One Set Designer, Two Very Different Productions at ACT

Nancy Guppy goes behind the scenes with set designer Jennifer Zeyl

For the past decade, scenic designer Jennifer Zeyl has been causing audiences to gasp upon seeing sets she has created for plays at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, On the Boards, ACT and many other local venues. This month, the Stranger Genius Award–winning artist shows her stuff in two very different productions at ACT ( Chekhov’s classic The Three Sisters (1/20–2/8); and a world-premiere play about a men’s therapy group, Seven Ways to Get There (2/24–3/15).

A Saturday morning in December, at Uptown Espresso on Queen Anne
ZEYL’S DRINK: A caffè generra (dark chocolate mocha with orange zest)

Nancy Guppy: Describe yourself in five words.  
Jennifer Zeyl: Stubborn. Healthy. Relentless. Protective. Loyal.

NG: What do you like about working in live theater?       
JZ: I love the collaboration, I love working with artists across different mediums, and I love that the perspective is not a single voice, the way a novel or a painting would be.

NG: What’s the difference between building a set and building a house?     
JZ: The set only has to last for a month.   

NG: In layman’s terms, what is set design supposed to do?
JZ: I believe it’s there to get out of the way of the story being told.

NG: What has to be in place in order for you to take on a play?       
JZ: There has to be a script that I care very much about and artists that I care very much about. Or it needs to be for a lot of money.     

NG: When do you know when something is good?        
JZ: When all of the hair on my body stands up straight.      

NG: As a set designer, have you had a most satisfying moment?         
JZ: The most satisfying moment was during the opening of Angels in America, when my own scene shift gave me the shivers. The wall broke apart, the floor cracked wide open, everything started moving [as intended], and I was like, “Whoa!”

NG: You recently became artistic producer of Intiman Theatre. Why did you take the job?          
JZ: I want to work at a place and with people who don’t just generate unproductive empathy in the audience, but rather cause people to stand in someone else’s shoes, look through someone else’s lens, have empathy and then act on that empathy. That’s the work I want to do and I will change my identity as a theater maker to do it.  

NG: If you could have any other career, what would it be?           
JZ: Lawyer, maybe. I like to argue.  

NG: What did you want to be when you were little?            
JZ: A conjurer.   

Nancy Guppy showcases Seattle artists on her TV series, Art Zone (


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