Diana Yanez Q&A: Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month
By A Noise Within
October 8, 2021
Diana Yanez (she/her/hers) is an actor, comic, director, and writer who has been wearing all kinds of hats in the creative industry. You may recognize her as the creator and performer in Noise Now’s Latina Christmas Special – An American Comedy of Latina Proportions. Learn about how she got started on her journey and how she brought Latina Christmas Special to life in our Q&A.
How did you get started on your artistic journey?
For me, humor and performance were the way I dealt with stress as a child. I was very shy, but had a big imagination, often acting out characters and writing stories. In high school, I took a drama class, and it was there that I broke through my shyness. Something snapped open for me, and I asked myself, “what am I afraid of?” I was not going to be ashamed of myself or my creativity.
When I went to college, my parents were terrified. They kept saying “Don’t be an actor, don’t be a writer!” My dad told me, “We don’t know anyone in show business!” but there was no convincing me though I did delay a little. In college, I got a scholarship to study fine arts and photography in Europe. For me, this was my chance to get out and spread my wings! Once I got to Berlin, even though I was supposed to be focused on fine art and photography, I immediately started leaning into my passions for theatre, performance, and writing. I was obsessed.
How did you get to where you are now? What challenges did you face on the way?
At first, I wanted to be a sketch comedy performer. My dream job was to work at SNL as a sketch writer or performer, but I didn’t know how to achieve that. I asked my high school counselor how to get there, and he suggested I join the marines! (Oh my gosh, you should’ve seen the look on my parents’ faces when I told them that!) Later, after college, when I looked for work in the—at the time—totally male-dominated industry in Miami, what I received in return was mostly offers for sex. One video production guy who hired me to be his assistant kept mentioning that he knew of this place with great jacuzzis. When I told him “I wasn’t that type of girl,” he said, “well, then you’re in the wrong industry.” I quit working for him right then and there, but luckily, I didn’t quit my dream. For whoever is out there that needs to hear this: there are ALWAYS good people around. Don’t give up because the first people you meet are idiots!
When I moved to LA in the 90s, I began defining what I wanted to do by just doing it myself. I was in a sketch and improv group called the Gay Mafia. One day, Margaret Cho came to a show, and she took one of our acts on tour with her. We toured with her for about 2 years and followed her to Off-Broadway. I started doing standup after that. A comedian friend helped me write my first set, and standup comedy took off for me. That led to me writing my first one-woman show, and that was my breakthrough back into theatre as a playwright. I wrote about growing up Cuban-American and queer in Miami during the AIDS crisis, and that piece, “Viva La Evolución” (directed by Marjorie Duffield) ended up winning the New York International Fringe Festival solo show award.
As far as challenges go, I deal with the typical stuff. Regarding our play, I still struggle to get someone from HBO or Netflix or the like to come to see Latina Christmas Special, even though it’s such a successful show. Sometimes development people want our show to fit into a predetermined box, but our play is just not that type of piece. We’re “outside the box”—that’s the whole point!
And the challenges I face as an actor could describe what most Latina actors of my age group face: 99% of the theatrical roles we go out for are some kind of Latina stereotype—maid, illegal immigrant, mother of a gang member in East L.A. That’s nowhere near me as a person or the range I can achieve.
How did you find and end up at ANW?
We were doing Latina Christmas Special at the LA Theater Center when Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx [Director of Cultural Programming at A Noise Within] came to a show. He was working with the East West Players at the time, and we talked about developing a project similar to LCS for Asian Americans. The idea never got off the ground, but we stayed in touch. When Jonathan joined A Noise Within, he contacted me, and we became excited about bringing LCS to ANW.
This was a great opportunity for LCS because we were able to reach a wider audience. We had fans who could never make it to downtown LA who were now able to come. That was truly exciting, and Jonathan is such a supportive and creative person himself—I am honored to work with him.
How does your culture, family background, and history influence your work?
It IS my work. It is my belief that one should always write from their own personal truth. I come from a chaotic childhood. My parents were very young when they escaped the dangerous and oppressive Cuban revolution. They came to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I was the firstborn American in our family, I’ve never been to Cuba, but the repercussions of that time were always present in my childhood. I learned to deal with my feelings of fear and uncertainty like my parents dealt with it—with humor and storytelling. I think that’s a big part of all Latinx culture. The ability to laugh and tell stories that also embrace the poignancy of life, humanity, and freedom. Whenever I am afraid or feel lost, a personal story is all I need.
Out of all your accomplishments in theatre, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of LCS. From the beginning, it has always had this “meant to be” sort of luck. When I needed a theater, I brought my idea to producer Matthew Quinn of Combined Artform, and he not only gave me his space but his full-fledged support (and he’s still part of our family!) When I thought the show should be about three women, my first choices, Sandra Valls and Maria Russell, said yes (even though Maria needed a little convincing), and it’s their magnificent talent that really raises us up above the rest and capitalizes on our unique energy together. Then in its infancy, producer/actor turned director Geoffrey Rivas saw the show, fell in love with it, brought us to Latino Theater Company, and helped to reshape it into the form it is in now. And most recently, Nola Mariano of Circuit Network, (most known for representing “Culture Clash”) is now our agent. She loves our show and believes in it, making her just another example of the right person showing up at the right time.
The show has a magical way of touching people. When we finish a show and leave the stage, we always try to meet the audience afterward. We love meeting them, hugging them, and wishing them a happy holiday. And not everyone in the audience is Latino! All kinds of people come to see it, identifying with us, and saying things like: “Oh, I get it. I never realized how Latino my family is.”
It’s as if the show engenders a deeper understanding that goes beyond ethnicity. We’re all human beings, and there is a common ground when we share our experiences. One day, I hope to have more Latina Christmas Specials. Everyone’s got their stories, and I want to hear them all!
Who is your favorite Latinx author/playwright? Or alternatively, what’s your favorite Latinx play?
My favorite Latinx author is Gabriel García Márquez and his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, is at the top of the list. I love his artistry with words. His sentences grab my heart. The way he poetically describes the color, taste, and scent of real life is very powerful.
I also love Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx! I’m not kidding. I think he is a fantastic director and I hope he’s going to direct one of my pieces someday. I’m working on a few things, and I have him in mind.
I can’t express how grateful I am for the warmth and kindness that the community at large has given Latina Christmas Special. And I definitely couldn’t do any of this without my team, Maria, Sandra, Geoff, and Matt. We’re a family. Everyone should be so honored to work with such loving, talented, and considerate people. They blow me away.