Actor, Teacher, Playwright: The Many Roles of Diana Burbano


by 
Beth Fhaner
 | Aug 16, 2019
Diana Burbano

​Diana Burbano

Diana with Student

​Burbano works with a student.

Diana Burbano on Teaching Acting

Burbano has been a Conservatory instructor for several years, where she’s taught youth and adult acting classes, musical theatre and acting for the camera. Here, she explains what she enjoys most about teaching:

I love teaching. From the first day of adult basics class, when 20 grown-ups file into a room, nervous as heck and wondering what they are doing there, to the last class where they are playing, laughing and responding to each other as people and as actors, it’s a real joy. Sometimes I think I’m just a conduit to help these folks find their light. A lot of my students come to me after spending their whole lives doing something else, or they had a dispiriting experience in college, or they never got up the nerve to try acting before. I love watching them allow themselves to have fun. And a lot of my students keep going and go on to work in the industry! I keep in touch with many of them. I’m very lucky to be able to do what I do.”

Learn more about Burbano’s approach to teaching.

Diana Burbano is a familiar face around SCR, as the actor and playwright is also a Conservatory instructor who has taught beginning youth and adult acting classes, musical theatre and acting for camera. As an actor, she’s appearing in SCR’s season opener, American Mariachi, where she plays the character of Amalia, a role she portrayed in Arizona Theatre Company’s production of the play earlier this year. In our Q&A, Burbano shares her thoughts about American Mariachi and why it’s such an important play.

You’re reprising the role of Amalia in SCR’s production of American Mariachi. What is it about this play that resonates with you?

It’s a beautiful, relatable play about a daughter looking to connect with her mother while also finding her independence. But the reason it’s so important, so relevant in this moment is because there seems to be a need to open hearts about the essential humanity of Latinx/Mexican-American people. There feels like a real division right now that may be caused by a lack of seeing Mexican people depicted in their wholeness on stage, film and TV.

American Mariachi is a family story and an American story. We are here and have been for a long, long time. We are part of the fabric of America and it’s important to see us onstage.

How do you relate to the character of Amalia? What do you enjoy the most about playing this role, and what are the challenges?

Amalia is suffering from early onset dementia; she often shifts ages in a single sentence. She becomes a child, and then ages tremendously in an instance, depending on how she reacts to outside stimulus. It’s incredibly challenging. But my absolute favorite thing is that I get to sing. I never get to sing enough!

Amalia’s daughter, Lucha, is the primary caregiver for her mother. How does mariachi music help Lucha to connect with her mother?

Amalia’s favorite aunt was a Mariachera, the music infuses her life, it’s deeply embedded in the way Amalia sees the world. When Amalia’s dementia takes her away from reality, the music brings her back.

What do you hope audiences take away from American Mariachi?

That we have more in common than we are different. That music is a balm to everyone. That love sometimes means defying expectations. That another language is only a barrier if you close your ears to its music.

In addition to acting and teaching, you’re also a playwright. Tell us a bit about your recent work as a playwright.

I’ve been extremely lucky, my writing has taken me all over the country—most recently to Actors Theatre of Charlotte, NC, with their NuVoices program. This year I was part of Center Theatre Group’s LA Writers’ Workshop, where I wrote a play about orangutans and autism called Sapience, and I’m under commission by Alter Theater in the Bay Area with my play Ghosts of Bogota, which will be produced in their 2020 season. I really like how Alter’s Artistic Director Jeanette Harrison describes Ghosts: “It is the story of three siblings, who return to their birth country when their grandfather dies. Ghosts is a universal story about family secrets, told through a very specific Latinx lens, and a story about that unique immigrant experience of never feeling fully at home in any country that can claim you."

Who are your literary and artistic heroes?

Top of the list: José Cruz Gonzalez! I first met José in the Hispanic Playwrights Project (HPP) on a play called Inkarri’s Return in 1995. He’s a generous person with a long memory, and we got to work together again on Long Road Today, SCR’s incredibly successful community based program in Santa Ana, Calif. To be on the Segerstrom Stage acting for him in American Mariachi feels like a grand, full-circle moment.

I also owe so much to Luis Alfaro, who invited me to be a part of the Latinx Play Project at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where I spent time with Octavio Solis. All three of these men have been incredibly generous with their time and with sharing opportunities with me. Thanks to Octavio’s recommendations, I have been playwright in Residence in Marfa, Texas, and got my commission at Alter! And Luis, by being a generous mentor and artist, has helped my work get into Center Theatre Group. Also, Karen Zacarías, Laurie Woolery, Sara Guerrero, Jesus Reyes, Patricia Garza, Tlaloc Rivas, the list goes on and on of Latinx artists generous with their time, their ideas and their advocacy.

Any final reflections on American Mariachi?

I can’t wait for audiences to see it. And we love the reactions. To hear the gritos at the start of the music energizes us for the rest of the show. 

On Saturday, Sept. 28 Burbano will give a Master Class following the matinee performance of the show. She’ll take you inside her process, share how she tackled her role’s special challenges and pass along a few tricks of the trade in this informal 60-minute class. There’ll also be time to get up on your feet and play. Learn more.

Learn more about American Mariachi and buy tickets.