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Meet the Tony Nominees: Ari’el Stachel of ‘The Band’s Visit’

Category General

|by Jeryl Brunner |

How ‘The Band’s Visit' has transformed Ari’el Stachel

After triumphantly originating the role of Haled in The Band’s Visit at The Atlantic Theatre Company, Ari’el Stachel makes his Broadway debut. The musical about an Egyptian police band that becomes accidentally stranded in a sleepy Israeli desert town is nominated for 11 Tony Awards.  This intimate new musical with songs by David Yazbek and a script by Itamar Moses, celebrates the magic of unlikely encounters. 

Rachel Prather, Etai Besnon, Ari'el Stachel in 'The Band's Visit' (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Rachel Prather, Etai Besnon, Ari'el Stachel in 'The Band's Visit' (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Can you bring us to when you heard you were nominated for a Tony award? 
Ari'el Stachel:
Our company was performing on the Today show. Our performance started at 8:50am and we all had to swear to leave our phones in the greenroom because they didn’t want us to be distracted.  I was nauseous. We finished around 9am, and Orin Wolf, our lead producer, came to me and gave me a hug. He said, “Congratulations!” I said, “Yes, it’s so awesome that we were nominated.”

And then, after a moment, he said, “You also got a personal nomination.” I started to weep. It was a very, very surreal moment. For many many, many years, I was ashamed of my Middle Eastern background and pretended to be other identities. To be recognized in a role that celebrates that identity is a seismic shift for me personally.

That is so powerful. Are you feeling more confident about who you are? 
Ari’el Stachel:
Recent events make me feel more confident. But I think it’s a slow evolution. If you asked me two years ago, would you be on Broadway, I thought that would be too much of a stretch. But I am breaking through these things and realizing, maybe there is a pathway to create a life that I never thought possible. So yes. Slowly but surely. 

What do you love about your character Haled?
Ari’el Stachel:
He’s just kind of a guy. At face value you can play him on the surface. But what I found is that I developed a real character. I could use the full range of what exists inside of me, which is the whole range that you see. It starts from a little arrogant and cocky. And then you see this very selfless, loving person. I love that the role doesn’t pinhole him to a type. He is just a guy who has a range of things that he feels and does. And that really has nothing to do with the fact that he is Middle Eastern. He is a wonderful character that has his arc. He happens to be Egyptian, but that is not the story. 

What kind of reaction are you getting from people from your performance? 
Ari’el Stachel:
I have gotten an outpouring of love. My generation measures it by Instagram likes. So I just got my first post of more than a thousand likes. That is sort of indicative of people being supportive. Some really, really amazing people are giving me hugs, people who I never dreamed would do that. It’s really insane. I mean my body is here and I’m talking to you. But I am somewhere in the clouds right now. 

What do you think it is about The Band’s Visit that speaks to our time? 
Ari’el Stachel:
On one level, not even to do with our time. It shows vignettes of people dealing with things in their lives. You see young lovers. Then you have people in the middle of their lives dealing with having a baby for the first time. Then there are people who are at the tail end of their lives. There is a part for everybody to relate. 

The things that we focus on in the media are very negative. But probably in 95 percent of the world there exists peaceful people getting up and living their lives with a lot of hope. They are looking for love and searching for these things. In the setting of the Middle East, we’re often stigmatized in a very negative way. It’s powerful to see things as they really are: people getting up, working, wanting love. The show speaks to the essence of connection and humanity. Also, the structure of the material is not force-feeding the audiences. It treats the audience as very intelligent people. That is a really exciting shift in the musical theater.  

Growing up, did you have obstacles wanting to have a career in the performing arts? 
Ari’el Stachel: Major. I did not see people who looked like me or felt that there was a pathway towards this. Even in college, I was told to learn monologues for African American and Latino characters because there would be no space for me to portray my own race in the theater. So that was on one level. Then there was another level of just being scared. I never felt like I was good enough. There was always that kid who was awesome and I never felt like that kid. I always just felt like there was a gap between myself and I guess being here. So it’s very surreal. 

The pace of The Band’s Visit is a lot more slowed down. How do you get into that frame of mind?
Ari’el Stachel:
It feels like real life. We’re dealing with real life things. Our director, David Cromer, is somebody who is really known for directing plays. He just says “Stop acting. Don’t act in a musical, just tell stories and deal with your obstacles.” I focus on that. For me, I’m not thinking about the pace, which comes naturally. The other thing that helps is the language barrier. We’re always thinking about the fact that we’re struggling to communicate. And that helps. 

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