Well, it’s that time of year. Time to talk about how great/awful/stressful 2019 was (is). And I’ll get to that soon. But, first, HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE!!!! We made it. No matter what you went through this year (and I’m sure most of us WENT. THROUGH. IT.), you made it. You’re here. You survived. And let’s take a moment to look at what we’re leaving behind and just be excited to be alive. We made it, fam.
I tend to look at 2017 as the best playwriting year I had. It was the year of a lot of firsts and a lot of doors opened for me that year. A lot of impossibles happened that year and for some reason I’ve been using that year as the metric this entire time.
We live in a culture where novelty is important and sometimes too important. I went from feeling like my plays were going to die on my laptop to realizing for the first time that actually, maybe my work was getting read more than I thought. 2017 felt like the first time I could call myself a playwright. And even then I didn’t.
2018 came in hot. I had HIGH hopes and if you had asked me at the end of 2018, it didn’t really deliver. BUT WHY DID I THINK THAT? In 2018, Well-Intentioned White People had two productions, I got new commissions, and I’m pretty sure I had a reading every month. And yet, at the end of 2018, literally on my way to a New Year’s Eve party, I wrote that I had felt like I failed somehow.
And this is where I gotta bring up my parents again. I was raised that anything short of perfection was not good enough. One of the jokes I used to tell was that my “brother” got a C on his report card and we took him to dinner. I got a “B” and they took my TV away. When I wasn’t #1 in graduating my class, one of my parents (not saying which one) said I was “lucky” to have gotten into Notre Dame and Columbia because my grades were bad (I was tied for #2 in my class ranking!!!). I got into Notre Dame, USC, Berkeley, Columbia and I STILL hear about how I didn’t get into Yale. There was no winning (which is probably why in college I was like “f*ck it” and partied the whole time).
I think that relentless drive for perfection has carried over into playwriting. It’s something I’ve been trying to shake for years but I’ve decided I don’t want to carry that into 2020. And so instead of resolutions, I want to talk about 2 things I plan to carry into 2020 and 2 things I plan to leave behind.
Leave behind: Relentlessly submitting
For the last three years, I have tried to submit to 100 opportunities. Last year, I think it ended up being 90. This year my number is 87. In 2017, I submitted 102 times.
And honestly? It just doesn’t feel worth it. I think it’s crucial at the beginning of your career. If you’re an early career playwright, please do this. Submit everywhere, especially if you live in a city that isn’t NYC, Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, or Los Angeles. Why? Because you can’t just invite a literary manager to a reading you put on yourself. You have to be proactive.
But I’ve done that. It almost feels like there’s a fatigue now. Like, I’m sure this is in my head but it feels like lit managers are going “Oh great, another Rachel Lynett play.”
Now, I want to focus on submitting to places I really want to work with or to companies whose missions most align with mine. And I also want to meet people. Which brings me to
Carry Forward: MEET PEOPLE
I travel a lot for work/playwriting and I’m not great at networking. I was at a playwriting opportunity with a playwright I super admire and while she was working on her play, she met with three other ADs in the area. I want to be more proactive about networking when I can be. Whenever I travel, even if it’s a city I’ve been to before, I want to email at least one AD who I haven’t worked with before and see if they’ll meet up for coffee. I’ve always wanted my plays to speak for themselves but that’s just not how this industry works. Sometimes you gotta get out there, go to some super hip coffee shop that isn’t really your scene, and smile as the AD talks about how brilliant [random playwright you can’t stand] is. It’s the part of the job that I hate but I gotta do it.
Leave Behind: Production, Prize, or List?
I’m not even sure when this happened but I got to the point where I got obsessed with the “lists.” “The Top 10 Playwrights to Watch This Year.” The Kilroys. The Mix by Steppenwolf. There are really so many and I wasn’t on any of them and for literally most of the year I completely beat myself up about it. Also also, I didn’t have any full productions this year.
BUT THAT’S NOT TRUE. Abortion Road Trip, which is still royalty-free until May 2020, was produced FOUR times. And each of those productions was really important because it wasn’t about me. At all. It was about reproductive rights and creating a protest with art, which is supposedly the whole point.
Before, I had to teach myself to get out of my own way. Now, I need to teach myself to get out of my own ego. I’m a narcissist. I know this. I’m obsessed with myself. Michelle Wolf has a joke that a blog is just a conversation no one wanted to have with you. I’ll take it a step farther and say my blog is the only kind of conversation I can completely control which of course makes it my favorite.
But I am not God’s gift to playwriting. Yes, I want to write to build my various communities up through art. BUT I’m not the only one. I’m not even the best one. And if I’m doing this for my community, then I gotta chill the f*ck out.
Also, see the stats at the bottom of this blog. I’M DOING FINE.
Carry Forward: What have I never written before? Let’s Do IT!
Y’all. If we’re only talking full-lengths and brand new material, I’ve written ELEVEN new plays. If we count completes re-writes or heavy edits, I’ve written FOURTEEN.
And why? (No one’s asked me why.) A driving force behind all of these plays was “What have I never written before?” And then I decided to do it. Personally, 2019 was miserable for me but I challenged myself like crazy. I didn’t want to be the “she always write domestic dramas about sisters” playwright. And yes, many of these plays are still pretty domestic #noregrets but I pushed what I thought a domestic play could be. What topics were allowed on stage. I really, really wanted to write things I’d never seen before on stage and then I did it ELEVEN times.
In 2020, I hope to edit some of them but I also hope I continue to move forward with writing what I haven’t written before, what I haven’t seen before, what should’ve been staged years ago. And I don’t care anymore if something is producible because I’m learning that’s a myth. I’m going to write what I want because the stories I want to tell are important.
Everyone deserves to have a chance to see their story staged and I want to be part of the TEAM of playwrights challenging theatres across the country to be better about representation.
It’s been an incredible year.
They say* what you do on New Year’s Day, you’ll be doing all year. Well, on January 1, 2020, I’ll be in rehearsal for a new play. And I truly, truly hope that’s what I’ll be doing all year.
I’ve seen a lot of playwrights posting stats and I think the more we share about this job, the easier it is for the next generation. So here goes.
Number of submissions: 87
Number of yes’s from submissions: 2
Number of unsolicited asks for my work: 13
Number of readings: 12
Number of productions: 5 (Abortion Road Trip, 4 times and Pick Me Up)
Number of commissions: 3 (!!!!)
Total gross income from playwriting only: $16, 100 (up from last year)
Number of New Plays Written: 11 (!!!)
Favorite New Play: Rich B*tch
If there’s a stat missing that you’re curious about, let me know and I’ll try to add it.
*The saying “What you do on New Year’s is what you’ll be doing for the rest of year” has really racist origins. I believe reclaiming is a powerful tool BUT I also have to acknowledge it as a reclamation.