Actor, Writer, Puppeteer Stephanie Diaz on Life in the Arts & Finding Your Own Way | Podcast 015
Actor, casting director, writer & puppeteer Stephanie Diaz is a multidisciplinary artist who has worked in markets across the country, including Seattle, Minneapolis & Milwaukee. Currently, she is an artistic associate with 16th Street Theater in Chicago.
Her recent work includes MARIPOSA NOCTURNA: A Puppet Tritych, a show she created in residence with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Stephanie is currently in rehearsal for Pinkolandia which opens April 3, 2014.
In this podcast, Stephanie shares stories from her journey as a working Latina artist and offers insight for up and coming actors wanting to break into the business.
I Tried Not Doing It
Sum up your business in three sentences or less.
I’m an actor, writer and puppeteer. I don’t know if it can really be called a business I’m an artist. The business part is really secondary (or tertiary), and the stuff that earns me the most money is sometimes the least interesting to me.
Why did you choose to become an actor?
I didn’t, really. It chose me. I tried NOT doing it, and it was not a good thing. I suppose I have my ex-boyfriend to thank for getting serious about it when I did, though (right after 9/11).
Where do you find inspiration?
It really depends on what I’m working on. With acting, I generally find it in the play itself, occasionally in great performances by others (lately, Matthew McConaughey is KILLING IT all over the place and I am mesmerized). The puppetry piece I created recently in residence with the Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs was inspired by Guatemalan folklore, sea life of the Monterey Peninsula, Ukiyoe archetypes, silentera films and the work of the Brothers Quay. Right now I’m really into microorganisms, and incubating ideas about how to make them into beautiful, light-up puppets. I’m really inspired by athletes. I’m obsessed with baseball and the Olympics. I am also inspired by avant-garde fashion and performance art.
What makes you different from other people in your industry?
I guess probably the variety of things that I do on a comparable skill level. Also, I’m not much of a sycophant, for better or worse. I don’t “play the game” very well. Diplomacy is not my strong suit. I am nobody’s satellite, you know?
Why should someone choose you instead of your competition?
It really comes down to what they want. Do they like what I make? Then they should hire me. Art is a really subjective thing. I mean, I’m a damn good actor, but so is almost every actor I know. The people who would probably be considered my “competition” as actors are so completely different than me? the only thing we actually have in common is that we identify as Latina and are in the same general age range. Other than that we’re as different as can be, in every possible way. I also find that thinking about my “competition” is really destructive to me creatively. I believe that there is enough work to go around.
Define your style?
Uh… what kind of style? Whatever style I’m working in depends entirely on the project. “Eclectic” is probably the best umbrella term, since it describes everything about me, from what kind of foods I like, to the clothes I wear, to my home decor, to the type of art I make/like.
Tell me about your typical day.
There really is no such thing for me. I generally get up after my husband goes to work (he makes the best coffee!) and what I do depends on what I’m working on: if I’m rehearsing a show at a big theatre, I’ll go to rehearsal in the daytime. If it’s at a small theatre, I’ll go in the evening. If I’m in performance or not working on a play, I might have to go somewhere for an audition, or record a VO audition in my studio at home. If I’m meeting a writing deadline, I’ll write in fits and starts throughout the day and night. I try to work out (Bikram or Baptiste yoga and running) every other day. I meditate 20 minutes a day. I drink coffee. I usually answer one or more casting emails (I’m a casting director), maybe coach a friend on an audition, maybe proofread some copy that’s going out for 16th Street (a theatre company I’m a member of). I might have a meeting with a collaborator somewhere. I take Pilates on Fridays at 11 (unless I have a booking).
How do you juggle work and family?
I don’t have to, really. I don’t have kids. But when I do have them, the beauty of what I do is that I’ll just choose projects to accommodate whatever is happening with child-rearing (or not). I didn’t marry an actor (I was never going to? not attracted to them categorically), so there’s a certain amount of financial stability in my marriage that enables me to have artistic freedom (this wasn’t always the case in our relationship, and I’m super-grateful that I’m no longer the main breadwinner. That was rough. I hate teaching and don’t love doing musicals, but they paid our rent for several years.)
Three tips you would like to give to people who are thinking about starting a business in your industry?
- Know yourself
- Diversify your hustle.
- Shut up and do the work. You can talk when you have something to show for yourself. Otherwise you’re just full of it.
How has your career helped you grown as a person?
I just sort of evolved into a working artist over time. When I was 25 I decided I wouldn’t work for free anymore, unless there was some kind of serious payoff in other ways and I haven’t. I guess the most profound and beneficial thing I’ve learned is that it’s OK to be the way I am, to honor and pursue my particular proclivities, and that there is truly no one-size-fits-all template for a fulfilling artistic career, no comprehensive measure of success. Also, learning to not judge the work, just letting it come about and THEN evaluating it is an ongoing lesson that I wish i’d begun learning earlier. It really is all about the work for me, and I try to let the work speak for itself. John Cage has a rule list for artists that has a lot of truth in it for me.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Not in Chicago! And with children. And a published novel.
For whom are you thankful? Who do you appreciate?
My mom, my husband, my sisters, my agents, my best friends Alissa and Jessica. I had a rough couple of years from a personal standpoint, and they were all tremendously nurturing and supportive in emotional and practical ways. They also really believe in the the art I produce, and that’s important, because when you’re IN it, it can be really hard to SEE it and know that it’s worthwhile. I also really appreciate super mediocre artists who produce, produce, produce I mean, obviously they don’t think they’re mediocre, but they are clearly not spending a lot of time worrying about whether something is “good” or not they just MAKE it. They get it made. Those people are very instructive.
Stephanie Diaz’s Bookshelf
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
- The Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini
- Art Forms from the Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas of 1862 and Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel
- True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- Phillip Larkin, Collected Poems
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Connect with Stephanie Diaz
- WBEZ: Stephanie Diaz multitasks as a puppeteer and as an actor in ‘The Great Fire’
- 16th Street Theater Artistic Associate
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- Be sure to tune in every Wednesday to the Gratitude Geek Podcast.
- Coffee & Cards Conversations are filmed on location at Conroe Coffee and produced by Shane Rodarte.
- Music by Tracy Larson’Clifford & Brock Rodarte.