Natascia Diaz is beloved by Atlanta audiences and critics for her portrayel of Inez, the Gipsy Queen, in the Alliance Theatre's American premiere of Zorro. Kenny Norton of Atlanta Theater Fans had this to say, "The performer whom everyone will be talking about is Diaz. Her Inez is salty, funny, knowing and full of passion. As a performer she is peerless; every number she anchors delivers the goods." We had a chance to chat with Natascia about her career and her role in Zorro.
Q) Tell us a little about your performing background – where/what did you study to sing, dance and perform as beautifully as you do!?
A) Oh, go on! Thank you for the kind words. Well, I am the child of two amazing talents, a world-class opera singer Justino Diaz and a ballerina Anna Aragno (http://www.freewebs.com/annaaragno/). They both rose to prominence in their respective fields at a young age. My mother began as a child prodigy ballerina in London performing the lead role in Giselle at 13 years old, moving on to dance with the finest dancers of her time, (excuse me while I shamlessly drop a few names) Helgi Thomasson, Edward Villella, and Nureyev. And before moving on to an illustrious career, my father began as the youngest bass to ever win the Met Opera auditions, and starred in the Gala performance production in the new Met at Lincoln Center in Antony and Cleopatra. Incidentally, both my parents performed here in Atlanta several times, and both are huge fans of the arts scene here. Through them, I was really surrounded by theatre and art my whole whole life, and it seemed only natural for me to discover myself between the two, in musical theatre. I started ballet at 3, performing at Lincoln Center at 9, studied ballet at School Of American Ballet, attending a wonderful camp called Belvoir Terrace in Lenox Massachusetts beween the ages of 9-15 in the summers to tie me over till I went for my theatre training at Carnegie Mellon University. I can't stress enough how important it was that my parents honored my talents and gave me places to cultivate them as I grew up. And from where I stand now in my career, I can honestly tell you the learning doesn't stop. Every show, every part, every night, there are lessons and discoveries to be made. I value curiosity and openess in order that my evolution both as an artist and a person never ceases.
Q) Tell us about some of the themes or elements in Zorro that speak to you personally.
A) Well, sibling rivalry is indeed a most popular theme, is it not? Jealousy, envy...it is the green-eyed monster that mocks the meat it feeds on, as someone wrote. ;). Human dynamics, as children are taught them, are so tricky and sensitive, and however we learn them, we carry them into adulthood. I think it is so interesting that this theme is so prominent, and is indeed the heart of this show. Secondly, the call for anyone to have the ability to "be anyone you want to be" is also a powerful and universal theme. I hope this theme will be explored more in the coming evolutionary steps of this piece. You can be anyone you want via the choices you make. It is an important lesson to be reminded of for anyone at any age. Thirdly, affection and violence are almost bedfellows in this show. The line between them is very thin, and each time wherever the action goes, comes as a result of a characters choice. It is nightly interesting to me. In flamenco, the intrinsic power of this kind of movement is undeniable. It straddles grace and violence in the most beautiful way I can think of.
Q) Tell us about Inez. Why do you like playing this role?
A) Though I have played a few women in my career that I feel share a similar archetype (Anita in West Side Story, Aldonza in Man Of La Mancha), there are many things I love and are different about being Inez; the first and perhaps most obvious is her sexual power and the way she wields it. I am not a fan of gratuitous sexuality in women, so in my approach to Inez, I try to anchor her "sexiness" in an emotionally warm, earthy, and natural place. To her, attraction (and sex) are both natural and a part of life, and specifically, being a woman. With Diego, Garcia, and Ramon, she both mothers and seduces all three with equal ease, toughness and tenderness. Her outright humor and saltiness are also things I enjoy inhabiting. Not to mention my costumes! I mean...have you seen them?? GORGEOUS! And my hair?? I feel like a total bombshell! And believe me, behind every bombshell is a great design team, so I have to thank the glorious Tom Piper for that and the geniuses in the costume shop at the Alliance. We began talking months before I arrived in Atlanta about how I would be different from the the other women who have played this part in previous incarnations. Tom was inclusive and open from the very beginning. It is a gift to work with people like him. Grateful everyday.
Q) If you weren’t an incredibly talented actress, what other profession do you think you would like to try?
A) Can I please put you in my purse and take you out when my ego needs a boost? :) Again, thank you for that.
I would like to try to be a mother in real life. :) I think it's an important part of human evolution, and I hope that happens for me in my life.
Q) Tell us a little about your cast and director? What is it like working with this group of actors, dancers and musicians?
A) Well, to start, the way I met Christopher Renshaw was as any actor would, at my first audition for ZORRO, having been called in by my long time knight in shining armor, re-known New York casting director, Jay Binder. It was the kind of audition an actor dreams of having; when everything clicks, and the room buzzes with energy. Effusive, open, and bursting with English charm, after a few rounds of guided direction in the material, Christopher literally jumped out from behind the table and embraced me with such words of kindness and compliment that I felt immediately like I was coming home. Most American teams are not that demonstrative or warm, even if they like you for the role. And generally they take forever to cast, calling people in anywhere from 3-6,7,8,9 times for a role! But Christopher cast me in two days. It was crazy. He followed his gut...and this time, I was the lucky recipient who happened to be in the right place, at the right time. As for this cast; I cannot say enough how much I adore every single person here. We are a family troupe working our TAILS off in this show, and everywhere I look in every scene, there are these handsome, giving, open, full-hearted artists who are making this piece live. You probably can't see, but in the hanging, people onstage are actually crying. I cannot get enough of the flamenco dancers. They mesmerize me. The core folk I work with intimately, Andrea Goss, Adam Jacobs, Eliseo Roman, and Nick Carierre, can be described only as...delicious. We have affection for each other as people, AND as performers. I am not ashamed to say that I have deep professional crushes on each one of them. :) We feel both adventurous and safe with one another...which are ESSENTIAL to creation in any piece. And our connections grow deeper with every passing day and show.
"What a way to spend a day..."
~Johnathan Larsen, from "Tick, Tick...BOOM!"
Q) Your recently won your second Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a musical. Congratulations! How does it feel to win this prestigious award? Speech, speech!
A) Thank you so much! :) Ok, first I have to say that I absolutely did not see this coming AT ALL. Having won this award in 2009 (in a tie with Chita Rivera) I thought for sure that they would go another way. Funnily enough, this season I was up for another best actress award in St. Louis for Velma in CHICAGO as well. The award went to a local actress in another production. But at the behest of someone on the voting committee, I was encouraged to prepare an absentee acceptance speech, just in case. It was never read, but I want to share a piece of it here because it really says everything I feel. I won in DC for our beautiful production of JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS. Anyone who knows these songs (and if you don't please youtube them!) knows what power they command and how difficult they are to inhabit. It is the stuff actor/singers dream of doing. I had performed different material in the Off-Broadway production in 2006, and was eager to try on some of the songs from another track. In DC, we assembled a glorious quartet of people that made magic in that little theatre, MetroStage. We literally got a standing ovation every single show of our run. I haven't experienced anything like that in the US. So in short, the answer is, it is wonderful to be honored. But it doesn't come with cash prizes, or any guarantees for the future. So resting on any laurels is never an option. You are only as good as the NEXT show you book. Here are a few words from my speech:
"I wish I could have been here tonight, but I am currently in Atlanta working on a new show called ZORRO. If you are hearing these words, it means I have been chosen to receive this prestigious award. And for that eventuality, it was important to me to let you all to know how deeply honored and grateful I am...and I wanted to be sure to express that gratitude. Among all my esteemed colleagues nominated, and really among all actors, we never are used to, nor expect, admiration or recognition for what we do. We feel lucky simply to be given the opportunity."
MARIEKE, from JACQUES BREL
Q) Anything else you'd like to add?
A) Stay in touch, or chat with me here at: https://www.facebook.com/NatasciaDiazNews