Playwright Lynette Linton: ‘I never knew theatre was for me until I stepped into it’
With writing credits including Step at Theatre Royal Stratford East and directing credits including Assata Taught Me at London’s Gate Theatre, Lynette Linton tells Roda Musa about her play exploring mixed-race identity and light-skin privilege…
What first attracted you to theatre?
It took me a while to settle on what I wanted to do, as I never grew up with theatre. I wanted to be an actor at first. I used to write short stories and things, but I had never written a play before. When I wrote Step, I realised this was what I wanted to do. I never knew theatre was for me until I stepped into it. It’s important we let people know that it is for everyone and not just a certain part of society.
What is #Hashtag Lightie about?
It follows a family of four: the youngest, Ella, has a YouTube channel called #Hashtag Lightie, where she does make-up tips. She is constantly told she is absolutely beautiful and starts to believe that. After she posts a video of her interracial family online and it goes viral, the play explores general attitudes surrounding mixed-race people. It looks at how all the people in the family feel about their identity and what light-skin privilege is.
Where did the idea come from?
Every story I had seen about mixed race people didn’t represent my experiences at all. I’m not claiming to write the universal mixed-race story but I have tried to tell a story about a family who all feel differently about their identity. I was inspired by an interview with the Mowry twins, Tia and Tamera. One of them is married to a white man and the other is married to a black man and in the interview they discuss how they both get so much hate for their choice of partner. I found that so interesting.
Why do you hold Q&A sessions after performances?
When the show first ran at the beginning of the year, a lot of people said they felt like we needed to have them, because people felt emotionally connected to the story and they needed to hear how other people felt. I think that was also part of the reason it was popular, because people had the space to be emotionally expressive and talk about what they were seeing on stage. It’s very powerful when you realise other people are going through the same things as you.
Do you want it to have a particular effect?
It’s a very complicated topic and I don’t want to give anyone answers, just points to discuss. I want it to start conversations and create room for us to talk about these issues. I think when you talk about race or gender or any of these things that are specific to individual people you never try to claim you know the way to go. I think one of the things the play does is tell you that we are all different and have our own experiences, even if we’re in the same family. All four siblings in the play feel very differently about their identity. I didn’t want to paint everyone with the same brush, which tends to happen to minorities.
CV: Lynette Linton
Training: StoneCrabs young directors course, 2013
First professional play: Step, Theatre Royal Stratford East, 2013
#Hashtag Lightie runs at London’s Arcola Theatre from November 14 to December 2