“As an artist, I would like to create work that outlives me and betters the lives of others,” says Nathan Cusson, now taking the reins as director of the next Anthony J. Piccione play, Unaffordably Unhealthy, opening at the Tank later this month. Cusson, no stranger to Piccione’s plays, appears in the open-end run of Piccione’s semi-autobiographical opus, A Therapy Session with Myself.
About directing the piece … in New York … at one of indie art’s more celebrated incubators of cutting-edge work, the Tank, Cusson engaged way-enthusiastically:
“When Anthony approached me with this piece early last year, it was initially just for feedback and only a suggestion of directing. As I did my usually critical reading of the piece, I think what happened to me was what happens to most directors when they engage with a script. As ideas for staging, design, and a desire to answer the piece’s demand for creativity came to fruition, the piece became a project. In short, the more I gave it my time, the more hooked I got. In terms of theme and content, Unaffordably Unheatlhy speaks for itself. It’s in the title. Between motive and an active drive, it seemed like a perfect fit for me.”
The cast at the first rehearsal
He went to work choosing a cast like one might discover who is right for the Priesthood. “A question I asked each artist when they came in for auditions was ‘Why are you an artist?’ and, as you can imagine, I received a variation of responses. My goal was to create a cast that carried that same heart of wanting to create something larger then themselves. Writing this two days before the start of rehearsals, I’m glad to have found that in this ensemble and hope to cultivate that artistic calling into what usually becomes a sense of kinship and family throughout rehearsals and performances.”
Skeptical about what someone so young and healthy can say about America’s fractured and even surreal healthcare and insurance system, Cusson was quick [again] to respond. “Being a second child, I typically got a lot of ‘hand me downs’ when I was a kid. I never minded it, though I never really put together it was because I grow up in an increasingly humble background. But in all areas I would get hand me downs: backpacks, jackets, old note books with the old notes torn out so we can start fresh- stuff like that. However, I couldn’t get hand me down braces, so I never got those. The numbers were a little high at the time. By the time I moved to the city, my mother and I began talking more about finances openly and we agreed that she couldn’t afford the monthly cut to her paycheck for health insurance. It would be smarter to be able to afford food. My father at times, only ate maybe once or twice a day, in fear he would over spend.”
Sobering comments from one so young.
“The more I think on it, the more I realize moments like these. Moments we sacrifice health in ways we felt more or less forced to do in order to keep with the cost of living. My parents never played favorites and they never spent lavishly, the money just wasn’t there. The thing is, the Cusson family is a proud family, (for better or for worse) and though we may make stupid choices at times, we will shameless say that we are smart and crafty. Unfortunately, it never felt like intelligence or intricate methods of penny pinching seemed to allow us a consistent insurance on our health and well being.”
“I believe that to change the world you need to change the hearts and minds of humankind,” he said, considering the question of what he is giving to the audience with this piece. “If the audience leaves with that same ‘call to arms’ message I feel when reading the piece, then I imagine they will go out a DO something about it. With that, I would consider the project a success.”
Cusson has a handle on it.
Oh, and he wants Lin Manuel Miranda to see it.