This is the fifth post in a series in which we profile people’s passion projects and let them explain their work in their own words. Learn more and see a list of all the projects profiled here.
Diana Middleton worked for years as a reporter before getting into financial services. Her foray into playwriting come after a friend asked if she had ever considered writing for the stage. Here’s how Middleton, in her own words, took her professional skills and personal experiences into playwriting.
What are your plays? How did they come about?
I hate to trot out that tired old adage “Write what you know,” but every play I write is rooted in some sort of real-life experience.
My first play, a one-act called “Love in the Time of Layoffs,” was inspired by my time as a journalist. I followed it with a one-act called “Look Good, Smell Good, Don’t Act Crazy,” based on a particular bad first date back in 2009. “Statues,” my most recently finished play, was shaped by the recent passing of my grandmother. And I’m currently working on a new piece called “Re-Branding Mt. Olympus,” which was inspired by the financial crisis.
I stumbled into theater accidentally. My friend Tanya Fazal, who is an actor and director in NYC, knew I had extensive professional writing experience. She asked if I’d ever considered writing for the stage. It sounds crazy, but I was very reluctant to try. I knew how to write journalistic pieces, but writing a play was an unknown. I was worried I would fail.
Actors John Zoitos and Fiamma Piacentini during a rehearsal for Diana Middleton’s “Love in the Time of Layoffs.” Photo: Alice Teeple.
I started the first draft of “Love in the Time of Layoffs” during the summer of 2016, and it was laughably bad: Zero conflict, with a heap of unnecessary characters floating around. After some looooong editing sessions and table reads, the pieces fell together. What was once a mess became a usable draft — and from there, a real script that was accepted for production at two different Manhattan theaters.
What version(s) of Diana do these plays bring out? In other words, how do they allow you to express yourself?
In 2012, I changed careers, jumping from journalism to financial services. While that was the right personal decision, I still mourned the death of my “writer” identity. When I began playwriting, it opened up a whole new platform for my writing and creativity. It helps that journalists posses many of the tools you need to be a playwright: We know dialogue. We’re collaborative. And we know how to handle rejection, re-writing and deadlines.
In your plays, can you see any of the influences of some of your favorite books, movies, TV shows, plays, etc.?
Like any ’90s kid, I loved sitcoms like “Friends” and “Seinfeld.” Luckily, those shows serve as a great template for structuring short plays, which run 20-25 minutes. I also tend to write about funny women, so I am heavily influenced by shows like “Ab Fab,” the BBC sitcom. I also really love “Young Adult” by Diablo Cody, which is an exquisite example of a female antihero.
I should also point out that I read and watch as many plays as my budget and schedule will allow. Some of my favorites are “The Flick” by Annie Baker, “The Treasurer” by Max Posner and “Raw Bacon from Poland” by Christina Masciotti. Hopefully, I’m learning by osmosis.
If your plays each had a theme song, what would they be?
I am deeply uncool when it comes to music, so I can’t really assign songs to each play. But I CAN tell you the songs I listened to while I wrote them:
- “Love in the Time of Layoffs”: “Live Your Life,” T.I. featuring Rihanna
- “Look Good, Smell Good, Don’t Act Crazy”: “Childz Play,” CeeLo Green
- “Statues”: “Pray,” Sam Smith
Diana Middleton’s “Look Good, Smell Good, Don’t Act Crazy” is running in New York City Oct. 30 and 31. More information here.