Texas Tech University

An Interview with Jesse Jou

LyaNIsha Gonzalez

October 24, 2018

Jesse Jou

The most important thing to remember is that serving the play is sometimes not dependent on having all the things you're used to in a traditional theatre space.

LyaNisha Gonzalez: What was it that drew you to this particular script?

Jesse Jou: I've known the playwright Dipika Guha for years, and I had the chance to work on an early version of this play when she and I were in graduate school. When Mark Charney told us his vision for this season, I thought this would be a great project to explore within the framework of found or site-specific spaces. I love its poetry and its profound questions about the impact of colonialism and the boundaries of forgiveness. Getting to revisit it after so long, I think I'm finding so many new and different layers in it. It's been a real joy and challenge.

LG: What are the advantages of directing a play like Passing in a site specific/found space location versus a traditional theatre space?

JJ: The advantage of directing Passing outside of a traditional theatre space is that we can expand the conversation the piece can have in our temporary home, the Helen DeVitt Jones Studio Gallery at LHUCA. Our set design is both responding to LHUCA's space as well as trying to create a unique space that is strictly of the world of the play. We're able to have a different kind of intimacy with the audience.

The biggest challenge for a director is to cast well.

LG: In directing a show off-site, what do you think is the most important thing to remember about serving the play?

JJ: The most important thing to remember is that serving the play is sometimes not dependent on having all the things you're used to in a traditional theatre space. The director Peter Brook once wrote that the basic act of making theatre is someone crossing a space and someone else watching that happen. That's easy to forget when you've got all the technical "bells and whistles" and so directing Passing now is a good reminder to keep things simple and celebrate the storytelling.

LG: What has been the most challenging aspect of directing in a site specific/found space location for you?

JJ: The most challenging aspect is really keeping in mind all the unique attributes of our gorgeous space: the skylights and clerestory windows in the gallery mean we can never have a complete blackout, for example. Our set design is going to exist in the gallery in parallel with a terrific exhibit by School of Art faculty. I think our show being in conversation with those features will create an exciting tension for the audience.

LG: What would you say is the essence of this play?

JJ: In the play, on an unnamed island colonized by the British, Matilda, a young Indigenous girl, is kidnapped and raised by an English couple who have lost their own baby. Inspired by true stories of native children forcibly separated from their families and raised within a system that made them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, the essence of this play is the way that huge atrocities begin as small personal choices, and how do you forgive something that seems unforgivable in the wider scope of history?

LG: What do you hope the audience takes away from this story?

JJ: I hope the audience will be moved by Matilda's journey, but also experience some empathy for Clara and Sidney, the couple who kidnap her. Even though the story is inspired in part by the history of the Stolen Generations in Australia, I think the audience will recognize how the play resonates with stories of family separation in the news today, as well as how these same kinds of abuses were committed against First Nations peoples here in the Americas.

LG: There are some difficult moments throughout the play regarding relationships--as a director how do you work with young actors to prepare them for such moments?

JJ: The biggest challenge for a director is to cast well. I think I've got a terrific cast for Passing, who've got the talent and maturity to handle the difficult turns the play makes. Sometimes the best thing to do is acknowledge that the material is tough and let the actors work it out. I want people to know that the play covers some intense ground, including abuse and attempted suicide, so that they can be prepared when they come. At the same time, there are some incredibly funny moments in the play, and striking that balance of letting the comedy emerge naturally from the circumstances while still acknowledging the terrible things that are happening is one of the challenges of the play.

LG: What has been the most rewarding part of working on this show in this location?

JJ: I love my cast and design and technical team. It's been incredible to see so many talented artists put their minds to trying to solve the challenges of the play in our space. It really reinforces my belief that I always want to be the least talented person in the room. I am!

LG: And lastly, are there any future projects you're working on that you're excited about and would like to share with us?

JJ: In the late spring/early summer of 2019, I'm excited to be working with Outpost Rep, here in Lubbock, on Kim Rosenstock's Tigers Be Still, a hilarious comedy about a young woman trying to find her way in life while a tiger roams loose in the town. Kim and Dipika couldn't be more different writers, but they both have such a broad and loving embrace of human complexity that I love working on both of their writings.