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Diana Rodriguez moderating the "Presented/Prevented Performances." (Photo by T Charles Erickson for Theatre Communications Group)

Diane Rodriguez: A Light and a Fire

A towering figure of California and American theatre, she died today at the age of 68.

Noted theatre artist Diane Rodriguez, born June 22, 1951, in San Jose, Calif., died today, April 10, in Los Angeles, of cancer. A celebrated member of the Los Angeles theatre community, Diane was an actress, director, playwright, and producer. Her career began in 1973 when she joined Luis Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino. She went on to become associate artistic director for Center Theatre Group, where she worked with theatres and artists across the country, as well as internationally. She also served as president of the board of Theatre Communications Group, which publishes this magazine, and received recognition from President Barack Obama.

Diane was associate artistic director at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, where she was a member of the artistic staff for 24 years, from 1995–2019, overseeing new-play production and developing the new work of over 75 artists, both playwrights and companies, including the plays Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee, The White Album by Lars Jan, Venice Is Dead by Roger Guenveur Smith and Richard Montoya, and How to Be a Rock Critic by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen.

She was inducted into the College of Fellows for the American Theatre in 2018, appointed by Pres. Obama to the NEA’s National Council on the Arts. She was president of the TCG board from 2013 to 2016. She was a 2017 Directing Fellow for Sundance Theatre Lab in Arles, France, and the 2016 Directing Fellow for the Stage Directors and Choreographer’s Foundation. She curated and produced, with REDCAT, “RADAR LA,” an international theatre festival, in 2011 and 2013. She directed for numerous theatre companies, including East West Players, South Coast Repertory, Pasadena Playhouse, CTG, City Theatre in Pittsburgh, Mixed Blood in Minneapolis, Actors Theatre of Phoenix (two Best Director nominations, ariZoni Theatre Awards), Borderlands Theater in Arizona, Victory Gardens in Chicago, and Playwrights’ Arena/Los Angeles (Best Director nomination, LA Weekly Awards), among others.

She worked for Mattel, Inc., as the book writer for the Broadway-style musical Barbie Live!, which toured Asia in 2013 and Latin America in 2010. She also worked as a creative and cultural consultant for the Disney Television Animation series Elena of Avalor.

For 10 seasons, she was a leading actress for the seminal theatre company El Teatro Campesino, with whom she toured nationally and internationally. She was also a cofounder of the groundbreaking comedy troupe Latins Anonymous. Recently, she directed the world premiere of Las Mujeres Del Mar for Playwrights’ Arena in 2019, Culture Clash’s Bordertown Now at Pasadena Playhouse, and Richard Cabral’s Fighting Shadows at Inner City Arts, both in 2018. Her play Living Large premiered at Chicago’s Teatro Luna in 2012, and The Sweetheart Deal premiered in 2017 at Los Angeles Theatre Center.

She is remembered fondly by colleagues, including playwright Young Jean Lee, who said, “Diane Rodriguez would walk into a room and the whole place would instantly light up with good energy. She was an incredibly powerful individual, but it was a joyful kind of power that lifted everyone up along with her. Diane was unfailingly supportive of and kind to artists, and she somehow never developed any kind of gatekeeper vibe, but rather always felt like a close friend or relative. I’m pretty sure she was one of the only female producers of color I ever worked with, and getting to collaborate with her was one of the highlights of my career.”

Said El Teatro Campesino founder and artistic director Luis Valdez, “We remember her from her earliest days as a professional artist in the ’70s, when she became a vital and indispensable part of our core company. Her power as an artist came from the heart, which she shared onstage as well as in life, by generating the collective spirit that creates theatre. The arc of her evolution as an artist and as a representative of the American theatre will give hope and inspiration to new generations of theatre artists. We shall never forget her as long as we live because she was an intrinsic part of our life and joy in our creative being. May the creator speed her to cosmic rebirth.”

Added CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie, “Diane was an incredibly disciplined artist, with equal talent as a writer, director, and actor. But she was never more animated than when she was advocating for the work of other artists. The arts community morns the loss of a leader and advocate for accessibility, inclusion and community.”

The Public Theater’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, said, “Diane Rodriguez was an artist and a warrior. From her early days with El Teatro Campesino, the most important people’s theatre in American history, to her brilliant leadership of aesthetic and cultural diversity at Center Theater Group, Diane never wavered from her support of artists, her embrace of the community, and her love of the people. She was a wonderful colleague and friend: funny, irreverent, courageous, loyal. Her death is a terrible loss, for the field and for those of us who loved her.”

Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón recalled, “In 2012 Diane asked me to direct my play Neva at the Center Theatre Group. After that really wonderful experience we became closer. I remember how happy she was when she told me in secret that she had been invited to join the NEA. Not long ago I went to a reading of her new play in New York City. She was so happy and proud of her cast. Then we met in Santiago at the theatre festival. She was so happy to be in Chile. Then, in November 2019, I received an email from her worried about the political situation in Chile. She was supportive and caring as always. She wrote: ‘My heart goes out to you, your family and your fellow artists.’ I will always remember the time when she drove me down Sunset telling me all about the city she loved so much. She drove, and talked, and laughed. I realize now that all my memories of Diane are of her laughing. She had the most beautiful laughter. Truly unforgettable. Inolvidable.”

Mary Anne Carter, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote to say, “Our dear friend and cherished member of the National Council on the Arts, Diane Rodriguez, was a beacon of light within the arts community. I want to extend my deepest sympathies to Diane’s family, her friends, and the theatre community. As we mourn her death, so must we celebrate her life and the profound legacy she leaves behind. Her friends and admirers at the National Endowment for the Arts will miss her dearly.”

Of her role as chair of TCG’s board, TCG executive director Teresa Eyring said that Rodriguez “uplifted the urgency of a more equitable theatre ecology, as well as the value of global cultural exchange. She was a visionary, a mentor, and a creative force. It’s hard to imagine our theatre field without her.”

Victory Gardens artistic director Chay Yew, who worked with Rodriguez for many years at CTG, said, “Diane was an incredible light and fire, and she has shared her gifts, uplifting everyone around her. Our field has greatly benefited her leadership, and her fierce passion and commitment to the voices and communities of color.”

Added Playwrights’ Arena artistic director Jon Lawrence Rivera, “I have known Diane for over two decades. She was instrumental in helping me direct my first show at the Kirk Douglas Theatre when we brought Dogeaters there. I will miss my friend so much. We had a lot of adventures together as artists, traveling to Poland several times and collaborating on projects. The last show she directed was Las Mujeres Del Mar for my theatre. She will hold a very special place in our hearts.”

And Culture Clash member Richard Montoya said, “Our dear sister and collaborator was a force, always elegant, with a sense of the fabulous! I walked into a costume shed at El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista a nervous kid 40 years ago—she gave me a sash and confidence and told me to get back into rehearsal with veteran triple threat L.A. actors. She directed Culture Clash with such brilliant panache in Pasadena we could only hug and laugh at the finish line. The loss is seismic—we will miss her smile and brilliant mind.”

Diane is survived by her husband Jose Delgado, owner of Pleiades Management and producing director of Ojai Playwrights Conference; her mother, Helen E. Rodriguez of San Jose; her niece Gabrielle E. Fusco; nephew Mario J. Fusco; and brother-in-law Gary Fusco.

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