Checking In With… Drama League Award Winner and Connecting… Star Shakina Nayfack

As the temporary shutdown of Broadway continues, Playbill is reaching out to artists to see how they are physically and creatively responding to a changed world.

During Pride Month, the series continues with LGBTQIA+ artist Shakina Nayfack, the founding artistic director of Musical Theatre Factory, where she helped to develop hundreds of new musicals, including Michael R. Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Strange Loop and her own autobiographical glam-rock odyssey, Manifest Pussy. Her play Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club premiered on Audible in 2020 and was recently recognized with a Drama League Award for Best Audio Theatre Production. Nayfack made TV history as the first transgender person to be cast as a series regular on a network sitcom, playing Ellis in NBC’s Connecting… She can also be seen in Amazon’s GLAAD Award-winning Transparent Musicale Finale, which she helped write and produce, and Hulu’s Difficult People, for which she was a writing consultant.

Nayfack will be part of Playbill’s first-ever live concert, Glimmer of Light, celebrating Pride 2021, June 17 at 7 PM ET at Radial Park in Halletts Point, Queens. The concert will subsequently stream for free beginning June 24 at 8 PM ET on Playbill.com and Playbill’s YouTube. She will also return to Feinstein’s/54 Below June 17 at 9:45 PM in Whatever Gets You Through It. Part of the Manhattan venue’s reopening night, the concert will feature songs from her collaboration with Dan. G. Sells, a new musical adaptation of Ed Graczyk’s play Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. For ticket information visit 54Below.com.

Checking In With… Hamilton and In the Heights Star Javier Muñoz

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Shakina Nayfack and Derrick Baskin in Difficult People Seacia Pavao/Hulu

What is your typical day like now?
I try to get up before seven on weekdays. On my best days I have a spiritual power hour when I meditate and pray, read scripture, write in my journal, and stretch my body. I read my news briefings (NYT, HuffPost, and Broadway), then go work out or swim. I have writing sessions during the day, or calls about my writing projects, a midday walk with our husky, Luna, and now I’m trying to sing and practice piano most afternoons. The piano is a new quarantine addition for me, so I’m still a beginner. There are also surprises like a self-tape audition or a community organizing Zoom meeting that come up and derail my best laid plans for the day. Most evenings I spend with my partner, Daniel, cooking dinner and watching shows we both enjoy. I try to stretch or do yoga and spend some time reading to wind down before bed every night.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club on Audible, obviously. It’s my Drama League Award-winning play produced in collaboration with Williamstown Theatre Festival, with an incredible cast featuring nine actors of Trans experience!

During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow actors, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I think it’s important to realize that working for Black liberation ultimately equates to working for liberation for everybody. Nobody is free when others are oppressed. Beyond that, I think it’s also vital that folks understand the intersectional movements for Trans rights and representation and the same for Deaf and Disabled communities. We cannot achieve a truly inclusive New American Theatre without paying attention to and including all these struggles for justice.

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
As things continue to open up, I think it’s important we keep asking ourselves, “What have I learned over the past 16 months about what I need in order to feel safe, healthy, and upheld in community—and how can I carry those things over into the new world we are building together post-pandemic?”

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Kuhoo Verma, Stephanie Hsu, Andrea Grody, Shakina Nayfack, Tatiana Wechsler, and Katie Thompson at the Public Theater’s 2019 Gala Joseph Marzullo/WENN

How, if at all, are you keeping your creative juices flowing? Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
I’m always trying to keep my creative juices flowing! Right now most of my development work is focused on television. I’ve got a sitcom I’m developing with the creators of Connecting…, and I’m trying to break The Butterfly Club into a mini-series and writing a movie-with-music for Lifetime. I’m still hopeful Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club can find its way to Broadway now that we’re back, and I’m writing lyrics for a musical adaptation of Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, with Dan G. Sells (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) and Ashley Robinson. I’ll be debuting a bunch of those songs at my upcoming show at Feinstein’s/54 Below on June 17!

How do you feel about returning to live performance?
I am so ready, but I want it to be different. Before the pandemic I had this very punk rock approach to my live performance work, which was just to leave it all on the stage, blood, guts, and glory. I think I’m going to be a lot more sensitive now, to my energy and to the needs of my audience. I want to help people heal. I’ve always wanted that, but now I’m craving a gentle healing as opposed to a grueling catharsis.

What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to a theatre?
Take it easy, you’ve got plenty of time. You don’t have to be the first one in line on opening night if that’s not your thing. I think reopening is going to require a lot of us to push past discomfort as we reawaken to social situations we haven’t been exposed to for a while, but the theatre shouldn’t be a place you have to push through, it’s a sanctuary. These Broadway houses, for example, they might have been empty for the past year and a half, but they’ve been holding their sacred space for a century. The theatre has patience.

Are there any particular ways you celebrate Pride Month each year? How will you celebrate this year? What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I’m part of the Intersectional Voices Collective (IVC), a group of Black, Indigenous, POC, Trans, and Queer artist/activists who came together last year to throw a massive Juneteenth Jubilee in Harlem, celebrating Black Trans and Queer joy as liberation. I’m helping to produce our second annual Juneteenth Jubilee on June 19, and I’m hoping it becomes a Pride tradition! We’re seeking community support for the event via venmo at @IVCjuneteenth or on cashapp at $IVCjuneteenth, and you can learn more about IVC on Instagram at @intersectionalvoicescollective.

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