5 Questions with Gamal Chasten
Gamal is a poet, playwright, composer and co-founder of Universes theatre ensemble, originally based out of New York. Gamal’s theatrical writing credits include The Last Word, God Took Away His Poem, The Black Mann Act Trail of Jack Johnson, The Wall, The Ride (Universes), Slanguage (Universes), Ameriville (Universes) and Let Bygones Be, featured at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s 34th Humana Festival of New American Plays Ten-Minute Play series. Commissions include Slanguage (New York Theater Workshop, 1999), United States History Cycle 2008 (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Ameriville (Actors Theater of Louisville, 2009) and americUS (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 2020). Published works include Writers Corp Teacher Anthology, (City Lights Books, 2009); The Fire This Time: African American Plays for the 21st Century; and Humana Festival: The Complete Plays (2003, 2009, 2010).
Gamal Chasten in americUS. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.
How long have you been acting, and where did you receive your training?
My introduction to acting was somewhat roundabout. Growing up, I studied music, and it was not until I began doing spoken word that a friend of mine (Danny Hoch) suggested I go into acting. I then studied at HB Studio in Manhattan and took workshops with prominent acting instructors. I have been acting now for about 25 years.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor, and what’s your favorite part of the job?
I don't know if there was a specific time when I knew I wanted to act. It was more of an organic process that happened as I became part of a performance and acting community in New York City. There are two specific moments when I recognized the magic of live theatre and became intrigued by it. One was listening to Brian Dennehey describe how long it took him to find his character in Death of a Salesman (which I saw him in on Broadway). The second was watching Meryl Streep struggle through the first act of Mother Courage and then watch her come on and master the second act. The favorite thing for me is the live aspect of theatre. The fact that you can say the same lines night after night and they will be completely different every night.
What is your all-time favorite role you’ve performed and why?
I have to say, for me it is the character Crawfish that I play in americUS and had developed a number of years ago. He is a big challenge for me because I am a frustrated stand-up comedian, and that is a large part of his identity. Making people laugh is hard work, and for that reason Crawfish makes me have to dig as deep as I can into my funny bone.
What role have you been dying to play and why?
I want to play a villain! Someone with very little moral compass and who, at some point during his arc, begins to struggle with his decisions.
What has been the most interesting part of working on americUS and why?
I consider myself a writer first and foremost, and I love seeing a character come to life, and I also love the process, the research. I love it all.
Gamel Chasten with Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Asia Mark in americUS. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.
To learn more about the Playhouse's world premiere production of americUS, visit our production detail page.