AN INTERVIEW WITH DIANY RODRIGUEZ
Star of ABIGAIL/1702
By Meg Harkins
Meg Harkins: By now, Aurora patrons are familiar with your work in Into the Woods, Hands on a Hardbody, Christmas Canteen and In The Heights. You also have a robust film and television career. Could you talk about how you navigate both worlds? What do you love most about stage work? On camera?
Diana Rodriguez: I don’t navigate it well! I give theatre deference. Theatre is based more on a sense of community and a collaborative effort between everyone. Theatre has treated me kinder; let me do things out of the box. I’m not a specific trope or type for theatre in the way I can tend to be in film. I try to work for Monday shoots, and I am not available on opening weekends. If it’s a show I really love, I just don’t audition for film and television. During In the Heights, which was very special and close to my heart, I didn’t want to miss anything. I navigate the two worlds by doing whatever I can to feel great and worthy and like I am making a difference.
MH: Abigail Williams is such an iconic figure, both historically and in the world of literature (Arthur Miller’s The Crucible). What kind of preparation did you do (are you doing) to embody such an infamous person?
DR: Every night I have to read this script, and say it out loud. I work my mouth and jaw muscles. I’ve had to learn where to place my breathing. I read books and dramaturgy of how people thought back then, and what was expected of them in their everyday mannerisms from worship to general behavior. I wanted to learn little things like how to strain a bone broth or apply leeches and make it look good on stage. It was work from top to bottom.
MH: Abigail/1702 is set over 300 years ago. Why do you think this play is relevant to audiences now?
DR: I don’t know that audiences know just how relevant this show is. Abigail Williams was responsible for the death of 20 people and imprisonment of many more during the Salem Witch Trials. Hundreds of lives were impacted by this girl’s direct action or possession, or naiveté; whatever you may believe. But everyone makes mistakes, sometimes life altering and sometimes not, so at what point would we be receptive to somebody wanting any kind of forgiveness or changing their attitude or life? At what point do we give them leeway to change and at what point are they unforgiveable? If you had made mistakes, wouldn’t you want to know there is hope that you can change for the better?
MH: Casting non-white actors in stories that are too often and readily whitewashed allows for a new and different perspective on American history. Lin-Manuel Miranda remarked about the casting of Hamilton, saying, “This is a story about America then, told by America now.” How does your Latina identity influence the story of Abigail Williams?
DR: It affected me in this process really strongly, and it sounds really awful to say out loud, but I wanted to wash away any Latina-ness for this role. I don’t want them to think I’m trying to take my Latina-ness away, but I wanted to show that it is possible for us to do everything we want; to transform ourselves in the same way audiences, producers, young people and old people think white actors can completely transform themselves. We can do it too. It’s a huge responsibility to me to be a little brown girl in this role, and I take it absolutely seriously.
MH: What do you hope audiences will leave this show thinking about?
DR: First, I hope they think, “Oh. White people aren’t the only ones who can play this.” I also hope audiences leave thinking “Man, I was never as aware of my humanness until now.” Theatre is supposed to make you think, make you feel, make you uncomfortable, and then leave you feeling like you did something, like you were a part of something good.