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Tony Plana was educated at Loyola-Marymount University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree through the Honors Program in Literature and Theater Arts, graduating magna cum laude. He received his professional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England.
Plana most recently stared in the hit ABC series, Ugly Betty. He played Ignacio Suarez, Betty’s father. The show was based on the popular Columbian telenova Yo Soy Betty La Fea, and was adapted for the English language by Salma Hayek.
Plana also starred as the widowed, Mexican-American patriarch, Roberto Santiago, in Showtime’s landmark, groundbreaking hit series Resurrection Boulevard for which he has received 2001 & 2002 ALMA award nominations for best actor. It is the first English speaking weekly series in the history of television to be produced, written, directed and starring Latinos. Resurrection Boulevard is the first of its kind to be renewed for three seasons on a television network and the most awarded series in Showtime’s history including an ALMA award for best television series of 2002.
Having co-directed and co-produced the film A Million To Juan with Paul Rodriguez, Plana celebrated his solo directorial debut in December 2000 with The Princess and the Barrio Boy. It represents the first Latino family film to be produced by Showtime and stars Academy Award nominee Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso, Pauly Shore, and two of Plana’s co-stars from Resurrection Boulevard, Marisol Nichols and Nicholas Gonzalez. The film received two 2001 ALMA award nominations for Best Made for Television Movie and Best Ensemble Acting and won the 2001 IMAGEN award for Best Made for Television Movie. Plana’s television episodic debut was 2001’s Resurrection Boulevard’s Saliendo, which garnered excellent critical acclaim, receiving a GLAAD award for best dramatic episode of the year and a SHINE award for sensitive portrayal of sexuality. He has directed several episodes of Nickelodeon’s hit series, The Brothers Garcia, receiving a HUMANITAS award nomination and winning the Imagen Award for its third season finale, Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover. He just completed directing an episode of Greetings from Tucson for the Warner Brothers Network.
Plana is also the co-founder and executive artistic director of the East L.A. Classic Theatre, a group comprised primarily of Hispanic American theatre professionals. The East L.A. Classic Theatre is dedicated to serving the Latino community through educational outreach programs to primary and secondary schools and through Bi-lingual productions of traditional and contemporary classics.
Through the East L.A. Classic Theatre, Plana has developed a unique and innovative literacy program called Beyond Borders. It is designed to enable students to expand their educational horizons and academic achievements by moving beyond their personal, cultural and vocational borders.
Working directly with language arts teachers, Beyond Borders utilizes the performing arts to impact literacy skills in academically at risk and bi-lingual students. Proven to facilitate and even accelerate student achievement of district and state literacy standards, the program recently received a 5-year Title VII grant from the federal government and educational grants from the Toyota Corporation and Times-Mirror Foundation through the Montebello Unified School District. It has also received a three-year California State Education grant through the Baldwin Park Unified School District.
Plana’s distinct talent lies in his provocative adaptations of classic Shakespearean plays, specifically conceived for minority communities with little or no theatre going experience. He directs these plays against relevant historical backgrounds that foster interest in expressive speech and dramatic literature and which serve as catalysts for the investigation of personal and interpersonal psychology, race and cultural relations, socio-political issues and world history.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set during the Spanish conquest of the Americas, comedically explores the strained relations between Native Americans and the conquistadors ultimately proposing an integrated vision of Indigenous and European cultures.
A zoot suit styled Romeo & Juliet, with 1940’s W.W. II swing music, features a Japanese Juliet and a Latino Romeo struggling to define their love and future in a city sharply divided by racism and economics.
A 21st century salsa musical version of Twelfth Night satirizes narcissism as an impediment to mature love, highlighting Latino/African American relationships and promoting openness to other races, other cultures.
A Mariachi musical Much Ado About Nothing set in early California depicts upper class Mexican rancheros interacting with working class Anglo prospectors and farmers.
Plana is also committed to developing new works. He has directed several critically acclaimed theatre pieces, including: Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Don Jose de la Mancha; Nancy De Los Santos’ The Answer to My Prayer; and Rick Nájera’s The Pain of the Macho for HBO New Writer’s Festival. As well as Guillermo Reyes’ The Seductions of Johnny Diego and A Heart’s Eye, adapted from James Agee’s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, for the mark Taper Forum; and Rogelio Martinez’ Adrift for South Coast Repertory Theatre.
As an actor Plana has starred in more than 60 feature films, including JFK, Nixon, Salvador, An Officer and a Gentleman, Lone Star, Three Amigos, Born in East L.A., El Norte, 187, Primal Fear, Romero, One Good Cop, Havana, The Rookie, Silver Strand and Picking Up the Pieces with Woody Allen. He recently appeared in the action thriller Half Past Dead with Steven Segal and Morris Chestnut, and JaRul.
On television he recently starred in the Showtime Original Miniseries, Fidel, as the notorious Cuban dictator, Batista, as well as Showtime’s Noriega: God’s Favorite. He has portrayed leading roles in four critically acclaimed television series Veronica Claire for Lifetime, Bakersfield P.D. for FOX and Steven Bocco’s Total Security and City of Angels for ABC. He has also appeared in several Emmy award winning programs such as Sweet Fifteen, Drug Wars: The Camarena Story, The Burning Season: The Life and Death of Chico Mendes and a special episode of L.A. Law, which also received an Imagen Award. Mr. Plana currently portrays a recurring role in FOX’S John Doe and on NBC’s award winning drama The West Wing as the U.S. Secretary of State.
Plana has been very active in live theatre. On Broadway, his credits include Zoot Suit and The Boys of Winter. He has performed in leads at the Mark Taper Forum in Zoot Suit, Richard III, Widows, and The Reader. He has appeared in a wide variety of productions in many venues, including Figaro Gets a Divorce at the La Jolla Playhouse; Rum and Coke, Cuba and His Teddy Bear and Bang Bang Blues at the New York Public Theatre; Rum and Coke and Charlie Bacon and His Family at the South Coast Repertory Theatre; The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (The Musical) at the Pasadena Playhouse; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet at the California Shakespearean Festival; Fugue at Syracuse Stage Company and Ariel Dorfmann’s Mascara at the Arizona Theatre Company.
He is the recipient of two Nosotros Golden Eagle awards for outstanding work in film and television, as well as five Los Angeles Dramalogue Awards for Theatre. In addition to his extensive involvement in the media arts, he also serves on various boards including the American Red Cross, the Mariachi Heritage Foundation, the East L.A. Community Youth Center, and the Young Musicians Foundation created by Henry Mancini.
Plana is the proud father of Alejandro and Isabel and has been happily married to actress Ada Maris who starred in Nurses on NBC and currently stars on Nickelodeon’s The Brothers Garcia.
Embracing the Spirit of Multiculturalism
In this presentation, diversity speaker Tony Plana advocates for the recognition of minority contributions to US history, from the military to the arts. A Cuban immigrant, Plana shares stories from his youth, emphasizing how he embraced education in order to achieve success and was able to make a cultural contribution through his dedication. Celebrating diversity, human values, and tolerance, he encourages audiences to move past the civil rights struggles of the 20th century, and to embrace the complexity of identity in society today.
The Classroom as Theater
As executive director of the East LA Classic Theatre, celebrity speaker Tony Plana demonstrates his dedication to serving the community through educational outreach theater programs. In this presentation, Plana incorporates his expertise of stage and screen performance - producing a unique tool to making education more entertaining and useful in the acquisition of language arts.