Interview with Playwright Diana Burbano
Q: Fabulous Monsters plunges us into the emerging L.A. punk scene of the late 1970s. As a playwright, what do you find especially mesmerizing and compelling about that place and time?
A: This scene was angry, it was ugly, it was scary. The kids weren’t alright, they were PISSED OFF. I really related to the music, the clothes, the fury. There was an ugly underbelly in the land of the hippies, and some fantastic bands came out of it. And a LOT of the bands were either fronted by women, created by women, or driven by women. And they weren’t pretty little dolls. They were dangerous.
Q: How has Fabulous Monsters evolved through its development at LATC's Playwrights' Nest Festival and Fullerton College's Playwrights Festival?
A: Fabulous Monsters actually started life as a punk jukebox musical(!), A REAL disaster in the making. I wanted to write something for me and my friend Jenny Parsons. I held on to that misbegotten idea, and resurrected it when Latino Theatre Alliance/Los Angeles was looking for writers for its inaugural writers circle. Luckily, and thanks to the guidance of some of the best play artists in L.A., I managed to tease a real story out of a germ of an idea. The NestFest forced me to complete the piece and to make it a full-length through tears and struggle. At Fullerton, the play was picked up by people who hadn’t been there at its inception and they asked hard “why?” questions that sent me into rewrites, as did the questions from the cast. Being in the room with actors… well, that's a valuable thing. If you as a playwright allow yourself to be open to their suggestion, you will mine gold. A good actor learns to embody a character, and when they don’t understand something in the play, it’s a good possibility the audience won’t either. I have been very lucky to have some astounding actors step into the skins of my characters, and their questions invariably make me make the play better.
Q: You have accomplished much in theatre - you are an Equity actress with a distinguished resume and a South Coast Repertory teaching artist. Was it a natural "next step" to become a playwright?
A: I am proud that I am a working actor. I started writing because I wasn’t really seeing many parts out there for me. Once you pass a certain age, the interesting parts start to dry up, and you’re someone’s mom, or the housekeeper. That especially happens when you are an actor “of color”. You don’t really exist in the canon. I write parts that I would want to play. My first play, Silueta, was about an amazing feminist artist, Ana Mendieta, who I think deserves more recognition. Fabulous Monsters is about women in rock, my next play is about women who make monsters for the movies. These chicks are cool!
Q: What types of plays excite you the most? Do you strive to create exactly that kind of play when you write?
A: My favorite kinds of plays are based in history. I am an absolute research hound. If I find a topic that interests me I will read everything I can get my hands on and learn as much as I can about it. I’ve always been an autodidact. I didn’t do well in school, my formal schooling is nil, but I’m very interested in literature and history. I’m PASSIONATE about the Brits. I’m a huge Anglophile. Stoppard, Orton, Ken Campbell, the Pythons. And where do I fit in with them? That “old white man” thing? I love absurdity, I love taking the Mickey out of overbearing people. Anarchy! It’s a beautiful thing. I also hope that I don’t take myself too seriously. I like things to be insane.
Q: How would you say you have grown as a dramatist from when you started? What are the key lessons that you've learned about the art of playwriting?
A: The biggest lesson and gift I give myself; I am always learning, always willing to listen to advice. I have been lucky to become friends and work with amazing dramatists, amazing actors. I take something away from all of them. I never consider myself the final authority. I especially love actors. I wish I had a company of actors to write for. That would be bliss. Playwrighting doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We NEED people to be engaged and interested in our work. They become proprietary, it becomes “their” play. I say, let the baby walk on its own. See what you get. The grown up play will be far better as a result.
Diana Burbano's Fabulous Monsters opens this year's OC-centric new play festival Thursday, August 20 at 8:00 pm. You can also see it Friday, August 21 @ 8pm, Saturday, August 29 at 2:00pm and Sunday, August 30 at 7:00pm.