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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Nov 5, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1066: Diana Burbano

Diana Burbano

Hometown: Neiva, Colombia, emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio

Current Town: Long Beach, CA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I always work on a few things at once.

"Ghosts of Bogota", a very, very personal play about three siblings, who return to their parents’ birth country when their grandfather dies. It’s about abuse and anger and it’s a comedy! It features a very unlikeable heroine and a Jesus head in a Jar. My family is going to kill me for writing it. Or maybe they won't notice. Either scenario is possible.

“Gargoyles” is in that “late draft but I hate it with the heat of a thousand suns” stage. It’s a historical drama, a la Sirk about a man who lost his face in WWI and a woman who makes monsters for the movies. It’s a romance, which is not what I was expecting when I wrote the thing, but they fell for each other and what can I do? I don’t control the characters, they walk all over me. It’s had a couple of readings and is begging for rewrites.

Sapience is about a woman, a primatologist on the autism spectrum, who has spent most of her life trying to hide it. The play is an exploration of what it means to have language, to be heteronormative, and the challenges for people on the autism spectrum to form relationships and navigate a world that isn’t built for them. The play is centered around female characters of color and the roles of AJ and Elsa can and should be played by actors who are not neuro-normative. This play question how a person can be whole when they are hiding an essential component of themselves from the world.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Impressions from my childhood: Cleveland is brick and grey, Buffalo was snow and “There were three Jolly fishermen” In San Jose, the principal used to climb into the trash can to squash it down (gross). 

I went to 8 different schools before HS, not because we were military or moved, but because I was a terrible student. I was that “You’re so smart why are you such a failure at education?” So I never made a lot of friends or connections at school. I very VERY fortunately found Children's theatre when I was 12. I was one of those obnoxious children who raised their hand when the director asked who could do something, so I got to do a lot. My first show, I got 3 different parts because I was the one to say “I can do that” Super OBNOXIOUS. 

I loved that company. We rehearsed in a run down art deco palace that threatened to collapse at any minute and smelled of mold and paint. The director threw shoes at us if we screwed up. Everyone smoked Camels, kids included, and a LOT of stuff happened under the stage that the mom chaperones would have killed us for. There was the rich kids cast, and the talented cast, and we all knew it even if the adults tried to pretend that wasn’t the case. We ate mozzarella sticks at Dennys and I made out with a TON of cute boys in my station wagon (why would my parents give me a make out machine?) It was bliss, and those folks are still my friends 30 years later.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  That we neglect kids from middle school and up and lose our audiences. TYA can be completely awful, pandering, childish and boring. Middle schoolers are a TOUGH audience, and writing for them will teach you a lot about how to craft a story. They are absolute bullshit detectors and will let you know when they think something is stupid. I think they are a MUCH better gauge of a good play than the typical adult audience.

And speaking of the typical audience… How in the hell do theatres expect to bring in diversity if they don’t ACTIVELY diversify their staff? Let’s be honest. They don’t want to do it. It is not comfortable to hear that your hot, new play theatre is actually not bringing in diverse audiences because the diverse audiences just don’t WANT to step foot in your square and staid and frankly still very racist institution. Be real. And don’t get offended when your token person of color leaves because you couldn’t tell them apart from the other token person of color. (True story) Change your ways. Rip that bandaid off and be bloody bold and resolute. 

And listen. LISTEN. DO not tell your Latinx actors that they are too emotional, too colorful. That they are over the top. I hear that our Latinidad makes you uncomfortable. We are not here to be your cute cleaning ladies and victims of trauma. We are not here to be your spicy hot mamas. We are pretty pissed. Very pissed. Listen to us. 

Hmm… I spend a LOT of time being calm, educating, and I’m so, so tired. I ask that people take off their blinders and see color, and understand that race is a the huge elephant in the room that needs to be addressed to move forward. You want fresh audiences, it’s not going to be pretty.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tom Stoppard is someone who takes my breath away. He’s an immigrant writing in his second language, and I connect to that. I find his work magical. My first real new play experience with Latinx playwright was as an actor when I did Man of the Flesh by Octavio Solis. It was my first time feeling seen, connected and understood. Octavio is a wizard of language, vivid and poetic and painful. José Cruz Gonzalez is a master of humanity in his scripts, they are so very real and full of feeling. 

I love language. I went to London as a young woman and went to a play every night and that shaped me as a theatre artist. Theatre is a job. You do this often wild and loud and magical job, then you hang out at the pub with pals and there is no pretense, at least not with the people I was able to meet. There is a delicious normality to the great english actors that I so appreciate. Janet McTeer, Fiona Shaw, Anthony Sher. They were humble working folk. That definitely shaped me. I can’t possibly take myself as seriously as some great artiste! It’s a lark! We get to play for a living. We get to live in imagination land. If that feels like torture or work, well, please, go do something else and leave the playground for play.

I really love language plays. My next big project is to tackle redeeming Tamora Queen of the Goths in verse. Iambic pentameter, natch, but Latinx. So now that I wrote this out I have to do it!

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Language, theatricality, large expansive, could not possibly be a movie, theatre. I like being made to work at listening and learning. I want it to be difficult, visceral and challenging. I’m pretty bored by TV script theatre. The harder and less “accessible” the better. And it better have women in exciting roles, otherwise I just shut off. I like SPECTACLE but the story has to be amazing too.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Write the crappy first draft, let it exist. Don’t be a perfectionist. Believe in your own view of the world and don’t ever try to fit into anyone else parameters. Beware the formula, and the “only way to do things” Join writers groups and circles to listen, learn and write, but stay true to your own vision. Write. A lot. Submit to everything that you can but read the call and don’t be indiscriminate. Be impulsive sometimes. Don’t hold your work back from an opp because it’s not perfect yet. Just frikkin’ do it. Life is short and you may as well run into battle with your sword out. And hang out with other playwrights. They’re awesome. Yeah, sometimes you get jealous and cranky. That’s ok. acknowledge the feeling and then let it go. Work harder, befriend people who challenge you. Tell the truth, ask for help, but show up and be supportive. It really is a community.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Alter theater will be producing my Ghosts of Bogota early next year in San Rafael.https://www.altertheater.org/current-season The play will also get a production at Actors Theatre of Charlotte, where it won the NuVoices festival this summer. I’ve got a piece in Climate Change Theatre Action LA https://nhm.org/calendar/climate-change-theatre-action-la-intersection and Policarpa will be produced at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster PA in the spring of 2020.

Policarpa is also getting archived by Texas State University San Marcos. Which is very cool and makes me want to go find my HS school principal and say “Haha. See, you were wrong.”

My plays are currently available at YouthPLAYS https://www.youthplays.com/search.php?quicksearchbox=burbano

and my website http://dianaburbano.com/index.html

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