This week Playbill catches up with Nathaniel Stampley, who can currently be seen on Broadway in the new musical Paradise Square, which officially opens April 3 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre featuring direction by Tony nominee Moisés Kaufman and choreography by Tony winner Bill T. Jones.
Stampley's Broadway work also include Cats, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, the original production and revival of The Color Purple, and The Lion King. The actor has been seen Off-Broadway in The Secret Life of Bees, Big Love, and The First Noel (AUDELCO nomination), while his regional credits include Paul Robeson, Man of La Mancha (Jeff Award), The Bridges of Madison County (Jeff nomination), Pacific Overtures, Violet, Once On This Island, Big River (Jeff nomination), and Dreamgirls.
What is your typical day like now?
I get up early, make breakfast. I prepare lunch for our children and myself (my wife works so hard, I try and let her sleep in). I get our children off to school, and then I'm off to rehearsal. After rehearsals, I try to read or listen to an inspirational book or podcast. By the time I'm back home, there's a pickup or drop off for hockey or ballet that needs to happen for our daughter or son. We try and have some family time afterwards. If I'm not too tired, I'll run to the gym before going over any notes or changes in preparation for the next day's rehearsal.
How did you originally get involved with Paradise Square?
I had auditioned for producer Garth Drabinsky for a different project in Toronto a few years ago that ended up conflicting with another show. I eventually got a call that there was a workshop for Paradise Square, and the timing wasn't ideal because I was rehearsing a one-man show in New Jersey, but somehow we made it work. I'm so glad he never lost my number, and I've been a part of this incredible cast ever since.
Tell me about the character you're playing in the new musical.
I play Reverend Samuel Jacob Lewis. He's a loving husband and clergyman who also is a conductor of the Underground Railroad in northeast region of the country. He may be a man of the cloth, but he is also an active member and inhabitant of the Five Points community.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past two years?
Absolutely! Without giving away too much about the show, it will be very apparent that some of the same issues that we grapple with today are unresolved matters of our nation's complicated past. Until we appreciate and explore this nation's true history, we will easily repeat and reinvent the same mistakes with new names but familiar outcomes.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
Welcome back. Theatre is a medium best enjoyed in the company of others. We have all endured many things worldwide and personally over the last two years. There isn't a better way to celebrate our collective perseverance than a moving night at the theatre.
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 artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
Twenty-four months can be considered a long time, but it isn't long enough to erase generations of ideas of superiority and exclusion at the hands of a select few. It is time to truly consider Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous people in all areas of this industry—all the time! The canon of plays and musicals must also expand not to the exclusion, but to the inclusion of so much more than this industry's embarrassing track record. In order for theatre to continue growing another 100-plus years it will have to reflect all of society. Audiences will always come when they see themselves reflected in the art.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
One of the biggest lessons that I learned is that I am truly more than what I do. When you are busy with readings, rehearsals, auditions, or performances it is easy to make this business the majority of your identity. When it all goes away, what do you have? It was a great reminder to keep my wife, children, and people close to me even closer.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
My sister, Malkia Stampley (producer at the Goodman Theatre), and I have written a play together. I'm really looking forward to its further development. I also worked on an independent short film produced by MT Shorts entitled Still Here that will be released some time in 2022.