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Rafael Casal (born August 8, 1985) is an American writer, performance poet, recording artist, educator, playwright and founding member of The Getback. Over his young career, Casal has been praised and awarded internationally for his poetry, featured by major print and web editorials for his music, has directed numerous theater productions and film shorts, and taught creative writing and performance to high school and University undergraduate students. His work has been featured by networks like HBO and MTV, and he has performed at hundreds of venues and University campuses throughout the country and beyond. Casal has shared the stage with the likes of Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, KRS-One, Floetry, Kanye West, Saul Williams, Alanis Morissette, De La Soul, Dead Prez, George Clinton, Carole King, Lauryn Hill & numerous others, performing in front of crowds of up to 30,000. His career in numerous different artistic mediums orbit his foundation in writing and storytelling, often documenting narratives and experiences from his origins in the Bay Area, California, and his travels.
Writing for the page/stage
Casal started writing Spoken word/Slam youth poetry scene in the Bay Area at age 14. He participated in Brave New Voices national youth poetry slam until 17, when he was asked to participate only as a coach to other students. He was a national finalist champion for two years, and then coached the Bay Area youth poetry slam team to a first place at BNV nationals in Los Angeles. At 19 he traveled to New York to compete against established adult poets as an unknown at the renowned Nuyorican Poets Cafe slam night, and won. He was then featured on Season 4, 5 and 6 of Russell Simmons' Def Poetry on HBO, which gained him a much larger audience and recognition. His performance of his poems Barbie and Ken 101, "Abortion" and "First Week of a Break Up" on Def Poetry have been seen over 1.5 million times on YouTube. Casal toured heavily on the University circuit following his appearances on HBO, to Universities such as UCLA, Bates College, NYU, College of William and Mary, as well as numerous festivals and conferences. He then joined mentor Marc Bamuthi Joseph's theater company The Living Word Project, where he co-wrote The One Drop Rule – a theater piece about a hypothetical 40-day drought in the bay area, drawing parallels New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. The piece was written with his arts collective The Getback, in collaboration with tap-dancer Jason Samuels Smith, the San Francisco Jazz Ensemble, and directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph. The One Drop Rule premiered in San Francisco, and was featured at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. in 2009, Casal began teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Madison as Creative Director of a new undergraduate diversity scholarship program called First Wave. There he began to develop his first solo show, titled The Limp, which was developed in residency at the university in 2010/11, under the direction of choreographer Chris Walker. The piece premiered and headlined at the university's annual theater festival Line Breaks, and in the fall of 2011 featured in excerpt at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Left Coast Leaning Festival. Casal was recently published as a guest writer in Bill Ayers's The Handbook of Social Justice.
Casal found his beginnings in music at the age of 15 years over the shoulder of local musicians and friends, picking up the basics of recording, delivery, content and structure. He released individual songs on CD around his high school, becoming known locally as a freestyle artist and lyricist. In 2006, he landed an apprenticeship with Bay Area legendary producer One Drop Scott (3x Crazy, Too Short, E-40, Keak Da Sneak, Mac Dre, Scarface, etc.) There, Casal further developed his production and sound engineering techniques while learning to work with professional recording artists. After opening up a recording studio in North Oakland in 2007, Casal began an internship at Director George Lucas's notorious THX Studios/Skywalker Ranch. shortly after, Casal released his debut album in 2008 titled As Good As Your Word. In 2010, he followed up with his second project Monster, which earned him music placements on two MTV programs, one Showtime program, and his first profile on MTV.com. This project launched Casal into the YouTube music world with his viral video Bay Area Slang Top 100, which showcased Casal to over 500,000 viewers as he defined 100 Bay Area slang terms in three minutes over a sample from Dr. Suess's How The Grinch Stole Christmas. This song and others from the Monster LP were featured by major Music blogs like RapRadar, Southern Hospitality, The Smoking Section, Cocaineblunts and others. in 2011, he was declared a "Top 10 Bay Area Freshmen" by premiere Bay Area radio station 106.1 KMEL and featured at the national annual music festival SXSW in Austin, Texas. In 2012, Casal released his third solo record titled Mean Ones. All of his music projects feature producer Jay Fab of The Olympicks, as well as other featured producers and Casal's own compositions. Also in 2012, he contributed music and vocals to Daveed Diggs's album Small Things to a Giant, which he also edited. Casal was featured along with several other musicians on the song "Exquisite Corpse" from George Watsky's album x Infinity.
Casal began facilitating after-school writing workshops at 17, in High Schools around the Bay Area, Ca. He joined the staff of Youth Speaks, a non-profit literary arts organization based in San Francisco, where he worked for six years as a programs associate and after-school writing mentor. When Casal began touring his own work on the university circuit, he paired his performances with creative writing workshops, open to students of the university, and the general public. These workshops often were also conducted at neighboring community centers, halfway houses, and juvenile detention centers.
In 2008, Casal became the Creative Director for the first university program exploring spoken word and Hip Hop theater, OMAI/First Wave at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Joining the small staff in the program's beginning stages, Casal helped design and implement the 4-year arts curriculum of the program alongside international choreographer Prof. Christopher Walker. For two years, Casal worked with the First Wave students in producing annual solo and ensemble theater productions, touring both nationally and internationally. Upon agreeing to help build this program, Casal negotiated a full tuition scholarship to the university as well, and discreetly attended the university as a full-time student while simultaneously overseeing his undergraduate students at The Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives as Creative Director.
In Spring 2010 he graduated with a degree is sociology and became the OMAI artist-in-residence. In the program's fourth year, Casal worked with a smaller focused group of First Wave students, developing their crafts exploring the possibilities of the stage and directing their Spring productions. Since his arrival, the program received the prestigious Wisconsin Governors Arts Award, his students have presented at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway, New York's 2009 Hip Hop Theatre Festival, and in his last year as AIR were highlighted at Contacting The World – an international arts presenting and collaboration festival in Manchester, England. In his time in Wisconsin, he directed and co-directed 19 Theatre Productions, with casts ranging from solo work to 15-member ensembles. In conjunction with his residency position, Casal spent his development time in Madison writing/producing his own One-man show "The Limp" directed by Professor & choreographer Chris Walker, in collaboration with his Getback Music Ensemble.