Statera Seven: Jennifer Zeyl

Statera Seven is a new series on the Statera Foundation Blog about women in leadership and the path to promotion. Statera poses seven questions to past and current Artistic Directors, Managing Directors, and other women in leadership roles in the American Theatre. Statera is sharing their stories and insights in hopes of finding new ways to shift the leadership gender imbalance of America's nonprofit regional theater companies. 

Today, we're interviewing Jennifer Zeyl, Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre in Seattle, WA. Founded in 1972, Intiman Theatre is the recipient of the 2006 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. 


STATERA: The research on Women's Leadership in Resident Theaters presented by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in 2016 found that there was a glass ceiling and "pipeline issue" facing women in theatre leadership. How have you improved professional development for those seeking leadership positions in the arts, particularly women and people of color?
JENNIFER ZEYL: Over the 12 years of my freelance set design career, I only ever had one male-identified assistant. I had 11 female-identified and continue to work with womxn. Scenery design is already a male-dominated career and fabrication environment and I wanted to be able to mentor women as I was by my mentor Christine Jones. Period.

On the other hand, Intiman has more opportunities to share power and leverage privilege than a solo set designer and we do. Jobs: On our small staff of 10 there are two male identified members, (POC_and 7 female identified (4 POC) and one non-binary non-POC rockstar. Leadership: For the past 3 years Intiman has engaged with a Co-Curator to assist (Andrew Russell, former AD) with season planning. The women who have participated have all been POC and totally empowered to make top leadership decisions. We have a free Emerging Artist Program, led by our 2017 Co-Curator Sara Porkalob, which focuses on creating autobiographical solo performance.  The participants in this program are over 70% female identified, 74% POC and 15% non-binary.

Our 2018 Season, Co-curated by KJ Sanchez, features work by Talyor Mac (HIR), Allison Gregory (WILD HORSES) and Karen Zacharias (NATIVE GARDENS).

S: What is the most important single decision you have made in your journey? 

JZ: I married the right person. There is no way on earth that I could have accomplished one half of what I have without their support and understanding.
S: Statistics suggest that women apply for jobs only if they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men apply when they meet only 40%. Has this been true for you, and how do you advocate for your experience and qualifications when they are not explicitly spelled out in a job posting?  

J.Z. I don't know if I should answer this one. I've only applied for a few jobs.
S: What roadblocks did you encounter on your path to this position and how did you navigate? 

JZ: Gender bias in my own backyard! I have been with Intiman for many years, first in 2010 as a seasonal set designer then + production management, then + Associate Artistic director full time, then Artistic Producer full time - you get the idea. The year I became PM, in 2013, I had access to all of the contracts past and present and SAW that in the same past season, for very similar shows, a male-identified colleague (and dear friend) with whom I went to grad school, out-earned me by over 2k on his design fee. FACE PALM. Needless to say, I fixed that real quick.
S: If you had $10 million dollars of unrestricted funds, how would you spend it to improve the American Theatre?

I think I would first talk with youth about what support they need in reinforcing their messaging. I'm so tired of the same bad ideas and as I write this youth are Marching for their Lives. I am inspired and listening. Though, if they didn't have any ideas (fat chance) programs like Public Works are really moving the needle in important ways.
S: Professional mentorship is a core part of our mission at Statera Foundation. In that spirit, what is the best piece of advice you have ever received, and from whom?

JZ: Oof.  I'm trying to get better at even asking for advice, let alone taking it. My therapist said to me recently, "You're one of the most disciplined people I know; what if you turned your self-discipline towards your joy and relaxation?" I'll let you know how that goes.
S: In what ways are you thriving in your leadership role?

Photo: Alex Garland

Photo: Alex Garland

JZ: I make really great theatre in a radically inclusive way. For example, I just directed Taylor Mac's HIR.  This is a dark comedy addressing the effects of oppressive masculinity on a white suburban family. This play is a classic absurd realism piece where the extremity of the realistic given circumstances are so heightened it becomes absurd. There are four characters each suffering in traumatic states that isolate them from each other. PTSS, stroke recovery, domestic violence and gender transition. None of these experiences are personal to me or any of the actors playing these roles so - I assembled a Cultural Advisory Council to keep it real. It was helmed by a dazzling non-binary Dramaturg (see Crosscut interview with them below!) and comprised of a Marine Sergeant, an Army Major, a vascular neurologist, a speech pathologist, a police detective specializing in domestic violence, and 3 trans folx, one of whom is a counselor. It's important to me as a white woman to not tokenize in the telling of stories variant from my own.

Interested in reading more about Jennifer's first production as Artistic Director at Intiman. Reviews for "Hir" by Taylor Mac, a co-production with ArtsWest, are linked below. Intiman's next offering is "Wild Horses" by Allison Gregory and directed by Sheila Daniels. 

●      The Stranger:  If You Go See Hir, Don't Make the Mistake I Did

●      Seattle Gay Scene: ArtsWest/Intiman’s Production of Taylor Mac’s “Hir” Strikes All The Right Chords…And Then Some

●      Seattle Times: "Whatever you think of Taylor Mac’s ‘Hir’ at ArtsWest, the play provokes"

●      Westside Seattle: Review: ArtsWest, Intiman join to present Taylor Mac’s “Hir”

●      Drama in the Hood: Taylor Mac's HIR a knockout at Seattle ArtsWest Theatre

●      BWW Review: ArtsWest's HIR Takes Gender/Family Issues to an Absurd Level, and That's Funny?

●      Seattle P-I: Family Dysfunction at Arts West

●      Crosscut: New play in Seattle takes apart the American dream

●      Seattle Weekly: The Sunset of Masculinity

●      Broadway World: ArtsWest And Intiman Team Up For Taylor Mac's HIR

●      Westside Seattle: Coming soon to ArtsWest, Taylor Mac’s Hir