The World’s a Stage

Summer 2020

Wizard of Oz
Seen here performing in The Wizard of Oz, with the Charm City Players, Eisner spends his days as a professor of computer
science at the Whiting School, where much of his work is focused in the Center for Language and Speech Processing. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JASON EISNER)

Not many actors can say that they shared a stage with Sacha Baron Cohen.

Jason Eisner, a professor of computer science, can.

While attending the University of Cambridge in the early 1990s, he played Lazar Wolf to Baron Cohen’s Tevye in a production of Fiddler on the Roof.

“In the number ‘To Life,’ I rode around on his shoulders,” recalls Eisner.

Baron Cohen went on to become a well-known performer and comedian, and Eisner an expert in computational linguistics and a computer science professor. But whenever he has time, Eisner still treads the boards in local community theater productions, delighting audiences (and theater critics) in roles such as My Fair Lady’s Henry Higgins and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

“I grew up listening to original Broadway cast recordings and loving musical theater,” he says. “It’s very satisfying to perform and see that the audience is responding to you. It’s definitely true that actors feed off the energy of the audience.”

Eisner sees plenty of commonality between engineering/science and acting. “Both require teamwork and camaraderie, and have a certain kind of perfectionism in which you want every little word, gesture, and movement to be right,” he says.

Teaching and acting are related too, he believes. “Teaching and acting are about relating to an audience, though teaching is more improvisational and acting is more about bringing a script to life,” he says. “I enjoy both.”