by JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
“Crawfish: We the Invisible” is a theatrical production written by the lead actor Gamal Chasten that will be featured in this year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival on Saturday, June 17, at 6 p.m. and on Sunday, June 18, at 4 p.m. at the Brava Theater, 2781 24th St. in the Mission District. The production centers around homelessness, which is currently a catastrophic social ill locally in one of the richest cities in the United States and, for that matter, the world. I talked to the writer and lead actor Gamal Chasten about his inspiration as well as the purpose behind the theatrical production of “Crawfish: We the Invisible.”
JR Valrey: What inspired you to write “Crawfish: We the Invisible?”
Gamal Chasten: I am a playwright and actor. This piece was inspired by the character which I had developed for another play about Hurricane Katrina. The play was named Amerivlle. I then revisited the character for my theater company’s follow up play, Americus, in 2020, which premiered at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in 2020. It was then that I realized the character Crawfish had more to say.
JR Valrey: How long were you homeless? Where?
Gamal Chasten: I have almost been homeless. There were two occasions where I came very close to being homeless, but I have never been homeless. It is because of those close calls that I learned how fragile things are and how easily it can happen to almost anyone.
JR Valrey: What is the San Francisco International Art Festival? How did you become a part of it?
Gamal Chasten: The SFIAF is run by Andrew Wood, who has known my work for a long time and approached me about wanting me to be part of the festival as a way to support my work.
JR Valrey: What do you want people to get out of seeing you and your castmates perform?
Gamal Chasten: I want people to not blame the victim. I want to attach a face and a life’s history to a growing human condition. The hope is that the next time an audience member passes a homeless person in the street, they think of them as human and someone with a story rather than an annoyance and someone who makes them uncomfortable.
JR Valrey: Where did the production get its name?
Gamal Chasten: The character was born in New Orleans, and a crawfish is a bottom feeder, so it spoke to me for those reasons. Because that is how the homeless are viewed.
JR Valrey: How long have you been writing for theater? How did you get started in that?
Gamal Chasten: I have been writing for theater for 30 years. I began as a poet and co founded my theater company Universes in the late ‘90s, and we started writing plays for off-broadway after being nurtured by poets from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe; poets like Willie Perdomo, Reg E. Gaines, Dael Orlandersmith and Miguel Pinero.
JR Valrey: How long have you been a thespian? How did you start?
Gamal Chasten: I’ve been an actor for 30 years. My career as an actor and playwright started at the same time.
JR Valrey: When do you perform next with Crawfish at the Brava?
Gamal Chasten: The performances are June 176-7:15 p.m. and the 18 4:30-5:15 p.m at Brava Studio Theater.
JR Valrey: How do people keep up with you online?
Gamal Chasten: Gamal Chasten on Facebook and Instagram. My website is https://gamalc.wixsite.com/website-1
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper office.