Theatre — Meet John Sefel, Director

Meet John Sefel, Director


By Michelle Saturley

Local man creates theater for the rest of us


When the award was given out at the 2005 New Hampshire Theatre Awards for best director of a drama, winner John Sefel was nowhere in sight. That’s because the co-founder and artistic director of Ghostlight Theater, a Salem-based semiprofessional group, skipped the ceremony this year.

“To be honest, I had absolutely no expectations of winning,” Sefel said. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

Sefel was named best director for helming last year’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. It was only one chapter in a long history of Sefel’s love for Shakespeare. But don’t let that scare you: Sefel has a mission in mind with his work at Ghostlight.

“Our goal is to bring theater to those who don’t consider themselves ‘theater’ people,” he said. “My opinion is that most people who say they don’t like theater just haven’t connected with the right kind of show. There are so many of us whose only frame of reference for theater is The Sound of Music or Oklahoma. Not that there’s anything wrong with those shows, but they can really turn people off. I want to change preconceived notions about what a play looks and sounds like.”

Sefel’s mission began with Richard III, adapting the bard’s script to fit modern times.

“We swapped out swordplay for gun fights, and it takes place in a more corporate world, but the language and the story are indeed Richard III,” he said.

On the flip side, last year’s season took a zany U-turn with the comedy The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a largely improvisational piece featuring three actors who frantically crank out scenes from every one of Shakespeare’s plays.

“I wanted to show both sides of Shakespeare, so those two selections were quite deliberate,” Sefel said.

Ghostlight’s upcoming show, The Complete History of America (Abridged) is a sequel of sorts to the previous show. The show covers, in hasty detail, the history of America, beginning with the Native Americans and ending in present day. Three actors play all of the roles.

“It’s got that same madcap energy, a sort of Three Stooges romp onstage,” Sefel said.

The cast of Complete Works of William Shakespeare will return for the new production, much to Sefel’s delight.

“These guys have great chemistry together, and they’re all friends, so it just lights up the stage,” he said. “There’s a lot of running, falling and pratfalls. And wigs. Lots of wigs.”

Following The Complete History of America, Sefel will return to Shakespeare when he directs the Nashua Theatre Guild’s production of Henry IV this summer at Greeley Park. Sefel adapted the script himself.

“It took me about three months to edit the material,” he said. “Basically, I combined parts I and II into one piece, and trimmed it so it came in at under two hours. My main goal was to make the editing seem seamless. It wasn’t easy.”

After that, it’s business as usual for Ghostlight. Or, should that be, “business as unusual?”

“I am so excited about our fall show,” Sefel said. “We are doing the stage version of Night of the Living Dead. It’s going to be done in more of a horror style than a campy one. It will be staged with gray gels on the lights to look like a black-and-white movie. It will be the first time the show has ever been done on stage in New Hampshire.”

Obviously, Sefel has no problems finding new and rare material for Ghostlight to perform — he reads scripts constantly, and when one isn’t available, he can always adapt a script to suit his artistic purposes. His biggest obstacle is finding appropriate venues. The troupe learned this the hard way with their December show, The Eight: The Reindeer Monologues, a dark comedy about Christmas. Sefel had originally planned to premiere the show at the 14 Court Street Theater in Nashua, but when that fell through, the show went up at the Nashua Holiday Inn.

“Most theaters in the area have at least 200-300 seats,” he said. And we are aiming at bringing in somewhere around 100 people. We are well aware that we aren’t going to pack a venue the size of The Palace with the material we do. So our choices are severely limited.”

For The Complete History of America, Sefel chose a small, intimate theater in Newburyport, Mass.

“The Actors Studio in Newburyport has a cutting-edge reputation and a built-in audience that is perfect for what we are trying to do,” he said. “I would like to be able to perform in New Hampshire every time, but it’s not always an option.”

His long-term plan is to raise the funds to purchase or build a small, black-box style theater in the Salem area that would be the base camp for Ghostlight.

“Our ideal setup would be to take up residence in a small building, but we would also lease it out to other small groups in need of performance space.” Sefel said. “I know we aren’t the only ones struggling in that department.”

The Complete History of America (Abridged) will run April 30, 31 and May 1 at the Actors Studio, 12 Federal St., Newburyport, Mass. Tickets are $10. For tickets and information, call (978) 465-1229. For more information about Ghostlight Theater Co., visit

-Michelle Saturley

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH