Nathan Cusson is a mixed Panamanian actor, director, writer, and general theatre tech guy, born and raised in Willimantic, CT but now resides in Queens, NY. Hoping to shape the world into a more loving place, Nathan strives to create and craft projects that tell the untold stories that are close to his heart. He’s ecstatic to be in the theater again and would like to thank all the cast and crew for their hard work and dedication to bringing live performance back to New York. Especially of his new play, LOVE, LA FAMILIA. As a writer, this is his first play being staged in NYC and he’s very excited to share his story. His hopes are to develop and share it into a piece that can reach the many lives he believes wish to be recognized.
Right now, with a week to go, a new director, and rewrites still in the works, Nathan had little time to chat. But he wanted to make sure his story is told and told far-and-wide so he stopped what he was doing to share some really powerful thoughts.
Nathan, is this autobiographical?
Yes, it is. If I’m going to be honest, most of the play directly reflects my memories. Of course, in any script work, there are always layers between the result and the original thought. There are some changes that also had to be made for the sake of it being a theatre piece. First, I combined my life experiences during the time of college & high school. Surprisingly, I saw absurd parallels between those two creative environments, especially when it came to culture & representation. While there is this amazing push for representation in creative communities, there is a shocking lack of people deciding to go into the field to fill those roles when communities decide to stage these shows. In ‘Love, La Familia’, I use the show ‘Evita’ to exemplify that idea, and I’m being generous with this example. Ava Peron had the experience of a spanishing speaking culture but in fact had European roots. I chose this example because her character demands the ‘experience’ of a performer who understands and can voice someone who is Spanish speaking. In my personal life, it was more communities blatantly white washing shows, but I felt there was a stronger point to be made in what makes strong representation. ‘Responsible representation’ results in the use of any written character as a catalyst that accounts for honest portrayal of cultural experience for all people and their communities.
I would like to add, being ‘mixed’ gives me a very unique perspective on the world. Is half of me oppressed by the other half? Do I get opportunities because I sound white or look white-passing enough or because I’m just brown enough? Do I reject one part of me more than the other? Microaggression, heritage, identity- my brain sometimes gets overwhelmed with that simple question of who I am. The play explores that, and I hope it does it honestly and insightfully to audiences members who have not had that experience themselves.
Tell us about yourself(s) as artists.
I am a self proclaimed one man army. You know that scene in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings where Aragon says goodbye to Frodo and decides to fight a horde of Uruk-hai by himself? I’m like that, but for the arts. I’m writing this after opening a show that I directed, lighting designed, audio designed, stage managed, board op-ed, and even acted in. Now that a play is going up that I wrote, I firmly feel like I can say I can do it all. Least, in the theatre world. Over quarantine, I had a lot of time and remembered watching a video of Lin Manuel Miranda saying ‘do everything’ in regards to becoming an actor. So I went even deeper to teaching myself audio editing/recording, programing lights, patching, rigging, cuing, visual storytelling through lighting and sound, etc. I’m not the world’s best and I’ve only ever worked with modest budgets, but I feel comfortable behind a tech booth, a keyboard, and onstage as well. All this to tell stories. Above all, I want to create stories that outlive me and better the lives of others. So that’s what I’m doing.
What’s the message of the play?
Love everyone like your family. It might be ugly at first but you’ll come to see that most people simply want to be loved as well.
Who will see themselves in this piece?
Younger audiences, I hope. Maybe I’m not cool enough for the high schoolers but we’ll have to see. I honestly wrote this show with hopes that younger generations will be encouraged to join the performing field, especially if they are in the minority. In my hometown, nearly half of the community were of spanish speaking backgrounds but you could count the number of minority actors on one hand at the local theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my community theatre family, I just realize that even if a theater is surrounded by minority communities, underrepresentation is still a serious threat. As I type this, we are making the final decisions on some unfilled roles and my heart sinks at the idea that there wasn’t enough diversity in the casting pool to hire roles that require latino actors. This show is for people like them and I don’t think they feel seen enough historically for there to be enough storytellers that fit the bill currently. We will make do with what resources we have but if there’s anyone of diverse background reading this please know that the performance world needs you. To be blunt, if you come from poor backgrounds and need to claw your way out of the rough, you can. My goal is to be the living embody of that. If some lower class kid from willimantic could make his way to New York and get his play funded and staged and be able to act in it… then you can do it. Maybe not in that order or even all of it, but you can make it. You can.
Do YOU see yourself?
Yes, I play him.
How has the immigrant experience changed over the decades (or has it?)
Everything changes, and yes some things only change their surfaces and what lies underneath remains unchanged- as ugly and hard as it was decades ago. There is a lot of red tape to get into this country. I believe to make it to America it takes money, luck, or a scholarship. Honestly, all ways into our country and most countries require money in some capacity. It’s rather gross but that’s humanity’s current means of progress. I sometimes dream of the earth as this place that is only fresh rolling hills of green grass, soft breezes, and endless warm rays of sunsets. No borders, no states, no laws. Just people, living together and enjoying each other’s time which is so precious. I know this doesn’t have much to do with where we are, but I think we, as a society of people, will start gaining ground once we decide where we are going. Something as corny and cheesy as ‘sunshine and rainbows’ is unusual, but I think it has the common interest. Everyone deserves to be happy, and we should make that the end goal.
This is a workshop, what are the hopes for it?
Broadway. Hollywood. Limited TV series? Seriously, I would love to continue to work on this show. Several people have mentioned that there’s enough story to be told in a longer form medium. And I definitely may or may not have written full scenes for characters in my head already. I’m hopeful that somewhere down the line, I can spread this story to as many people as possible.
I don’t know. Probably D&D. I want to focus on world building as a writer and I figured creating an entire world from scratch would be fun. I would like to do that and eventually live stream that like Critical Role does. Spice? (That’s a season 1 joke for you Critters out there.)