A Minute with Jeremy Rafal on “Tiananmen Requiem”

Currently running through March 27 @ The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St, NYC, is a play the Chinese government does NOT want you to see: 
TIANANMEN REQUIEM 
Toney A. Brown & Marc Levine, producers  
Official Sponsors: Wang Dan and Dialog China with Rod Lathim  
 
This deeply moving tale of a young gay couple trying to survive the Tiananmen Square crackdown and how their daughter, a decade later, is attempting to uncover one of her parents’ secret ties to the Chinese military during the massacre.  
This tragic love story set against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square Massacre displays the brutality of this terrible moment in history. 
 
Wang Dan of Dialog China served as guest speaker on opening night. Dialog China founder & Tiananmen student leader, Wang Dan, was China’s “Most Wanted Man.”  Imprisoned twice, he lives in exile in America as an indefatigable human rights activist.  
 
For further information or to make reservations, please contact Jay Michaels, director of communications, at 646-338-5472 or jmcommnet@gmail.com. This play runs at this theatre until March 27  

We spoke with one of the cast, Jeremy Rafal, about his experiences with the production. Jeremy joined the production prior to opening and had many thoughts about it.  

Tell us about yourself? 

I am a Filipino-American actor-musician based in New York City.  I was born in the Philippines, raised in Hawaii, and spent some time in the Midwest for college.  In New York, I have appeared in theater, film, TV, and several commercials.  I am also a classical pianist, music director, and an educator. 

What inspired you to be part of this play? 

I love stories.  I love being part of the storytelling process, especially in a story as monumental as this.  I’ve only heard about the events in Tiananmen Square from textbooks, newspaper articles, news clips, and documentaries.  But one thing I know is that this is a story that needs to be told and explored, especially with what is going on in the world right now.  I had a vague idea of what happened, but I’ve never really delved into what happened and what it would’ve been like to be present in the middle of these events.  As an actor and storyteller in this play, it is a rare chance for me to learn more about the events beyond the history textbooks and explore the intricacies of fighting for basic human rights. 

What obstacles do you foresee encountering? 

I joined this production relatively late, and from my understanding, the play tackles a very controversial topic, controversial enough to make the playwright go anonymous and to have some of the previous cast and crew members leave without explanation.  I am hoping these are the last obstacles this production will have to face, and everything will run smoothly from here . 

Plays seems to be a faster go-to source for historical records. Do you think your play will be looked upon that way in 10/20/50/100 years? 

I would like to think so.  It would be wonderful to see “Tiananmen Requiem by Anonymous” in its 1000th production on Broadway, or to see it as a standard piece in the reading list in literature courses across different schools and universities in 2122. 

Do you think this should be a Broadway play or an off-Broadway play? Why? 

I absolutely think it should be a Broadway play.  I would love to see it in a major theater with an astounding set with all the bells and whistles.  Stunning visual and spectacular sound effects.  Holograms.  Real helicopters and tanks on stage.  But of course, not every production can afford to be ambitious.  I also see it perfectly as an off-Broadway play.  There are so many intimate moments in this play, and it can be so powerful seeing it up close, with all the actors and actions happening so close to the audience. 

What’s next for you and for the play? 

Well, I came to the play well after rehearsals started, and I am still playing around with my character.  As I write my responses to this interview, I have my script next to me, running lines for tonight’s rehearsal.  For now, I am solidifying my lines and finding the complexities in my character.  Then we put it together, practice it on its feet, tech, and then the show!  One day at a time. 

Do you feel a stronger responsibility when working on such historic and pivotal work? 

Oh, yes.  Definitely.  This is a real event.  1989 is not that long ago.  There are still a lot of people alive today who lived through it.  It is still ingrained in many people’s memories.  Some of the characters in the play may not be actual people, but they are on some level partly based on real people.  I want to do justice to this play, and be respectful to those who are so close to this subject matter. 

What’s your creative process like?   

When I’m getting to know a character, I like to ask a lot of questions and conduct a little Q&A session between the character and myself.  I ask my character questions like: Who are you?  What do you look like?  What’s your favorite color?  What makes you smile?  What angers you?  What’s your favorite song?  Who is the most important person to you?  When I’m working on the script itself, there is of course learning the lines, but also the intention behind every action and words.  Everything on stage is said and done for a reason.  All fun process stuff for the actor. 

What makes this different or special? 

Having said what I’ve said so far, it is intimidating to be working on a story based on actual events.  As an actor, I play mostly fictional characters, but on occasion I’ve played actual people, like one of those true crime documentary dramas.  When I do play real people, I always think “I hope I’m not messing this up”.  For this play, this historic event is so significant that it’s both special and scary to be a part of. 

What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future? 

I would love to see sold-out performances.  I would love to see people come out of the show with a deeper perspective on gay rights, human rights, and humanity itself.  I would love to see people re-think and remember the events in Tiananmen Square and how we can better ourselves as a society knowing what we know now.  I would love to see this play produced again and again to reach a wider audience. 

What’s next? 

Hmmm, what’s next?  The whole cast and crew are working very hard every day to make sure we have a tight show.  That’s what is currently on our mind right this moment.  Let’s leave it at that for now. 

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