Artist Jennifer Zeyl Thinks Seattle Is The Place To Be | KUOW News and Information

Artist Jennifer Zeyl Thinks Seattle Is The Place To Be

Mar 5, 2015

Jennifer Zeyl cheerfully confesses that she knows her own mind. She's got a strong vision and she doesn't hesitate to make that vision a reality.

"I found when I first got out here, because I'm from the East Coast, people would react to me like, 'Whoa!'"

She starts to laugh, then turns serious.

"There's so many opportunities here," she explains, "if you're a decisive person, and know what you want, you can have it here."

Zeyl arrived in Seattle 14 years ago to attend graduate school at the University of Washington's acclaimed theater program. She planned to get her master's degree then head back to the East Coast.

That's one plan Zeyl didn't carry out.

Zeyl was part of a group of students that founded Washington Ensemble Theater on Seattle's Capitol Hill. The students envisioned a company that would produce new works in new ways. WET productions built buzz, and the company quickly became a mainstay of Seattle's alternative and fringe theater community.

The WET founders included young artists who are now part of the Seattle theatrical mainstream: Marya Sea Kaminski is an established actress and artistic associate at Seattle Repertory Theater. Mark Kenison is best known as the boylesque performer Waxie Moon. And Zeyl, who has designed sets for almost every company in town, is now the artistic producer for Seattle's Intiman Theatre.

She's come a long way since The Stranger awarded her its 2006 Genius Award for Theater. At the time, Zeyl told writer Brendan Kiley that many of the big theater companies in town were cowardly and knew nothing about storytelling.

"When that went into print," she recalls, "I went, 'Ooh, I may never get any jobs here.'"

Then she starts to laugh.

Zeyl is so much in demand these days that companies must book her services months in advance.

She's worked with the new, slimmed-down Intiman on its past three summer festivals; she points to the set she created for last year's production of Tony Kushner's epic "Angels in America" as one of the best things she's ever done.

Zeyl gets even more animated when she talks about how Intiman collaborated with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for the project. Cross-disciplinary communication is key for her.

"Good contemporary art speaks to issues that are outside the art community," she states.

That spirit of communication has led her into a series of side projects. For the past few years she's been curating the performance event, "Genre Bender," produced by City Arts magazine. In it, Zeyl matches two artists from different media; the duo is charged with creating a collaborative work. The 2015 "Genre Bender" is March 6-7 at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center.

Zeyl is the first to admit that Seattle's been pretty good for her, personally and professionally.

She's convinced this is the place to be if you're a contemporary artist, or anybody creative for that matter.

"I think people are beginning to catch on," she jokes. "Have you seen all the cranes?"