Name: Diana Yanez
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Current Town: Los Angeles & New York
Latina Christmas Special, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Latino Theater Company, Combined Artform, Atomictuna Productions, New York International Fringe Festival, Berkshire Fringe Festival, Outlaugh Festival, Carl Duisberg Bundestags Program Scholarship (Berlin, Germany)
Q: How do you self-identify?
A: First and foremost, I am a flawed human being. An earthling. Everybody is, they just forget and that’s what concerns me. I am a woman. I am a first-generation American. Cuban-American. Hispanic American. Latina. Queer. Brown. I am the child of immigrants. A Euro-influenced—American. I lived and studied art in Berlin, Germany from 19-21 years of age and it really influenced who I became.
Q: Tell me about Latina Christmas Special.
A: LCS is an American comedy of Latina proportions. Punto y aparte. (Period and apart, a Cuban saying.) In other words, it’s a timely holiday comedy set on the edge between the culture of immigrants and the culture of America. Not only is it entertaining and funny but it is also about acceptance, sacrifice and gratitude. Think It’s a Wonderful Life meets Jane The Virgin meets John Leguizamo’s Freak and together they have a live show baby.
Every ethnicity can relate to the feeling that their parents and families are a little “freaky” during the holidays when compared to the traditional American Christmases fed to us on TV. In Latina Christmas Special, three comedian friends show us with their personal tales that every family has its own hilarious peculiarities, everyone wants to belong, and everyone, regardless of their background, has a hard time at some point in their life. From an overweight ballerina bullied in elementary school, to a young woman coming to terms with her parents’ traumatic escape from communism, to an adult who lost her mother at Christmas time—it’s all about love, American style.
I am the creator of Latina Christmas Special and I wrote it with my talented comedian friends; Sandra Valls (Showtime’s Latin Divas of Comedy) and Maria Russell (MTV’s Teen Wolf). We perform it as well. It’s based on our actual lives and relationships. With the help of a little yuletide spirit, friends share their own personal Christmas PTSD and harrowing family holidays experiences. Each Latina presents her own personal story in monologue form inside the larger show. And each performer draws from it a new message that they had not realized before beginning their tale of childhood Christmas dramas. Ultimately, the show is healing for everyone and I dare say the audience included. Due to the three monologue pieces within, I would describe it as a hybrid – somewhere between comedy show and play. The Los Angeles Times called LCS, “Hilarious and heart wrenching… (a) very special ‘Special.'”
It is profoundly important to me that this is not just our story, but the experience of most first-generation Americans that are born to immigrant parents. The ties to our parents’ cultures are close but so are the ties to our country, America. Approximately 1/4th of the population here are U.S.-born citizens from foreign parents. There are approximately 86.4 million people, or 27 percent of the overall U.S. population (according to the 2017 Current Population Survey) and there’s never been a Christmas show about us (that I am aware of).
History: The sold-out workshop version premiered at the Elephant Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Another sold out version followed the next year with more shows and that’s when director, Geoffrey Rivas (CSI) of the Latino Theatre Company saw it. With his and his company’s help we developed our first full production at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. It has now been three years and approximately 78 extremely successful shows. We have been named Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice” and “Weekend Pick” since 2015 and it has been a wonderful ride so far.
Present: We are currently seeking to take our beautiful and timely piece on the road. We are actively looking for producers, managers, advisors, mentors to help get Latina Christmas Special to other communities. It does not have to be any specific type of community. All you need to be able to relate to this story is to have had parents. A travel version of the show has been created and with minimal preparation/cost we could be performing it at a theatre near you.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: Latina Christmas Show is my baby and I spend a lot of time on it. My goal is to grow this special and create multiple pieces with new voices from all walks of life. So that when the question comes up again – did you ever see a holiday show where the cast looked like your family—there will be more people that can answer happily, “Yes!”
Besides that, I am an actor, writer, filmmaker, editor, photographer—so I’m out there hustling and creating. Last year I released with my partner, Marjorie Duffield (Over the Moon, Pearl Studios) The Pip and Pen Show. A delightful micro-comedy series on YouTube. I co-wrote with her Scary-Etta, a screenplay about an Icelandic woman who discovers she has a long-lost Latin family. Their own “Carol Burnett of Iceland”—Edda Bjorgvinsdottir—is attached to lead. I am also doing stand up comedy when requested (and paid!) and performing my one-woman show Viva La Evolución (winner New York Fringe Festival and Drama Queens Competition Los Angeles) at colleges and universities.
Q: What have been the defining moments of your journey as a playwright?
A: I am heavily influenced by American popular television of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (reruns okay?)—Star Trek, I Love Lucy, Que Pasa U.S.A., to name a few. And from the tales my parents told me about the people they knew growing up in Cuba. Characters themselves, my mom tells the best stories and my dad is great at mimicking the people in them. It was a soothing source of comfort during our struggles in the early years. They came to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Heartbroken and terrified they set out to start a completely new life in the US and they embraced every aspect of it. They worked so hard. My mom raised us while she herself was growing up. My father worked two jobs so we could afford our first house – then he put himself through college and became an engineer. Whenever I suffered from anxiety my parents would tell me stories to distract and comfort me if that isn’t a recipe for creating a writer, I don’t know what is. Everyone in my family found comfort through humor. And in the face of dysfunction and oppression, we laughed.
Q: Who have been your playwriting mentors and heroes?
A: I did not get to study theatre in college. My parents being immigrants, worried that there was no future in showbiz for a curvy Latina like me. My dad specifically told me, “We don’t know anybody. We don’t have money.” My mom said, “you get a degree in something real and then you can study your hobbies.” I would’ve had it otherwise but in the end, I think my self-education turned out to be exactly what was meant to be. I learned by doing – I earned each and every laugh, each and every applause—one trial and error at a time.
I was heavily influenced and inspired by one-person shows like Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Whoopi Goldberg’s Direct From Broadway and John Leguizamo’s, Freak. That’s the kind of writing I started with – one person shows – and from there sprang everything else.
I had the honor of performing a concert style reading of Real Woman Have Curves and the writer, Josefina López, was there. The performance was for students and during the talk-back, she instructed them to go out there and tell their own stories. That if no one was going to make it, then make it for themselves. Little did she know she was also speaking directly to me. I’ll never forget it. Not only is her play a unique expression of self-discovery and storytelling but there is a universal moral to it, that I think is urgently needed in our world.
Q: What advice do you have for Latinx playwrights at the beginning of their career?
A: Don’t wait for someone to discover you. Just do it. The community will support you. Be okay with “shitty first drafts” (that’s a quote from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). Just put it out there. Re-write, re-vamp, proceed. Even if it’s a performance in your living room with only a few friends to see, do it. Get feedback. Re-write, re-vamp and proceed again. There are very few lightning bolts in this biz, everything takes time to grow, so why not start right now? Stop reading this, start writing.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: My credits including writing and performing with Margaret Cho on tour and in The Sensuous Woman Show which debuted off-Broadway at the Zipper Factory in Manhattan. I have national TV and commercial credits. I have been a professional improv actor for almost 17 years. I have performed characters that have been viewed millions of times over in viral hits like “Spanish For Your Nanny,” “Let Me Borrow that Top” (with Liam Sullivan of “Kelly” fame) and “My Puss” (co-written with Margaret Cho and Kurt Hall). My one woman show, Viva la Evolución, about growing up Cuban and queer in Miami won the New York International Fringe Festival and the Los Angeles Drama Queens Competition.
Overall: I am a nerd. I am animal crazy especially when it comes to my cats. I am extremely concerned and active in the fight against prejudice. I am extremely concerned and active about our environment. I was inspired by women like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Rita Moreno, Gilda Radner. I am sincere. I believe in kindness and fairness. My word is my bond. I love humans and their stories.
Immediate need: Did I tell you I am looking to take our show on the road? If you have advice or interest please visit www.LatinaChristmasSpecial.com and click on contact to reach out. I look forward to hearing from you.
***For more on Diana Yanez, see:
- Visit Diana Yanez’s personal website
- Visit Latina Christmas Special‘s website
- Visit Viva La Evolucion‘s website
- Book Diana Yanez
- “The 99-Seat Beat: A twist on Dickens, a ‘Latina Christmas Special’ and more” – Philip Brandes (LA Times)
- “Una Navidad Muy Especial at LATC” – Diana Yanez (This Stage Magazine)
- “‘The Latina Christmas Special’: Love and laughter through three women’s family tales” – Kathleen Foley (LA Times)
- Latina Christmas Special Review – Jessica Salans (Stage Raw)