Love of storytelling through generations influencing Zeff’s love of cinema


Angelina Liu

New Tech High @ Coppell senior Isabella Zeff has been an actress for six years, completing her last year in the Coppell High School theater program in Studio Premier 2. A storyteller at heart, she loves film and books and delights in a well-written story.

Neha Desaraju, Entertainment Editor

New Tech High @ Coppell senior Isabella Zeff has posters of old movies in her room.

The styles contrast between decades—the 1930s-era posters look very black and white art deco, while 1950s posters set the stage for modern pop art. All stems from Zeff’s love of old movies—for Zeff, who has been an actress for almost seven years, movies represent an explosion of storytelling. 

“[Old movies] are definitely hard to relate to,” Zeff said. “It’s very different the way stories are structured—it’s usually a lot slower than movies are now, but you kind of have to go into a different mindset and not be trying to compare it to movies now. You have to appreciate it for the way it was back then.”

Zeff was a stage-turned-production manager for Coppell High School Theater’s October show, “Texas Terrifying Tales.” She had never helped produce a movie, so this was an entirely different experience.

She has written some of the most beautiful and moving and powerful pieces I have ever read from a student.”

— CHS theater teacher Karen Ruth

“I’ve never worked on anything like this before. Our theater teachers hadn’t either, so it was a new thing for everyone,” Zeff said. “The main difference was, there was a lot more to think about when we were doing it. When we were blocking, there was no audience, only a camera. You had to have a whole different mindset. It was definitely interesting. There’s not that buildup that you would have in a live production. I was able to sit back and watch it for the first time as an audience member, which I wouldn’t have gotten to do.”

Starting her theater career in sixth grade when she joined Coppell Middle School East’s theater class, Zeff remained in the program throughout middle school. Before entering high school, she tried out for Take One, CHS’s select freshman theater program, and made the cut. 

Now a senior, Zeff sees theater as the people she gets to put on a show with.

“There’s a sense of camaraderie, ‘we’re all in this together,’ when you’re working on a theater production,” Zeff said. “That kind of environment is my favorite thing, when everyone’s just a part of creating something really awesome.”

Theater is not the only place Zeff appreciates the art of character and storytelling. While Zeff loves all movies, her love of old movies is a family tradition.

“My dad [watched old movies] with me when I was a kid,” said Susan Zeff, Isabella’s mom. “Somehow I really enjoyed old movies with him. He and I, back then, we would go to theaters where they would show old movies, and every time they would come on television he would record them. [Isabella] probably first started getting interested when she was 12 or 13. I thought that was so cool, I can pass it on to her. I started writing lists of movies that we wanted to watch, and she started to buy books about movies.”

Thus began Isabella’s appreciation for old movies. She started with movies such as “The Thin Man” and “Citizen Kane,” eventually enjoying nearly all genres of old movies, from film noir to comedy. Isabella’s involvement in theater and appreciation of movies – both modern and old – overlap in a number of ways.

“It’s all about storytelling, she finds a lot of interest in how stories were told, and in the different characters, and just the different ways people are shown than they are today,” Mrs. Zeff said. “She has fun seeing the differences and that definitely informs her interest in theatre.”

Isabella—an avid reader—sees the stories in old movies for the time they were told, and she is cautious about the differences in what was acceptable then and is now in terms of film tropes, storytelling and acting. But Isabella demonstrates her knowledge of storytelling, film and books in other ways. 

“She’s an incredible writer, she has written some of the most beautiful and moving and powerful pieces I have ever read from a student,” CHS theater director Karen Ruth said. “Last year, she wrote this unbelievable monologue about her experience with the loss of her grandmother. She wrote this unbelievably moving piece that centered around a photograph in her grandmother’s bedroom. Everybody listened to it, and we were all crying-slash-astonished. You can tell she loves movies and loves reading, she understands how to create suspense and how to pique interest from somebody and understanding of storytelling, and those are things you have to have knowledge of to be a solid writer.”

Isabella: Actress and storyteller who gets excited about old movies.

“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Mrs. Zeff said. “She loves to read too, but movies and TV shows, we get to talk about them and really dissect them. Between the two of us, that’s one of the things I’ll always look back on when she’s older.”

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