Donna Hoke
12 min readJun 18, 2018

A quintessential #PLONY, Rachel Lynett has all the makings of stellar career. She’s racked up an impressive list of finalist and semifinalists notices; been part of the Orlando Shakespeare New Play Festival, American Stages 21st Century New Voices, Jackalope Theatre’s CIRCLE UP, and Capital Fringe; and was selected for Downstage Left Residency at Stage Left for WELL-INTENTIONED WHITE PEOPLE, which got an Honorable Mention on the 2017 Kilroys List, and gets its world premiere this August at the prestigious Barrington Stage. It’s impressive resume even when you don’t consider she’s only been serious about playwriting since 2012, and she gets no boost from her home base.


What’s your geographical history? Were you born in Arkansas?

No, I was born in Los Angeles, and I went to Notre Dame for undergrad, and, from there, I came to Arkansas. I needed a job, and I wanted it to be in theater so when a woman from Trike Theatre–Kassie Misiewicz; she’s from Indiana originally but lives in Bentonville, AR–came to talk to my class at Notre Dame (she’s a Notre Dame alum), I said, “Please give me a job. I don’t care what it is.” I ended up being a stage manager on tour teaching elementary kids the history of Arkansas using theater; it was through Trike Theatre and called Digging Up Arkansas.

How long have you been there now?

Since 2011, almost seven years. It’s interesting. When I first moved here, it felt like a mini Chicago, but there’s little things to adjust to — like there’s no food after ten o’clock. Liquor stores close early on weekdays. But I really like it; it’s a nice place to live and work. I don’t know where else I could have a full-time theater job and be paid a livable wage.

You were a theater/gender studies major in college; how did you start writing plays?

I had no interest originally, but I was lonely, and someone suggested I take a playwriting workshop. I loved it, and from there I met Bob Ford [Artistic Director, TheatreSquared, Fayetteville], and he convinced me to get an MFA. While I was getting an MFA at the University of Arkansas, I was trying to start a theater company focused on new work, Arkansas Theatre Collective.

I’ve submitted to you! What’s going on with it now?

It’s kind of dissolved. When I left grad school, I went on to be an adjunct, but it’s hard and doesn’t pay, so I went to the Arts Center of the Ozarks to be a company manager, and that was the first to pay me a livable wage, because Trike was an internship. From there, I came to Artists Laboratory Theatre, and I tried to balance full-time working productions and also keep Arkansas Theatre Collective, which is more a passion project, and also be a playwright and travel and do all that. I couldn’t balance it, so took it as a sign to slow down, focus on my own work, and be a better production manager. I hope in three years, I can be back at it full force with grant funding and 501(c)3 status.

Once you got your MFA, things started happening for you quickly. What helped things along?

In 2015, I got lucky. I met a lot of great people at the right time, so I don’t really know. It’s funny; I feel like I haven’t done anything at all, and then I look at my resume, and say, “How old are you?” [She’s 28.] In grad school, I went to ACTF Region 6 as a finalist with a ten-minute play, and that’s where I met my dramaturg, Heather Helinsky. We ended up connecting and having her helped a lot.

And then, honestly, I kept showing up for stuff. I wanted to go to the Kennedy Center as a playwright, and when I didn’t get in, they asked if I wanted to go as a stage manager instead, so I said, “I’ll do that.” I got to be in the room.

After that, I joined NPX. That changed my life. I went from never submitting anything, and then as soon as I got on NPX, companies were like, “We’re interested in your work. Send us your work. We like your voice. Send us more plays.” Barrington Stage contacted me through NPX.

What really feels like it launched everything was in 2016, Theatre Prometheus contacted me to do ABORTION ROAD TRIP in DC as part of the Capital Fringe Festival, and when I did that, something just kind of happened. We packed the house, and the Kennedy Center noticed that, and put it in the 2017 Page to Stage Festival.

You also started submitting a ton, too.

At least a hundred opportunities a year. Any time I saw “submit,” if I thought the play worked, I sent it. It’s also been just meeting people. At least fifty people had their hands on WELL-INTENTIONED WHITE PEOPLE, and I started getting contacted, and still do twice a month from people who say, “Send me a play.” Frequently, it doesn’t turn into anything else, but all of a sudden, people were watching me. I don’t know what happened.

How many submissions do you make a year?

Between 50 to 200, depending on the year and how depressed I am. Last year, I only did 70. This year so far, I’ve done 64 or 65. My goal is 100. Before, I sent to everything, and there were just some that rejected me three years in a row, so I’m not going to send them another play. I’m trying to be smarter and more specific; you can’t make somebody love you.

You also mentioned on Facebook that you have two commissions; how did they come about?

I can’t say who they’re with, but one of them was because of an actor who was in reading of my show. And then the other was from working with theater companies and they send me edits and I would do the edits, and I’d be open to suggestions. I’m not as careful with my work as some… With Barrington, we’ve been editing and collaborating on it to make it as strong as possible since December. At least once a month, we talked intensely about the play, and I’d listen and be open to suggestions. It’s not prescriptive; they are working with me, not against me.

University of Arkansas

Everyone talks about the MFA from the “right” place; do you believe in that? You got yours from the University of Arkansas, which, no offense isn’t considered one of them. Do you feel it helped you, and, if so, how?

No! I think that my MFA gave me more time to really figure out what my voice was. I had the space to learn what kind of writer I wanted to be. And it was an education experience that was personally challenging: how do I make opportunities happen for myself?

I had an assistantship while I was in grad school, so I didn’t need a job and I don’t have any debt, which is awesome. In that way, it’s helped a lot, and helped my craft, but I don’t know that it necessarily helped my career. I had to learn that myself, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be regionally produced. I’m getting produced in Massachusetts and Chicago, and I have New York contacting me, but I can’t get a theater in my own backyard to produce me yet. I’m not bitter about it, but that’s weird to me.

Why do you think that is?

It feels like it’s because I haven’t had that New York premiere. In this region, if you don’t have that fancy New York production, you’re not on the radar.

It’s the same in Buffalo. Are there a lot of playwrights in your region?

I hear that there are not enough, but I can name a couple. They’re very scattered. They need a space, they need somewhere, someone to say, “We know you’re not a Chicago playwright, not a New York playwright, but you’re an Arkansas playwright, and that’s important. Local is important.” That space doesn’t exist, which is why I still want to do the Arkansas Theatre Collective, which will only do new work from regional playwrights.

Have you ever been told you should move to New York?

All the time. New York and Chicago. I feel like once a week I’m told I need to move there, and how much better I’d be doing if I moved. I think it’s the idea that I could network more. One thing that was hard about Stage Left since I didn’t live there was that it was a lot of Skype and phone calls; things had to be more like, “I’m going to fly up these days,” and talking on the phone about notes, and “You’re sick; we’ll have to cancel.” It would have been really cool if I was in Chicago; it’s hard to get all the moving parts together when you’re not in someone’s face.

From the outside looking in, it seems Chicago supports Chicago, and New York supports New York. I hear “you’d get produced more if they saw you as a New York playwright as opposed to an Arkansas playwright.” They tell me to change my bio, because I have “Arkansas-based playwright” in my first sentence, but I’m weirdly proud that I’m in Arkansas, and I’m still doing that.

I love to hear that! I think it’s important for #PLONY to not apologize for where they live. If the work is good, it shouldn’t matter.

I like living in a relatively cheap city where I get to do what I’m doing. I work full-time at a theater company, working on shows, and I have health insurance. I don’t know how I could do that and still be able to fly and take off on playwriting adventures. When I think of moving, I don’t think of New York, I think of Kansas City, Missouri.


How do you think your career might have been different in New York?

I would be different, but I don’t think it would be better. I have friends who moved and thought it would change their lives and they’re counting quarters for dinner. I’m not saying that in a judgy way at all; I’m not rich. But I don’t want to have to debate, “Do I have to turn down this playwriting opportunity because I can’t afford the flight?” or because it’s a reimbursement rather than a check up front. I don’t want money to be a determinant, and, right now, I have a savings account. I’m building good credit. Would my life be different? I’d have a lot more readings, but I don’t think I’d have more productions. Productions are getting sparse, so I don’t think being there helps. A lot of it feels like it’s [headed toward] commissions, and you have to build relationships first.

Is there a playwriting career decision you made personally that you feel has been instrumental?

This is going to sound so lame, but I just started saying yes to things. Even if it wasn’t sexy opportunity. I stage managed. I was a literary intern. I did all the stuff that nobody wants to do, and I think that helped me learn, listen more. And also, honestly, getting on the New Play Exchange, and just being kind. Being kind goes a really long way. Every time I’m done with a residency, I write a personal thank you note to everyone, anyone I saw, anyone whose name I learned. They’re handwritten, and I hand to them: I don’t mail them. Just doing that has helped me.

Do you think there’s a difference between #PLONY and NYC playwrights?

No, but that’s because I’m not looking for one. When I meet a playwright, all we talk about is “God, this is a shitty job,” and then we get breakfast or a drink and talk about the one time we got that residency and they paid us twenty bucks. That’s the universal no matter where you are. If we didn’t have that “ugh!” connecting us, I might have other things to say. That’s the thing that’s shared, and that’s the thing that connects us.

Do you write ten-minute plays?

No. I wrote one, but I’m not good at the form. I got a ten-minute play into Source Festival and into Kennedy ACTF, but I always felt like my ten-minutes are just the first ten pages of a full-length rather than a solid play on his own.

How many full-length plays do you have?

Sixteen, but only five that I like. I wrote my first ever play in 2010, then didn’t write another one because I didn’t think I was into playwriting. Then starting from 2012 is when everything exploded. So far this year, I’ve written three.

What do you consider your first sign of success?

The first play that made me feel like a playwright was BREATHE ME IN. It got a lot of almost, which was good enough to convince me this was worth fighting for. It was a semi for the O’Neill, and a finalist for the Kernodle Award. It didn’t win anything, and it’s still never been produced, but I was like, “Whoa. I think I wrote something good.” There were two readings of it.

What’s funny is it was my goodbye letter to playwriting, what you do when you’re a failed playwright. It was right after I didn’t get into the Kennedy Center, and I said, “You know what? I’m going to write my last play and stop trying to push. I won’t stop writing, but I’m going to stop pushing; it’s just going to be a hobby.” And my goodbye actually made me stay. And then ABORTION ROAD TRIP is what kicked everything into motion.

Any advice for #PLONY who want to be like you when they grow up?

Read the other plays that a company does and ask them about them. And the kindness… be careful. I have a funny story I can’t super share, but I was really frustrated with a playwright and didn’t know I was talking to, and it turned out to be a good friend of theirs. That was an uncharacteristic moment of unkindness for me, and it ended up being pretty embarrassing. The playwriting world is smaller than we think. That kindness is invaluable, and I think I get remembered for it and it helps.

Also, I’m on the receiving end at ATC, and some emails I get from playwrights…. “Why wouldn’t you want to produce my play?” “How do you not know about me?” They’re snapping at the person reading their play! Why would you snap at the person choosing your work? That person who was rude to me? We didn’t even read his play. We don’t want to work with someone who’s rude.

It’s about remembering that we all get to do this fun thing, but we have to be respectful of people.

–Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.

–Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

–To read #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) interviews, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.

–To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.

–For more #AHAinTheater posts, click here or the category listing at upper right.

Dramatists Guild Council member and ensemble playwright-in-residence at Road Less Traveled Productions, Kilroys List and award-winning playwright Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in 46 states, and on five continents. Her full-length plays include ELEVATOR GIRL (2017 O’Neill finalist), THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (Princess Grace semi-finalist, currently in its fourth year in rep in Romania), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney, Naatak, and Great Gay Play and Musical Contests), and BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (2016 Kilroys List, Winner HRC Showcase, Firehouse Festival of New American Plays); she’s also authored more than three dozen short plays that have had hundreds of productions, and has been nominated for both the Francesca Primus and Susan Blackburn prizes. She’s also a two-time winner of the Emanuel Fried Award for Best New Play (SEEDS, SONS & LOVERS).

Donna is also a New York Times-published crossword puzzle constructor; author of Neko and the Twiggets, a children’s book; and founder/co-curator of BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories. For three consecutive years, she was named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice, the only woman to ever receive the designation.

In addition, Donna is a blogger, advocate, and moderator of the 12,000+-member Official Playwrights of Facebook. Recent speaking engagements include Citywrights, Kenyon Playwrights Conference, the Dramatists Guild National Conference, Chicago Dramatists, Austin Film Festival, and a live Dramatists Guild webinar. Her commentary has been read at #2amt, howlround, the Official Playwrights of Facebook, the newly released Workshopping the New Play, and donnahoke.com.

Originally published at blog.donnahoke.com.



Donna Hoke

Award-winning playwright, Dramatists Guild Council, founding co-curator BUA Takes 10: LGBT Short Stories, xword puzzle maker, author, blogger, word slayer!