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Interview:
Jason Lasky
By Nov 12, 2008 Stage


This Friday, the first production from Shanghai's newest theater group opens at the River South Arts Center. Drawing on a wide range of creative idioms and the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the 5th Wall players, "Marriage Counseling: Three Sessions" examines the familiar thematic topic of romantic relationships, seeking to communicate universal truths from radically different vantage points.

SmartShanghai sat down with Jason Lasky, a member of the creative team behind the piece (and the guy with the beard in the pictures) to talk about 5th Wall's first production

"Marriage Counseling: Three Sessions" runs this weekend only, with performances Friday and Saturday night, and a Sunday matine. To reserve tickets: send an email to this address: 5thwalltheater@gmail.com or call the hotline: 2821-2330.

More event info here.

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SmSh: Who are you and how are you involved with all this?

Jason: Okay. My name is Jason Lasky. I am... I came up with the original idea for the play and through various events occurring -- one of them being the death of a one act theater festival...

SmSh: A one act play festival?

Jason: Yeah, there was going to be a one act play festival of eight ten-minute one act plays...

Basically, heres the short version: I got this chair and a toy gun from a friend. And I was messing around with this toy gun one morning and the idea just popped into my head with this husband and wife and this problem they were having, and I had been going to an acting workshop for some time...

SmSh: In Shanghai?

Jason: Yeah, in Shanghai. And I knew Jenevieve Chang, who is also currently involved, and I said to her let's workshop this and so we did, and people liked it and said "why don't you write it down." So I wrote the original idea with the intent of putting it on at this one act play festival which ended up not happening. But in the process of putting it on Noemi Preiswerk [actor] came into the picture and Michael Ouyang [director] came into the picture as well, as did Tomer Oz [actor].

And so when the one act festival wasn't happening we decided to do it ourselves.

And we started working on it to change it into something... it started out as a monologue and then Jenevieve gave it a woman's voice and inspired the dialogue. And over the past several months we've all had input into the play, and had other ideas shoot off in other directions, including the female-female relationship, and the physical dance interpretation of it also.

So it's really a result of all of us putting out heads together adding our own input and creative energy and making it into what it is.

SmSh: So is this the first theatrical production you've been involved with in Shanghai?

Jason:I've been here three years but this is the first major acting thing that I've done here professionally. This is the first time that I've been a part of something that started from an idea that I had into this big "Marriage Counseling" production. It's a real trip.

SmSh: What's your personal theatrical background?

Jason: I studied theater for about two and a half or three years and was doing stuff -- both community theater and professional stuff in New York, and then I studied abroad in England. But then I came over here doing something different... This is something that came out of no where really.

I was doing that acting workshop just to keep something alive, just so I could something with theater and acting once in a while, but then this idea led to another idea and it just sort of snowballed into this thing.

SmSh: Okay, so what exactly is "Marriage Counseling"?

Jason: Okay. It's one story told three different ways. The doors will open about half an hour before the play and you go in pay for your ticket. There's going to be food and drinks, and then we sit down and you have Act I.

Act I is the story of Jack and Jill, a husband and wife who are facing many problems in their relationship. The play overall looks at questions of power, relationships, fidelity, communication, and communication breakdowns. In the second section of the play is a same-sex relationship, which looks at the same questions according to a different dynamic.

And so in Act I you have a male-female take on it; in Act II it's a same-sex relationship with different dynamics because of gender. Two females -- we were toying with the idea of having two males but for various reasons, we have two females. And so it's another interpretation -- the same kinds of questions but different answers.

And in Act III, there is no spoken dialogue whatsoever, and instead there is a dialogue of movement and dance between Jenevieve, who has a physical theater, movement, and dance background, and Tomer Oz, who is a Thai boxing instructor from Israel.

They have two styles... The languages of movement are very different -- masculine power versus feminine power and masculine movements versus feminine movements.

So the trick is to see when they are speaking the same language and when they aren't -- it's a physical representation of the he said, she said. It was Michael who had the idea of adding these other dimensions... alternate universes I think he said.

SmSh: Another aspect of the production is that it takes place in three different areas of the building...

Yeah, so instead of having a regular play and having everyone come in and sit down, what happens is you go to one area of the River Arts Center and you sit down -- or stand [Laughs] -- and see one play, and then everyone takes a break, has some more food and drink, then you go to a different area of the River Arts Center...

SmSh: There's an intermission between the first and second acts?

Jason: Yeah, there are intermissions between each part of it. And you won't stay in the same place, because another thing we're playing with is "space" -- the space of this converted warehouse that's been around for 100 years.

Yeah, its not just sit-down-and-see-a-show... it involves [the audience] moving around to different areas with different seating, lighting, visuals and sound, for different perspectives...

Then afterwards everyone will have another little chat, another drink another bite to eat. So it's taking the concept of theater and doing something different. It's more than a show.

SmSh: So what kind of audience do you see attending? Do you have an ideal audience in mind?

Jason: Well, at the moment, because of the nature of the play and the language, it would lend itself more to an expat crowd or an English-speaking audience.

But we don't want to limit ourselves in any way, and we don't want language to limit to us in any way, and that's why there is these other elements to it as well.

And we're not saying for future projects that it has to be in English -- this project may be in English, but in the future the other things that we're talking about, we want to appeal to a broader audience so we will use Chinese elements in the play.

But our story... it's a husband and a wife., and all the problems that they have. How many cultures have told that story? It's a universal story and we're looking at different ways to tell it.

SmSh: So maybe you could talk about 5th Wall Theater group then. Would you say there's a specific aesthetic or unifying idea behind the group... a manifesto?

Jason: Well, I suppose the international aspect of the group, and peoples differing backgrounds... we're just trying to be really open to the various ways of telling a story. The name comes from the idea of the fourth wall, which is the theater term referring to when you go into the audience -- you "break the fourth wall." The fifth wall is supposed to go beyond that, beyond the theater itself -- beyond the traditional idea of the stage itself.

You know, you have Greek theater, African theater, European... all these different kinds of theater -- Italian, renaissance, Shakespeare, contemporary, Beijing opera, Kabuki -- but you always have a stage. So we wanted a name that represents that we're going beyond the theater, so when you come you get a bit of art, a bit of dance, a bit of poetry... but it affects people in a real way more than just a show. It's a real situation.

One of my goals for the entire thing is that I want everybody in the audience to feel the danger and feel that these are real people... these things do happen. I want people to walk away with questions: questions about the relationships they currently have, are currently in, or will have.

But everyone has a different background and brings something different and we're looking for a way to meld the different background, styles, and ways of expression, ways of being creative all together. It's definitely weird. But it's a lot of fun.


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