Christine Rathbun Ernst is a writer and a poet who performs with her work regularly on stage and at open mics on Cape Cod. She has been featured in the magazine MAMM, and in the literary journal, ARS Medica. Her acclaimed one-women show, “Reconstruction”, or “How I learned to Pay Attention”, has been performed more than 40 times all over New England, and two of her plays were named Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant Finalists (Playwriting/New Theater Works, 2004 & 2006). She spent the summer of 2011 at Cotuit Center for The Arts’ Black Box Theater performing “The Further Adventures of a Fat Ass Cancer Bitch”, and plans to continue the franchise after the “FACB Goes Shopping”. Christine currently lives in Sandwich, with her daughters, Marney and Julia and her husband sculptor Michael Ernst.
Full Bio & Press
Christine Rathbun Ernst spoken word artist and acclaimed playwright performs her latest collection “The Fat Ass Cancer Bitch Goes Shopping”, the funny unapologetic, wickedly honest, poignant hell-bent, pissed-off one breasted, loudmouth story of one woman’s examined life witty quirky unforgettable theatre of self discovery, good story telling, and pointed social commentary. The hour plus long show is a compilation of monologues in the spirit of her earlier one woman plays, “Reconstruction”, “Giant Women”, and “An Other Woman”. Miss Rathbun Ernst is a two time Mass Cultural Council Artist Grant finalist, has performed her work all over New England, and has been featured in the magazine, MAMM,& the literary journal, Ars Medica.
Featured In MAMM Magazine. December-January Issue 2009 Story by Lydia Fong
Every time Christine Rathbun steps onstage to perform her play Reconstruction, or How I Learned to Pay Attention, she relives the moment eight years ago when she learned she had stage II breast cancer. Recalling her panic, she tells the audience, “I don’t understand how you can be so sure … mastectomy next week. Chemotherapy—six months. Then radiation … mounting panic. Wait. I am 34. Wait. No history in my family. WAIT. I have a six-year-old daughter. How can this be happening? … Cancer. No. My daughter. No. My breast. No. My life. No. No. NO. And sh-t—I just paid 50 bucks for a haircut.”
“Being on stage and performing some of the painful scenes … I’m catapulted back to 2001, and that fear and terror is quite visceral,” Rathbun says.
Since Reconstruction’s 2003 debut at Harwich Winter Theatre in Cape Cod, Rathbun has performed it more than 40 times in theaters, libraries and churches all over New England, earning honors (it was a finalist for a Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant) and raves like “strong, funny and kick-ass.” In just a little over an hour, Rathbun shares her raw and often funny thoughts on her treatment (which, ironically, did not include reconstructive surgery), motherhood, dating, her ambivalence toward wearing wigs and pink ribbons, and her journey to healing and self-love. “I’m exhilarated afterward because it’s partly a defiant scream, which feels so good just to say, ‘I fought it, and I’m here, and I’m talking about it eight years later.’ ” The play began as a series of random thoughts the divorced mom jotted down during the drive home from her job in a book distribution company. She’d been writing since she was a child and performing in local productions for years, but Rathbun never considered playwriting until a friend from the Harwich Theater encouraged her to turn her notes into a monologue and offered her a workshop space.
The only other cast member of Reconstruction is a key player in Rathbun’s life as well: her daughter, Marney, who was just six years old when her mom was diagnosed. Throughout the recovery process Marney took on the nurturer role, making her mother scrambled eggs, oatmeal and tea—the only foods she knew how to cook in the microwave. Now a high school freshman, Marney has played herself in several scenes of the show and set up props since the first performance. At one point she reads a poignant letter her mother wrote to her the day after the mastectomy: “I love you so much, and if anything will get me through this, it is your shining face and fierce spirit.”
“Performing it has been a wonderful healing experience for both of us,” Rathbun says. “We took this really sh-tty experience and turned it into something really amazing and a way to heal ourselves, to heal me specifically.” For her part, Marney finds it “awesome” to perform with her mother. “My mom and dad both do theater, so the stage part is no biggie at all,” she says. “But it’s the people you meet afterward—the people you affect through it—that’s just so exciting.”
Many of those audience members stick around after the show to talk about their own experiences with breast cancer. “It’s also like, ‘Come on, women; come on, other warriors, tell me your own story,” Rathbun says. “The performing is one aspect of it; what I get back after is almost more important.”
Rathbun hopes to take Reconstruction on a national tour of schools and colleges next year to educate more young women about breast cancer. She has written two more autobiographical plays, and this year she published a poem in an online literary forum for people dealing with cancer. But at the moment, she’s focusing on her newest creation: She and her fiancé are expecting a baby due in early January. It’s a surprise and a blessing given her health history: “In a way it’s the ultimate comeback from illness: to have a child. I feel like I’ve conquered a huge physical challenge.”
The play ends with Rathbun playing a doctor reading her chart: “Curiously, rejected reconstruction, but thrives nonetheless.” She sees this as a badge of honor. “At the time I got pretty ornery about it because everybody expected me to have the surgery,” Rathbun says. “It made me mad because people were suggesting that I wasn’t complete or fully well. That became a big part of the play because, for me, it was a complete life reconstruction—which has nothing to do with having or not having a breast.”