Scrolling through The Daily News’ live blog of the Occupy Wall Street protest in Times Square yesterday, this photo and caption jumped out at me:
Student loan debt a hot topic among Times Sq. crowd. “Student loans screwed up my credit!” one protester screamed while Shakina Nayfack, 30, of Washington Heights explained his hardship of racking up $150,000 in school loans.
The subject of the image, Shakina Nayfack, is bragging about the interview and his sign on Twitter:
It turns out that Nayfack hardly is the poster child for what is portrayed in the media as the driving force behind Occupy Wall Street – a lost generation of unemployed, hopeless, downtrodden youth with no prospects of advancement as a result of the housing bubble which (inaccurately) is blamed on Wall Street.
To the contrary, Nayfack is a very accomplished theater professional who has been continuously employed at ever increasing levels of theater production. Here’s a part of his extensive bio from his website:
Shakina is the recipient of the 2011 Drama League Directors Project Musical Directing Fellowship. He is also Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Epic Megalopolis Productions (EpicMegaPro), the company behind JUNK: A Rock Opera (2007). Most recently Shakina has been working at the Musical Theatre Lab at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA as Assistant Director on Mormons, Mothers & Monsters (2011) and The Game (2011). In 2010 Shakina conducted an SDCF Observership with New York Stage and Film and Tony Award-winning director
Michael Mayer on the development of his newly revised On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Other directing highlights include: ….
Nayfack’s resume of education and accomplishments is even more extensive and impressive than his bio lets one. Nayfack also formed a production company, Epic Megalopolis, which solicited investors to produce a musical called “JUNK: A Rock Opera” through a very capitalist sounding business plan:
JUNK has already attracted over $100,000 in investment and donations; these funds applied directly to artistic development and production. Our financiers include The Lyric Theatre Foundation, Thi Hoang, Joyce Montfort, Brainpool AB (Sweden), Christoffer Lundquist, Lennart Lundquist, The Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, and Laurence Braun. With a variety of investments available at various levels, participation in JUNK is possible for the casual investor or large-scale theatrical producer.
JUNK never made it to Broadway, but it did have a run in Los Angeles.
The producers apparently could not raise the additional funds needed for a Broadway production.
Rather than representing a lost generation, Nayfack’s career is a success story of the American capitalist system, someone who was able to develop his creative talents, and turn those talents into a successful career.
But his sign says that he has $150,000 in student loan debt and needs help.
I’m not sure why he would have so much debt, since he attended the University of California system for his BA. (Community Studies), MFA (Choreography) and Ph.D (Critical Dance Studies) degrees, and his resume indicates that he was a teaching assistant, which is usually the quid pro quo offered by Ph.D programs in exchange for free tuition. I have tweeted Nayfack asking him if he really has this debt; I’ll update this post if he responds. [See update below]
But let’s assume Nayfack did accumulate substantial student loan debt in pursuit of his Ph.D. Whose fault is that? Did Wall Street force Nayfack either to get his advanced degrees or to finance them with debt, or to not pay back the debt despite working for several years?
Perhaps Nayfack is just angry that Wall Street did not finance JUNK.
Update: Nayfack has responded:
And in the comments Nayfack writes [I’ve shortened the comment in this update, but the full text is at the link]:
… Occupy Wall Street is about targeting the obscenely wealthy, it’s about getting corporate investment out of politics, it’s about making quality health care and higher education a right not a privilege. The movement to forgive student loan debt is an alternative to bailing out the banks and CEOs who profited from our losses, and instead offer people a chance, students, consumers, working and unemployed, to move forward on a clean slate. I think it’s a brilliant idea, a sort of amnesty for folks who are crippled by their educational debt, regardless of the life circumstances and decisions that got them there. I talked to several other people at the protest who agreed with me, and countless others who just flashed me a “thumbs up” or a nod of recognition because of my little hand-scrawled sign.