FROM SHAME TO PRIDE

“The Band’s Visit” Tony Award-winning actor Ari’el Stachel reveals his post 9/11 shame about his Middle Eastern heritage and how he ultimately embraced his culture and found a sense of pride.

Aired February 11, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

> THE ACCLAIMED BROADWAY MUSICAL 'THE BAND'S VISIT' SWEPT UP THE 2018 TONYS WITH 10 AWARDS, INCLUDING BEST MUSICAL.

THIS CHARMING SHOW TELLS THE STORY OF AN EGYPTIAN POLICE BAND THAT ACCIDENTALLY ENDS UP IN A SMALL ISRAELI TOWN WHERE NOTHING EVER HAPPENS.

THEY'RE THERE FOR ONE NIGHT.

AND IN THAT ONE NIGHT, EVERYTHING HATCHES.

THE MUSICAL COMES WITH A POWERFUL MESSAGE OF CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING AND OVERCOMING ETHNIC BARRIERS, AND FOR ACTOR ARI'EL STACHEL, WHO WON THE TONY FOR HIS ROLE AS THE FLIRTATION EGYPTIAN TRUMPET PLAYER IN THE BAND'S VISIT, IT HITS HOME.

WE'LL GET TO THAT IN A MOMENT.

BUT FIRST, A QUICK LOOK AT THE SHOW.

♪ ♪

YOU KNOW WHAT, GENERAL?

YOU CAN STAY HERE WITH US TONIGHT, IF YOU WANT.

NO, NO.

YOU HAVE DONE TOO MUCH ALREADY.

OKAY.

UNDERSTANDING AND OVERCOMING ETHNIC BARRIERS HAS BEEN A BIG PART OF STACHEL'S LIFE.

FOREYEARS AFTER 9/11, HE HID HIS MIDDLE EASTERN HERITAGE FROM EVEN HIS CLOSEST FRIENDS AND SCHOOLMATES GROWING UP IN CALIFORNIA.

HE JOINS US NOW TO TELL US HOW THE SHOW HELPED HIM COMES TO TERMS WITH THAT WELCOME.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

THIS IS YOUR BROADWAY DEBUT.

IT'S MY BROADWAY DEBUT.

AND YOU END UP WITH A TONY AWARD.

WHAT DID YOU --

IT MAKES IT SOUND LIKE -- WHAT DID I THINK?

FIRST, WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU WERE TOLD YOU'VE GOT THE ROLE?

OH, I VIVIDLY, VIVIDLY REMEMBER THAT MOMENT.

I WAS ON PINS AND NEEDLES.

IT TOOK ME NINE MONTHS TO ACTUALLY GET THE ROLE, FROM THE FIRST AUDITION TO THE LAST AUDITION.

MY FIRST AUDITION WAS IN DECEMBER OF 2015.

AND I REMEMBER WHEN I GOT THE REJECTION E-MAIL FROM MY AGENT AT THE TIME, AND I SUNK INTO MY COUCH AND WAS CONVINCED THAT I WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE DOING THIS FOR A LIVING.

AND I'M REALLY SAYING THAT I'M NOT SAYING THAT IN A FAKE KIND OF WAY.

AND I LEARNED THROUGH THE PROCESS THAT I WAS SCARED OF LENDING MY HUMANITY TO A MIDDLE EASTERN CHARACTER.

YOU SPOKE ABOUT IT A LITTLE BIT IN THE INTRO.

THE FEAR OF BEING SEEN AS MY ACTUAL SELF WAS SO GREAT THAT I COULD NOT FIND A WAY TO ACTUALLY CONNECT TO THE CORE OF THIS CHARACTER.

ISN'T THAT INTERESTING?

I'M SURE PEOPLE SAID MAN, THIS MUST HAVE BEEN EASY FOR YOU TO MAKE THE CONNECTION.

NOT AT ALL.

THE OPPOSITE, BECAUSE I GREW UP AS AN AMERICAN KID COMPLETELY SHELTERED FROM MY MIDDLE EASTERN CULTURE, AT LEAST IN MAINSTREAM CULTURE, RIGHT?

SO I'M CELEBRATING ALL THESE OTHER FORMS OF MUSIC, HIP-HOP.

BUT WHEN MY FRIENDS CAME HOME AND HEARD THE MUSIC THAT MY FATHER WAS PLAYING, I WAS REALLY, REALLY EMBARRASSED.

SO I SORT OF THOUGHT OF MY MIDDLE EASTERN IDENTITY OF BEING THIS VERY SORT OF FAR OFF PART OF ME.

AND SO THAT NINE-MONTH PROCESS REALLY FORCED ME TO REALIZE, WAIT, IF I'M GOING TO GET THIS ROLE, I NEED TO FIGURE OUT WHO AND WHAT THIS PERSON ACTUALLY IS.

AND I REMEMBER GETTING THAT TEXT, AND I CRIED, AND I SPOKE TO MY DAD, AND I SAID DAD, LIKE THIS THING HAPPENED.

AND AT THAT POINT, IT WAS JUST AN OFFBROADWAY SHOW.

IT WASN'T A BROADWAY SHOW.

BUT IT WAS A SEISMIC SHIFT FOR ME AS A HUMAN BEING.

AND THEN I WAS SAYING I CAN BE A MIDDLE EASTERN PERSON AND BE PROUD OF THAT, BUT ALSO PLAY THIS REALLY DYNAMIC CHARACTER THAT IS NOT LIMITED IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM BY HIS RACE.

HE IS VERY INTERESTING.

AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE SEEN THIS SHOW WILL UNDERSTAND.

PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO SEE THE SHOW WILL UNDERSTAND.

RIGHT.

THAT YOU LOOK AT THE LINEUP OF THE BAND IF YOU WILL.

RIGHT, RIGHT.

AND IMMEDIATELY YOU ARE THE ONE WHO HAS BROKEN OUT OF WHATEVER BOUNDARIES.

BROKEN OUT.

THE FIRST THING I'M DOING IS WE'RE AT AN AIRPORT, AND I'M LOOKING AT SOME GIRLS.

I'M NOT PLAYING A TERRORIST, WHICH IS UNFORTUNATELY IN 2019 STILL KIND OF A BREAKTHROUGH KIND OF A THING TO DO.

AND YOU'RE USING WHAT HAS BECOME YOUR ASSOCIATED LINE, WHICH I SAID I WASN'T GOING TO USE IT BECAUSE EVERYBODY ALREADY HAS, BUT I'M GOING TO DO IT ANYWAY.

YOU LIKE TOCHET BAKER?

YOU LIKE CHET BAKER.

YOU SAY IT BETTER.

IT'S A BEAUTIFUL JUXTAPOSITION ON SO MANY LEVELS.

ONE, WHY DOES THIS GUY IN THIS VERY DEEP, THICK EGYPTIAN ACCENT LOVE THIS AMERICAN JAZZ ICON?

BUT THE BEAUTY OF IT IS THAT IT REALLY SHOWS AUDIENCE MEMBERS WHO MIGHT THINK OF EGYPTIANS AS THESE VERY SORT OF FAR OFF OR THAT REGION IS OFTEN IN THE NEWS FOR VERY NEGATIVE REASONS, THIS GUY IS LIKE HEY, I LOVE THIS JAZZ ICON THAT ALL OF YOU GUYS LOVE TOO.

AND WE START TO PLAY LIKE THAT.

HEY, THERE IS A CONNECTION.

FROM THE VERY FIRST LINE.

THERE IS A EKZCONNECTION.

THE NOTION YOU HAD NOT OPENLY EMBRACED YOUR OWN ANCESTRY.

WHY NOT?

VERY DIFFICULT FOR ME TO TALK ABOUT.

I -- VERY, VERY HARD GROWING UP.

I FELT SOCIALLY INHIBITED BY JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING.

I FELT LIKE IF I WANTED TO PLAY BASKETBALL, LIKE I WASN'T ALLOWED TO, ON SOME LEVEL.

LIKE THIS COVERT SOCIAL PERMISSION THAT PEOPLE GET TO DO THINGS.

IN A POST-9/11 WORLD.

I WAS 10 YEARS OLD.

I REMEMBER WHEN THE TOWERS CAME DOWN, AND I REMEMBER GOING TO SCHOOL, AND KIDS WONDERING IF I WAS RELATED TO THE TERRORISTS.

AND IT BECAME A PRIORITY FOR ME FROM SIXTH GRADE ON TO MAKE SURE THAT NO ONE IDENTIFIED ME AS A MIDDLE EASTERN AMERICAN PERSON.

AND SO THAT ACTUALLY MEANT -- AT THE TONY AWARD, I SAID SOMETHING.

I MISSED SO MANY EVENTS WITH MY PARENTS.

WHAT I MEANTSY DIDN'T GO TO MY MIDDLE SCHOOL, HIGH SCHOOL, OR COLLEGE GRADUATION WITH MY PARENTS BECAUSE I DID NOT WANT TO BE SEEN AS A MIDDLE EASTERN PERSON.

AND I THOUGHT BEING SEEN WITH MY DAD WOULD REVEAL ME.

SO HERE YOU HAVE, THEN, A JUXTAPOSITION, IF YOU WILL, OF THIS GREAT BREAKTHROUGH FOR YOU.

YEAH.

PROFESSIONALLY.

YEAH.

NOT ONLY A ROLE, BUT A ROLE THAT GARNERED YOU A TONY AWARD.

UH-HUH.

AND ALSO A GREAT BREAKTHROUGH FOR YOU PERSONALLY?

YEAH.

THEY BOTH OCCUR AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THIS ROLE?

IS THAT ACCURATE?

YEAH, I WOULD SAY SO.

AND THE THING THAT'S INTERESTING IS THAT THE PERSONAL PART IS TENFOLD MORE IMPORTANT TO ME THAN THE PROFESSIONAL.

THE PROFESSIONAL BREAKTHROUGH IS EXCITING.

BUT AS I'VE MADE SENSE OF WHAT SUCCESS MEANS, I REALIZE THAT IT'S REALLY SORT OF A FICKLE HARD THING TO UNDERSTAND.

BUT WHAT I DO UNDERSTAND IS THAT CONNECTION WITH PEOPLE AND SERVING PEOPLE IS WHAT'S IMPORTANT.

AND I FOUND ON SOME LEVEL BY BEING A PIONEER AS THIS YOUNG MIDDLE EASTERN GUY WHOSE JUST A GUY, YOU KNOW, WHO GREW UP REALLY WANTING TO BE A BASKETBALL PLAYER, BUT THAT BEING ABLE TO AFFECT SO MANY KIDS, I GET DIRECT MESSAGES ON MY INSTAGRAM AND MY TWITTER FROM KIDS WHO ARE SAYING THERE IS THIS PATHWAY THAT I DIDN'T KNOW EXISTED BEFORE THAT NOW EXISTS FOR ME.

IT'S ONE THING TO BE TOLD PATHWAYS EXIST.

IT'S ANOTHER TO SEE IT.

♪ YOU REALIZE YOU CAN'T GET NEARER, AND THERE IS NOWHERE YOU DON'T BE ♪

YOU MENTION THE NOTION OF MESSAGES AND FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.

YOU GAVE ONE WHEN YOU ACCEPTED THE TONY AWARD.

RIGHT.

I WANT TO USE YOUR WORDS.

YEAH.

YOU SAID YOU WANT ANY KID WATCHING TO KNOW THAT YOUR BIGGEST OBSTACLE MAY TURN INTO YOUR PURPOSE.

YEAH.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

THAT WE'RE RAISED WITH I THINK VERY QUICKLY MOST OF US, UNLESS OUR LIVES ARE PERFECT, WHICH I THINK MAYBE .01% OF US HAVE THOSE LIVE, IF AT ALL.

BUT WE'RE SORT OF RAISED WITH WHAT WE THINK ARE IMPEDIMENTS, WHETHER IT'S I'M TOO SHORT OR IN MY CASE I'M MIDDLE EASTERN AND MY NOSE IS BIG.

ALL THESE OTHER THINGS THAT I THOUGHT WERE JUST EMBARRASSING THINGS, THAT IF YOU REALLY TAKE TIME TO CULTIVATE AND FIGURE OUT WHY YOU FEEL ASHAMED OF THESE THINGS OR WHY YOU THINK THIS THING INHIBITS YOU, IT CAN BE THE CATALYST FOR CREATIVE ACTION.

FOR ME IT MADE ME WANT TO TELL STORIES.

IT MADE ME WANT TO BE AN ACTOR.

AND SO THESE THINGS THAT WE FEEL REALLY INHIBITED BY CAN ACTUALLY BE THE FUEL AND CAN BE MORPHED INTO A THING THAT MAKES IT VERY POWERFUL.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT A TONY AWARD.

THE SUCCESS IS NOT THE INDIVIDUAL ACCOLADE AT ALL.

THE SUCCESS IS THAT I'M CONNECTING MORE DEEPLY TO PEOPLE.

AND I THINK WE FORGET THAT IN AN AMERICAN CAPITALIST SOCIETY, IT'S ALL ABOUT GETTING AN AWARD.

THE AWARD WAS LIKE -- I DON'T MEAN TO DISRESPECT THE AWARD, BUT NOT THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY YEAR.

I THINK WHAT WAS INTERESTING IN WHEN MY WIFE AND I SAW THE SHOW LAST WEEK, STRUCK BY THE DIVERSITY IN THE AUDIENCE.

YEAH.

THE LEVEL OF EXCITEMENT IN THE AUDIENCE, AND THE RESPONSE TO THE MUSIC.

RIGHT.

WHICH IS -- IT WAS THE MIDDLE EASTERN MUSIC.

RIGHT.

THAT WAS BEING PLAYED HERE.

YEAH.

PEOPLE LEAPING TO THEIR FEET.

RIGHT.

AND IT MADE ME THINK WE'RE TOLD ONE OF THE SO MANY VALUES OF THE ARTS ARE THE -- THE ABILITY TO BRING PEOPLE TOGETHER.

RIGHT.

THROUGH A COMMON MEDIUM.

RIGHT.

MUSIC.

HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED BY THE AUDIENCE REACTIONS THAT YOU SEE?

SURPRISED -- I DON'T KNOW THAT I'VE BEEN SURPRISED, BUT IT'S MADE ME HOPEFUL AND WHAT I FIND REALLY INTERESTING IS THAT THERE IS ALL THESE BEAUTIFUL ART FORMS THAT EXIST IN THE WORLD, BUT SOMEHOW WE NEED TO SEE IT IN A SPACE THAT WE ALL RECOGNIZE AS BEING SORT OF AN INSTITUTION OF HIGH ART.

SO WHEN WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THIS BEAUTIFUL MUSIC ON A BROADWAY STAGE, ALL OF THE SUDDEN IT CAN PENETRATE INTO THE MINDS AND IMAGINATIONS OF PEOPLE WHO MAY NOT HAVE EVER THOUGHT TO LISTEN TO THESE KINDS OF MUSIC.

I THINK 'HAMILTON' DID THE SAME THING.

THING IS THIS ENTIRE GENERATION OF HIP-HOP FANS WHO THOUGHT HIP-HOP WAS A JOKE PRIOR TO SORT OF SEEING IT ON A BROADWAY STAGE.

SO I THINK IT ACTUALLY BEAUTIFUL THAT IF WE CAN FIND A WAY TO GET OUR STORIES IN PLACES THAT REALLY HAVE A LARGE SPOTLIGHT AND BIG AUDIENCES, PEOPLE WILL EMBRACE STUFF, BECAUSE THE MUSIC THAT PEOPLE ARE RESPONDING TO IS THE MUSIC THAT HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS OF YEARS IN CIVILIZATIONS HAVE CREATED.

AND IT'S WONDERFUL THAT IT'S GETTING AN AUDIENCE IN THE WEST.

YOU WALK INTO A THEATER AND IT'S THIS PLACE WHERE PEOPLE CAN COME AND CAN SHARE AND CAN LEARN.

YES.

AND MAYBE EVEN MORE IMPORTANT, CAN THINK ABOUT SOMETHING.

THINK, EMPATHIZE, CONNECT WITH.

I GOT TO TELL YOU, THE SHOW IS GREAT YOU.

WERE FABULOUS.

THANK YOU.

IT'S A DEBUT, YOU WALK AWAY WITH A TONY AWARD AND YOU GET SO MUCH ELSE, AS WE DO WHO COME TO WATCH.

IT'S NICE TO HEAR HOW MUCH YOU HAVE GOTTEN FROM THIS, YOUR PARTICIPATION.

YEAH, AND I HOPE THAT -- I THINK THAT'S THE IDEAL OF ANYTHING.

AGAIN, WE BUILD THESE THINGS UP THERE.

ARE THESE AWARDS.

BUT ULTIMATELY IT'S ABOUT SITTING AROUND AND CONNECTING.

IT IS.

BUT IT'S NICE FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD TO RECOGNIZE.ARI'EL, . WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOU DOING WONDERFUL THINGS IN THE FUTURE.

THANK YOU.

A REMINDER, 'THE BAND'S VISIT' IS PLAYING AT THE ETHEL BARRYMORE THEATER.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, MAKE SURE YOU VISIT US AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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