An artist dedicated to his craft, Dan Harel ‘26 has been acting since his childhood. Harel has done a bit of everything when it comes to the performing arts. He’s dabbled in dancing and singing, but he has a gravitational pull to acting.
“I’m definitely an actor first. Acting’s been something that I have been passionate about for, forever. I started acting when I was very young, about the age of five or six. I did some on-camera work, just at my daycare. And it just kind of stuck around, I’ve been doing drama since. I think I’m definitely more passionate about my acting and I enjoy it more.”
Harel’s passion for acting lies in the joy and creativity he is able to gain from it. Harel speaks to how acting is able to provide him with an outlet of creative expression that he has been able to both revel in and learn from. Acting is an integral part of Harel’s life, and the experiences and opportunities he has gained from acting have helped him navigate his life.
He expresses, “It’s a great outlet for an escape from the real world. It gives you an opportunity to go and explore and figure out different points of view of other people and it really makes you an empathetic person. Even with conflicts I have with my friends, it’s always easier to look at their point of view because sometimes I’ve had to embody people with different ideas and perspectives and thoughts. So, I’d say acting is an escape from my everyday life, which is awesome because it gives me a chance to explore creatively and imaginatively, but it also gives me an outlet to see different outlooks and points of view.”
Harel has been immersed in acting during his time at Muhlenberg so far, he has been involved in the Muhlenberg Theatre Department’s “Freedom to Fly,” two plays in the Red Door Play Festival, “Crazy Eights” in the fall of 2022 and “Emotional Baggage” in the spring of 2023 and played a role in a studio show spring of 2022, “Llorona.” He has acted in each of these productions, with a wide range of roles, as he played a man suffering from a heart attack in “Emotional Baggage” to an ICE officer in “Llorona.”
Harel reflected on the fondness he felt when being a part of “Llorona,” a student-run production, and how he was able to be challenged artistically in an environment he felt comfortable in. He states, “I think the collaborative experience that I had with Ale[jandra Cepeda Bátiz ‘23] and Ruhani [Singh ‘23] was incredible, and they had such a direct vision they wanted to achieve, and they were just so passionate about it, it brought up the energy in the room, and the cast was great, and the dynamic between everyone was awesome and I had a really great time. And it’s definitely a part I haven’t gotten to play before, that kind of officer and authoritative figure.”
While Harel has been heavily involved in the acting scene on campus and has been wholly dedicated to his art, he has found some challenges in how to manage his artistic pursuits with his life outside of acting. He says, “I think a lot of Muhlenberg students are guilty of this, and I am guilty of this as well, that we over-extend ourselves. And balancing theater and school, and other extracurriculars has been something I am navigating through and I haven’t fully figured out where the balance is yet. And some of the parts I am playing currently are taking a heavy toll, especially with everything going on in the world, and in my home, Israel. So that’s something I’m trying to navigate through emotionally and work-wise.”
Harel is currently cast in a fall 2023 studio production as Orsino in “Twelfth Night (Or What You Will),” and is the lead in a new short film by Sophie Stein ‘25 and co-produced by Raymond Ceres ‘25 titled, “Right Behind You.” In the film, set in the 1980s, Harel plays a character named Eli, a Jewish track athlete who has to deal with and overcome an antisemitic teammate. Harel speaks to how his role of Eli is interconnected with his own identity, and how in playing this role he has had to reflect on his own experiences with discrimination, and how he wishes to dedicate this performance to his identity and the people who he loves and everyone around the world who has been subjected to antisemitism.
Harel adds, “When we were just starting off the process, it was a lot of deep diving into personal things I’ve encountered in the past in terms of antisemitism, but with the rise of antisemitism and with everything happening in Israel, it has taken a harder toll and I have definitely decided to dedicate this performance to my family and my people in Israel that I care about and that are currently going through a really hard time. I feel a sense of responsibility to make sure that our story teaches a valuable lesson, and brings light into the impact of such harsh antisemitism.”
“I think portraying a character in such an impactful [film] is something that is super super important. I think in my past acting experiences I haven’t gotten a chance to do any sort of critical acting. When I’ve been in other shows, it’s always been fictional characters, but this is something that is a little more real and a little more critical of social and political issues. I’ve been very excited to be able to do such a critical [role], especially in a time like this,” he continued.
Harel details his thought process behind auditioning or going out for certain roles and productions, explaining that in the past he tended to gravitate towards roles that require a personality similar to himself, however, his time at Muhlenberg has challenged him to take on different types of roles. He says, “In the past, I’ve enjoyed a lot of comedic relief roles. I see myself as a very funny and outgoing person, so I like portraying those on the stage because it makes me a lot freer in my acting choices. But since I got to Muhlenberg, the opportunities I’ve been given are a lot more serious roles, which I’m not against, it’s a lot more impactful. So, I’d say things that are speaking to me are usually either very comedic or are a part of something larger than just the theatre space.”
Harel’s journey with acting has stemmed back as far as he could remember, and being an actor and a performer is an integral part of who he is. He states, “I have been wanting to be an actor since I was four years old. My parents brought home a little puppet theater, so I would put up little shows with my dad for my mom, so that’s how I fell in love with performing. And then I was put in a daycare where it was a performing arts daycare and they were very big about letting kids create and letting kids be imaginative and we did visual arts and performing arts, and all of that. Even when I moved to the States, something that stayed by my side, something that has been consistent is theatre.”
“Even in my fourth-grade production, I showed up to the audition not speaking any English and I told them ‘I just want to be a part of it. I don’t really care what I’m doing.’ So they ended up putting me as an extra soldier, which I was more than okay with because I just wanted to perform.”
Reflecting on his lifelong journey with acting, Harel recounted how acting as an art form has been important to him through and through and it has been the viewing acting as a true art form that has been the most gratifying aspect, he says, “I love when people recognize you for the work you do. Being known for your art, and being recognized for the characters that you play and being known for the work that you do is something that is very rewarding.”