by Lorie Lewis Ham
Dr. Gina Sandi-Diaz is the Assistant Professor of Theatre, Department of Theatre and Dance at Fresno State. She is from Costa Rica and moved to Kansas in 2013. In 2017, she moved to Fresno to work at Fresno State. Recently we chatted with her about her background in theatre, and her work at Fresno State.
KRL: Tell us about your current position at Fresno State?
Gina: I am an Assistant Professor of Theatre in the Department of Theatre and Dance. My specialty is LatinX and Latin American Theatre. The term LatinX is used as an umbrella term to refer to the diversity of the Latino/a community in the United States. I teach a variety of courses from acting to dramatic literature and I also direct shows for the University Theatre’s mainstage season.
KRL: When did you first get involved in acting and why?
Gina: In college, I majored in Theatre Arts with an acting emphasis. This was back in Costa Rica. I attended the Universidad Nacional’s acting program, earning a BA and a Licenciatura in Acting in the early 2000s. Throughout my college career and for about 5-7 years after college, I worked in the professional theatre scene in Costa Rica with companies such as Teatro 50 al Sur, Símbolo Compañia Escénica, and Colectivo Pantera Onca.
KRL: What was your first part?
Gina: My first part was Nina in Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century comedy The Fan (Il Ventaglio), produced by the University Theatre at Universidad Nacional in Costa Rica and directed by Remberto Chávez, my acting teacher. I think this was back in 1999.
KRL: What are some of the shows you have been in, and the parts you have played & with what companies?
Gina: All my acting credits are in Costa Rica. Two memorable experiences are playing Margot Frank for Teatro 50 al Sur’s production of Anne Frank’s Diary. We won a National Theatre award for best production of 2004 and toured Central America with the show, performing in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. The second was playing Aline Solness in Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder for Símbolo Compañia Escénica. This was not your traditional Ibsen production. It was done in a post-dramatic style. The show was not the audience’s favorite (it was too weird) but as an actor, this piece challenged me physically and psychologically.
KRL: When did you first get involved in directing-why and how?
Gina: I always wanted to direct. Throughout my acting training, professors and coaches would point out that “I was thinking like a director.” Right out of college I was hired by a colleague as a theatre facilitator for a program called “Theatre Training in Rural Communities.” This was a university-sponsored program that provided art education to rural communities of Costa Rica that lacked access to art and cultural resources. This job provided me with my first professional experience as a theatre instructor and it allowed me to direct straight shows and devised pieces in community theatre settings. It was during this time that I decided I wanted to pursue graduate studies to become a theatre professor so I could teach and direct in academic settings.
KRL: What was the first show you directed?
Gina: The first show I directed was a community theatre production of Retablo Jovial (Joyful Tableau), by Spanish playwright Alejandro Casona. This was in Nicoya, Guanacaste (located in the northern pacific coast of Costa Rica).
KRL: Do you have a favorite type of show? Both to be in, and to direct?
Gina: It has been a while since I acted in a play and I don’t really see myself acting anytime soon. In terms of favorite type of show, well… I have an eclectic taste. However, I prefer scripts that confront me with heavy subject matters and that make me think critically about our society and about the world we could build for future generations. Also, I am excited by what LatinX playwrights in this country are doing. Caridad Svich, Luis Alfaro, Octavio Solis, Georgina Escobar, Mirta Ortiz, Marisela Treviño-Orta, are just a few fantastic names interested readers should look into.
KRL: What do you like best about acting/directing?
Gina: Collaboration! I am inspired by my colleagues’ creativity. Seeing my vision evolve and become a collective vision is quite uplifting to me.
KRL: What is the hardest?
Gina: Also, collaboration. Occasionally, creative processes can be very tense and hard to manage.
KRL: When did you first become a theatre professor and why did you pursue that occupation?
Gina: I started seeing myself as a theatre teacher while working with “Theatre Training in Rural Communities.” At the time, there were no graduate programs in theatre in Costa Rica, so I had to seek international opportunities. I spend two years applying for multiple scholarship programs in Europe, South America, and the USA. After many rejections, I was admitted with a full scholarship to the University of Kansas’ Master’s program in Theatre. After graduation, I moved back to Costa Rica to teach at the University and eventually relocated to Kansas again to pursue doctoral studies.
KRL: What do you like best about teaching and what is the hardest?
Gina: I love teaching and serving students. I love to see them discover their artistic skills and hone in on them. The hardest is getting through huge piles of grading late at night after a full day of work. It’s all worth it in the end. It always is.
KRL: What classes do you teach?
Gina: I teach a little bit of everything: LatinX Theatre, Devised Theatre, Acting, Creative Drama, and a GE course on Dramatic Literature.
KRL: What shows will you be directing this year?
Gina: I am directing Electricidad next Spring. It is a contemporary adaptation of the tragic myth of Electra, set in South East L.A., in a community ruled by cholos. It is one of Luis Alfaro’s Greek Trilogy plays with the other two being Oedipus El Rey (Oedipus the King) and Mojada (Medea). The show will run in the Woods Theatre at Fresno State, March 25-April 2.
KRL: Future goals and dreams-both for yourself and in your position at Fresno State?
Gina: Our shared dream in the Department of Theatre and Dance is to continue to serve the Fresno community and the larger Central Valley with high quality artistic productions that honor and reflect the diversity and complexity of the world we live.
Gina: My mom, Alicia Díaz Alvarado and my grandfather Isidro Díaz Quesada. I owe them everything I am today.
KRL: What do you feel has helped you the most in growing as an actor and director?
Gina: Traveling and living among cultures different from my own has had a major impact on my life as a theatre artist. I have been privileged to travel to foreign cultures from a young age. My family and I lived in Chico, CA. for a few years while my mom studied there. Then, when I was 15, I participated in an exchange program (AFS) and spend a year in Thailand, living with a Thai family and attending school. These experiences taught me an appreciation for other cultures and an awareness of my own culture.
KRL: What advice would you have for someone wanting to get involved in theatre?
Gina: They should give it a try. Even if in the long run they decide to move on into another profession, the theatre will leave an imprint on them. Theatre skills translate into our everyday life in multiple ways. Problem-solving skills, communication skills, empathy, and collaboration are just a few of the benefits.
KRL: What is your dream show to direct?
Gina: My dream show to direct is Fefu and Her Friends, by Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornés. This is an experimental show that has the audience travel to multiple locations in the building to piece together the story. Due to its staging complexities, the show is rarely produced, but I hope to direct it one day.
KRL: That sounds really interesting Hobbies?
Gina: I’ve been practicing yoga for about 10 years now. Lately, I’ve been into puzzles. I just finished my Halloween-themed puzzle featuring a candlelit black cat resting on a pile of spooky books.
KRL: Love the sound of that puzzle! Anything else you would like to add?
Gina: Thank you, Lorie and Kings River Life Magazine for the interview. And, thank you readers for getting thus far.
KRL: Thank you for joining us here today!
You can find more theatre articles, and other entertainment articles, in our Arts & Entertainment section.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can check the podcast out on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, and also on podbean.