‘I believe my plays can help impact social change:’ Rachel Lynett’s ‘He Did It’ to be performed at the Arkansas New Play Festival

Rachel Lynett / Courtesy photo

The plays of Rachel Lynett are nothing if not topical. Racism, domestic abuse, police brutality, and abortion are some of the hot-button issues that crop up in plays with titles like “Good Bad People,” “Abortion Road Trip,” “black kitchen sink” and “Well-Intentioned White People.”

In “He Did It,” two women struggle with a big moral dilemma. Living a hand-to-mouth existence in Los Angeles, they are on the verge of a huge break in their fledgling show business careers as a television pilot they have developed is about to be picked up by the Showtime television network. They also know that Jefferson, their very talented writing partner who is instrumental to their pending success, is guilty of raping a mutual friend. Do the women bust Jefferson and risk jeopardizing their project and their careers, or give him a pass and deal with their consciences as best they can?

The #MeToo movement was clearly an inspiration to Lynett in writing the play, but she also drew on her own experience as well as the experience of a close friend.

“He Did It” at 2019 ANPF

Rachel Lynett’s play “He Did It” will have two staged readings during TheatreSquared’s upcoming Arkansas New Play Festival:

March 29 – 6:30 p.m. at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (tickets)
April 6 – 5 p.m. at TheatreSquared at Nadine Baum Studios (tickets)

“I write a lot about social issues that are in the news right now, but have always been relevant,” Lynett said in a recent telephone interview. “Some of these issues have been in the news forever, we just haven’t done anything about them. The #MeToo movement is in the news now, but it’s not news that women are being harassed at work.”

“He Did It” had a staged reading at the Equity Library Theatre in Chicago last November as well as a workshop production last summer at the Pegasus PlayLab, a new play festival at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. It will have two staged readings during TheatreSquared’s upcoming Arkansas New Play Festival.

“I’m excited to do the reading here and to work with a new group of actors who are older,” she said, noting that the actors at the workshop production were all undergraduates, while the age of the characters range from mid-20s to early 30s.

Lynett has been busy the past two years with readings and workshop productions of four other plays in theaters and festivals from San Francisco to Washington, DC. Not bad for someone who, as a child, dreamed of being a corporate defense attorney and only took up playwriting in 2012.

Lynett grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in theater and gender studies. During her senior year she attended a workshop on children’s theater conducted by Kassie Misiewicz, founder and artistic director of Trike Theatre in Bentonville and a graduate of Notre Dame. After repeated emails from Lynett, Misiewicz offered her job and Lynett moved to Fayetteville in 2011 to work as a management intern at Trike. During that first year — feeling lonely and looking for something to do — she joined the Arkansas Playwrights workshop. There she met Robert Ford, artistic director of TheatreSquared, who encouraged her to pursue a master’s degree in playwriting at the University of Arkansas.

Since finishing the MFA program in 2015, Lynett has worked in a variety of management positions at area theater companies and venues, including the Walton Arts Center, Artists Laboratory Theatre and the Art Center of the Ozarks, where she currently works.

Lynett’s career took off in 2017 when she was contacted by Theatre Prometheus to stage her play Abortion Road Trip at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC. It won the festival’s Best Comedy prize and was later performed by the same company at the Page-to-Stage New Play Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington.

“That’s what really blew my name up,” Lynett said. “After that, I felt like I was playing a different game.”

It was only the year before that Lynett decided to give up playwriting, believing that her calling was more on the management side of theater than writing.

“I’m organized. I’m detail oriented. I know how to work a budget,” she said. “I thought I’d be more successful becoming the managing director of a theatre company and accepting that I wasn’t talented enough to pursue a playwriting career.”

Then she wrote “Breathe Me In.” It was to be her swansong to playwriting, after which she intended to write plays only as a hobby. “Breathe Me In” became a semifinalist at the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut in 2016, and a finalist for the Kernodle New Play Award, given by the University of Arkansas. Though the play was never produced, its success caused Lynett to reassess her career decision. She approached her writing with a renewed desire to shine a light on important social issues.

“When I started, I wrote plays because I wanted recognition,” she said. “I wanted someone to pat me on the head and say ‘good job.’ Now I believe my plays can help impact social change, because I often talk about social issues.”

She has gotten a particularly big response from “Well-Intentioned White People,” a recent play that explores how white liberals deal with discrimination not directed at them, sometime causing unintended problems. She has had many audience members comment to her that they had never before thought about some of the issues presented in the play or that they look at them now in a completely different way.

“Just having that happen after a performance really inspires me,” she said. “People are listening. People want to be invited into community. They want to be allowed to have conversations in a safe place and I think my plays can help create that safe place. That’s what drives me.”