First, we’re going to laugh. Then we’re going to talk.
Even with 12 full-length plays under her belt, these ten words continue to shape Rachel Lynett‘s creative approach when writing for the stage. One of the newest additions to FST’s Playwright Collective, Lynett uses humor to bring the audience into a play’s world. Then she challenges them to reflect on topics like gender and race.
We sat down with Lynett to discuss the two plays she’s currently developing in partnership with FST, what it’s like dramatizing Black women’s challenges during the women’s suffrage movement, and her shockingly fast writing pace.
You were commissioned to write a new play as part of FST’s Suffragist Project, an artistic celebration of 100 years of the woman’s right to vote. Tell us more about this play, Carry Me.
Carry Me tells the story of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, the first integrated society for women in the mid- to late 1800s. In the play, we meet some very prominent abolitionists and suffragists of their time: the Forten Sisters, who belonged to a prominent Black family, as well as Lucretia Mott and Angelina Emily Grimké.
The play examines the question, What is more important – women’s suffrage or the abolition of slavery? How do you approach that question if you’re a Black woman? How can you even make that choice? Although that dilemma exists in a historical context, it still has echoes in the world of today.
What was your process like when it came to writing a play based on real and actual historical events?
It’s been a ride! Balancing historical context with the emotional through-line of the play was a hard line to walk throughout the process. There’s so much to say about these women and their legacy. Before I started researching for the play, I had no idea that there were any rich and influential Black families before the Civil War. Once I learned this, I wanted to show how Black women have been at the forefront of the fight for both equal rights and suffrage, even before they were free.
You wrote another play, As You Are, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, for FST’s Playwrights Project. Tell us about this play and what inspired you to take on a contemporary version of such a well-known classic.
I love As You Like It. I think it is one of Shakespeare’s messiest plays and has so much in it in regards to isolation and connection, which, in 2020, I think we all can relate to. I wanted to adapt it to take place in 2020 and show a group of people finding connection, even in the worst circumstances.
Did you find working on an adaptation to be easier or more challenging than writing something entirely new? What was your process like to transform this story into a contemporary reimagining?
The great thing about As You Like It is that people know the play, but not a lot about its specific parts, so I gave myself a lot of liberty to tell the story I wanted within the framework of the original.
Except for the characters of Celia and Rosalind, I kept all of the core relationships the same as they are in Shakespeare’s original play, and had a lot of fun thinking about how to get away with fake identity, the concept of exile, and explorations of forgiveness – all in a 2020 world.
As You Like It surprisingly has a lot of music, which I am trying to incorporate into my adaptation. It’s definitely been a challenge to find a way to pay tribute to or show reverence for the original material, while still calling it my own.
What would you say sets you apart as a playwright? Is there anything unusual about your approach that may be different from most playwrights?
I write fast. It usually takes me eight hours to write a 90-100 minute play. I love just getting the play on the paper, so my first drafts fall out of me quickly, but the editing process is especially hard. I really enjoy working with actors, directors, dramaturgs, and other theatre artists, so it feels more collaborative.
What’s next for you? Do you have other big ideas cooking now that you’re a member of FST’s Playwright Collective?
I always have big ideas. I’m currently working on a play called Black Mexican and another untitled play that’s a riff off of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig. I’m looking forward to seeing what FST and I can work on together in the future.
Rachel Lynett is a queer Afro-Latinx playwright who writes dark comedies about complex, complicated women of color. She has recently been commissioned by Barrington Stage Theatre Company to write Holy Ground and by Theatre Lab to write Last Night. She is also the new Executive Director of Page by Page, a popular monthly subscription service for theater artists designed to provide a sense of community, both online and off.