The Arts are an essential tool for building, healing, and sustaining healthy bodies & communities, so my work on and off the stage and screen focuses on advocating for the arts, equity, environmental and disability justice.
Photo of Diana Wyenn standing in her office next to a piano and a desk wearing a blue shirt that reads "Disability is not a bad word." An insulin pump and its tubing hangs from her left hip pocket. Photo: Cinthya Silverstein.
Equity & Disability Justice
The stories we tell ourselves and one another matter greatly. They have the power to uplift communities and dismantle systems of oppression, or perpetuate violence and further oppress those we need to center if we are going to create a more just and equitable society. As a storyteller often in leadership roles, I recognize that what I do and say matters significantly. So I center equity and justice in the art I make and the processes by which it's created. This is an ever-evolving process of listening and learning that manifests in myriad ways. It's especially important to me that I empower my collaborators and reflect the world I want to see in my hiring choices.
One month away from graduating from New York University's drama program, I found myself in an ER with a doctor diagnosing me with Type 1 diabetes. I was terrified. Not of the disease itself, but that this disease would prevent me from pursuing a career in the theater and keep people from hiring me. So I kept my invisible disability invisible, hiding it from my colleagues for more than a decade. I now recognize that it was my own internalized ableism as well as the field's explicit ableism that made me feel like I couldn't bring this significant part of myself into the room, and the work.
Eventually, I got tired of "passing" and stopped. This involved throwing a party with over 100 cupcakes for my guests and myself to devour (because eating sugar doesn't cause diabetes) and making a series of video blogs titled Life by the Numbers that dispel the myths and mystery around diabetes in all of its forms. It's been a journey to get here, but I now realize that my disability is an important part of why I am the artist I am today. Plus, since 1 in 5 people in the U.S. is disabled, I'm in good company. I firmly believe that our stories are worth telling and we need more representation in yours.
Video of Directors Lab West Connects' conversation between Laurel Lawson and Diana Wyenn (ASL-interpreted) discussing Disability and Equity as Creative Forces. Image with play button layover included side-by-side black and white portraits of Laurel Lawson (R) and Diana Wyenn (L).
It may sound surprising to learn that my play about diabetes, Blood/Sugar, landed me The Planet Activist Award at the 2018 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in New York, but several key solutions for both the diabetes crisis and the climate crisis are strongly tied to what we eat, more specifically animal agriculture. I became aware of this connection when I adopted a vegan diet back in 2015 to lower my carbon footprint and I haven't looked back.
I'm now a proud member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corp (if you'd like for me to give a presentation to your community or organization, reach out) and I use my art to advocate and raise awareness for how we each have agency in this global crisis. Coming out soon, my first short film The Pageant, written by Paula Cizmar and produced by Three Gem Productions, addresses the crisis from another angle... what would our world look like if we came together, did the work, and solved the climate crisis?
I'm always looking for great projects that center environmental justice and like-minded collaborators that want to address this urgent matter. If that's you, I'd love to hear from you.
Film still from The Pageant featuring (L to R) Sandy Bainum, Jodi Dennithorne, Sharon Omi, and Natasha Ofili. Four women sit in a lush green garden, two are holding hands and smiling, while another is yelling at them and the fourth is providing ASL interpretation.
When I arrived in Los Angeles after graduation, I found an amazing arts community and dove right in, creating art and supporting the work and the people making it in a myriad of ways. Some of the ways I was fortunate to get to serve the greater Los Angeles arts community have been:
Circle Readings — A little over a decade ago, playwrights Brenda Varda, Jami Brandli, Brian Polak, and I created an all-volunteer initiative that developed new plays through a series of private facilitated play readings. Our goal was to help writers get a play to its next iteration without the pressure of staged readings, which are often highly stressful "auditions" for plays and their writers. This program successfully moved projects toward drafts that received national recognition and full productions. And while it's no longer happening, I'm proud to know that the DNA of the project lives on here in Los Angeles at the new play development programs at Moving Arts and The Inkwell Theater.
REDCAT — After leaving a full-time job in Private Equity (yep), I was fortunate to land a job at REDCAT, CalArts' downtown center for performing, visuals, and media arts. It's housed within the parking structure of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. For five years, I got to market and publicize an inspiring array of gifted emerging and established contemporary artists working across and within all the artistic mediums. When he retired, I told executive director Mark Murphy that working there was like attending a Masters's Program for me. I have since had the great joy of having my art featured in the Studio Series and NOW Festival. If you haven't been to REDCAT, and you are in Los Angeles, please go!
ARTmageddon — When Los Angeles announced it would be having a second, Ezra LeBank and I started kicking around ideas for how to respond artistically and came up with this wild idea to unite the L.A. Art's Community and throw a citywide art party! Then on September 28 and 29, 2021, it happened. In partnership with the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs, Experience LA, LA Stage Alliance, ForYourArt, and Metro, in association with a consortium of community partners, and with the support of the Los Angeles Downtown Arts District (LADAD), hundreds of artists and arts organizations welcomed their neighbors, the major roadways stayed clear, and people across the city celebrated the idea, "Less Car. More ART" by experiencing art and creating art in their own neighborhoods!
Directors Lab West — In 2012, I attended this 8-day intensive for emerging and mid-career theater directors and choreographers. Little did I know, they would invite me back to join their Steering Committee and I would help produce 7 years of labs that served more than 300 artists. I even helped them pivot online when the pandemic hit in 2020 and the resulting series of conversations co-presented by HowlRound, featuring Luis Alfaro, Sabra Williams, Scarlett Kim, Ann James, Anne Cattaneo, and Anne Bogart to name a few, are available to watch anytime here.
LACMA — After working at REDCAT, LACMA invited me to head up their marketing department. It's a phenomenal encyclopedic museum and being a Los Angeleno decades earlier I was running through its galleries in diapers. So I was all in! During my time there, I was able to overhaul the entire marketing strategy from top to bottom: redesigning and launching a brand new email system, hiring a social media manager who put LACMA's IG and Snapchat on the map, negotiating a half-million dollar partnership with the Wall Street Journal, and improving the on-site collateral and signage. I left after two years to pursue my artistic practice but it's been fun to return as a patron and direct the site-specific play Mourning of the Sons: Spirit Lives by Marlow Wyatt on the grounds outside the Resnick Building.
TIOH Arts & Culture — In 2017, Temple Israel of Hollywood brought me on as artistic director to create an arts initiative that would bring world-class performing artists to the TIOH and greater Los Angeles communities. With a year-round program of performances, screenings, conversations, exhibitions, and student engagements, the program honors TIOH's tradition as a center for spiritual growth, social activism, and unwavering human connection and celebrates that culture is illuminated, shared, and advanced through the arts. Over the years, we've presented Ate9 Dance Company, Opium Moon, Nefesh Mountain, theatre dybbuk, Saskia Keeley, Morton Subotnick, Terry Riley, Yuval Ron, Rachael Cerrotti, Roger Guenveur Smith, Netta Yerushalmy, Hedy Torres, California Feetwarmers, Miwa Matreyek, and many more. Learn what's coming up next here.