David M Feldshuh

Professor

Summary

David Feldshuh is a director, actor, writer, teacher and practicing physician.

David trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, studied mime with Jacques Lecoq, and began his acting career as a McKnight Fellow at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He remains an enthusiastic, lifelong member of Actor’s Equity.

Appointed an Associate Director at the Guthrie Theater, David directed, wrote, adapted and devised a variety of productions over the next seven years on the Guthrie’s mainstage as well as in its experimental theater space. During this time, he became fascinated by the relationship between acting and Zen meditation, the Japanese martial arts, Gestalt Therapy and other psychophysical disciplines, an interest that began as an undergraduate actor at Dartmouth College (philosophy major, Phi Beta Kappa). Wanting to learn more, he completed a PhD from the University of Minnesota focusing on creativity and actor training.

Subsequently, David’s theater work supported another of his interests, medicine. Directing plays to work his way through medical school, David earned an M.D. degree from the University of Minnesota, became board-certified in emergency medicine, and a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. After medical school, David divided his time between directing and acting projects and his work as an ER doctor in a Minneapolis Level I Trauma Center.

Intrigued by Cornell’s determination to build a new building dedicated to theater, film and dance and develop an audience to fill it, David arrived in Ithaca to lead that effort and become the first Artistic Director of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, guiding a resident company of professional actors who taught and worked side-by-side with students from throughout Cornell.

David enjoys directing big productions with large casts. Selected projects include The Coronation of Poppea (Minnesota Opera Company); Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (Illusion Theater); Becket, An Italian Straw Hat, Baal (Guthrie Theater); King Lear (with actress Sheriden Thomas as Lear), Angels in America, The Cradle Will Rock, and Leonard Bernstein’s opera, Mass, with a student cast of 138 singer-actors (Cornell). 

David has also been active in writing his own texts and using these scripts to create theatrical “firsts.” His play Fables Here and Then (University of Minnesota Press) was the first Guthrie play to tour, visiting 52 cities throughout the Midwest. David directed and co-wrote the Guthrie’s first A Christmas Carol, a tradition that was adopted as an annual financial lifeline at other regional theaters and that has continued at the Guthrie for almost five decades. David’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone (professional premiere at Center Stage in Baltimore) was written and produced for Cornell’s First Year Reading Program.  David published Antigone free of royalties online, and it has been read and performed throughout the U.S. and internationally. Teachers report that the script has been particularly useful in venues where students can’t afford to buy copies of one of the world’s great classic plays.

David has written screenplays, short stories, and television scripts as well as plays. His most recent professional theater production, Dancing with Giants, tells the story of a remarkable friendship between German boxer, Max Schmeling, and his Jewish manager, Yussle Jacobs, in the run-up years to World War II. 

David’s widely-produced play, Miss Evers' Boys, combined his medical and theatrical passions, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. It was a Sundance Institute Major Project, and received the New American Play Award (sponsored by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation). As an HBO movie, Miss Evers’ Boys received twelve Emmy nominations winning five including Best Picture and the President’s Award for television presentations exploring vital social issues.  It also received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Television Movie, the Cable Ace Award for Best Picture and two Golden Globe Awards. The success of the film helped catalyze an official government apology from President Clinton to the survivors of the so-called, "Tuskegee Study,” a forty-year, government medical experiment. 

David has spoken extensively about the use of theater to address important social issues, and Miss Evers’ Boys has become an educational asset in medical schools and courses that consider the influence of cultural bias in contemporary medical care. For its role in education, Miss Evers’ Boys received the National Education Association’s award for "Achievement In Learning Through Broadcasting," as well as the American Medical Association "Freddy" Helen Hayes Award for Best Film On a Medical Subject. To further this educational effort, David co-produced and interviewed survivors of the Tuskegee study to create the Cornell-supported documentary, Susceptible to Kindness (CINE Golden Eagle, the Intercom Gold Plaque, the International Health and Medical Film Festival Award). 

David loves teaching and the enthusiasm of his students. Over the 37 years that he has taught at Cornell, he has developed original courses including “Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life,” a course that aims to reduce performance anxiety and strengthen speaking presence through theatrical training techniques. Using elements from Acting in Public as well as lessons learned from creating workshops for on-campus Cornell groups and at Cornell Tech, David created a 15-week, eCornell, distance-learning course that has taught more than 500 students domestically and globally including students from India, Dubai, Russia and China.

Finally, David enjoys the opportunity to “act” as the stadium announcer at Cornell’s commencement ceremonies each year.  He is also grateful to have received three special awards.  He was chosen as a Menschel Distinguished Teaching Fellow, has been recognized as a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, Cornell’s highest teaching award, and is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University.

Research Focus

  • the arts and healthcare
  • the use of theater in exploring important social issues
  • training creativity and presence
  • directing

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Courses - Spring 2022

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