Ph.D. in hand, longtime theater director starts a second act

May 24, 2023

By Abe Loomis

A 2022 graduate turns from the stage to the lecture hall.

Andrew Goldberg headshot

After nearly 20 years as a successful freelance theater director, Andrew Goldberg (Ph.D. ’22, Theatre and Performance) decided he was ready to take a break from practice and focus on theory.

“With a freelance career,” says Goldberg, who is now a senior lecturer in acting and performance at the University of Arts London’s (UAL) Wimbledon College of Arts, “everything has to lead to the next show. You can never actually just be present and enjoy this show. It's always about who can see it, and what agent can you get, and how is this going to lead to the next thing, and it’s just endless. I have friends with Tony Awards who are still worried about what’s the next show? So, part of coming to a Ph.D. was wanting something else — wanting to use my critical faculties more often and not according to the whims of the theater season.”

Goldberg never really took a break from directing, but his exploration of the theoretical aspects of theater started at Brooklyn College, where in 2013 he earned an M.F.A. in performance and interactive media arts. He loved the experience, and it made him eager to delve deeper.

“I hadn’t realized how starved I’d been for that kind of intellectual environment,” Goldberg says.

Although his years as a master’s candidate turned out also to be his most successful as a director — a run that included co-directing Alan Cumming in a one-man Macbeth on Broadway the summer before he started coursework at the Graduate Center — Goldberg never doubted the decision to continue to a Ph.D. Earlier in his career, he had passed up an opportunity to attend the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale.

“This time,” he says, “it felt like, ‘I know what I love right now, and I need to see this through.’”

Learn More About the Ph.D. Program in Theatre and Performance

Goldberg has long been drawn to international and avant-garde theater. At Brooklyn College, he conceived of a project he describes as “large-scale performance adventures for one audience member at a time.” The concept took off, drawing commissions from the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions and inspiring him to launch, with several collaborators, the experimental Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure.

At the Graduate Center, Goldberg saw a chance to deepen his understanding of such pursuits with leading theorists and scholars of social engagement and participation in theater. He wasn’t immediately clear on exactly what he wanted to study, but he knew it would involve a closer look at the craft he had been practicing for decades.

“There’s a theoretical underpinning to all these explorations I was doing in the rehearsal room,” Goldberg says. “That’s what I came to explore.”

Courses with faculty members such as Professor Peter Eckersall (Theatre and Performance) (Goldberg’s dissertation adviser), Distinguished Professor Emeritus Marvin Carlson (Theatre and Performance, Comparative Literature, Middle Eastern Studies), Professor David Savran (Theatre and Performance, English), and Professor Maurya Wickstrom (GC/Staten Island, Theatre and Performance) — whom Goldberg calls field-defining scholars — culminated in a dissertation examining the use of audience participation in contemporary political theater.

His professors also opened his eyes to a new world of practice and pedagogy.

“One thing I gained from the Grad Center,” Goldberg says, “was a real sense of global performance. I had always been casually interested in it, but it was such a central pillar to my experience there that I think globally now much more rigorously than I did before. It’s moved to the center of my practice and then also of my teaching. And correspondingly I have an amazing network of international scholars.”

He found inspiration, too, in the Graduate Center’s interdisciplinary approach.

“I had an amazing experience taking a political science course,” Goldberg says. “One of my committee members was [Professor of Political Science] Leonard Feldman. Stepping outside of my discipline really helped open up lots of new ways of thinking.”

In a political theory class, Goldberg says, he and another theater student, accustomed to a very different peer culture, watched in amazement as students mercilessly critiqued each other’s work.

“One student presented a paper, and the next student ripped that paper to shreds, and the first student was like, ‘Thank you so much. It’s so helpful,’” Goldberg says. “Our jaws hit the floor.”

That experience, Goldberg says, helped inform his perspective on his own profession.

“It made me see certain things about the field of theater studies,” he says. “Both its strengths and some of its boundaries and limitations.”

One recommendation he would offer Ph.D. students: “Take courses outside of your discipline.”

Goldberg also says knowing exactly what you want to focus on is not a requirement.

“There's a kind of demand or pressure from your very first day to say, ‘Hi, my name is so and so. and this is what I study’ and define a very specific field,” he says. “I didn’t have that, and I felt very intimidated by all the people who did. So I guess the aha moment was realizing that it’s okay to discover that on the journey.”

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