” and in April I will present on my work with performance and neuroscience at the Northeast Modern Language Association Conference.
I serve as a co-editor of the Association for Movement Educators Digital Journal, and as a reviewer for Text and Performance Quarterly and Kaleidoscope.
For more information, please visit my website: www.mattsaltzberg.com.
Association for Theatre in Higher Education
Association for Theatre Movement Educators (Secretary)
National Communication Association (Chair – Theatre, Film, and New Multi-Media Division; Co-Chair, Centennial Planning Committee – Performance Studies Division)
Independent Actors Theatre (President, Board of Trustees)
Ecumenica Journal (Treasurer)
Theatre Communications Group
Michael Chekhov Association
Southeastern Theatre Conference
Stage Directors & Choreographers Society
American Theatre & Drama Society
PCA 107: Beginning Acting
PCA 125: Introduction to Dramatic Scripts
PCA 215: Dramatic Texts in Context
PCA 312/313: Special Topics - Performance Ethnography
PCA 312/313: Special Topics - Solo Performance
PCA 313: Special Topics - Physical Theatre
PCA 313: Special Topics - Musical Theatre History & Performance
PCA 338: 20th Century Avant-Garde
Directing for the Stage (St. Lawrence University Scholars Enrichment Program)
The Craft of Acting, or Speaking for a Soul (First-Year Seminar)