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American School of Paris - founded 1946

Alumni in the News

How ASP Helped Nael Nacer Get to Broadway

By Raven Snook '88

Nael Nacer

Nael Nacer
(photo: Nile Scott Studios)

It's fitting that American School of Paris alumnus Nael Nacer '99 is making his Broadway debut in Prayer for the French Republicand not just because it's set in Paris. If it weren't for his years at ASP, which he attended from fourth grade through graduation, he might not have pursued acting at all. 

"I was a mess as a student at ASP," he admits with a chuckle. But while academics didn't engage him, the arts did. "I was really passionate about music and theater. I remember being one of the orphans in Oliver! I didn't really have much to do, but I liked it. I liked acting. I liked being on stage." 


He recalls that the late Ted "Milty" Miltenberger, who taught theater from 1979 to 2003, and Chris Chater, who was a music instructor from 1968 to 2013, supported his artistic aspirations. "I wasn't putting effort into anything except their classes," he says. "What was really meaningful to me then, even if I didn't quite have the words for it, was that Milty and Chris were the first to find value in me, to encourage me to do something that I could be proud of. And that was huge because I was kind of flailing everywhere else." 

Nael Nacer in High School at ASP

Nael at ASP

  Born in Paris to a French mother and a father whose family emigrated from the Republic of Djibouti, Nacer attended ASP because his dad wanted his children to be bilingual. "He worked at a bank, and I think he felt like his lack of English was a limitation, Nacer explains. "Not in his wildest dreams did he think it would lead me to theater!"


After graduating, Nacer took a gap year and attended a bilingual acting program in Paris, where he collaborated on a film with fellow ASP alumnus Henry Joost '00, who went on to co-direct the documentary Catfish as well as two films in the Paranormal Activity franchise. "There's a horror movie out there that we made together," Nacer says. "I remember filming in a flooded tunnel, and there was this gory scene, so we went to a butcher shop to get innards. It was very, very creative."

Although he did not have any relatives living in the US, Nacer decided to attend Suffolk University in Boston hoping to get into acting, even though he wasn't yet ready to admit that to his family. "At college, I quietly tried to do as many shows as possible, but I didn't declare that as my major that first year," he explains. "That's really where I fell in love with being on stage." 

Eventually he told his parents, who were "supportive but concerned. They just wanted me to be able to make a living!" Soon after graduating in 2006, he started to do just that, and over the past two decades he has built an impressive career in Boston, performing with the city's most prestigious theater companies, including the Arlekin Players Theatre and The Huntington. 

His longtime relationship with The Huntington is actually what led to his Broadway debut. The theatre invited him to audition for its mounting of Prayer for the French Republic last fall, but Nacer declined because he was booked for another show. By the time that gig fell through, The Huntington had already cast the production but asked if he would understudy. He accepted and, two days into the run, he was told he was taking over the role of Charles, a Jewish doctor so unnerved by antisemitism in Paris that he wants to move his family to Israel. 

"They needed to scramble to get me ready," Nacer recalls. "It was the third preview, and we opened a few days later and the playwright, Joshua Harmon, was there." Even though the play's Broadway premiere—a separate production presented by Manhattan Theatre Club—was just a few months away, some roles had not yet been cast, including Charles. "A few weeks later I was invited to audition," Nacer says. "The director, David Cromer, and I had worked on a couple of plays in the past, and Josh had just seen me in Boston. It was kind of miraculous and happened really quickly. I went in and they offered me the part 40 minutes later." 

Scene from Prayer for French RepublicAlthough Nacer is not Jewish, as a mixed-race person, he unfortunately is familiar with prejudice. Still, he did a lot of research as he wanted Charles—a Sephardic Jew whose family emigrated from Algeria to Paris—to feel authentic. "It's my responsibility as an actor to try to understand things I don't know, and I take that very seriously," he says. "Part of the rehearsal process was trying to educate myself by talking to Jewish friends and learning about traditions. It's my desire as an actor to pursue the truth of a character's experience."

He certainly didn't need to do any research to make Charles feel Parisian. Many elements of the three-act play—which alternates between a pair of Paris apartments in two different eras, 1944 to 1946, and 2016 to 2017—remind him of his birthplace. 

​​Prayer for French Republic on Broadway

"I remember hearing some of the sound design and I was like, this is what I hear outside the window in the Paris apartment my mother lives in currently," he says. "Then there is the family dynamic, the way that they communicate with one another." As the characters excitedly debate identity, faith, history and hatred, they seem distinctly French to Nacer. "The way that we fight or argue and sort of air things out through confrontation feels very French!"

While Nacer misses his wife, a creative director at an ad agency whom he met doing theater at college, and their seven-year-old daughter back in Boston, he is proud to have made it to Broadway. "It always seemed like a big distant possibility," he says. "It wasn't something I was pursuing actively." He was also thrilled to have his siblings, fellow ASPers Adéla '97 and Sophian '03, who both live in the United Kingdom, at the show's opening. 

And of course, the play's Paris setting makes the experience even more moving and has him fondly reminiscing about his ASP theater days. "I did a student-written play my senior year and we went on some theater trips, like Stratford-upon-Avon," he says. "I really took the theater classes seriously." He didn't know then that the stage would become his life's work. 

Prayer for the French Republic is running at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway through March 3, 2024.

Photos above by Jeremy Daniel from Manhattan Theatre Club's Prayer for the French Republic on Broadway: right: Betsy Aidem and Nael Nacer, left: Molly Ranson, Nael Nacer and Aria Shahghasemi

Raven Snook '88


 Raven Snook is the editor of TDF Stages, a NYC culture blog, and a contributing theater critic to Time Out New York. A former performer, she has many fond memories of doing shows at ASP.