February 6, 2006
From UCSC to Amsterdam: Life after theater arts
By Scott Rappaport
Matt Ratto admits that his career trajectory has been a little strange.
Theater arts alum Matt Ratto works for the Royal Netherlands Academy of
Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam, where he studies the social implications of digital technologies.
Photo: Scott Rappaport
A UCSC graduate with a B.A. ('94) and fifth-year certificate ('97) in theater arts, Ratto received his Ph.D. in communications from UC San Diego in 2003.
Prior to that, he attended a conservatory for the performing arts and spent two years working with a professional theater company in Arizona.
He was also an actor/technical understudy for the infamous Beach Blanket Babylon production in San Francisco, ran a computer company that built clone computers, and worked for three years in the corporate world as a computer programmer for Digital Systems International in Seattle.
Ratto now works for the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam, where he studies the social implications of digital technologies. He recently returned to UCSC to give a talk to students, explaining how he managed to get from the Barn Theater on the UCSC campus to the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam.
Ratto emphasized that his experience in theater arts taught him not to follow the conventional career route, but rather to explore the world and see where it takes him.
“The theater teaches us something about the world; it teaches us something about life and its meaning—that it’s messy and complicated,” explained Ratto. “And that the individual emotional experience is a really important component in making decisions.”
“In theater, my favorite part was rehearsals—that sense of play and desire to explore,” Ratto added. “It wasn’t the performance. Rehearsals allowed me to explore events in the world and explore myself in relation to other people and physical environments. It was the idea of the stage as a laboratory to work out the concepts of living—a place where you enact and embody life. The most important aspects of theater are the practical set of skills—improvisation, relating to people—that it gives you.”
Ratto noted that he is very interested in social values issues, which is why he has been involved with the creation of a new Royal Academy research institute, the Virtual Knowledge Studio.
“We’re looking at the adoption and development of digital tools and technologies in the humanities and social sciences,” said Ratto. “We are looking at how digital tools affect these disciplines and their relationship with contemporary society--how adoption and development of these tools is changing how people in these disciplines do their jobs, ask questions, and disseminate their results.”
Ratto said he hopes to move eventually from a pure research environment to one that includes teaching, both in the United States and abroad. But he expressed great appreciation of the opportunity to live and work in Amsterdam for the past two years.
“The experience has taught me so much about what it means to be American,” said Ratto. “It’s very broadening seeing how other people live. It gives you a sense of how people in the world are very similar--and how what appears to be very similar on the surface, can be so different.”
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