Playwright’s Note: After our readthrough of the production draft of the script, I realized that I was the navigator and the journey was now in the hands of our pilot, Christine Cervas Nathanson. As director, it was her job to take this story and steer it to all the places I had mapped out. In my development of the piece, I traveled to the places of despair and isolation that the survivors brought me to. They said–Look. This happened. I took notes. I crafted a fictional account that surveyed their landmarks of pain and triumph. Christine had a fierce, unrelenting understanding and vision about where we needed to go and how we would get there. Our pilot put all the pieces together in an ambitious flight that lifted the story from the pages and materialized it on stage in greater ways than I imagined.
Put on your seatbelt. You’re in for a ride.
Christine Cervas Nathanson (Director, Sound Designer, Graphic Designer, Social Media Consultant), founding co-Artistic Director of MaArte Theatre Collective and Business Manager at MOXIE Theatre, graduated with a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Westmont College where she commissioned and directed the premiere of Tar and Feather by Kristin Idaszak (Santa Barbara Indy Award). Select directing credits include: Colored, Inay’s Wedding Dress, High Stakes, (MaArte Theatre Collective); Skin and Bone, an excerpt of Hamlet (self-produced); Spin Class, Maybe But Probably Not, The Bechdel Tent, Des Étoiles, Unwinnable Draw (Westmont). Assistant Directing credits include: Voyeurs de Venus, The Revolutionists (MOXIE); Vietgone (San Diego REP); and The Last Wife (Cygnet).
Tell us about yourself.
Identity is an interesting thing.
Professionally, I am an awarded theatre director, designer, actor, and arts administrator. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Westmont College, as the Theatre Department’s Outstanding Senior, with a B.A. in Theatre Arts. I’ve been awarded Santa Barbara Indy Awards for both performance (as Dido in Dido Queen of Carthage) and direction (the original play Tar and Feather by Kristin Idaszak, which I commissioned for my senior thesis).
I participated in the inaugural semester of Westmont College’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship off-campus program where I served a Marketing/Sales Internship with the startup edtech, Parentsquare, and developed a fully-fleshed business plan for a rehabilitative theatre for survivors of human trafficking. Later, I was selected by the Praxis’ Future Founders business accelerator to serve an Executive Apprenticeship at A House on Beekman under the non-profit’s founder. In 2017, I joined MOXIE Theatre as their part-time Box Office Manager and was quickly promoted to their full-time Business Manager. In 2018, I, with 5 others, founded the MaArte Theatre Collective, a coalition of Filipino-American theatre artists in San Diego producing independent and original work by exclusively Filipino playwrights. I currently serve as MaArte’s co-Artistic Director with actress Ciarlene Coleman.
But personally, I’m a learner. I’m a daughter. A cultural healer. A social revolutionary. To put it simply, an artist in all meanings of the word. And I explore who I am in these ways and grow in my understanding of what it means to be a human person every day more and more through the communal medium of theatre.
Tell us about the process of directing “The Fire in Me”.
So far it has been both a joy and challenge. Working with my Kapwa, my Pilipinx siblings, is always life-giving. It is something special to be surrounded by people who understand the minute seemingly meaningless cultural details of your life. On top of this, developing new work is where I really find myself shining. In fact, most plays I have directed have been new pieces, either written to give voice to the underrepresented experiences of POC or written specifically for me to breathe life into, and sometimes even both. When Thelma asked me to direct a play that had yet to be written and that would raise the issue of domestic abuse within our local Pilipinx-American community, I was of course inspired and immediately on-board.
And so, a bit about the way I’ve crafted this piece …
“The Fire in Me” is staged in the round (meaning the audience will be seated on all sides), my favorite and most challenging orientation. No two audience members will have the same experience, nor is there any place for they or the actors to hide. We’re not in a dark room all facing one direction. We sit, in full light, circled, open-hearted, facing one another.
I think this is the most honest way to understand the testimonies shared through the course of the play. There are many sides to such a complicated issue and no two people will ever approach or understand it in the same way. To the best of my ability, as a young person who has only lived on this earth for 25 years, I’ve tried to crack this play open and give audiences an intimate understanding of how our brothers and sisters experience trauma in our very own neighborhoods. I hope I’ve molded this play into a space where we can have a dialogue.
Consider this your personal invitation. Step into our circle. Join our conversation. Ask hard questions. Be ready to listen. Be ready to be challenged. But most importantly, be ready to hold space within yourself for all the faces you will see and all the human hearts behind them that you will encounter as we engage with the intimate and personal topic of domestic abuse in San Diego, together.
What was fun to work on for this project? What was challenging? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I first and foremost consider myself an activist. My activism has always taken the form of theatrical art. All art, indeed, all stories, are political. Who gets recognition, who has the ability to shape our understanding of history, who has the space to tell their stories within our society is a reflection of who has power – and who doesn’t. My ambition in creating theatre is to make space for those who have systematically been denied and stripped of power. For me, this means people of color, women, and individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. As you can tell, my art revolves around the question of identity: who are we and what does that mean? Because I can only be myself and I enter every room with the biases of my person, this means I have blind spots that I can’t avoid. The most challenging and most joyful lesson in working on this piece has been to accept and embrace the places where I fail due to the presumptuousness of my own privilege. I often fail, I think. What matters to me, though, is not when I’ve failed, but how I respond to those failures. Do I deny them and hide from them? Or do I take them by the hand, make them my friends, and commit to memory the lessons they have for me? Let me say that I am still learning how to do this. I am no master, by any means.That said, when I craft a play for an audience, I strive to ask them to join me in doing the same.
Join me in the challenging, painful, but always joyful process of subverting our own privileges by making space for liminal and marginalized stories through walking, learning, and listening in humility.