In Therapy with Nathan Cusson

After a successful premiere at the Hudson Guild Theatre, Anthony J. Piccione’s A Therapy Session with Myself, his controversial, semi-autobiographical drama about living with mental illness and Asperger’s syndrome – is enjoying an open-end run at the cutting-edge Kraine Theatre on the same block as New York Theatre workshop, KGB, and LaMama ETC. atswm.brownpapertickets.com.
We’re all big fans of Piccione, here at Five Star Arts Journals so we’re following his career and subsequently this play … all the way through 2020!
A Therapy Session with Myself tells the story of Alex Grayson, a young college student and aspiring writer living with severe social anxiety, depression, and Asperger’s syndrome. During the summer before his senior year, he receives a mysterious visit from “himself”, a human incarnation of his inner consciousness. As they interact, Alex is forced to reflect on his own flaws and personality quirks, as well as some of the darkest and most painful memories of his adolescence, while also pondering the question of whether or not he can overcome his inner demons, and ultimately build a brighter future for himself.
We discussed the creative process with his creative cast – first up: Nathan Cusson is thrilled to be performing in Therapy Session with Myself for his Off-Broadway debut! Born and raised in Willimantic, CT, Nathan runs the gamut of titles under his name in his arts journey … director, AD, producer, writer, and actor.

Nathan Cusson

What did you tap into in creating your character? 

There were definitely a number of unique elements that I tapped into to develop this performance. I felt there were three predominant elements that really informed my process. First was having the chance to know and speak directly to the playwright directly. Over the past handful of months, Anthony and I have only grown closer through our professional and personal lives. Seeing as it was a semi-autobiographical piece, it really felt like a once in a life time chance to know the character personally. Besides, how could I not talk to Anthony! *insert playful chuckle here* But seriously though, we’re basically best friends now. The second would be having the chance to see three different interpretations of the role being developed and performed before crafting my specific take.  Lastly, before Anthony, I’ve had various personal relationships with people who also fell on the spectrum. Each were different from the last and I felt it gave me a stronger scope of what I wanted to do and say by taking this role. Ultimately, the point of crafting a character is to achieve a certain level of storytelling and with a topic such as autism, it’s important to realize representation matters. I felt honored to be trusted in being offered the role and seeing as I’ve never had the diagnoses myself, I felt I would be doing the world, and even more-so, Anthony a huge disservice by misrepresenting people with atypical neurology. So the pressure was on, to say the least. In hindsight, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Of course, the continued development will never stop with a show with this long a run!

 

How do you gauge your audience? (Are they “getting it” and what do you do if they’re not?) 

Well, they listen and respond and there’s a bit of me that also listens and responds. I try not to alter the character in anyway if I don’t feel they’re not understanding or ‘with’ the show. With a piece like this, people aren’t expected to know what it’s like to have the condition. While I’ve done the work an actor would to prepare myself for the role, there are aspects of this character that I know I will never truly comprehend. It wouldn’t make sense to think everyone will ‘get it’ and I would daresay worse to try to adjust what the performance is to get a message across. So it comes back to a pretty universal concept of being honest and true to what you know of the character and present your work shameless. Maintain what you worked on and, if you missed the target completely, then learn and try again.

 

Is there something special or different you find you need to do in creating your role as you will be doing it periodically for the next year.

I suppose dropping character outside of performances is a bit of a difficultly for me as there’s a lot of physical quirks I’ve tried implementing in the character. I visited my family just this past month and mom kept noticing ‘This thing you’re doing with your mouth.’ I noticed it as well and I realized this is probably the most I felt physical development of a character would only inform and strengthen the show. So this time around, a larger sense of separating performance and personal life was a bit more of a challenge.

 

How does this play help you as an actor?  

I would like to think that working on this project has allowed growth as an artist and person in ways that I was not expecting. It definitely gave me a sense of community the moment I moved into this strange and unfamiliar city, it allowed me to seriously consider my own experiences with the show’s content, and gave me continued inspiration to write out my own personal narrative.

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What’s it like having a living author of a play with autobiographical moments right there in the theater. 

As before mentioned, I felt the pressure. It’s the obvious truth about the show, there are moments in the show that come dangerously close to past memories that are triggering to his life. I was never told ‘do this like it happened’ or ‘that’s not right’ by him. Additionally, the director was always allotted final say in terms of definitive decisions which polarized the show and allowed it to to be as subjective as it could be. He would always offer answers to questions and added a level of insight that is unmistakable. And there’s never really a ‘right’ way to create a show. It’s fucking art! At the end of the day, we were a bunch of people from different walks of life, made choices, and told the story together. And that’s what I love about it.

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Going “Head First” into the Creative Process

Head First, a new play by Dennis Bush and directed by Lester Thomas Shane; starring Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin joins the Stonewall50 Fresh Fruit Festival as a featured event. The show will run Monday, July 15, 8:30 pm; Wednesday, July 17, 6:00 pm, Friday, July 19, 8:30 pm; and Saturday, July 20, 2:00 pm at The WILD Project 195 East 3rd Street (between Aves. A & B) New York City. https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/527

Kyle’s got a true story to tell you… at least the parts he was conscious for are true. Seizures, sexual assault, humor, love … a romantic comedy according to Kyle.

Dennis Bush combined some powerful topics with some daring dialogue and handed it all to two actors and a director. How did Lester Shane guide Cooper Koch and Austin Larkin to opening night – which is next week. here is a look at their creative processes:

 

Cooper Koch:

Cooper.Koch_HEADFIRSTFor me, it feels like this play was given to me as a blessing from the big bigness of the universe. I chose to audition, but I didn’t choose to be a part of it. It chose me… in that the universe made the lovely duo, Lester Shane and Dennis Bush, decide to cast me. The first time I read it, I was a little hesitant to be honest. I genuinely thought, “how in the hell could I ever be able to, one, pull this off, and two, get all these words in my brain!” It was daunting and continued to be as I started working on the twelve pages of sides that were given for the audition. I’ve never done a two person play before, so the intimacy and the amount of dialogue was definitely a concern, as well as the graphic nature of the text. I was scared, but I like to go after fear. I think taking risks, and doing something you think you can’t do or that scares you is how you grow as an artist. As I continued working on the audition and reading the play over and over again, I started to not only fall into a deep love with the writing, but I really began to connect with Kyle’s journey and how it parallels to mine, in a way. I didn’t have a traumatic brain injury, but I’ve had major struggles in navigating my relationships with men and just being a gay man in general.  My shame has built walls in my life that go up in my work, my relationships, and my overall self worth and value as a human and an artist due to internal and external forces. So, after finding a very deep connection to Kyle and his story, it all came very easily. I think this play was given to me as an opportunity to rid all of the weight that my shame has left me with for so long and finally find freedom and acceptance through a character who goes on a very courageous journey and is extremely comfortable in his own skin. 

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Austin Larkin:

Austin.Larkin_HEADFIRSTMy process varies with each role I play, but in general I spend a lot of time studying and analyzing the words on the page before I explore them physically and vocally. I really like to nerd out while doing my research and asking questions about the text in the early stages. I find that helps me to understand the piece on a deeper level and frees me up to play around a bit more in rehearsals. Head First has been its own challenge in that I play eight incredibly different men. Dennis has written them each so distinctly, that a lot of my work has been picking up on those nuances and playing around with how they manifest in my voice and body. It’s been a blast discovering who these men are, and really identifying how they’re different, but also the many ways in which they’re similar. 
[Telling a story like this, you need…] the ability to listen. This piece is particularly intimate. Each of the relationships we see over the course of the play is fueled by its own unique form of intimacy, and portraying those relationships effectively hinges on our openness and our ability to listen to one another and respond truthfully and honestly.

Lester.Thomas.Shane_web-friendly.jpgLESTER THOMAS SHANE, director

On the surface, Head First, is a sort of coming of age story of a young man exploring his identity and sexuality. The journey is complicated by his having been thrown head first through a windshield of a Volkswagen one rainy night resulting in a traumatic brain injury that then produced a seizure disorder. As Kyle starts to fill in the gaps and learn his own truth, he is confronted by those who would hijack his narrative, shape his truth, molest him physically, and try to support him emotionally. While he shares the story one truth at a time, the other characters grow into finding their own rich truths along the way which allows for a really sweet denouement.

I believe our work — all of us — is to reveal the truth of the text. Imposing a personal auteur stamp feels a bit like ego driven narcissism. I keep asking myself, “What story are we telling? How can we best tell it?”  The process is mining the text, beat by beat. By first rehearsal I have done a lot of preparation including blocking.  This process tells me that if I can’t stage it, I probably don’t fully understand the moment.  Once that is in place and rehearsals begin a rich collaboration with the actors blossoms. In this case, we are blessed with two incredibly smart and sensitive men who pick up on the nuance and rhythms with such grace. Collectively we keep building and in so doing, reveal more. The process is both joyful and thrilling.

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The Fresh Fruit Festival is presented by All Out Arts to celebrate the LGBTQ community’s unique perspective, creativity & diversity, and to build links between the LGBTQ artistic communities, be they local or international. The Fresh Fruit Festival encompasses theater, performance, poetry, comedy, spoken word, music, dance, visual arts and some talents that defy categorization. Artists come from around the city, nation and, indeed, the world. Australia, Canada, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, France, Mauii, Israel, Italy, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and all of New York City’s boroughs and suburbs have been represented.

 

A Moving Borders

Review by Matt Ehrmann

In my somewhat limited experience of being a patron of the arts, I find that when I traverse off the beaten path and into the woods of…let’s call it indie theatre, things tend to go one of two ways. The work is either pure magic, or…not so much. I’m pleased to say that Dirty Laundry Theaters debut play Borders falls squarely into the former.

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To say the play was moving would be severely understating the case. Where to begin? The two leads were written how real people would behave, and the viewer has little choice but to become attached to them. I felt like I knew them well by the end, with each of them having their own quirks and mannerisms and fashion senses to hone in on. It’s impossible not to become invested in their lives. This review will be spoiler free so I’ll refrain from detailing the specific emotions I felt as I watched their individual stories dovetail with each other, but suffice to say I had a lot of feelings over the course of 45 minutes.

The actors themselves inhabited their roles and gave their characters life so fully and competently. I’ve been wondering how things worked out for Boaz and George ever since I saw the play. That’s a testament not only to the strength of only the script, but to the performers themselves.

If you slept on seeing Borders, it’s time to wake up.

The New Sit-Com is a dotcom

Ps in a Pod, a new web series, created by and starring Alex Pires, co-starring Stephanie Windland and executive produced by Richard Wingert starts on a blind date between Pete (Pires) and Polly (Windland) at a bar in Brooklyn. At first, they seem to be “two peas in a [neurotic] pod” but something is off. After a ton of awkward fumbling – including an uproarious attempt at sex – they simultaneously realize they are perfect as friends.

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“Watched the pilot. I really enjoyed it. I love the awkward kinda dry humor and the dynamic between the two characters is great. The inner monologue style is very funny and I hope it carries throughout the series.  I also enjoy the idea of starting on a date and moving into them being friends. I think that there is still this belief amongst young people that such a dynamic can’t happen in the way that it does here so I appreciate that it takes this approach. Biggest critique is that the episode feels to short to me. I could honestly see this series having 20 minute episodes or something close to that. Just having it be eight minutes made some things feel very rushed. Like the whole sequence of the two deciding to move in together happened rather quickly. I don’t know if they’re afraid people wouldn’t watch long episodes online, but I would say not to shy away from trying that.”
Max Berry, Critic & Playwright, OnStageBlog

“It’s really charming.  Skillful camerawork and editing, a funny script; I loved the subway sequence, and the lines about NYC birds had me laughing out loud.  The actors are attractive and likeable, the music subtle and well done.”
Jan Ewing, Distinguished Author/Playwright, Critic for Hi Drama on Spectrum Cable

“Premise is interesting and technique worth exploring…
Production values are quite good. Plus, package (titles, music, etc.) sharp and professional.
The two leads are both attractive and pleasant.
Would love to see this develop.”
Dr. Cliff Hesse, Television Communications Specialist and Educator

 

NOW’S YOUR CHANCE TO BE A TV CRITIC.

WATCH THE PILOT (ONLY 8 MINUTES LONG)
AND TELL US WHAT YOU THINK.

SEND YOUR COMMENTS TO JMAE.HAPPENINGS@GMAIL.COM
AND WE’LL PRINT THEM ON THIS SITE.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE… WATCH TV.

HERE’S THE LINK TO THE PILOT:

click here for the pilot: Ps in a Pod PILOT

NY 2 LA 2 Off-Broadway with Nicholas Capriotti

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Nicholas Capriotti has his work cut-out for him! He’s playing “YOU” in the new production – open-ended at the cutting-edge arts space, The Kraine – in A THERAPY SESSION WITH MYSELF, written by rising writer, Anthony J. Piccione. A Therapy Session with Myself tells the story of Alex Grayson, a young college student and aspiring writer suffering from severe social anxiety, depression and Asperger’s syndrome. During the summer before his senior year, he receives a mysterious visit from “himself”, a human incarnation of his inner consciousness (Capriotti). As they interact, Alex is forced to reflect on his own flaws and personality quirks, as well as some of the darkest and most painful memories of his adolescence, while also pondering the question of whether or not he can overcome his many inner demons, and ultimately build a brighter future for himself.

Capriotti started his journey as an actor at 18 years old when he moved to New York City to start his arts education. He studied acting at AMDA on the New York campus before making another big move – to Los Angeles to finish his studies and start his path to his professional career. Upon graduating, Nick worked in a variety of passion projects such as student films, sketch comedy shorts, staged productions, short films, and a pilot for a web series. Even with such successes in LA, Nick knew he wanted to get back to his East Coast roots as a New York based performer, where he could balance Theatre AND Film! Since moving back two months ago, Nick has been taking classes at TAPNYC, booked two short films, a staged reading, and even auditioned for his first feature film.

Let’s get inside the brain of this emerging actor.

 

What did you tap into in creating your character? 

Being that I am fortunate enough to have multiple roles in ATSWM, as well as understudying for the role of “You”, I took it upon myself to make sure my preparation was truthfully telling the circumstances of each event in the scenes I am involved in. For example, I play Alex’s math professor in one scene: the play itself is a construct of memories that negatively affect Alex and his relationships. My creation of the character came from making sure the emotional weight of how certain people (his professor) can take a toll into how Alex perceives himself. For my understudy work, I researched different takes on the idea of consciousness. Alex talks to his consciousness for the majority of the play, so I took theories that matched my understanding of what was going on in each scene between himself and his mind.

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How do you gauge your audience? 

In my opinion, if audiences are not clear as to what is going on in the story, it’s above my power because it’s a matter of the writing or pacing of the piece. Thankfully, I’m working with a great playwright, so it’s on me to take the words written on the page and have an opinion so strong on what my character is saying that the audience will feel what I feel. When I go to see theatre, there are moments where even a mere sniffle will make me feel like I’m missing out on the story. I want people to feel that way when I’m performing. 

Is there something special or different you find you need to do in creating your role as you will be doing it periodically for the next year? 

Practice, practice, and more practice.

60612479_2416926988326908_2832352084978827264_nHow does this play help you as an actor?

I now get to say that I’m making my Off-Broadway debut to my actor friends that live in Los Angeles. Those movie/TV buffs just don’t get it.

What’s it like having a living author of a play with autobiographical moments right there in the theater?

If there is ever any confusion on my part, not only do I have the opportunity to pull knowledge from Anthony, our amazing playwright, but I get to do his personal journey through life justice. Acting is the creation of a soul- and that soul is sitting there everyday with us.

 

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