Meet the Playwright: Nick Rafello

In your bio on ITN, you say that just a few years ago you decided to take a writing class at the GO SOLO Workshop. What prompted you to do this? Why did you think writing plays would be something you’d enjoy? Have you been continuing your playwriting education since?2003[1]

I am a Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker with a leading real estate firm in New York City. As the country was finally coming out of the deep recession, in 2013, I was so over-the-top busy with sellers and buyers I could barely breath. I didn’t know who I was most of the time. “Coops and Condos” were a constant dialogue even in my most intimate moments. By early 2014, my stepmother, my dad’s 3rd wife, died of brain cancer. Between an over the top work regime and my now “real life” situation with my dad, getting him prepared to accept becoming a widower, I realized I needed a moment for myself. I needed to go back to where I started, back to being creative – but how? I had a friend I had danced with back in our Bob Fosse days. She had written a brilliant one woman show, “MOTHER  (and me)” She had posted on Facebook that she had created her show through Go-Solo Workshop and if anyone wanted to dip their toe in – they should just go and give it a try. I was so busy and really didn’t have any time but I thought, “how bad could it be to just meet once a week in the evening for 4 weeks?” I mean, I had studied comedy improv with The Groundlings (when they were in NYC) and did Stand Up throughout the city, why not, right? I always wanted to write a solo show but it was always the “gremlins” in my head that stopped me. Well, I pushed the gremlins away and on the first day at Go-Solo Workshop – I WAS HOOKED! I was glad too as deep down I had always hoped I would do this but it was always about not having the time – aka FEAR. As for me continuing my playwriting, yes, I have written another play. Keep reading, I mention it below. (How’s that for a teaser?)

You’ve worked in many facets of the theater as a performer. Was YEAH, THAT HAPPENED your first solo performance? How does working in a solo show compare to some of your other performing experiences (such as being a dancer in a Broadway musical)? Do you like the solo form? Do you think you’d do another solo play?

Great questions. The comparisons are so different. I love both but I will say, there is nothing like writing, producing and performing your own piece and listening to an audience laugh at what you think is funny and cry at what you think is sad –  and then watching them take the pearls and rubies you’ve put forth and take them home. Truly amazing.  As for my solo show, yes, YEAH, THAT HAPPENED was my first solo piece. Me speaking for an entire 60 minutes, playing many characters throughout my life, is not only the best thing I’ve ever done, it’s cathartic as well. I really, REALLY love the solo form and look forward to doing it again.

Who are the playwrights — living or dead– who matter the most to you?

Wow, there are so many. First one that pops into my head, Terrance McNally. LOVE! VALOR! COMPASSION! One of my absolute favorites!!!

Who are your heroes in the world of theater? Who are your heroes in general?

The real heroes are the ones that were there in the beginning of my budding career. It was my high school counselor, Margaret Green who saved me from myself.  My high school speech and debate teacher, Maureen Gilbert, who taught me to live my truth while speaking and taught me what confidence really is. Then I have my dance teachers from CA and from NYC; Marie Stinnett, Val Chance-Graham (both from CA) and Peff Modelski (NYC). These ladies not only taught me how to dance but taught “life” – just be and For God Sake, BE HUMBLE! They never had an issue with popping my balloon if/when it got too big. For that I’m always grateful. As I got older I got to play with the “big boys”. I worked with Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon and watching them work and see how it was created is something I’ll never forget. I can say they are heros of mine. Lastly, I’d say my family, their sacrifice and pure genuine support.

There’s a section in the play where you talk about friends who died of AIDS, and in your author’s note you talk about the experience of performing this particular part of the play. Why did you decide you wanted to include this in YEAH, THAT HAPPENED? Are people getting too complacent about AIDS: do you think it’s not being talked about enough in theater and other media? Have there been portrayals of the AIDS epidemic on stage that have particularly resonated for you?

In any solo piece that is written and performed, it must be truthful, as hard as that is, it just has to be.  I was the gayest kid in the neighborhood and didn’t know it. With that and all my first experiences through life, AIDS was a big factor, it was basically a game changer. In my story, I share with you, my first crush, love, boy kiss, whatever you want to call it. This story was my deepest and darkest secret. Only a handful of people in my life knew about “him” and what happened between “us.” It was a fun affair that ended horribly. Keep in mind I was 19 and he was 18. Just two stupid kids that didn’t know any better. I never shared any moments of our little affair until I wrote my show. However, I could no longer hold the secret in anymore. We had a horrible ending to our friendship, but that didn’t mean I still didn’t cared about him. I guess you never let that first love go, right? One day, in the early 90s, almost 10 years after our friendship ended, I wanted to see him. I had asked a mutual friend if it was at all possible she could reach out to him for me. She kept stammering and finally just told me that he had died of AIDS complications 3 weeks before. From my research for the show, it seemed to be a lonely and horrible death for him. It still kills me this happened and I can barely get through writing/talking about it without tearing up. When I was in rehearsals for YEAH, THAT HAPPENED, I realized his spirit was with me. I felt as though he was guiding me to write more and with this I started thinking about all the others that I knew, worked with, etc. It was like all the boys were talking to me trying to have me tell their story. So, I did. I wrote them all, I didn’t hide anything. I told the truth, I said their names and brought them back. That was good feeling and yet a very bittersweet pill for me to swallow.  I also decided to write it because I felt we have forgotten what that time was like, we’re all guilty, we’ve moved forward. Time heals everything, right? All in all, it was like “their spirits” gave me permission to keep their truths going. And I also wrote it for the generations that have no idea what we went through, what it was like to live with the “gay plague” – and they should know, they should know the secrets that were kept, the shame that was carried.  Do I feel there’s been enough said about this topic in the theatre? No, not really. Yes, there are plays and musicals that have touched upon this, wonderful plays and musicals but I would like to see more. As for me, I just chose to tell the stories differently. I did it for them, as a reminder.  It is truly the hardest and darkest period to talk about, especially for those that survived it and perhaps, still are.

You’re bringing YEAH, THAT HAPPENED back to the 2016 United Solo festival this fall. What else is on your schedule of upcoming attractions?

I am very excited to have been asked back to perform YEAH, THAT HAPPENED. The response to the show and winning Best Premiere for a Solo Show in 2015 was more than I could ever have imagined. I hope you and everyone that’s reading this can come see me on Sunday, September 18, 6pm 410 W 42 St (Theatre Row). As for what I’m doing now, well, I have written a short play (10 minutes), “SIX PERCENT, THIS IS WHY (a REAL estate story)”  –  Based on true and neurotic events, a hilarious story of how real estate gets done in the big bad city.

I’m currently in rehearsals with my actors. They will be performing this piece at the Midtown Int’l Festival SHORT PLAY LAB COMPETITION on Saturday May 21st, 7pm and Sunday, May 22nd, 4pm. 354 West 45 St (THE DAVENPORT THEATRE)

See Nick’s plays on Indie Theater Now