Tandon students dazzled on and off stage in "Legally Blonde"

“What is free time?” Tandon junior Perzya Lily Zephyrin laughed.

Many Tandon students can relate to the sentiment expressed by Zephyrin — however, not many can relate to the late night theatre rehearsals and crew production on top of their daily academic workload.

First-year Fiona Selep and Zephyrin were the only two Tandon students involved in Tisch New Theatre (TNT)’s production, "Legally Blonde: The Musical" this past fall. Zephyrin acted in various roles such as D.A. Joyce Riley, Whitney and as part of the ensemble, while Selep worked behind-the-scenes as a lighting production assistant. Despite their different roles, both students experienced the hustle and bustle synonymous with performance preparation. 

From September until opening night on the first weekend of November, the cast including Zephyrin would meet six days a week, spending long weekday evenings and entire weekend days in rehearsal. 

“Most nights I would try to go to the library while the rest of the cast would head home,” Zephyrin said. “They were like, ‘You need sleep!’ And I was like, ‘What’s sleep?’”

Fiona Selep
Fiona Selep

As part of the stage crew, Selep didn’t have to come to rehearsals until tech week, or the week before performances where the cast and crew begin practicing in the theatre. However, she had her own version of strenuous hours, staying until midnight for weeknight rehearsals and dedicating nearly her entire Sunday from sunrise to sunset to load and take down sets and props. 

As Selep described her responsibilities of moving around the props, Zephyrin praised her in admiration. This respect Selep and Zephyrin showed one another embodies the greater sense of community they found within their "Legally Blonde" family.

Selep and Zephyrin prove that it is possible to create strong relationships between Tandon students and the rest of the NYU community. “Seeing people from different NYU schools that weren’t just Tisch being involved in big roles in the production was really cool," Selep said.

Perzya Lily Zephyrin
Perzya Lily Zephyrin

While Selep and Zephyrin were able to find common ground on and off stage with other students, their academic realities are different than other NYU kids (Selep recalls rushing to do Calculus homework during her breaks, something that was atypical of others participating in the musical). NYU Tandon prides itself on extraordinary innovation, the highest caliber of research and global education. In such a highly competitive environment, it is understandable that students find it difficult to pursue extracurriculars outside of STEM. When Selep and Zephyrin told their professors of their decision to participate in the Tisch musical, they were met with apprehension, as professors were worried that the production would distract from their academics.     

However, in true Tandon fashion, Selep and Zephyrin applied the same dedication they give their engineering workload to their individual roles within "Legally Blonde." And when asked in amazement about how they made the daily commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, often at late hours, they brushed it off with a nonchalance that was nothing but humble. 

Both Selep and Zephyrin agreed that the hard work was worth it in their passion and love for the stage. And while they may seem presumably burnt out and ready for a break, they’re anything but — hungry for more, both students want to continue contributing to NYU productions as well as pursue future careers in theatre. With Selep studying electrical engineering, she’s excited at the possibility of applying the skills gained in the classroom to working behind-the-scenes on lighting and stage design. And while Zephyrin's major of chemical and biomolecular engineering doesn’t exactly correlate to her aspiration of becoming an actress, she is content with having both options lined up for her.  

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Perzya Lily said.

How fitting that "Legally Blonde," with a narrative driven by determined protagonist Elle Woods, would be the place where these two female students broke stereotypes concerning STEM students — beyond being thinkers and innovators who work hard in their respective engineering fields, they can also be artists who create magic both on and off stage. 

Anna De La Rosa
BS, Media, Culture, and Communication
Class of 2021