As racial tension and social justice issues finally emerged as worthy of mainstream acknowledgment over the summer of 2020, individuals and institutions took to social media to proclaim that they would do better. Politicians and celebrities, corporations and arts organizations published statements demanding not just equality for all regardless of race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation, but also promising that they themselves would take steps to level the playing field once and for all.
One pandemic surge and a traumatic election later, it’s hard to tell how many of those promises have been kept. But for playwright Rachel Lynett – whose work has been produced across the country, including multiple productions in the Tampa Bay region – her mission to create art for all voices began long before this summer.
“With my writing I always just want to constantly make sure to create work that represents people that I feel like have been ignored, or that aren’t fully fleshed out on stage yet,” says Lynett, whose play “Letters to Kamala” just wrapped its digital run at American Stage.
The script imagines a trio of prominent female trailblazers offering advice, wisdom and perspective to vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris. That Harris is now Vice-President Elect has no bearing on the story Lynett tells. Instead the writer focuses on the cultural significance and psychological weight of her nomination through the eyes of Charlotta Bass, the first Black woman candidate for vice president; Charlene Mitchell, the first Black woman to run for president; and Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to be elected to the House of Representatives, first Asian-American woman to run in Congress and the first Asian-American to run for president.
“[Artistic Director of American Stage] Stephanie Gularte reached out to me after one of my plays was in the shorts that they did over the summer,” Lynett says, speaking to how the collaboration came together, “and she was saying that she really wanted to do something that spoke to the now.”
Speaking to the now is what Lynett does, specifically giving voice to the unheard or ignored – voices whose time has more than come.
“When I approach a play it’s like: What story hasn’t been told yet?” says Lynett. “I calculate things like: Whose story is missing? Whose story do we need to be telling, and whose story do I have the right to be telling?”
There are a lot of stories Lynett – who describes herself as a “queer Afro-Latinx playwright who writes dark comedies about complex, complicated women of color” – feels are not hers to tell but, through her work, she says, “I can uplift other people who can tell those stories.”
Recognizing that like-minded artists need a path toward production before they can tell their stories, Lynett founded the Rachel Lynett Theatre Company.
“The idea is to really uplift women of color, queer artists,” she says, “people who are usually in the back seat but are usually also the ones making everything happen, and putting them front and center on stage and saying we need to be telling these stories loudly and proudly – making them the focus rather than in the background.”
More at rachellynett.com.