On the Couch with Jeff Janisheski

Jeff Janisheski Arts Review On the CouchWho is Jeff Janisheski?
I’m an American theatre director and acting teacher who focuses on international collaborations. Over the past twenty years I’ve worked in England, Japan, Korea, Russia, Vietnam, the U.S. and Australia – where I was NIDA’s Head of Acting from 2012 to 2015. I’m back in Sydney to work again with one of my favourite writers, Stephen Sewell. His new play The Olympians is – like Stephen himself – political, passionate, provocative and deeply profound.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
The usual litany of New Year’s Eve resolutions: stress less, exercise more and eat better. Maybe this year I will.

Who inspires you and why?
My Butoh teacher Kazuo Ohno would say, “Nature is your teacher.” For me my two-year-old daughter, Leonora, is my teacher. She instinctively embodies what it takes years for an acting student to learn: raw emotion, pure expression, playful abandon and a connection to everyday details of life that adults habitually ignore.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Listen. There is not enough listening in the world in the political, social and personal spheres. This lack of listening is one of the roots of our pain; and it’s why so many plays – comedies and tragedies – revolve around the conflict of characters that can’t connect. I tell my students that listening – deep listening that focuses on the other – is not only a necessary tool for an actor, but can be a radical and revolutionary act.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Moorland, four hours north of Sydney in the Manning Valley, is paradise. I was there mid-May and it’s a gorgeous place to unplug, unwind and simply wander in the woods, enjoy beautiful beaches and see the pristine night sky.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
I’m an art addict. Each year I would travel around Australia as part of NIDA’s audition tour; wherever I was I would always explore the local art museum. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is my favourite. So when friends from abroad visit Sydney I take them to see the treasures of the AGNSW – from phenomenal Australian artists (Grace Cossington Smith, Ian Fairweather and Tracey Moffatt) to a wide range of international artists (Sol LeWitt, Richard Long and Bill Viola.

What are you currently reading?
My wife and I spending the summer in Sweden: first in Stockholm and then on the remote island of Fårö where she’ll be a resident artist at Ingmar Bergman’s old home. So I’m re-reading the work of both Bergman and August Strindberg. I’m inspired by how each artist dissected their personal life to craft rigorous, moving, and theatrical work.

What are you currently listening to?
Stephen’s play, The Olympians, unfolds on the final night of Rio’s Summer Olympics at an out-of-control dance party in the Olympic Village. So our production is an exuberant mash-up of pop music (FKA twigs, Iggy Azelea), anthemic rock (AC/DC, Survivor), classical music (Arvo Pärt, Brian Eno) and experimental noise (Pauline Oliveros, Zoviet France).

Happiness is?
The American poet E.E. Cummings said, “Humanity i love you because you are perpetually putting the secret of life in your pants and forgetting it’s there and sitting down on it.” Happiness comes from being awake to the tiny moments of life that can bring joy – and not being oblivious to them.

What does the future hold for you?
My family and I are moving to Los Angeles: I’m the new Artistic Director of Cal Rep and Chair of the Theatre Arts department at California State University in Long Beach. So the immediate future will be to plug into the network of artists I know in LA to build the theatre program at CSULB; the long-term future will be to build bridges between LA and Sydney so I can bring over the phenomenal artists I’ve met during my time in Australia.

Jeff is currently in Sydney directing The Olympians by award-winning playwright Stephen Sewell – an all-student production as part of NIDA’s annual June production season: 11 – 18 June 2016. For more information, visit: www.nida.edu.au for details.

Image: Jeff Janisheski