Get to know... playwright Tracey Knight Narang
WESTPORT — When longtime Westport resident Tracey Knight Narang set out to self-publish a parody of an etiquette book about New York City’s underground transportation system, she didn’t realize she’d also be coining a new phrase.
But her humor book, “Subway Etiquette: The Straphanger’s Guide to Underground Conduct,” caught on to the extent that “subway etiquette” became a phrase commonly used by city residents and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began to utilize some of her book’s sarcasm in campaigns to encourage more respectful riding.
It was Narang’s first foray into published authorship, but it would not be her only. Nearly 20 years later, she followed with a play, “To Each Their Own,” that centered around a couple who had for years struggled with infertility and then becomes pregnant. It debuted to positive reviews at the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival.
Narang continues to write and remains involved in the theater. Most recently, she was named the Actors’ Equity Foundation vice president. The foundation gives out individual awards to actors in New York and Los Angeles and also awards grants to more than 150 local theaters nationwide, including the Westport Playhouse.
Q: What is the Actors’ Equity Foundation and what role will you play?
A: The Actors’ Equity Foundation is an arm of the Actors’ Equity Association. The association is actually a union; the foundation is not. We are an arm of it and our mission is to support American theater and artists. None of the equity union funds go to the foundation; we are funded privately.
My new role is to help our new president and to help them fund raise and find new ways we can help the community at large. One of the reasons I was so attracted to joining the board in the first place is that they give out over 150 grants each year to theaters throughout the country. I love that.. In this climate theaters struggle. A small amount goes a really long way for these theaters, even if it’s helping them pay their postage and heating bills. It’s gigantic.
Q: What’s your connection to theater?
A: It’s simply that I love theater, especially straight plays. Of course we all love musicals — they make you feel good and you walk away singing. Plays can be on Broadway, but a straight play has no music. I love the drama and dysfunction of straight plays, especially family dramas.
In college I was a theater major. I started out wanting to be a journalist. As time went by, I always wanted to write a play.
A few years back when I turned a certain age, I decided it was now or never. I started writing a play and getting deeper and deeper into the theater community. And I decided, this is where I felt at home. I was really happy to jump into this board position at the Actors’ Equity Foundation. It’s opening new doors and allowing me to meet new people.
Q: When and how did your love of theater begin? Did you attend many shows as a child in Pennsylvania?
A: There wasn’t a lot of theater where I grew up, even though I was always singing and acting at home. There was a dinner theater in Chester, but we didn’t go to it. Even though where we lived was closer in proximity to Philadelphia, we would come to New York City maybe once a year to see plays. I remember my first Broadway show was “Annie.” It was just huge!
Eventually I went to Hunter College in Manhattan and theater was at my doorstep. I love indie theater and I got an opportunity to see a lot of the stuff downtown, which I still see. Off-Broadway is something I really love a lot.
Q: Who are the contemporary playwrights you enjoy reading?
A: When I think of contemporary playwrights, I would say David Lindsay-Abaire, who wrote “Rabbit Hole” and “Good People.” I love his stories. I just love the family drama; it’s all about truth. Same with Edward Albee — he’s a truth teller. And I loved Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County.
I would say that as an emerging artist, those are the people who I really connect with.
I read a lot of plays, which is kind of how I teach myself. I didn’t get an MFA in theater, believe it or not. I do a lot of reading because I learn so much that way. It’s self taught.
Q: What did you do before you started writing?
A: In my younger days, I was an intern and production assistant at Channel 2 News and then I did the same thing at “Good Day New York,” Fox’s morning show.
At first I thought maybe I’d go into broadcast journalism, but then I saw that the people on screen weren’t necessarily doing the writing. I liked the writing part of it and I liked going out and investigating and finding information and doing research.
From (Good Day New York), I was in public relations for a while. I left that and wrote a book and started having babies and I’ve just been writing whenever I could.
Q: Your play, “To Each Their Own,” has been described as “provocative.” Did you set out to write a provocative play?
A: When I started out writing it, I didn’t know where it was going to go exactly. I remember the first scene I wrote was so tragic and sad and devastating. It’s all about choice — it wasn’t about right or wrong. Some people call it political.
I don’t know if it was necessarily political, but I touch on abortion, miscarriage, genetic testing and that type of thing. I tried to remain kind of impartial so that everyone could have their own choice and thoughts about pregnancy. It’s a very private thing for everybody, men and women. It just sort of morphed into the story it was, but I knew it was going to be about choice.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I’m always writing. Right now I have this crazy period where I’ve got three things I’m working on, which is way too many voices to have in your head. I’m trying to figure out which one I want to focus on.
I think I’ve finally decided which one to go with. It’s dark. I like to write dramedy. I like to write sad things but then put a little levity in, because that’s real life.