In preparation for the upcoming workshop and reading of NOMS DE GUERRE as part of Pasadena Playhouse's HotHouse series, I connected with our company about their careers in the theatre and the relevant themes of the play. HotHouse readings are by invitation only. Click here to learn more and please enjoy this wonderful interview with director Diane Rodriguez.
JACQUELINE LAWTON: To begin, why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
DIANE RODRIGUEZ: My parents were performers. My dad sang. My mother played the piano. My aunts and uncles sang in quartets. Performing was part of our family tradition. Then, when the country was in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, my aunt and uncle joined the United Farmworkers Union as volunteers and took my cousins to Delano, California where they UFW was headquartered. My cousins were teens and they joined the Teatro Campesino.
And the very first show I saw that had a big impact on me was Luis Valdez’s The Shrinken Head of Pancho Villa and my family was in it. I knew then I wanted to follow in my cousins footsteps. The irony is that I made it a life commitment and combined activism with art. My cousins were in it for the activism only and soon after went on to other careets.
JL: What was the first play that you ever directed? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
DR: The first play I directed was a play I made with three other people titled Latins Anonymous. In the late 1980’s, four of us, all actors, decided to take things into our own hands and write a piece that skewed how Latinos were viewed in the United States. We had much success and toured across the country, and published our two works which are still in print today and still being done. I realized that because I was an actor, I had a very good way with actors. I could patiently guide an actor through a rough patch as they were creating a character. I love actors, visual composition and storytelling and all three elements draw me to directing.
JL: NOMS DE GUERRE is a socio-political drama that addresses the U.S. military policy and the damaging impact of PTSD on veterans and their family. Why do you feel this play is relevant to today’s audiences?
DR: I drive through the streets of Los Angeles and see the homeless everywhere. We have the largest population of homeless Vets in the country. So many of these men can't face living a life inside walls. The emotional impact of way has hit them so hard, that they are forever damaged. We lack the infrastructure to deal with the onslaught of the returning Veteran and PTSD. We can't escape its impact because we see it daily. And then again, today we face the continuing ineffective policy of our involvement with the new fear of ISIS. It goes on and on. We are assured that there will be no "Boots on the ground" but that mission drifts and then we find ourselves in an all out war. We never seem to learn.
JL: NOMS DE GUERRE also addresses women’s rights and recent restrictions places on health care for women. It’s been 50 years since the Women’s Liberation Movement swept the nation, where do you feel we are in terms of gender relations in the U.S.?
DR: You just need to look at the theatre field and how many women lead our major institutions and we'll have an answer as to where we are at. Look at how many women direct on Broadway? How many women are in our seasons as playwrights or directors? We have a long way to go. Yes, awareness has shifted in the last 50 years, but certainly not enough for a major shift in our leadership.
JL: What's next for you as a director? Where can we keep up with your work?
DR: I am at CalArts this Fall directin a workshop of The Misanthrope with the students. The workshop is focused on acting and it will be so fun being in the room with the talented cast we've assembled. Catch me on Facebook or at my website: www.diane-rodriguez.com.
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!