September 20, 2023
CMU alumnus Nate Bertone does it all as a director, designer and writer
By Pamela Wigley
Multi-talented Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Nate Bertone is one of those people who meets success in each area in which he works. As a designer and director, he has created for world premieres of new plays, musicals and ballets across the country, but right now, he is focusing on his personal writing projects, and for good reason.
A 2016 graduate of the College of Fine Arts School of Drama with a bachelor’s degree in drama, Nate 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 Nate, a Salem, Massachusetts 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.
Recently, while in his home state to design a regional production, he was watching the Tony Awards in the same room where he watched them growing up when he unexpectedly was recognized in an acceptance speech. His mentor and friend, Beowulf Boritt, a 2023 Tony Award-, Drama Desk- and Outer Critics Circle Award-winning set designer for Susan Stroman's production of “New York, New York,” mentioned Nate for his contributions to the production.
“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,” Nate says. “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.”
“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, and at 2013 new student orientation, Nate 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 Executive Director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, M. Shernell Smith, with whom he presented a new musical, “Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical,” as part of a multicultural and diversity initiative, and School of Design Professor Charlee Brodsky, who supported him in the creation of “We Wore The Masks,” a photo-journalistic exploration of the masks we wear to protect our vulnerabilities. Professor of Design Anne Mundell in the School of Drama was a huge inspiration in his interdisciplinary journey as well.
“She pushed me to do what I wanted to do,” Nate says. “She ignored the boundaries of standard collegiate limitations. There was an openness and excitedness about what I could become.”
These women, he added, helped him to believe he could do whatever he set his mind to do.
Nate pursued his first mission as a first-year during the School of Drama’s Playground Festival. He submitted a 30-minute play, “Letters From War,” and later learned that School of Drama University Professor Emerita Barbara Mackenzie-Wood had been sitting next to his roommate during its performance and asked if the writer was a master of fine arts student. Nate 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, Nate says he dreamt of being a writer “more than any other role I’ve done. I want to tell stories that help people (during) life’s difficult moments.”
Karen Nascembeni and Nate Bertone introduce a reading of "The Seaview Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased.”
The cast of "The Seaview Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” during a live reading.
Nate’s current project is one of the hardest, yet most cathartic, stories Nate 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 Nate 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,” Nate says. “I was inconsolable.”
It prompted Nate 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 to “the great beyond.”
The play “aims to bring healing and catharsis,” Nate says. “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.”
Christian Fleming, a set designer and College of Fine Arts alum, who graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in drama and in 2020 with a master’s degree in scene design, called the play “an example of art rising from the pandemic.”
Christian attended an industry backer’s reading after a sold-out debut at North Shore. The reading, in May 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.
Nate 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,” he says.
The play is currently in the next stage of development and is working towards a world premiere in 2024.
To those current students and recent alumni who have diverse interests, Nate offered advice as they seek their place in the industry.
“I think the reality is you have to want it,” Nate says. “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.”