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BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR

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Presented by CaltechLive! on Saturday, November 21

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR

When I was first contacted about interviewing Diana Wyenn about her solo performance piece BLOOD/SUGAR and learned she was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic in London at the age of 20, I knew I was the perfect person to speak with her about creating the play since I am also a Type 1 diabetic who was diagnosed at age 20. From personal experience, I know how difficult it was to accept that diagnosis at such a young age when you feel your life is just beginning, then having to change your lifestyle to accommodate a chronic condition that is going to turn your life into a daily science experiment that often does not follow any rules. And it fundamentally completely changes the way in which you have to learn to live, for the rest of your life, just in order to stay alive.

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR At the dawning of her adulthood, Diana Wyenn was told by a doctor in the emergency room that her blood sugar had reached a crisis level, and without medical intervention she would soon fall into a coma which could lead to her death. Her immediate response was to resist treatment in order to make it to the theater on time for a performance. Now, after more than 15 years of grappling with diabetes, her relationship to her illness has progressed from denial to a powerful authority over her own well-being. And that very personal decision to take charge over the disease rather than letting it control you is, no doubt, what has saved her life - as well as mine.

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR CaltechLive! is presenting Diana Wyenn's BLOOD/SUGAR on Saturday, November 21 at 7 p.m. PT. This solo show, at the intersection of public health and performance, focuses on Wyenn's life as a diabetic, and will be performed live and broadcast from Wyenn's home, using multimedia effects, original movement, and Wyenn's physical surroundings to create a vivid account of the life-sustaining self-care that diabetes currently demands from one out of every 10 American adults. The acclaimed production masterfully weaves sobering statistics, historical perspective, and Shakespearean texts into a personal narrative about living with a chronic illness; by 2050, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects as many as 1 in 3 adults could have a form of diabetes.

Shari Barrett: Tell me how your theatrical background, as well as your personal understanding of type 1 diabetes, led to the creation of BLOOD/SUGAR, which you wrote with Guy Zimmerman and developed in collaboration with Lauren Campedelli, John Zalewski, Jason H. Thompson, Joey Guthman, Rebecca Carr, Aaron Saldaña, and Laban Pheidias.

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR Diana Wyenn: After more than a decade of simultaneously working professionally in the theater and living with Type 1 diabetes, I read that CDC statistic you mentioned and immediately turned all my skills as a storyteller toward creating a theatrical response. Diabetes is one of the most misunderstood diseases we face and the majority of cases are preventable and reversible. People need to know this. So, I created BLOOD/SUGAR as a means to challenge and dispel the lies, mystery, and shame surrounding diabetes in all of its forms.

Shari: I certainly have experienced how difficult it is for those not affected by diabetes to understand anything but the basics about it or how to assist someone suffering from its effects, and how being ashamed of having it can lead to life-threatening situations if you keep it a secret from those around you. Was that part of the motivation for writing the play?

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR Diana: Yes, definitely. I hid my diabetes for nearly a decade because of the bias I witnessed against diabetics leading up to my diagnosis. I was terrified that people would judge me or wouldn't hire me, wouldn't love me because of this disease. I was so very wrong about this, but I didn't know that yet and let all of that shame and fear prevent me from bringing my full self to my work, and to my relationships.

After years of living this way, which as you point out is dangerous, I decided enough was enough and if someone didn't accept my being diabetic and invisibly disabled that was on them. And this shift was powerful. As soon as I stopped hiding this integral part of my identity, and instead recognized how it made me whole, my life got better... my art deepened... and most importantly my health improved. For me, one of the most important lines in the show is confidently and without apology saying, "I have diabetes."

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR Shari: You will also host an open talkback between audience members and local diabetes educators immediately after the show, which was part of the original stage show, and is as integral as the performance itself in communicating about the disease with others in a safe, one-on-one setting.

Diana: The talkback is actually my favorite part! The performance primes the pump for a deep, complex, and necessary post-show conversation about the agency we each have as individuals over the health and well-being of our bodies, our families, our communities, and our planet. And since the show is richly researched, but I'm not a medical professional, I always invite diabetes educators and nutritionists to join me and share their expertise. But they aren't the only experts in the room. For the diabetes community in particular-which includes diabetics like us and our caretakers, medical professionals, and loved ones-it's also become an important opportunity to gather and share a wealth of experiences and knowledge.

Shari: The piece was originally conceived in 2017 for the stage, but your increased risk for contracting COVID-19 compelled you to rework the show for our current times, especially since those with diabetes, an autoimmune disease, are some of the most susceptible to contracting the virus. Certainly, taking it virtual opens the show up to a worldwide, and potentially much larger audience, which is a great opportunity to share your personal journey with a much wider audience, even though a bit of the intimacy of having a live audience present will be lost.

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR Diana: It's very true. Having diabetes puts us at higher risk for major complications and death should we contract COVID-19. Accordingly, I can count on my fingers the number of times I've left my home since mid-March. That said, you could not be more right about the potential reach for this online evolution of the project. I now have the opportunity to directly connect through internet-enabled devices large and small to each audience member and facilitate a much-needed conversation about this other global pandemic impacting more than 422 million people worldwide right now from my home in Los Angeles.

And interestingly enough, this version might be an even more intimate experience than the stage version. I bring you into my home, my kitchen, my bedroom, all so you can experience just how deeply this disease impacts my and my husband's everyday life. I'm discovering, in many ways, this online version is the one I've always been working toward-I just didn't know it.

Shari: You have also been busy this year as the director, dramaturg, and co-deviser of Kristina Wong for Public Office, which premiered onstage at the Skirball Cultural Center in February 2020, then was reimagined on Zoom in September 2020, and is currently wrapping up its 15-city virtual U.S. tour, streaming on Center Theater Group's Digital Stage platform in partnership with Center Theater Group, The Broad Stage, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In addition to your freelance work, you are also the co-founder of Plain Wood Productions with your husband, Laban Pheidias, a pro-skateboarder turned music video director. Together, you both direct and produce music videos, short films, and live performances. As a member of former Vice President Al Gore's Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps and serving as artistic director of TIOH Arts & Culture at Temple Israel of Hollywood, it has to be a challenge to maintain a healthy blood sugar, given how busy you must be all the time. What are some of the everyday solutions you use, besides medication, to maintain a healthy blood sugar?

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR Diana: Well, first and foremost I eat a vegan diet, predominantly a whole-food, plant-based vegan diet. Five or so years ago, I adopted a vegan diet and quickly found that balancing my blood sugar became much easier. Cutting out animal products significantly dropped my saturated fat intake and made me more insulin-sensitive. There's a hundred years of scientific research and evidence supporting that improving your insulin sensitivity through diet is a key part of reversing this disease for those diagnosed with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Now everybody is different, but I definitely recommend learning more about how our diets impact our blood sugar in the short term and the long term. Another everyday solution to maintain a healthy blood sugar is throwing on a record and dancing around the living room. Exercise works on a metabolic level to improve blood sugar and I'd personally rather dance to The Cramps and The Specials in my living room than jog around my neighborhood.

Shari: You are not the first person to recommend a Vegan diet as a healthier alternative to assist in managing my diabetes, and I gave up red meat as a first step. Thanks for sharing your personal journey with me and others, and I certainly hope your BLOOD/SUGAR honesty winds up assisting others in accepting their challenge and learning how to live a long, healthy life is our personal responsibility. Before closing, is there anything else you wish to add?

BWW Interview: Diana Wyenn on Her Very Personal Journey in BLOOD/SUGAR Diana: Shari, thank you so much for this opportunity and for your honesty as well. Before starting this project, I had never met another Type 1 Diabetic in my life (that I knew of) and it's been a real gift to meet and connect with others living with this disease. To close, because the Supreme Court is going to rule on the Affordable Care Act in a matter of days, I'd like to share why this ruling is important to me personally. In 2004, the Universal Health Care system in London saved my life while I was studying abroad and in 2010 the Affordable Care Act made my current career and the creation of BLOOD/SUGAR possible.

However, in 2017 the removal of the individual mandate made my monthly insurance costs jump from roughly $230 a month to $458. If the ACA is further dismantled, I don't know if that cost will rise or if my insurer will drop me altogether. Either action may require me to stop freelancing as an artist and seek out full-time employment in the midst of a pandemic. Now, I'll do whatever I have to do to survive, but I must point out that today while I am able to pay the thousands of dollars a year needed to stay alive with insulin-dependent diabetes, there are others who are unable to afford the insulin they need, and they are dying.

If you want to get involved in the fight for access to affordable health care and affordable insulin, please join me. You can learn more, sign petitions, and join the fight at...

https://makeinsulinaffordable.org/

https://www.t1international.com/

BLOOD/SUGAR general admission tickets are $20 per household/connection, and can be ordered at events.caltech.edu or events.caltech.edu/bloodsugar_tix. Ticket holders will be emailed a link to view the production a few hours prior to the performance. With a running time of sixty-five minutes, the production is designed to be followed by a twenty to thirty-minute conversation between Wyenn, the audience, and local experts in the field of diabetes management and nutrition.

BLOOD/SUGAR Production Credits
Created, directed, and performed by Diana Wyenn
Written by Diana Wyenn and Guy Zimmerman
Developed in collaboration with Lauren Campedelli, John Zalewski, Jason H. Thompson, Joey Guthman, Rebecca Carr, Aaron Saldaña, and Laban Pheidias
Camera and performance by Laban Pheidias
Voice-over by Lauren Campedelli
Video design by Jason H. Thompson
*
Sound design by John Zalewski
Live broadcast by PXT Studio
Produced by Plain Wood Productions

Digital Version screenshots courtesy of Plain Wood Production

Stage Production photos by Mae Koo

*All video and special effects for the production are deployed live by video designer Jason H. Thompson from PXT Studios less than 5 miles away.

BLOOD/SUGAR is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA, with additional developmental support provided by the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs and LADAD Space.

Link to more information about Blood/Sugar:
https://www.dianawyenn.com/blood-sugar
Link to trailer on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/454508785

Link to trailer on YouTube: https://youtu.be/d0g-sbPmEds


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