What is your identity?
Defining my identity has continued to be something I’m still trying to figure out. Typically, I identify as a theatre artist of color but the full spectrum of my identity is best described as Afro-Latinx, Black, LGBQTIA+ theatre artist.
What is your mission as a writer?
I came up with this tagline to describe my artistic process that I actually really love: “First, we’re going to laugh. Then, we’re going to talk.” With my writing, I hope to hold up a mirror to the people in the audience so that we can work towards social justice together. I write about the world I see around me and how I feel I (don’t) fit into it. I tend to write for liberal audiences because that’s who I typically see in the theatre. But I write dark comedies that address how the patting ourselves on the back isn’t productive. Or necessarily deserved.
I suppose my mission as a writer is to use my voice and the privilege I have to help work towards social change. I want people to feel challenged to do something after seeing my work, even if it’s just having a conversation they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Tell us about Good Bad People.
Good Bad People is a new play I’ve been working on. In the play, June comes to bury her brother, Amiri, who has just been killed by a police officer. But June is coming back to a place that never really felt like home and trying to reconcile with her mother, Miriam, who has locked herself in her bedroom and her sister, Audre, who’s been working her whole life to be someone else. So, while burying her brother, June, Audre, and Miriam are also un-burying all the familial tragedies that have come up over the years.
Why do you write?
I’m still figuring that out. I started off as a stage manager but then got into playwriting because I was tired of the only roles for people who liked me being the maid or the fun friend who solved everyone else’s problems. I wanted to create more complex stories and roles for the queer community and for people of color. I saw a funny meme that was going around that said something along the lines of theatre really does show the diversity of white people dealing with problems and I write to change that. I don’t want to have to sit through another play of an all-white, cis, straight family dealing with [fill in the blank]. The world is more complex than that and I think theatre should reflect that.
What advice do you have for African Diasporic, Black, Latinx and Afrolatinx theatre artists?
Protect your voice. Listen and trust your mentors but protect your voice. You’re going to work with a lot of different kinds of people and you will have to do a lot of explaining. And sometimes people won’t understand but that doesn’t mean you—or your experiences—are wrong. It takes time and it’s your choice if you even want to engage. If do choose to engage, make sure that whatever you put out into the world is what you want to put out and not what you feel like you have to.
How can people find your work?
My plays are available on New Play Exchange or you can read samples and request full drafts on my website: rachellynett.com
What has been a challenge in this career?
I’m still so new to this career that the biggest challenge for me is accepting that it’s a career. I think it’s easy to say “Playwrting is a job not a hobby” but still not make enough time for it. I work in production at an arts center and too many times I’ve said “I don’t have time to write” or “I don’t have time to edit.” It’s hard to prioritize playwriting as work but it’s also necessary. I’ve had to start scheduling writing and researching the way I would a part time job. Recognizing that a part of being successful means making the time. I’m also the kind of person who takes on a lot of things at once and have had to become pretty upfront about protecting my time, which hasn’t always been taken well. Finding a good middle ground between working in the arts on the production/producing/managing side and working separately as a playwright outside of the state has been an intense but welcome challenge.
If may be too soon, but November 13, Good Bad People will have a staged reading through Jackalope Theatre Company’s CIRCLE UP program. It will also include a podcast that’ll available after the reading (Chicago).
There will also be a reading of Well-Intentioned White People in Chicago with Stage Left in early spring 2018. Dates haven’t been set yet but will be soon.
My website, rachellynett.com, has a news tab where you can track what I’m up to and where I’m heading next.
Advice for those interested in pursuing a career in the arts.
Trust yourself but also be patient. I was told about resilience and being prepared to be rejected but no one really talked to me about long things would take. I got used to things working out of me very quickly. I went to private prep schools and then a private college and then got a job right out of college…things worked out quickly. Playwriting/the arts wasn’t like that. There were months of good news and then years of none. It’s so easy to quit during the “not hearing anything” period but I think the biggest lesson of all is to wait. It doesn’t just rise and rise and rise. Sometimes you’re on the rise and then suddenly nothing and then you’re rising again. The ride is worth it. You just have to buy into and be ready to wait for it.