Honors Production, Seph, Opens After Months of Student Led Work


Photo Courtesy Of Macalester Theater and Dance

Snapshots from “Seph” rehearsal featuring Betsy Foy ‘22 and Korayma Llumiquinga Latham ‘24

Abby Bulger, Contributing Writer

 As the Minnesota winter weather starts showing signs of spring, there is an air of excitement on campus and nowhere is this energy more palpable than in the theater wing of Macalester. Opening night of Jess Yates’ ’22 honors production is just around the corner, a modern take on the Persephone myth entitled “Seph” in which “a nonbinary teenage deity straddles her divorced parents’ realities until she meets a human girl and must define her own power to remake a ruined world,” according to the program notes.This reimagining of a Greek tale asks its audience to “forget what you know about the gods,” and creates a completely new world for traditional mythology through the costumes, sets and script. 

Yates has been working toward their honors in directing since arriving at Macalester as a first-year. She is an emerging professional in the Twin Cities who has worked with Theater Mu, Stages Theatre Company, Sod House Theatre and Yellow Tree Theatre, where they are a core company member. She is a graduate of the National Theatre Institute’s Advanced Directing Program.

“What drew me in to Tori Keenan-Zelt’s script were three things: exploring queer femininity; the themes of generational cycles, reproductive rights and climate change; and the incredibly poetic lyricism in her work that leaves so much for designers and performers to discover,” Yates wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. 

Lily Turner ’24 is the head costumer for Seph and has been working alongside director Yates since June 2021. 

“There’s a line in the beginning of [the pre-show announcements] that says something like: ‘Forget everything you know about Greek gods and designer’s rule,’” Turner said. “I was asked to do [Seph] in April of last year and we had our first meeting in June with a bunch of designers that came in to do a staged reading. It was just us and Jess at first and we came up with what we thought the world was supposed to be like which was, I think, really foundational to what the play’s become and how [Jess] has gone about directing it.” 

This has been a long and in-depth process for Turner, and is the first time she’s designed a whole production on her own. She took me through the process in depth, from start to finish, including everything from the initial world building meetings, to the costume sketches, to working with assistant costumers and bringing her concepts to life. As we talked, she was passionate about every aspect of the production, reflecting on how this experience has been full of firsts, which has been scary, but rewarding.

“[Costuming] has been a weird mix of psychology and design, which was unexpected for me, but it’s been really fun,” Turner said. “I think working with students who are also very new to this, but very excited has made the whole experience better overall.” 

Razik Saifullah ’24 has had a similar experience of firsts while working on the show. He plays Hades, one of the main characters in “Seph,” and has really appreciated the show’s atmosphere, noting that it’s been so unlike any acting he’s done before. This is his first production at Macalester and his first time acting in a serious production. 

“[Being in Seph] has been really refreshing,” Saifullah said. “This is an intimate, serious play about building relationships and how the characters interact.” 

Yates has experience directing various one-act and shorter plays as well as assisting in directing Macalester’s “Rocky Horror Show” fall 2019, but this is her first full-length directing endeavor.  

“[Seph has] definitely made me reflect on [acting] in high school,” Saifullah said “This play has been treated with a lot more warm love than I was exposed to in high school theater and since it’s student directed, there’s a lot of empathy. Jess takes a lot of time with us and [you can tell] it comes from a place of genuine care. In high school, I didn’t feel that as much, it was a lot of obligation like, ‘Okay, we got to do another musical.’”

Both Turner and Saifullah emphasized the care Yates put into Seph as a director and how much they learned from her. 

“It’s been really exciting to follow along with Jess on this process,” Saifullah said. “I’m learning just as she is. She might try out a technique and it doesn’t really hit well with a student, but then she’ll try a different way and it works really well, so there is a huge benefit in being able to observe the process.”

Turner echoed this sentiment when I asked her the same question.

“I’m really proud of all of the students [involved] and obviously Jess as a student director,” Turner said. “It’s such a student-led production and that’s really nice to see, you don’t always get that in department shows. It’s a potential thing too, that you’re like, ‘Okay, we’re all doing this and putting our best selves out there and trying to make it as cool as possible,’ even though we’re also new [and don’t always know] what we’re doing.” 

“It’s gonna be this really awesome show that I hope people enjoy,” she said. “Yeah. I’m excited.” 

“Something very unique about completing Macalester honors in theater is the huge team that goes into making a production happen,” Yates wrote. “We have a total of 39 students who have worked on this production: from the shops and student office workers, to the production team to the cast. Theatre is a community art form.”

Saifullah was excited to share what the cast and crew have been working on for almost a year. 

“I’m happy that I’m able to come back into theater after two years with [Seph],” Saifullah said. “It’s been fun observing how [the chemistry between all of the actors] has grown throughout this process, especially now that it’s tech week. Seeing how we deal with annoyances, difficulties and changes, but at the end of the day, we can find most things funny.”

Yates agreed. 

“Our goal was to follow ‘Seph’ through navigating a ‘quickly ruined world,’ with all the generational questions, silly emotions, and heart-felt honesty that comes with it,” Yates wrote. “Please join us with this journey!” 

“Seph” opens with its first performance on Friday, March 4th at 7:30 p.m., has two on Saturday, March 5 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and closes on Sunday, March 6 at 2:00 p.m. The performance will be held in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center with an immense amount of pride and love. The cast and crew hope to see you there!

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