Placeholder image for staff profiles

Dr Matthew Wagner


Senior Lecturer in Theatre Studies
+44 (0)1483 686508
05 NC 01

Biography

Biography

I joined the University of Surrey in 2010, after teaching theatre and drama in New Zealand at Victoria University of Wellington and in the US at the University of Minnesota (where I also completed my postgraduate degrees). My primary interest is in how we think through our world - and our experience of our world - by way of engagement with the arts. While principally an academic researcher, I have worked across universities and conservatoires, and frequently my scholarship and teaching involves studio work and performance practice.

Research interests

My research is focused primarily on Shakespearean dramaturgy and stage praxis, but it reaches also into the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly in respect to theatrical temporality, the theatre of Beckett and his contemporaries, and questions of embodiment and spatiality in theatre and performance. More broadly, nearly all my research activity is underpinned by a fascination with the relationship between phenomenology and theatre. Current projects include a British Academy funded investigation into the nature of the Door in performance, co-editing a collection of essays on phenomenology and performance, and the development of a manuscript on the phenomenology of Shakespeare.

Teaching

THE3025/3026 CompanyTHE3024 DramaturgyTHE3009 DissertationTHE1022 The Theatrical TextTHE1023/1024 Theatre Project

Departmental duties

Subject Leader, TheatreProgramme Director, BA Theatre Studies

Affiliations

My publications

Publications

Abstract Throughout the thirty years I have been watching and participating as a dancer in UK dance theatre, I have become increasingly aware of the ways in which female characters are frequently portrayed through limited representations of women. This research begins by acknowledging that this is a problem and proceeds to look at some of the ways in which such limited representations come about and subsequently how the individuality of the person is overlooked. The main objective of this research is to address this problem by offering a new choreographic approach to creating character in dance works. This has been done through an amalgamation of Stanislavskian and Heideggerian processual accounts of truth which intrinsically account for the Being and subjectivity of the performer and character. Through Practice as Research I have developed a new method of choreographing character which intersects dance practice, Heideggerian phenomenology and Stanislavskian approaches to acting. A principal aspect of my original contribution to the field of knowledge lies within the intersection of these practices. I propose that a key attribute towards resolving the problem is through taking time to ‘get to know’ the character; an idea at the heart of social psychological propositions towards resolving problems of social stereotyping. I conclude by making a call for choreographers to consider using techniques from theatre such as the one I outline in this research when creating and presenting female characters within their work. The implications of this research are that approaches from theatre and phenomenology are not merely ideas that can be applied to the body but in fact are practices which can be done and danced. Rather than resorting to limited and sometimes tired representations of women’s experience, the individual lived experience of the character can emerge and drive the creation and performance process to produce a choreographed character whose subjectivity and lived experience is clearly accounted for.
MD Wagner (2015)Performance Philosophy
"What Can Performance Philosophy Do?" In opening panel, "Time, Beckett, and Performance as Philosophy"
MD Wagner, S Redmond (2007)'The Eye of the Beckettian Present', In: Screening the Past(21)
“Am I as much— Am I as much as…being seen?” In this article, we take up M’s closing question from Play, arguing that it is the overriding central phenomenological conundrum in much of Beckett’s stage and screen work. The question we selectively take to Beckett’s oeuvre is: what is the relationship between perception and presence, consciousness and corporeality? To answer ‘yes’ to M’s question - to be is as much as being seen –– is to render the body not utterly useless, but periphery, or secondary, merely the flesh of perception. Beckett famously remarked that, in his increasing sense of minimalism, in his desire to ‘say the least necessary’, his final work would be a blank piece of paper. In Beckett, does the body suffer the same fate as language? To repeat the refrain, am I as much as being seen? If so, I need to present you (someone) with something to be seen – skin, torso, muscle, a boundaried mass of flesh. So, yes; the body is required. But perhaps not as much as the perception of the seer. And if a disconnect between seer and seen is possible – and there is no doubt, at least in a Beckettian world, that it is not only possible, but is the hallmark of the human condition – and the presence of the seen is dependant on the seer, then we have no choice but to be suspicious, or questioning of our very existence. Am I as much as being seen? Yes, and so, I disappear when you don’t see me. But I cannot not be seen, particularly in a world where vision is everywhere, not least because the “I” is always simultaneously an embodied seer. It is this circular phenomenon, this duality of absence and presence – which works itself out in corporeal terms in different but closely related ways on stage and on screen – that we tackle here. In the first section, we trace the role of different bodies in Beckett’s stage work, arguing that these bodies, especially as mediated by a fractured and incohesive sense of Time, actively ‘presence’ an absence (and, inevitably, absent a presence). In the second section, we argue that in Beckett’s Film, the dilemma of embodied consciousness and what is an anguished flight from being seen and seeing oneself is played out in terms of the complex star/celebrity signification of both Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett. Star and phenomenological theory closely align in this respect, both discourses reliant on a tense, seemingly paradoxical absent/present union. The present article is an attempt to trace and, in some ways, explain this phenomenon of duality, this paradox between being there and not being there. . Our approach is largely phenomenological, drawing on the ideas of Bert O. States, Merleau-Ponty, and Vivian Sobchack to enrich our analysis. At the same time, we conjoin that approach with a cultural awareness of the living body in postmodern times. In the end, we offer the argument that the unique duality of presence and absence that is produced through the human body in Beckett’s stage works finds a corollary, and perhaps purer, realisation in the body of Film.
MD Wagner (2014)Wheresoever the Body Is -- Image, Matter and Corporeality on Shakespeare's Stage, In: Early Modern Culture Online5(1)pp. 11-30 Early Modern Research Group / The Bergen Shakespeare and Drama Network
What does the visual culture of early modern England, and the ways in which that culture articulated specific notions of corporeality, tell us about the actor’s body on Shakespeare’s stage? This article locates one answer to that question in the popular emblem books and the somewhat more rarefied cosmographical treatises of the day. Digging in these sources reveals an understanding of the body that is grounded first and foremost in corporeality – the body, before it was anything else, was matter. As such, I argue that the actor’s body on the early modern stage served as an instance of irrefutable and irreducible materiality, ‘lending’ its materiality to the abstractions and absences that Shakespeare’s theatre so readily ‘bodied forth.’ However, as a wealth of scholarship on the body has suggested over the past few decades, things are not this simple. The body appears in these arenas as a very specific kind of matter, and matter itself is shown to have a complex relationship to ‘form’, or the immaterial realities of life. I argue here that the nature of the body-as-matter, and indeed of matter itself, is fruitfully understood in terms of two related early modern concepts: prima materia, and man as microcosm. These ideas were most in circulation in the distinct but kindred fields of alchemy and cosmography, and their visual manifestations offer a perspective on the theatrical body that does not reduce the body to simple matter, but still acknowledges its profound materiality, and the effect that the body-as-matter has on stage-work as a whole.
MD Wagner, C Danowski (2005)“Hearing Ghosts and Speaking Spaces: A Conversation with Performance”, In: Text and Performance Quarterly
MD Wagner (2017)Theatre and Time, In: Time and Literature1 Cambridge
M Wagner (2011)Shakespeare, Theatre, and Time Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group
That Shakespeare thematized time thoroughly, almost obsessively, in his plays is well established: time is, among other things, a 'devourer' (Love's Labour's Lost), one who can untie knots (Twelfth Night), or, perhaps most famously, simply ‘out of joint’ (Hamlet). Yet most critical commentary on time and Shakespeare tends to incorporate little focus on time as an essential - if elusive - element of stage praxis. This book aims to fill that gap; Wagner's focus is specifically performative, asking after time as a stage phenomenon rather than a literary theme or poetic metaphor. His primary approach is phenomenological, as the book aims to describe how time operates on Shakespearean stages. Through philosophical, historiographical, dramaturgical, and performative perspectives, Wagner examines the ways in which theatrical activity generates a manifest presence of time, and he demonstrates Shakespeare’s acute awareness and manipulation of this phenomenon. Underpinning these investigations is the argument that theatrical time, and especially Shakespearean time, is rooted in temporal conflict and ‘thickness’ (the heightened sense of the present moment bearing the weight of both the past and the future). Throughout the book, Wagner traces the ways in which time transcends thematic and metaphorical functions, and forms an essential part of Shakespearean stage praxis.
MD Wagner (2008)A King(dom) for a Stage: The War Body In and As Performance, In: The War Body on Screen(3) Bloomsbury Publishing
Like the pool of perceivers of September 11th, the vast majority of people who experience the war body do so not with the immediacy of flesh, of course, but with the schooling and the framework of a cinematic imaginary, or, as I will expand the idea here, a framework of performance. As Lane suggests of 9/11, ‘only those close enough to breathe the foulness into their lungs could truly measure the darkening day for what it was;’ for the rest, epistemological comprehension notwithstanding, the day was a movie. Similarly, the war body on screen, I suggest, while perhaps not strictly a movie, is a performance. My contention is that to address the war body on screen is to address it as a ‘poetic image’, an image, as Bachelard suggests, that ‘emerges into the consciousness as a direct product of the heart, soul, and being of man, apprehended in his actuality’ (xiv). Thus, to ask after the war body on screen is to ask first this phenomenological question: how does the war body emerge into a subjective consciousness? It does so as performance, and it is this performativity that I am interested in here. My case studies will be predominantly fictive and filmic, and my hope will be to trace through them a set of processes and phenomena of performance specific to the war body, and the implications that those processes and phenomena have upon our cultural experiences of the war body. Finally, it is a particular kind of war body that I am interested in here – the body of the warrior/king, or leader – which both resonates with and stands apart from the other categories of war body addressed in the collection (that of the soldier, the enemy, and the hostage/victim).
MD Wagner (2012)In This Good Time: Cardenio and the Temporal Character of Shakespearean Drama, In: The Quest for Cardenio Oxford University Press
My purpose in this essay is to examine some aspects of the temporal character of The History of Cardenio – as Gary Taylor’s reconstruction of the play currently exists, using the performance script employed for the 2009 production at Victoria University of Wellington –and compare the findings there with prominent temporal characteristics of Shakespearean drama. In so doing, my hope is to draw out the similarities and differences between the two, thus offering another tool for the ongoing charting of The History of Cardenio, which is in effect a process of triangulation: a literary-historical-performative positioning of the current text in the landscape of Shakespeare/Fletcher, Theobald, and the present day. I should note that the focus here is Shakespearean; Fletcher and Theobald (and Cervantes, for that matter) are by and large absent from my considerations. This is for the sake of focus, not because such comparisons would not yield equally interesting results; indeed, as I suggest in my conclusion, I hope that one thing this chapter demonstrates is the potential for further temporal readings that might do similar work in terms of the authors here omitted.
This thesis comprises a critical exploration of female dance performances in the recent democratic history of Spain. It discusses democratic Spain’s relationship with the memory and forgetting of its repressive dictatorial past. In the aftermath of Francoism (1939-75), Spain transitioned to a democratic system without confronting those responsible for the repression of the previous regime. This tacit sociopolitical agreement, known as the Pact of Silence, imposed a process of collective amnesia on Spain. As a way of breaking the pact of silence, this analysis traces the development of gender values, under the effects of this social oblivion. My research suggests that this collective historical amnesia has had direct repercussions on the construction of feminine identity in post-Franco Spain. My methodologies depart from a critical dance studies perspective, and borrow from contemporary semiotics and post-structural criticism to analyse dance pieces as socially encoded discursive practices that generate meaning. Through their choreographies, a democratic generation of female choreographers, Anna Maleras, Avelina Argüelles and Sol Picó, have opened up possibilities for discussing the female body’s relationship with historical silence, offering choreographic tactics to vanquish the national amnesia.