University City

Professor brings passion for physical theater to UNC Charlotte

Carlos Cruz, assistant professor of voice and movement in UNC Charlotte’s theater department, adds a new style of theater, including circus arts, to performances at UNCC.

He is the first physical theater professor at the university.

Physical theater is a method of storytelling that uses primarily physical actions. Cruz teaches his students using his many props, gestures and masks, with a bit of acrobatics thrown in.

Cruz said he was bored by traditional theater, because he found it lacked interaction between the actors and the audience.

“In old-style theater, we ignored the fourth wall (the audience), but in my theater there is no fourth wall,” said Cruz.

“If a prop flies out into the audience, we improvise and use it in our performance,” he said. “We call those ‘happy accidents’ that keep them (the audience) engaged. Actions, especially out of the norm, really grab their attention.”

Cruz uses physical extremes to illustrate ideas in theater.

“Gestures can say more than a thousand words. We can transcend barriers with movements that are inclusive to all cultures and languages,” he said. “Circus arts grab the audience because of the action and risk involved.

“People are more invested when they think there are high stakes, including injury or death, in the actions on stage.”

Right now the university’s stages are not equipped for some of the circus arts, such as aerial straps, but Cruz is working with officials to make the needed improvements.

Cruz said he hopes to start working on campus with the aerial straps this spring and to teach a course using the equipment by fall 2014.

His performances range from the simple and funny clowns, using masks and other props, to the dangerous, even death-defying acrobatic movements, such as aerials.

Born in Puerto Rico, Carlos Cruz began his journey into physical theater at an early age as a gymnast. As he grew older, he said, he studied theater and wanted to incorporate his acrobatic skills into the performances.

After earning his bachelor of arts degree in communication studies at the University of Puert Rico in San Juan, Cruz came to the United States to do his graduate work in 2004.

He completed his master of fine arts degree in physical theater at Dell’ Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, Calif., in 2007.

In January 2007 he became the theater director and acrobatic coach at the Do Jump School of Physical Theatre. He went on to work with the Miracle Theatre and Imago Theatre before founding his Pelu Theatre in Portland, Ore., in 2010.

His favorite and most successful production, “A Suicide Note from a Cockroach,” was created at his Pelu Theatre.

Cruz served as an adjunct professor of movement and voice for theater majors at George Fox University from 2011 to 2013 and as an adjunct professor of theater at the University of Portland from January 2013 until he took the position at UNCC this fall.

Cruz has been working with some of the student actors and dancers on their productions this fall, while also collaborating on a piece for the Fall Student Dance Concert, scheduled for Nov. 21-24.

Working with Kim Jones, assistant professor of dance, he has helped eight dance students and two theater students create a comedic piece titled “The Waiter Chronicles.”

The performance blends various dance forms, acting and physical theater to celebrate the lives and struggles of working in the service industry.