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Grad Student Creates His Own Multiverse with ‘Constellations’

Wisteria Deng and Yuning Su sit together at a table during a performance of Constellations
Wisteria Deng, left, and Yuning Su, MA ’23, right, during Vermilion Theater’s December 2023 production of Constellations. (Photo courtesy Vermilion Theater)

Yuning Su, MA ’23 has long been fascinated by the concept of the multiverse – multiple realities existing simultaneously.

He’s coming close to making that a reality this month, when his theater company stages its second version this year of Nick Payne’s Constellations, a play that explores the multiverse, and as he wraps up his thesis film, which uses the play as a springboard.

The Vermilion Theater, a company co-founded by Su and Wisteria Deng, presented Constellations in December 2022, with Su in the male lead.

This month, Su and Deng are co-directing a Vermilion Theater all-female production of the play in Mandarin, with English captions (Su translated Payne’s original play from English). While not an Emerson College production, the theater company has been able to rehearse at the Paramount Center.

Kaye Hu ’23 played the female lead in the December production at the Boston Center for the Arts, is starring in the April production, and will be the lead in Su’s master’s thesis project, which also involves the play’s universe.

Constellations is a love story. A couple meet, fall in love, break up, and reunite until tragedy strikes. One of the couple, a physicist, believes in the multiverse, and throughout the play, scenes are repeated, often with different outcomes.

“It’s about getting to know someone and sharing your life with someone and then saying goodbye to someone,” said Su. “You can see their love stories in different universes that are happening. If you can have a chance to live in a different universe, would you still want to have another choice, or are you satisfied with what you’re having [in your present universe]?”

Three paneled ad for Constellations with two women almost touching their lips together in the middle panel, and alone in the side panels
Kaye Hu ’23, left, and Wisteria Deng, right, are starring in an all-female cast performance of Constellations. (Image courtesy Vermilion Theater)

In the original 2012 staging of the play in London (and in most versions since), the couple is cast as a man and a woman. But in a different universe, a character may be a different gender, hence the all-female cast for Vermilion’s April production. There were also puppets in the December production because some universes are peopled by puppets.

All of the possibilities led Su to write make his thesis film about a character in Constellations.

“[Constellations is] a play that talks about choices you make in other universes,” said Su. “It’s about things that have happened in my real life, and Kaye found there are a lot of things in her real life that are happening in the play. That’s why I created my thesis film script [to play off Constellations]. It’s not about the play. It’s about the actress being played in [Constellations].”

Hu said being a part of Constellations and Su’s film has been an incredible opportunity to explore acting in different mediums.

“Acting has and will always been my passion…both [plays and film] challenges me to bring depth and nuance to my performance,” said Hu. “I’m grateful for the chance to be a part of this creative universe, to work alongside so many talented AAPI artists, and to use my skills to amplify the voice of my community.”

At Emerson, Su honed his skills to translate, direct, produce, and act in his own multiverse. It also opened new worlds of connections to him.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to exercise all the things I learned from those production classes and apply them to theater projects,” said Su. “It’s also helped me practice my communication skills with actors and crew.”

Su and Deng met several years ago when she acted in a theater project that he directed. She’s a Yale student, where they also created a Vermilion Theater group. Su said their goal is to stage plays in Boston, New Haven, and New York City.

“We wanted to do bilingual plays that can show the Chinese culture or Chinese plays to a greater community, and plays in English to the Asian community,” said Su. “We want to make bigger and bigger productions. Student theater group people come and go every semester. That makes it difficult to make a production as it should be. That’s why we created Vermilion Theater and have friends working together on projects.”

On stage, Yuning Su sits while Wisteria Deng stands, and two puppeteers work two puppets
Yuning Su MA ’23, sitting left, and Wisteria Deng, standing, work with puppeteers during Vermilion Theater’s performance of Constellations in December 2023. (Photo courtesy of Vermilion Theater)

The December production was only the company’s second play after forming in 2022, and it was well received. Su said the set design was bold, and they had a strong marketing arm that included a billboard along a highway.

Translating the play into Mandarin was a challenge that Su wanted to take on.

“The hard part is translating the jokes they made in the play, ” Su said. “That’s one of the challenges to translate the script. We want to keep some of the English version in the show because it’s about the multiverse, so in other universes maybe they speak different languages. Whether they’re speaking English or Mandarin, the story goes on.”

Su said he’s been very proud of the cast and crew on the production, many of whom he met during Vermilion’s first play, Secret Love for the Peach Blossom Spring, in early 2022. Studying at Emerson in this universe is a decision Su would opt for again.

“The most beautiful thing at Emerson is we always have opportunities to put out a big project that will have people from all [around the world],” said Su. “We have this opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and countries.”

Constellations is being performed Saturday, April 8 and Sunday, April 9, at Boston University’s Fitness and Recreation Center.

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