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Meet Jeff Janisheski of California Repertory Theatre in Long Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Janisheski.

Jeff, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I moved to Long Beach exactly one year ago to be Chair of the Theatre Arts Department at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) and also Artistic Director of our California Repertory Theatre (Cal Rep). Prior to this I was Head of Acting at NIDA (the National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney, Australia – ranked as one of the top 10 theatre schools in the world and the alma mater of stars such as Cate Blanchett, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving and Baz Luhrmann. It was a dream job in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I spent nine years working in New York City: as Associate Artistic Director at Classic Stage Company working with artists like Walter Bobbie, Alan Cumming, David Oyelowo, John Turturro and Dianne Wiest; and also created an international performance festival that showcased the work of artists from Asia, Europe and the US. I see now that the roots of all of my work now were formed during my time in NYC: I learned how to create theatre from nothing; how to work quickly (it’s a city with a fast heart-beat!); and I forged ongoing connections with fellow artists there.

The overall focus, though, of my work over the past twenty years has been on international collaborations: I’ve taught and directed in Australia, England, Japan, Korea, Russia, Vietnam and around the US. So I’m excited to bring all of those diverse experiences to Cal Rep and our theatre department. So far, it’s been an exciting transition.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There are always obstacles when leading an organization. However, having been a leader of theatre schools for the past nine years, I have learned two big lessons that allow me to work with and through these challenges.

TO LISTEN. Literally the first lesson I teach all of my students and my actors – and which I continually have to practice myself – is to listen. To deeply listen. It is a skill for any great actor and any leader. There is simply not enough listening in the world today; especially in these “Divided States of America.”. So my question to our students and our audience is – how can theatre be a place of listening to others? How can theatre work to connect communities in crisis?

TO COLLABORATE: The second major lesson I work on with my students and my actors is about collaboration – which is obviously linked to listening. How do we work together as an ensemble; how do we communicate and cooperate; how do we work collectively to create thrilling theatrical pieces? Again, this is a skill sorely missing in our society. So we are working on basic skills that are not only essential to the theatre – but also crucial for being an engaged citizen in the world.

When there are ever obstacles in my organization, it usually comes down to a lack of listening and/or collaborating. My job is to continually create and promote an atmosphere of listening and working together as a team.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about California Repertory Theatre – what should we know?
California Repertory Theatre (Cal Rep) has been one of the main sources for theatre in Long Beach for the past 29 years. Our work can range from season to season – from musicals to classics to contemporary plays and world premieres – but the spirit of Cal Rep is focused on experimentation, education and collaboration. We stage 8 main-stage productions per year – plus a wide-range of staged readings and symposia.

Cal Rep is:

• A laboratory for our CSULB students to explore new ways of creating and staging theatre;
• A hothouse for developing new work and new voices – especially work by underrepresented writers and artists;
• A zone for work for and by Californians – addressing issues that are urgent to our local and regional communities and producing work by Californian artists;
• And a sanctuary for art that inspires change, hope, fearlessness and for making the revolution irresistible.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Tenacity. To me, tenacity is more important than talent. An artist (or leader) either has some innate talent or not. Training programs like ours are like gardens: we can nurture someone’s talent; we can provide the environment which allows their talent to blossom and thrive (or so we hope). But without tenacity – without the hunger to keep relentlessly pursuing one’s dreams despite doors slamming shut and years of rejection – then all that talent will not go anywhere. So, I tell my students – and my actors – to be tenacious. To just keep leaning in, doing the work, and pushing forward bit by bit. That’s how a career is forged; that’s what keeps someone from quitting. And through tenaciously pushing through barriers and obstacles – that’s when real growth and a real evolution in one’s art comes.

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Image Credit:
Kip Polakoff

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