Five Questions for Ari’el Stachel
Photo courtesy of Ari’el Stachel
Actor Ari’el Stachel won a 2018 Tony Award and a 2019 Grammy Award for his featured role in the hit Broadway musical The Band’s Visit, which will come to San Francisco in spring 2020 on national tour. The son of an Israeli-Yemeni father and an Ashkenazi Jewish mother, Stachel grew up in Berkeley, Oakland, and Orinda. Here, the multitalented star—who will appear in the upcoming film Zola—discusses his East Bay roots, the impact of his Middle Eastern heritage, and his dreams for the future.
Q: Did you have any early role models?
A: In high school, I went to Oakland School for the Arts and met Reginald Ray-Savage, who headed the dance department. He was like the coach I always wanted. The way he spoke about commitment to the arts was so inspiring. It was a mix of dance class and philosophy. Eventually, I discovered that I might be able to act and sing too.
Q: You have spoken about feeling uncomfortable about your Middle Eastern heritage while growing up in the Bay Area. How have those inhibitions affected you?
A: I remember 9/11 vividly, and I felt very self-conscious of my heritage at that time especially. But now I feel like, slowly but surely, there’s more appreciation of diversity and a greater awareness that exists about different cultures on Broadway and in entertainment in general.
Q: The Band’s Visit focuses on human connections forged within the Arab-Israeli conflict. How has your role in that musical been meaningful to you?
A: The Band’s Visit is a collision of artistry and social impact. It taught me that I only want to do work that has that collision. The Band’s Visit is a story of breaking down barriers, and it makes us hopeful. Everyone yearns for that level of connection with others, and when you witness it onstage, it really has impact.
Q: What are your favorite things to do in the East Bay?
A: I always go to Gordo Taqueria on College Avenue. I love biking in the hills. I love the Gourmet Ghetto and Telegraph, where you see the pulse of the Bay Area.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I want to continue telling stories that redefine the social conversation. My dream would be to produce something that speaks to what it’s like to be born into a skin color or a heritage that inhibits you from doing what you want to do. I am working to figure out how best to tell this story; I’d love to set it in the Bay Area.