Back in 2015*, I started the Arkansas Theatre Collective (ATC). The idea was that the company would only produce new plays written by playwrights who lived in Arkansas and one of the states that bordered Arkansas. I did this for three years and worked hard and spent a lot of my personal money trying to make this real but I had little to no support and looking back I can see now a piece of me knew it would never work because I didn’t want to be in Arkansas for the amount of time it would take to get this company off the ground. In my mind, I hoped that I could get it started and then pass it off. ATC lasted from 2015-2018 when I had to stop because I’d run out of money and was exhausted.
Also, I refused to produce my own work through ATC.
In 2019, for a very short period of time, I was the Artistic Director of a small company in Arkansas called Arts Center of the Ozarks (ACO). Y’all know what happened there. But while I was there, I tried to create a playwright residency and more opportunities for new playwrights in the region. There are a lot of reasons why that didn’t work out. It’s also worth noting that ACO had a predominantly white staff and predominantly white board. Their priorities were different than mine.
Also, I refused to produce my work at ACO.
Later in 2019, I tried to start the Arkansas Playwright’s Collective. I wanted to create a collective so that Arkansas playwrights had a way to produce their work, work with other playwrights, and create a stronger network there. I intended to be the administrator for this. But what I didn’t want to admit was that I was done. I was done with the region, personally, and I needed something different. No disrespect to Arkansas. I think it’s an incredible place but it just wasn’t what I needed to keep moving forward.
Also, if I had started the collective, I insisted I would not be one of the playwrights produced. So, again, refusing to produce my own work.
Something’s changed in me after seeing the country on fire. I watched peaceful protesters get tear gassed. I watched how the police incited violence and most importantly I witnessed how theatre companies failed to respond to what was happening. And then once companies did, many of the statements felt hollow.
The game’s changed. COVID and the BLM protests have changed it. Because of the pandemic, many theatre companies have gone digital meaning that…we aren’t restricted to space in the same ways we used to. Because of the BLM protests, many theatre companies are looking inward and are committed to changing their program to be more inclusive. And that’s great.
But it also feels like it’s not enough. I want to see more companies rise from the ashes that are Black and queer led. I want to see more playwrights take ownership of their work and how its produced. I want to see more opportunities for theatre artists who are QPOC that weren’t created as an afterthought.
I realized that if I want this to happen, I have step up and make it happen.
So June 2020, I’m announcing that I’m officially starting the Rachel Lynett Theatre Company. 100% of the staff will be WOC or queer. 100% of the board will be WOC or queer. 60% of every play produced will have roles that are WOC or queer.
I want more than a statement on diversity. I want to see actual, structural change. I want to see more QPOC in leadership roles and if I have to start my own company to make that happen, then I will.
I’d like to formally introduce the Rachel Lynett Theatre Company.
*Arkansas Theatre Collective started off as Open Fence Coalition which I started in 2013 but I consider the beginning of ATC to be 2015