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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