Tag Archives: Diana Burbano

The FPI Files: Women Writers Address the Cycle of Violence

by Desireé York

Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble created their ongoing four-part Cycle of Violence Commission Series to examine the role violence plays in our world through stories addressing sex-trafficking, honor-killings, criminal justice reform and immigration.  From a Journey Out article about the Series, Lower Depth Theatre was quoted as saying that “One of the greatest ways to encourage empathy and cultivate understanding is through the power of perspective.” 

Providing these perspectives thus far in the Series are playwrights Tira Palmquist, T. Tara Turk-Haynes, and Diana Burbano.  As the first commissioned writer, Tira Palmquist took a hard look at the violence of sex-trafficking in her play entitled Safe Harbor, which received a production at the end of 2019.  T. Tara Turk-Haynes’ play The Muhammad Sisters Were Here was presented virtually in 2020 as the second commission of the Series, exploring the topic of honor killings.  And most recently, Lower Depth Theatre announced Diana Burbano as the next writer of the Series, commissioned to address criminal justice and prison reform.

Lower Depth Theatre Artistic Team (L to R), Veralyn Jones, Courtney Oliphant, Gregg T. Daniel, Yvonne Huff Lee & Jason Delane Lee

Lower Depth Theatre Artistic Director Gregg T. Daniel shared that, “Over the years, our company has developed close relationships with many writers, actors, directors, designers, etc.  Naturally when we decided to create the Series we began looking at those writers we had a pre-existing relationship with.  But the most essential factor in commissioning a playwright is the consideration of the issue we’re attempting to create a play around.  Once we’ve identified the issue, we think of which playwright’s work might best amplify it.” 

And as it turned out, it was the work of three women that best amplified these critical issues.

As advocates for women+ and BIPOC artists, LAFPI couldn’t miss the opportunity to spotlight and learn more about this bold Series raising consciousness for social change, by talking to the women playwrights tackling these challenging topics.

LAFPI:  What compelled you to be part of this Series and why were you drawn to write about this specific issue?

Tira Palmquist

Tira Palmquist: I was asked by Jason Delane Lee and Yvonne Huff Lee (Lower Depth Artistic Associates), and the invitation alone was an important reason to get involved. It’s not just that they asked me, or not just that I was flattered (though I was); I was inspired by the way they described the Series, how they saw Lower Depth’s role as an organization drawing attention to important issues and bringing attention to problems that call out for our collective empathy and collective action. 

These were all incredibly important issues, but there was really only one issue that I thought I could be equipped to deal with, emotionally or artistically. At the time they approached me, I was teaching playwriting to high school students, and I had written plays featuring younger people and “at-risk” youth. It seemed that this was simply a good fit for me. 

T. Tara Turk-Haynes

T. Tara Turk-Haynes:  I love the artists at LDTE individually so coming together for this project was a no brainer for me. The opportunity to tackle such difficult world issues is a dream for a writer and they were so thoughtful about what was passionate for each of them. I had aways been reading about honor killings and really twisted around in my brain what kinds of things we, as global citizens, understand and connect to directly. I wanted to break down the idea of an issue that happens “over there” – over there is closer than we think. And these issues have different faces depending on the communities.

This was hard – this piece. It was something I took on that didn’t necessarily link to my direct background and I wanted to really honor those cultures represented in the piece. As a Black woman from Detroit (where there is a large Middle Eastern population) who became an adult in New York (which has a very large Muslim population with varied ethnic and sect backgrounds) I wanted those people I have come in contact with, those who I call family, to know that I see them and I will always work to amplify those voices not often heard.

Diana Burbano

Diana Burbano:  When Gregg T. Daniel asked me to be a part of this Series and explained what the commission was for, I felt very intrigued. But to be honest it also made me very nervous. I think [criminal justice and prison reform] is such an important and under discussed topic and I really wanted to tackle it, but I also want to be very, very aware and open to what it actually means when you’re talking about it. I think it’s a huge responsibility, especially right now in this moment in this country. I’m very honored to be asked to write this and I hope I can do it justice!

LAFPI:  What was your process like working on this commission with Lower Depth?  How much freedom did you feel you had?   And if you’ve ever been commissioned before, how did this differ?

Diana:  I have a few commissions, actually, that I’m working on at the moment. They’re all very different, I think what unites them is it they are all written with a certain component in mind and some of them give me more freedom than others. For example I’m writing a science play that is very specifically about COVID-19. And I have another one where the topic is Latinx in Marin County, and could be about ANYTHING. The WAY I write it is up to me, but I do have cast size constraints as well as scenic and technical.

It’s always daunting to write a play! And to be asked to write a piece for such powerful performers, yes, it’s a little bit terrifying! I want to honor the depth of the artist’s previous work. I’m coming into this company as a guest and I feel like I have to really get to know my hosts. On the other side, I’ve been given a topic, I’ve been given a lot of support, I have quite a lot of time, and I’ve already been put in touch with a musical composer and other people who can give me the information I need, so I feel very well taken care of.

T. Tara:  How much freedom did you feel you had? So much freedom! They were so gracious and patient – especially since this all happened for me PRIOR to the pandemic. I mean we started this project and then a global catastrophe happened. Their expectations in my opinion were minimal. I like transparency a lot and they were more than thoughtful about communicating the few they had. 

I was a Van Lier Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop many years ago and the major difference was probably that there were a group of four of us writers at NYTW that wrote new plays over the course of a year. And then 9/11 hit. I’m starting to notice a pattern of resiliency for myself. LOL.

Tira:  Working with the Lower Depth company (and their guest artists) was amazing. First, I had a remarkable amount of freedom to write the play I wanted to write. In fact, the only provision was that I wrote roles for their company. Early in the process, I suggested (and they agreed) that we have regular check-ins and readings of drafts.  Without those regular check-ins, I think I would have wallowed in the depths (heh, sorry) of the project without feeling like I had any useful conversation with the company. Their willingness to engage with that process freed me to, you know, have a process, which meant that we were all more invested in the final product, all on the same team, all working on the same play. 

I’ve worked on other commission projects, and the best projects all have this same kind of regular conversation.

LAFPI:  Did knowing that the play you’re commissioned to write was going to be part of a Series affect your approach to writing it? 

Diana:  Yes, you to start to think of your play as part of a family. And that somehow it needs to belong in the group. That doesn’t mean it has to be exactly like the other pieces but maybe I should be in conversation with them. I really want to delve into the other works and see if maybe I can add callbacks or commentary just as touches to acknowledge that.

Tira:  No, not really. The artistic leadership at Lower Depth never presented me with any expectations about how my play would be in conversation with the other plays in the Series, and so that was a remarkable weight off my shoulders!  

A scene from “Safe Harbor” by Tira Palmquist, directed by Anita Dashiell-Sparks

LAFPI: This question is for T. Tara. Being that your piece was to be presented virtually, what challenges did this present, if any?

T. Tara:  I think anything virtual or digital can be challenging. We haven’t fully explored the amount of energy performance and art requires to exert and then to have it go to a screen rather than a person is a new challenge. I think I can speak for most people who say that theatre is really great live and it is preferred. But we make due and we get creative and our informal reading was so great to hear all of the way through with an original song by Maritri, and all of the amazing talents poured into that new black box called Zoom.

LAFPI:  What message do you hope audiences will come away with from not only your play, but the Series as a whole? 

Tira:  I really hope that people will have their eyes opened by Safe Harbor. I’m sure there are a lot of people who have some knowledge (or maybe think they know a lot) about sex trafficking, but maybe this play will have them look at the world in a slightly different way. Maybe they’ll look at the lives of young girls differently, or maybe they’ll value these lives differently.  The whole Series is about expanding the audience’s empathy for difficult topics, and then expanding their ability to have difficult conversations. Solutions will follow, eventually, ideally – but those solutions won’t surface until more people are willing to discuss issues that are complex, thorny, distressing.

Diana:  I think I’m going to approach this a little abstract, a little mythological, with music. It’s such a serious topic and I feel like it needs to be tackled maybe as a modern myth. It’s just such a huge problem and I think I should be expansive in my thinking about it. As part of the Series I think it’s about keeping the conversation open, flowing and inspiring people to learn more and to get involved in reform efforts.

T. Tara:  Well I hope my play provides a perspective on understanding how closely connected we all are as a global group. Sometimes we bypass stories in the media because we have no connection to them we think – racism, honor killings, misogyny, homophobia, ageism…we have to get better about caring about things when they happen and not when they happen to us. To me the whole Series is about that. Awareness isn’t just about educating you but making you understand you are connected to things larger than your own understanding. You can get involved in so many ways and one important way is to care and seek to understand things outside of what you imagine your day to day to be.

For more information about the Cycle of Violence Series visit:  www.lower-depth.com/cycle-of-violence.

Playwright Bios:

Diana Burbano, a Colombian immigrant, is a playwright, an Equity actor, and a teaching artist at South Coast Repertory and Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble. Diana’s play Ghosts of Bogota, won the Nu Voices festival at Actors Theatre of Charlotte in 2019 where it will be produced in 2022. Ghosts was commissioned and debuted at Alter Theater in the Bay Area in Feb 2020. Sapience, a Playground-SF 2020 Winner, was featured at Latinx Theatre Festival, San Diego Rep 2020. Fabulous Monsters, a Kilroys selection, was to premiere at Playwrights Arena in 2020 (postponed).  She was in Center Theatre Group’s 2018-19 Writers Workshop cohort and is in the Geffen’s Writers Lab in 20-21. She has worked on projects with South Coast Repertory, Artists Repertory Theatre, Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble and Center Theatre Group and Livermore Shakespeare Festival.  Diana recently played Amalia in Jose Cruz Gonzales’ American Mariachi at South Coast Repertory and Arizona Theatre Company, and Marisela in La Ruta at Artists Repertory. You can also see her as Viv the Punk in the cult musical Isle of Lesbos.  She is the current Dramatists Guild Rep for Southern California.

T. Tara Turk-Haynes is a writer whose work has been featured in various stages and screens including Lower Depth Ensemble, Rogue Machine, Company of Angeles, the Hip Hop Theater Festival, the Actor’s Studio, Ensemble Studio Theater, the Schomburg, and the Kennedy Center.  She is a graduate of Lang College and Sarah Lawrence, receiving the Lipkin Playwrighting Award. She has been a Cycle of Violence Fellow at Lower Depth Ensemble, Van Lier Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop,  a member of Cosby Screenwriting Program, the Producers Guild Diversity Workshop, the Underwood Theatre Writers Group with Julia Cho, Rinne Groff, and Theresa Rebeck, and Company of Angels Writers Group, . Her screenplays range from shorts to full length.  She won Best Screenplay at African American Women in Cinema and was an Urbanworld Screenplay Finalist. Also a producer, she has co-produced the webseries “Dinner at Lola” featuring Tracie Thoms, Yvette Nicole Brown, Bryan Fuller and Nelson Ellis among others.  As a fiction writer, her shorts and novellas have been published in various publications. She was published in Signifyin Harlem, Obsidian Call & Response: Experiments in Joy, Reverie: Midwest American Literature, the international anthology “X:24,” African Voices and Stress magazine. She has finished a novel and a TV pilot on the Harlem Renaissance. She is a founding member of the producing playwrights’ collective The Temblors and a member of the 2021 Geffen Writer’s Room. Her most recent essay can be found in Tamera Winfrey Harris’ “Dear Black Girls.” She is also a VP of DEI at Leaf Group where she champions diversity, equity and inclusion.

Tira Palmquist is known for plays that merge the personal, the political and the poetic. Her most produced play, Two Degrees, premiered at the Denver Center, and was subsequently produced by Tesseract Theater in St. Louis and Prime Productions at the Guthrie (among others). Her play The Way North was a Finalist for the O’Neill, an Honorable Mention for the 2019 Kilroys List, and was featured in the 2019 Ashland New Plays Festival.  Tira’s current projects include The Body’s Midnight, a play she worked on as the Travis Bogard Artist in Residence at the Tao House (Eugene O’Neill Foundation) and King Margaret, an adaptation of the Henry VI, which will have a reading at OSF in July 2021. The Way North, which was developed at the 2018 Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, was a finalist for the 2018 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, the 2018 Bay Area Playwrights Festival and the 2019 Blue Ink Playwriting Award. The Way North was also featured in the following festivals: The Festival of New American Plays (Phoenix Theater), the Human Rights New Works Festival (Red Mountain Theater), the Page-by-Page Festival (Pioneer Theater) and the Road Theater’s Summer New Works Festival.  Among Tira’s commission projects are The Worth of Water (Clutch Productions’ equity showcase production in NYC in October, directed by Mélisa Annis) and Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble’s commission Safe Harbor, a play about sex trafficking, which premiered in November 2019 in LA. Tira has also been commissioned to write new work for the UCI graduate acting students. Her play Hold Steady was workshopped at UCI in February 2019, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything  was workshopped in February 2020, and in February 2021, The Last Time We Saw Madison was performed online with the more recent first-year grad actors. Her other plays include Ten Mile Lake (Serenbe Playhouse), Age of Bees (NYU Stella Adler Studio, MadLab Theatre, Tesseract), And Then They Fell (MadLab, Brimmer Street, New York Film Academy) and This Floating WorldTwo Degrees has been featured in numerous festivals (including the 11th Annual Denver Center New Play Summit, the New American Voices festival in the UK, the Caltech 2014 Mach 33 Festival and the 2014 Great Plains Theater Conference) and had its World Premiere in the Denver Center’s 2016/17 Season. Two Degrees was also listed in the Honorable Mention list for the 2016 Kilroys. Ten Mile Lake, which premiered in 2014 at Serenbe Playhouse just outside of Atlanta, GA, was developed and workshopped in 2012 at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, andwas a finalist for the 2015 Primus Prize.  Tira has taught creative writing at the Orange County School of the Arts, at Wesleyan University and at the University of California-Irvine. She is a member of the Playwrights Union, the Antaeus Theatre’s Playwrights Lab and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. Her work as a director and dramaturg includes several seasons at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference, MadLab Theatre’s Young Playwrights’ Program, Moving Arts Theatre’s MADlab series and the New Territories Playwriting Residency. More info at www.tirapalmquist.com.  

The FPI Files: Femme Voices Speaking Up in the OC, Page to Stage

We love it:  Women making things happen. And we’re now adding the Curtis Theatre in the City of Brea and Project La Femme to our list of thumbs-up-theatermakers.

The two OC organizations are teaming up to produce the first Page to Stage Playwrights Festival… with an all female line-up. What’s even more exciting to us is that out of almost 400 submissions from playwrights across the country, the works of five local playwrights were chosen: Synida Fontes’ “Butterfly in the Ashes,”  Dagney Kerr’s “Deanna and Paul,” Emily Brauer Rogers’ “The Paper Hangers,” Kate Danley’s “Bureaucrazy” and Diana Burbano’s “Gargoyles.” So we couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to the writers about the Festival, and their plays.

LAFPI: How did you find out about and get involved with Page to Stage?

Synida Fontes: Through the LAFPI eBlast, of course!

Dagney Kerr: I saw the posting through the Playwrights Center and submitted my play. I didn’t know anyone.

Emily Brauer Rogers

Emily Brauer Rogers: I have worked with the founders of Project La Femme on other theater projects before and was excited when they announced this Festival. Page to Stage, Curtis Theatre and Project La Femme have been very welcoming and I’m always happy when there are more opportunities to celebrate female artists!

Kate Danley: Pure luck!  I was just doing a search for playwriting opportunities and stumbled across it.  It was like kismet or something!

Diana Burbano: I was familiar with Project La Femme and I submit to everything I’m qualified for, so it was very nice to get a hit in my own backyard.

LAFPI: Where in your play’s journey are you – and what role will this Festival play in that journey?

Synida: The very end, I hope this baby is almost legal drinking age!

Dagney Kerr

Dagney: My play has been chosen for a few readings: at AboutFace Theatre in Dublin, Ireland; The Cell Theatre, NYC;  and the Road Theatre Summer Playwrights Festival in LA.  It also just won the WordWave Festival in Lake Tahoe and will have a reading in September.  The only reading I’ve seen is at the Road.  It was lovely and a great opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t. This festival will be another opportunity with new actors, director and audience.

Emily: For The Paper Hangers, this is the first reading of the script, so I’m excited to develop it and then begin the process of where it might best fit for a production.

Kate: I wrote this play in 2017 and hosted a small reading on my own. It then proceeded to sit on a shelf for over a year. I submitted it over 117 times and no one would touch it. But suddenly in 2019, within the span of about three weeks, three different theaters asked if they could host a reading, and it was offered a World Premiere at Grande Prairie Live! in Grande Prairie, Canada.  This is the final reading before that premiere, so the script that comes out of this process will be the one that is presented to the world.

Diana: I JUST squeaked a second draft under the wire. It’s a very VERY new piece and I’m still not quite sue of the tone or style yet. I’m exploring a historical period that I’m very interested in and I want to honor the period, while distressing the constraints.

Synida Fontes

LAFPI: One of the great things about a festival environment is making connections, and finding (or re-connecting with) collaborators. Can you talk a bit about the artists who are working on your play?

Synida: I have met my director, Heather Enriquez, but I am mostly happy to stay out of it and let these artists be, and see what they create. I am hoping to watch a rehearsal with the dramaturg [William Mittler] present. But for me, it’s really Heather and the actors doing their thing while I sit tight and then show up on performance night, prepared to be amazed.

Dagney: I’ve been pretty hands off.  The director [Angela Cruz] was chosen by La Femme and the actors were chosen by my director.  She has worked with them many times in the past. All the staff at the Curtis and the other playwrights are lovely.

Emily: I’ve worked with my director, Katie Chidester, on several plays and love how she is able to visually interpret text onto the stage. The actors in my piece are all new collaborators, but they already have brought amazing ideas about the piece and their characters so I’m excited to see how the work will develop with their insight.

Kate: Rose London is my director, and she works frequently at the Long Beach Playhouse.  We met for the first time at the first organizational meeting and completely hit it off.  I think this is what makes this festival so special – this team has worked so hard to play matchmaker and connect the perfect teams.

Diana Burbano

Diana: I have a fantastic cast of Latinx actors, really brilliant people, directed by Rosa Lisbeth Navarrete. It’s my pleasure to write smart, fun, glamorous women for Latinas, who don’t often get seen that way. I think we have some BRILLIANT young actors coming out of the Latinx community (Boyle Heights, Santa Ana…) who, because they don’t conform to what is considered “normal standards,” don’t get to play roles with depth to them. I come at writing not from an academic world, but from the trenches of the acting community. I started writing for myself, but soon discovered that my passion, what I feel moved to do as a playwright, is writing for other Latinx women.

LAFPI:  You’re all female playwrights based in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. What’s your relationship with the OC theater community, and with one another?

Synida: This is my first OC-specific project as a playwright, although as an actor I just closed Water By The Spoonful in Long Beach.  I made the acquaintance of Diana Burbano when I performed her one-woman short play “Linda” (named for Lindas Ronstadt and Carter), directed by my good friend Kitty Lindsay, for LAFPI’s SWAN Day 2017. Unfortunately, no opportunities to connect in between.

Dagney:  It’s such an honor to have your play chosen and to meet other female playwrights. I didn’t know any of the other writers and  I knew nothing about the OC theater community before, so it’s been fun getting to know everyone – just like any other theatre community, we do it because we love it.

Emily: I have been active in the OC theater community since I first moved to California in 2002. Friends that worked at Hunger Artists Theatre Company welcomed me to join the company and I served as the managing director from 2006-2008. Through my work there, I’ve seen terrific shows at theaters across the County and love how many of them champion new plays. I know a few of the other writers by reputation, but am thrilled that I was able to meet them and find out more about their work. It’s great to connect with a community of other women who are telling important stories that need to be seen.

Kate Danley

Kate: I was a performer in a fantastic show called Blake… da Musical! in Garden Grove many years ago, but other than that, my work has all been in the Los Angeles area.  It is a thrill to finally get to work with the OC community!  It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted, but never achieved.  Everyone is completely new in my circle of friends, and I love that!  How exciting to have a festival bring so many unconnected people together and suddenly open the world up to us!

Diana:  Our initial meeting was a blast, and I loved being in the room with so many amazing creators. I think ours is the new wave. I want to hear these words, I feel like I’m finally able to breathe with characters, that I understand them better because they are written from something other than a male POV.

LAFPI: And last but not least, tell us about your play. In five words or less.

Synida: Mexicans, mental illness, surreal, hysterical.

Dagney: Poetic. Quirky. Romantic.

Emily: Freeing herself from society’s expectations.

Kate: Death, raisins, and funny ladies.

Diana: Love in the time of monsters.

The inaugural Page to Stage Playwrights Festival – three days of new plays by women, August 30 – September 1, 2019 – is directed by Heather Enriquez and produced by the Curtis Theatre in partnership with Project La Femme. For tix and info visit projectlafemme.com/page-to-stage

Know a female or FPI-friendly theater, company or artist? Contact us at lafpi.updates@gmail.com & check out The FPI Files for more stories.

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