Carnegie Mellon University
Nate Bertone

Triple Threat

Alumnus Nate Bertone Directs, Designs and Writes

written by
Pam Wigley

The multi-talented Nate Bertone (pronounced Bertoni) is one of those people who meets success in each area in which he works. As a designer and director, he has created world premieres of new plays, musicals and ballets across the country; but right now, he is focused on his personal writing projects, and for good reason. Bertone (School of Drama, BFA 2016) is grabbing the attention of Broadway producers and investors with his new play, "The Seaview Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased.”

Becoming an interdisciplinary artist (writing, directing, set designing) was a journey of self-discovery for Bertone, a Salem, Mass. native who fell in love with set design at a very young age. In the basement art studio at home, he and his late grandfather created scale model replicas of famous ships that sailed the world, which sparked a fascination for looking at the world from a different perspective.

During a recent visit to his hometown to design a regional production, Bertone was watching the Tony Awards (in the same room he watched them growing up) and was surprised to be mentioned in an acceptance speech by his mentor and friend, Beowulf Boritt. The award-winning designer (2023 Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critic’s Circle Awards) recognized Bertone for his contributions to Susan Stroman's production of “New York, New York.”

“All of us were, at one point, that kid who watched the Tonys and were in awe of the community and art that was created there,” Bertone said. “I’ve gotten to experience what it means to be part of the Broadway community thanks to Beowulf. At the core, I love to tell stories — whether through directing or writing. Using theater, in general, to move people through a moment is my passion. I’ve always known I want to use art to heal, and that’s my top priority post-pandemic.”

During his time at CMU, his commitment to helping others move through difficult moments stood out. At a 2013 new student orientation, Bertone was invited by Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Gina Casalegno to give a speech to incoming students. Casalegno continued to be an inspiration to him during his time at CMU as did Director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion Shernell Smith, with whom he presented a new musical, “Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical,” as part of a multicultural and diversity initiative. School of Art Professor Charlee Brodsky also supported him in the creation of “We Wore The Masks,” a photo-journalistic exploration of the masks we wear to protect our vulnerabilities.

Drama faculty member Anne Mundell was another huge inspiration in his interdisciplinary journey. “She pushed me to do what I wanted to do. She ignored the boundaries of standard collegiate limitations. There was an openness and excitedness about what I could become.” All of these women, he added, helped him to believe he could do whatever he set his mind to do.

Bertone pursued his first mission as a freshman: The School of Drama’s Playground Festival. He submitted a 30-minute play, “Letters From War,” and later learned that drama faculty member Barbara Mackenzie-Wood had been sitting next to his roommate during its performance and asked if the writer was an MFA student. Freshman Bertone was elated and used that inspiration as a catalyst to take as many writing classes as he could, both at CMU and abroad at Central Saint Martins in London.

He continued to explore writing, but also delved into set design and directing. Of all these things, Bertone said he dreamt of being a writer “more than any other role I’ve done. I want to tell stories that help people move through life’s difficult moments.”

Bertone’s current project is one of the hardest, yet most cathartic stories Bertone has told. It is, in effect, a love story — a tribute to his mentors, Karen Nascembeni and Steven Richard. Nascembeni, the general manager of Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre, gave Bertone his start in the industry as a professional designer while he was studying at CMU. Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, both Nascembeni and Richard contracted the disease.

“Karen was in a coma for 31 days and, thankfully, survived, but Steven lost his life to COVID-19 very early on,” Bertone said. “I was inconsolable.”

It prompted Bertone to write his newest work, "The Seaview Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased.” The two-act play tells the story of six people who have recently passed and appear to be stuck on earth in an abandoned nursing home. Unaware of their passing, they all discover that they are deceased when they meet a divinely-connected real estate agent on a mission to sell this property. Before their time on earth runs out, each must figure out why they are stuck in this “in-between” in order to pass on to “the great beyond.”

The play, said Bertone, “Aims to bring healing and catharsis. Facing loss, especially after the pandemic, with laughter, levity and heart, is already proving to help those who have shared their feedback with us thus far.”

Fellow CMU alum and set designer, Christian Fleming, called the play “an example of art rising from the pandemic.” Fleming attended an industry backer’s reading after a sold-out debut at North Shore. The reading, on May 9 and 10, 2023 at Open Jar Studios, was picked up by Showtown Theatricals as general management and is being produced by Nascembeni, with the support of Bill Hanney/North Shore Music Theatre, Haley Swindal, Greg Deluca, Laura and Marc Freedman, Proof Productions, and Greg and Jean Chastain.

Bertone is thrilled with the audience reaction to the play so far. “It’s been the greatest joy of my life as I watch people respond to the play and openly talk about grief and loss.” The play is currently in the next stage of development and is working toward a world premiere in 2024.

To those current students and recent alumni who have diverse interests, Bertone offered advice as they seek their place in the industry. “I think the reality is you have to want it,” Bertone said. “To go to CMU, you have to be hungry for knowledge and growth. That’s at the core of why I chose CMU. Your heart HAS to be in the work. To choose Carnegie Mellon is to invest in your worth as a human. The world is at your fingertips there.”