Jason Lasky and Svetlana Lasky’s intercontinental love story can be told through the various stamps in their well-traveled passports.
Jason, a New York native, was emceeing a theatre festival in Shanghai, and Russian transplant Svetlana happened to be in the audience. She was studying Chinese at the Shanghai International Studies University at the time, and her friend invited her to come and see a theatre performance.
Jason and Svetlana’s connected one year later, on Apr. 1, 2012. Their April Fool’s date was perhaps fortuitous—the two have a mirthful relationship.
I talked to them recently via Skype. They were calling in from their current post in Armenia where Jason is teaching drama at UWC Dilijan College. And even after packing up their apartment in preparation for a move the next morning, and after putting their two small children to bed, Jason and Svetlana’s droll rapport persisted as they spoke about the beginnings of their artistic and romantic relationship in their empty living room.
Two months after they met, Jason moved to New York City to attend the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, and Svetlana stayed behind in Shanghai to continue working as a development manager for an electronics company. Svetlana visited New York, and Jason later trekked to Moscow where Svetlana eventually relocated. The couple visited the Moscow Arts Theatre, seeing a Bulgakov play. “It was a weird, wild crazy story and one of the most amazing theatre experiences I’ve ever had,” says Jason.
Save for these few trips across the Atlantic, the couple mostly connected through video chat. “We should have bought some stock in Skype,” laughs Jason. Because of the 12-hour time difference, Svetlana mostly watched Jason fall asleep through a screen during this transatlantic courtship. “He snores,” she says wryly. “You snore!” he retorts.
Jason, who is a playwright and performer, inspired Svetlana to exercise her artistic side. For their first theatre collaboration, Svetlana took the reins as project manager for a staged reading of Jason’s play Sons of Liberty, about the Wikileaks scandal, in Shanghai.
“Sveta is absolutely business-minded, but she also has this wonderful creative capacity,” says Jason.
Their next big co-production was their wedding, which happened in Thailand. “We arrived on the island with two suitcases that contained our wedding clothes and rings,” Jason recalls.
The pair didn’t have a set date, location, photographer, florist, or minister when they arrived, but everything was squared away by the end of the first day there.
“Jason found Spiderman and Batman—a pair of mountain climbers—the night before the wedding in the bar—they were a bonus,” says Svetlana of their guest list. “Our minister, a local named Toffee, was also the bar manager and the band leader.”
After Svetlana threw her flower bouquet, another barman performed fire poi.
“After the ceremony, we all went swimming under the stars—the clearest night the whole time we were there—and were stunned when we saw the water glowing,” says Svetlana. “Fluorescent plankton is amazing.”
Jason and Svetlana now make up J. Lasky Productions, and together they write, create, and produce theatre all across the globe.
“We don’t have set roles,” says Svetlana of their creative process. “It is the same in our family, we are absolutely sharing everything—he has 100% and I have 100%.”
“I call her The Visionary, capital T, capital V. She really sees the whole thing,” says Jason.
Svetlana and Jason co-penned Rendezvous: A Tragicomedy, a gender-bending Shakespearean-like tale about a love triangle between transgender couples, which was produced as part of the Shanghai LGBTQ Festival in 2014. Rendezvous was the first English language play about the transgender community to be produced in China—and its completion marked a new chapter of the couples’ lives, parenthood.
“I was designing and managing the sound, and breastfeeding our daughter who was two-months-old,” says Svetlana of the production process.
And while that production marked both the birth of their creative professional partnership and their first child, each subsequent project marks another move or another adventure for the growing family.
In addition to Rendezvous: A Tragicomedy, Jason’s plays Marriage Counseling: Three Sessions, Ferry Transfer, and Sons of Liberty all premiered in Shanghai.
In 2015, Jason and Svetlana began working on a collaborative cultural exchange project through a TCG On the Road Grant with the people in Murmansk, Russia—Svetlana’s home town. For the project, called 40 Days of Night, the citizens of Murmansk shared their personal histories and their connections to the northern city, which experiences polar nights and 40 days with no sunlight each year.
The next stop was Nairobi, Kenya, where Jason got a job as the Head of Drama at an international school and served as a guest teacher at the Kenya National Theatre. Their time in Nairobi sparked an idea for a play, called Refugees, about the difficulties in acclimating to a new culture.
“You start from zero every time in a new place in terms of friendships and connections,” says Svetlana.
Now they’re moving to a new, larger homestead in Armenia. They plan to stay at least another year, which will be the longest they’ve stayed put in one place.
Their pile of suitcases will soon grow, as the couple is expecting a third child. So what’s the biggest challenge of developing new work for this growing family?
“Finding the energy,” concedes Jason. “By the time that I’m home and everybody is home and the craziness of the evening ensues, and then we finally put the kids to bed…we’d love to write but the energy just isn’t there. It’s tough, but we work it out.”
This summer, Jason will have the opportunity to write as part of 10-day Masters of Stage and Screenwriting course at the New Hampshire Institute of the Arts in Peterborough, N.H.
And then they’ll see what their next adventure will hold.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. This Giving Season, please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!