I cannot say I knew Nafe Nafe when, since he has always been a well-known performer. This young celebrity (I called him Row 6, Seat 5 when he joined my Honors British Literature class as a sophomore), a force in theater arts since he was in kindergarten, a very recent Rancho Cotate Class of 2019 graduate, has always kept his feet on the ground and his eyes on the stars. He has put in the work for many years and plans to continue the effort to achieve his dreams.
Interviewing Nafe only means opening the floodgates to let him channel his thoughts about his passion, the stage, acting, singing, dancing and directing.
Lanny: Tell about your various stage experiences.
Nafe: Over the course of my career as a performer I have taken part in over 50 different productions, so to list them all would be the same as reciting the alphabet backwards, in a different language. However, some of the shows that left the greatest impact on my life are “Mary Poppins” performed at Spreckels where I played Valentine, the doll of the children’s nightmares, “Gypsy” at Sonoma Arts Live where I played the young LA, and “Disney’s Tarzan” where I got to jump and dance as a charismatic gorilla. Other shows include Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” Disney’s “Peter Pan,” “Kismet” and “South Pacific” and many more.
Lanny: How did you get started developing your passion for theater?
Nafe: Ever since I was five years old, I have been in love with the stage and performance. My very first show was “Charlotte’s Web” at Evergreen Elementary School where I played the gluttonous Uncle Pig. Dancing is something that has always come very naturally to me. I have never truly studied the art, rather just practiced until I got it right. However, I did take a tap class for a year, my most formal study of dance. I am always moving on my feet and dancing in some type of way, so I never really saw it crucial to pay hundreds of dollars a month to join a studio. Singing is something that is fairly new to me. I began singing in 2014 and have actually taken formal lessons to hone my skills. Informally, I am always practicing at home by doing simple warm ups and singing a number of songs that really utilize my range.
Lanny: Who have been some of your major influences?
Nafe: The first major influence that has really helped me develop my talent as a performer is Jill Zschach, the Lawrence Jones drama teacher. Mrs. Zschach was the first drama teacher to get me on a stage to do some amazing things. The second influence is the former Artistic Director at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Gene Abraya, who challenged me to become a better performer. Michella Snyder, the resident choreographer at Spreckels, never my dance teacher, choreographed most of the shows that I was in and I picked up many good habits and skills from her. A fourth influence, Tina Lloyd Meals, helped me with my singing since I first began performing at Spreckels. She has a perfect ear, so she can practically hear a pin drop during a Metallica concert. It was both terrifying and comforting to be trained by her. Finally, the most important influence is my mother who has allowed me to take all the opportunities to become a performer.
Lanny: What is the best part about performing?
Nafe: When it comes to parts I most enjoy performing, it’s performing before a live audience. The thrill of performing in front of hundreds of people at a time is a different kind of rush; it’s exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Looking out to the fourth wall and feeling the heat of the stage on my face is the same feeling a mountain climber gets when he climbs his mountain, get to the top and looks out to the horizon, pure freedom. Preparation and execution of a performance is really exhausting. Before a show opens, we rehearse almost every night for about four to five hours for two months. When it comes to what’s most difficult in terms of execution, it’s definitely preparing to perform. That means I am warmed up and have a good amount of energy. When I perform twice a day, I must work to keep my energy up.
Lanny: What are your plans for the future?
Nafe: I plan to make it to Broadway and will do everything to get there. I will go to school and get a degree, not in acting or anything to do with performance, but will pursue performance as my first option. A person doesn’t need a degree to act, sing, or dance, but it is one of the hardest careers, so I have to have a backup plan. My backup is law, another hard career to pursue but a pretty good contingency; performance will always be my first choice. So, I will move to New York after college to chase a career in Broadway or film or television.
Lanny: What has made you such a good teacher for young performers?
Nafe: I have been in their shoes and understand what they need to be successful. I take it slow but am rigorous enough so that all questions are answered along the way. My teaching method is to drill it until they get it and so far, it has worked every time.
Lanny: Why is being a part of student government important to you?
Nafe: Being a part of student government has been an extremely important part of my life because making a difference is something that is very important to me. I love being behind the scenes in making people’s lives easier and better and the best way for me to start with that is through student government.
Lanny: How has it been balancing academics, performing and teaching throughout high school?
Nafe: Balancing academics, performing and teaching has been one of my strong suits during my high school career. I don’t know exactly how I have done it, but it comes easily for me. I have just a simple routine to follow as I am very meticulous with my scheduling and plan accordingly.
Lanny: Have local people and schools been a factor in your success?
Nafe: The support I have received from every direction has been amazing beginning with my mother and family who have helped me, joined me and celebrated with me in all my achievements. My teachers and friends have done more in being patient with my schedules and conflicts. The local schools have helped me discover whom I am and what I love to do. They have been my starting point for all my success to come. From performing to government participation, it all started in the schools in the Cotati-Rohnert Park District. I will always remain grateful and appreciative of what they’ve helped me become: my best possible self.
Look out world, here comes Nafe Nafe: performer, attorney, active citizen and teacher. And we can say we knew him when he was all of these things.