Friday, January 08, 2016

An interview on Grand Central Stage
What does it take to be a writer? As an actor, how do you create your own projects? We asked accomplished and award winning writer, actor, and producer Diana Burbano (Silueta, Fabulous Monsters) about her creative process and what it takes to be a successful playwright. 
Diana teaches playwriting and acting at South Coast Repertory check out her classes at
You can also check her out at 
1. What started your passion for writing?
I started to understand that if I wanted to act in spectacular roles written for women like me, I was going to have to write them. My first play, Silueta, a collaboration with Tom Shelton and Chris Shelton, was written expressly as a two hander that Tom and I could perform together. The play took on a life of its own as it started to win awards and get readings around the country. That led to my becoming a part of the inaugural writers circle for the Latino Theatre Association/ Los Angeles. For them I wrote a play about women in Punk Rock, “Fabulous Monsters”, And my writing career took off from there.
2. When people give you feedback on your writing, how do you decide what notes to incorporate? 
I try to listen and absorb. I will take feedback from a dramaturg, from a fellow playwright, from a seasoned actor, and if it rings true to my ultimate vision for the story I am trying to tell, I will incorporate it. I’m always especially excited to work with actors who can really get into the skin of the characters. I take it seriously if someone says, “Would she really say that?” Because they are inhabiting and breathing the life. Sometimes one of my actresses will say something, and I realize that the character needs to go in a different direction, so that she can be truthful to her intent. Audience feedback? I’m a bit less eager to receive. Everyone wants to rewrite your play and tell you how to make it better. It’s cool! Write your own plays! I was once at a audience talkback for Silueta and a lady said she didn’t believe the story was at all plausible. I had to tell her it was a true story. She was mad. I do have certain people I LOVE and will always ask to be in my plays. A good actor gets under your skin and you realize that you are writing roles just for them.
3. How important are festivals like the Fringe? What are the best festivals you recommend? 
I absolutely LOVE festivals. I think they attract the smartest, savviest audience members. (Young ones too! Not knocking our older patrons, but…) The Hollywood Fringe is exciting, as is New York, Edinburgh of course, is the gold standard. (Tom still talks about his time in Edinburgh, drinking and telling stories in a pub and realizing his show was about to go up, he had to pelt through the streets to make curtain.) This is where the fearless work is done.
4. How important is following a structure/formula rather than trying to create your own story telling style? 
Plots are important. Plotting plays might be my least favorite part of it, as I like to write, write and over write. But I learned a lot from Luis Alfaro and the questions he asked me as I was working on “Monsters.” Why? Why is this happening, What does the character want? Is she going to get it? You have to have a good idea of where to begin and where to end. And for pete’s sake, get that inciting incident in there! Audiences aren’t too patient with the meandering playwright anymore. O’Neill would be in trouble! I kid, I kid. 
5. Is self producing a project the best way for a new playwright's work to be seen? If not, what would you recommend?
Ya know, I don’t know. I put a lot of my energy into submitting plays to theaters that i think might be interested in my work. I am so collaborative, I wouldn’t want to be the lead on one of my own projects. On the other hand, self producing is autonomy, and you can do EXACTLY what you want to do. However there is the sad fact that it is so damn difficult to get press for your play. I know projects where that’s where the majority of the budget went, and it still didn’t bring in the audience. If I could figure out the secret to getting butts in seats? Then yes absolutely I would self produce.
6. What do you do when you personally get writer's block?
I am an avid and obsessive researcher. Usually if I don’t have inspiration I read everything I can get my hands on on the topic. If that still doesn’t spark anything I write the worst, lousiest, rotten, cringe inducing whatever, just to get something down on paper. I write arguments with myself, or with people I love. I keep going through the muck. Writing seems to breed more writing and eventually I can get on track.
7.What piece of advice or information do you wish someone had told you when you started writing? 
I think I was pretty lucky. I’ve done MANY original plays and musicals as an actor. I’ve been on the other side of the table and observed how the writers and composers behaved in the room.Also, I have had a lot of people helping me out, and have some unbelievably generous fellow writers that i consider friends. One piece of advice I would give; find a community, a writers circle, people you trust. Writing is really lonely and tedious. Getting in a group imposes deadlines and gives encouragement where needed. Good friends can also be gentle when something is not as good as you want. Always work with people you like and trust. I can’t give you any better advice than that! 
8. As an actor, what are your feelings on writing for yourself or creating your own project? Any advice for those wanting to take that leap? 
DO IT! It is unbelievably empowering. Especially since as actors we tend to be at the bottom of the totem pole. Nothing but good comes of embracing a topic passionately and creating the perfect role for yourself. The surprise for me was that OTHER people wanted to play the roles i wrote for myself! So clearly there was a need. There are lots of examples. You could do a play about your favorite historical personality, a news item that gets under your skin, based on music you love. If it feeds your passion. It is the right thing to do

What does it take to be a writer? As an actor, how do you create your own projects? We asked accomplished and award...
Posted by Grand Central Stage on Friday, January 8, 2016

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