Original Research – Interview with Dr. David M. Feldshuh (Completed, Email)

Dr. David M. Feldshuh, a professor at Cornell in the Department of Performing and Media Arts

This interview was conducted via email. My first correspondence with Dr. Feldshuh was sent on 12/15/2020 at 7:00 AM and read as follows:

“Dear Dr. Feldshuh,

I am William Bradford, a high school student at Renaissance School in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I am conducting my Senior Thesis research on performance psychology.

Because of your illustrious history in the theater scene and your position at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, I would like to ask you a few questions.

Would you be open to an online interview sometime between now and January 6th or 7th? I am typically available on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 12:00 and 6:00 PM EST, but I would be glad to accommodate your schedule.

I am certain you are busy, so if scheduling a call does not work for you, I have attached questions below, in case you may have the opportunity to answer via email instead.

Thank you so much for your kind consideration,
With my highest regards,
William Bradford

1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at Cornell? Have you been able to arrange any modified performances? Did they inspire the same pre-performance emotions as before the pandemic?

2. Have you ever worked with performers using emotion-based performance analysis tools? If not, how do you recommend identifying and maintaining an emotional state that is conducive to peak performance?

3. Performing athletes commonly use mental tools such as positive self-talk to help remain in an optimal state of emotion during performances. What mental tools do you suggest to students for coping with performance anxiety during performances and why?

4. Do you have any specific pre-performance routines that you use or that you instruct your students to use?

5. Flow is essentially the feeling of complete immersion in a performance. Is there any specific way that you can recall accessing this feeling, or is out of your control? If it is out of your control, do you feel that you can influence it with proper preparation?

6. Overtraining is a common phenomenon in sports training today. Its symptoms include long-term mood alterations and decreased physical performance in sports. Have you found that training for a performance too much can elicit these symptoms as well? Is there anything in specific that you do to mitigate this effect?”

After sending my first correspondence email to Dr. David M. Feldshuh, he promptly responded with the following email:

“Dear William,

Thank you for your interest.  Below are replies to your questions.

> On Dec 15, 2020, at 7:00 AM, William Bradford <wbradford@renaissanceschool.org> wrote:
>
> Dear Dr. Feldshuh,
>
> I am William Bradford, a high school student at Renaissance School in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I am conducting my Senior Thesis research on performance psychology.
>
> Because of your illustrious history in the theater scene and your position at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, I would like to ask you a few questions.
>
> Would you be open to an online interview sometime between now and January 6th or 7th? I am typically available on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 12:00 and 6:00 PM EST, but I would be glad to accommodate your schedule.
>
> I am certain you are busy, so if scheduling a call does not work for you, I have attached questions below, in case you may have the opportunity to answer via email instead.
>
> Thank you so much for your kind consideration,
> With my highest regards,
> William Bradford
>
> 1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at Cornell? Have you been able to arrange any modified performances? Did they inspire the same pre-performance emotions as before the pandemic?

Covid has moved performances online and class exercises online.  Please go the the Performing and Media Arts website to see the kind of work that is being created this year.  Frankly, I don’t find Zoom performances as engaging as in-person performances.  They are limited in part by being neither fully cinematic nor credibly “alive.”
>
> 2. Have you ever worked with performers using emotion-based performance analysis tools? If not, how do you recommend identifying and maintaining an emotional state that is conducive to peak performance?
You don’t want actors to play emotions.  Please see the work by Stanislavsky.  Any emotion is a byproduct of responding to a need and playing a want that guides how you behave. 

Peak performance is another subject.  It has to do with mastering technique and then being able to empty your mind and fully engage with the other performer.  See attached.
>
> 3. Performing athletes commonly use mental tools such as positive self-talk to help remain in an optimal state of emotion during performances. What mental tools do you suggest to students for coping with performance anxiety during performances and why? 

Breathing exercises, warm ups, visualization (seeing your blocking as a rehearsal technique).  The most important technique is enough preparation.  You need to move beyond the technical requirements of knowing lines and where you move, etc., to be able to connect completely with engaging the other actor.  A key question is:  “What do you want to do to or get from this other character at this moment?”
>
> 4. Do you have any specific pre-performance routines that you use or that you instruct your students to use?
Basic warm ups.  Clearing the body and mind.
>
> 5. Flow is essentially the feeling of complete immersion in a performance. Is there any specific way that you can recall accessing this feeling, or is out of your control? If it is out of your control, do you feel that you can influence it with proper preparation?
Again, see the article below that was before “flow” became a psychological construct. The key element in creative flow is sufficient preparation to be able to let go of any self-consciousness and participate fully in connecting with your environment (persons or things).
>
> 6. Overtraining is a common phenomenon in sports training today. Its symptoms include long-term mood alterations and decreased physical performance in sports. Have you found that training for a performance too much can elicit these symptoms as well? Is there anything in specific that you do to mitigate this effect?

“Overtraining” in acting means “over anxiety” and rigidity.  There is no such thing if you can learn to let go of all rehearsal and be able to be fully present in the moment of performance without watching yourself.  “Overtraining” in theatre really means you don’t have the ability to let go of self-consciousness.  Being able to let go demands total preparation but then a separate skill: surrendering to being fully there with the other actor.  See the concept of “suki” in the  article attached.

Good luck with your research.

David Feldshuh
Cornell University”

He even attached an article for me to read after the interview, which I will read and post notes on before Wednesday.

Afterwards, I responded with an email thanking him for his quick response and wished him a wonderful day.

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