Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Spotlight On...Jason Lasky

photo by Svetlana Lasky
Name: Jason Lasky

Hometown: I’ve got two of them: Sleepy Hollow, NY and Monroe, NY. The first one’s high school mascot was the Headless Horseman (yes, that Headless Horseman), and the second one was the Crusader. The fact that both of these images featured men who lopped heads off of people they didn’t like only dawned on me while answering this question. That’s violent imagery for ya.

Education: I graduated  magna kum laude with an All University Honors BS in Anthropology with a Biology minor from Binghamton University; I am an alumnus of The Actors Studio Drama School’s MFA Playwriting program (non-degree); I’m four semesters and a perfect GPA into my Masters in Education / IB Teacher Award Certification. I also just became a licensed theatre teacher.

Favorite Credits: Acting: The Homecoming (Lenny), Birdbath (Frankie), Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat (The Husband), The Zoo Story (Jerry), As You Like It (Touchstone). Playwriting: They’re all my favorite, but I’m really proud of a few: Rendezvous: A Tragicomedy (co-written with my wife Svetlana and co-produced with Shanghai LGBT for their 6th Pride in 2014); Mend the Envelope; Fanta Non Verba; 40 Days of Night (in progress); The Lifeguard; Last Exit Before You’re Off The Grid.

Why theater?: Unlike identifying bodies, murder weapons, blood spatter patterns and the like (see below answer about not working in theatre), the theatre is the most alive experience you can have next to living, no matter the capacity you find yourself in when it’s Lights Up.

Tell us about Last Exit Before You’re Off The Grid: I’ll copy and paste what I sent to my father: The play is about where America - or any other country with shaky politics- is headed. I've shown it to a playwright in Kenya and an actor in Ghana, and they both think the play speaks to their countries given some reference changes. If Hillary had won I'd have peppered the play with references to her, but instead Trump's stench is present. It's also about people needing to have contact with other people while wanting to maintain a certain distance. It may also be about the need for us to collect and organize things/possessions. Lastly, I think it has a touch of female empowerment.

What inspired you to write/direct Last Exit Before You’re Off The Grid?: The good old US of A influenced the writing, for all its posturing like it was a bird of paradise putting on a show for the rest of the world (thanks Attenborough), in reality it’s a place where people think they stand a better chance than the rest of those non-American folk around the globe, which only inflates its ego that much more. That’s not to say it’s all bad, but the bad s**t is pretty f**king bad sometimes. This is actually what I’ll deem the third play in a series about modern America. The first one I wrote was about the Wikileaks scandal that began a few years ago when infamous computer hacker Adrian Lamo called the FBI after chatting with Chelsea Manning who made public classified US government information. I was trying to figure out what was going on in Obama’s America, and I made a parallel to Nixon’s in the playbill’s notes. I called it Sons of Liberty, and I staged a reading of it in 2012 in Shanghai, China. I donated a portion of the proceeds to a local food kitchen. These volunteers went out once a week around 7 pm to deliver food to the homeless living across one of Asia’s most expensive cities. My outing touched me, which is probably what influenced the second work in the series: a collection of monologues based on the pleads and rantings of homeless New York City dwellers compared to a collection of the pleads and rantings of a strange generation. This second collection was originally written for a certain cohort at ASDS over the summer I decided to go on a leave of absence from the program and get married and start a family. Can I mention my daughter is made in China? My son is, too, but he came out of his factory box in Russia. … Anyway, the US is a most fascinating place to observe and make conclusions about, and forget about our politics, because those are probably in the Top Ten of God’s punchlines.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I enjoy something that takes my breath away in a corporal, emotional and spiritual sense. I mean, all three together. It’s rare that it happens, though, which is why when it does happen it really hits me. What inspires me is trying to get someone in the audience to connect to their life or to feel some kind of care about mine in the world of the stage, and if that happens even once then I’ve succeeded in breaking through the fourth wall (and not in the ‘merc with the mouth’ sense). In my published play Mend the Envelope one of the characters his paralyzed from his C5 vertebra down after a horrible hot air balloon accident. The play ran in two festivals in NYC while I was living in Shanghai, and one of the audience comments passed onto me was that the wife of a guy who is stuck in a wheelchair understood the characters of my play and really thought I got him right. That’s the most gut-wrenching yet pleasing thing someone could say after seeing something I dreamed up in my head and working out in Final Draft. If I can keep finding exciting ways to dream and mine for gold, then I’ll live a satisfied creative life.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: In no particular order: Victor Almanzar. Kim Rios Lin. Neil Patrick Harris. Cate Blanchet.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I got to meet Stephen Adly Guirgis after a showing of Between Riverside and Crazy after it transferred and ask him about his ending and why he changed it from something dark to something lighter. I later wrote him a fan/I’m a playwright, too letters, but he still hasn’t responded. I recommend that one if it’s playing in a city near you. Besides that, all the shows I’ve ever been in because the odds are it’s been a lot easier to get my friends to see my work than strangers. When I started not to suck as much they started bringing dates. But when I come to think about it, the brutal truth is that I don’t have many friends state-side. I haven’t lived full-time in the country since August 2006, and it’s true that once you leave whatever country you call home and stay away for awhile, some things change, and some things don’t.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Slava Polunin. "The Epic Nose"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The Who’s Tommy. The first rock opera is the greatest of them all, in whatever form it takes. I’d love to have seen Birdbath and anything else by Melfi when they prepared.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: My vices are of no consequence.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A forensic anthropologist. I went on the FBI tour one summer and got turned onto the idea of being that kind of scientist. I got so close to actually seeing an autopsy while I was in Binghamton. At the end of the day, I don't think I could have really stomached that sort of thing as a career.

What’s up next?: Who’s to say? We’ve been living in Nairobi, Kenya since this past August, and it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride; I’d been appointed Head of Drama at an international school, but the school couldn’t get a work permit for me, which left us scratching our heads and trying to figure out what exactly is next. We’re a hardworking bunch, though, so I’m not worried.  We’ve got a few new play ideas we’d like to work on jointly that will keep J. Lasky Production busy for a while. We’re finishing up 40 Days of Night and plan to have that up and running in Russia within the next several months, I’m talking with International Theatre Institute’s Zimbabwe coordinator about leading some movement training, I may end up in Spain this summer at ITI’s World Congress to create some original work, my wife’s got a bilingual (Russian and Chinese) children’s book coming out soon, I’m writing an article for Malini Singh McDonald’s website, a movie I acted in called "Train Station" by Collabfeature is coming out on Amazon and iTunes soon, and we’re thanking the Universe for keeping the adventure rolling along and letting us have an Awesome life together.

For more on Jason, visit www.jasonlasky.com. For more on Last Exit Before You're Off the Grid, visit http://www.wbisgroveproductions.com/

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