Adding a new dimension to LCT3 with a series of in-depth conversations.
MIRANDA ROSE HALL
Author of PLOT POINTS IN OUR SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT
In conversation with Natasha Sinha, LCT3 Associate Director
Natasha Sinha(Associate Director/LCT3): Miranda, as you’re going through this first professional production, what has been surprising about how the play has developed (or how much has been retained of it)? Has the process of developing the script been what you expected it to be?
Miranda Rose Hall (Playwright): I think that writing a play is always very surprising because at first, I am operating on the level of what is on the surface. Of course, I always want there to be depth, and I try to take on projects that stimulate a sense of depth for me, but when I actually sit down to write, it always starts with surface-level stuff. It’s the level of the words and stories and the gross mechanics of what is happening, and what people are saying, and why they’re in the same room. Then, I find over the rewriting process, it is really about excavating what is underneath the language, and the circumstance. It’s about digging into deep action and deep longing. It is always surprising to enter into the realm of deep longing because there is a certain mysterious quality to that. And then you have to go back to the surface and say, “Okay, how does this now relate to deep longing?” And you just keep going back and forth.
NS: I love that—thinking of it as surface to depth, the parts to the sum, the micro to macro. And you’re not precious with rewriting at all, so it feels like a lot is being actively shifted during those investigations. Can you talk more about your approach to developing a script via rewrites?
MRH: I find that I just have to keep generating and experimenting with what the characters are saying, and what the terms of the scenario are. I have to truly comb the play through the machine of my intelligence, my emotions, my gut reactions and my physical body— and that takes a lot of passes. In many ways, the very first draft of Plot Points, as far as my own plays go, it is not so unrecognizable from our production draft, because it involves the same two characters telling the same over-all story. They generally observe the same storyline of needing to share themselves with one another to resolve something and then, confront each other about it. But the minutiae of how that story evolves have totally transformed. I find the process of revising has a lot to do with interrogating where I am getting bored in my own work, and trying to diagnose what is really boring to me, or what makes me cringe. The answer tends to do with action and stakes, or with a character not being truly honest about what is going on. It is a lot about finding the honest voice for the character, and intentionally managing the rhythms of action.
NS: You generate new pages with such specificity, and also just... so quickly! How do you imagine these new stories, scenarios and details? What happens when you get stuck? What helps you get back on track to creating new material?
MRH: It is always really helpful to talk to collaborators. I find that to be really useful. But at the end of the day, the most useful thing is the ability to get quiet, tune into my gut and try to access the channel of intuition that guides the next iteration of whatever I’m trying to make. A mantra I have for myself is you can only write the draft that you can write. It may take one hundred drafts to get to the play in the final form—if I’m stuck on something at draft #14, I can’t expect myself to write draft #100. I can only get to draft #15. I can take refuge in whatever I can push forward for draft #15, knowing that there will be a billion other questions that I won’t be able to completely satisfy. It is getting specific for myself about what I am addressing in any given pass, and taking stock of what I know I was able to accomplish for myself.
NS: How long does that end up taking? I imagine that could mean a lot of time spent writing. I remember you telling me about how you track how much you’ve worked…
MRH: I do a lot of time management. I feel like one of the ways I trick myself into being a workhorse is just saying, “I’m going to write this one hour at a time.” I have a goal when I sit down, like “I’m going to write for an hour, and it looks like the next thing I need to address is this specific story, so I’ll take a crack at for an hour.” That’s much easier than saying, “I will take a crack at it until I get it completely right.” There is something about tricking myself into just showing up for a certain amount of time that takes the pressure off of showing up to write it perfectly. I keep a little log, a little book, where I write down the hours that I work and I write down the project I’m working on. Sarah Ruhl suggested doing that, I think as a tip from the poet Mary Oliver. I really like that system. It is my way of being accountable to myself. LCT3 is not calling me every day to be like, “So did you log four hours on the play today to think about your deep thoughts?” That is not what is happening, so I create that structure for myself. I want to generate work whose final form feels inevitable, like it must must must be this way. Then, I look back at the hundreds of hours that I spent devoting myself to making something that looks inevitable, something that can sing inside of a production. It is a lot of very private and difficult work.
NS: Speaking of private and difficult work… and conversations! Can you talk about Theo and Cecily? They are such beautiful characters in this play— so human and relatable— and we go so deep into their histories, personalities and perspectives. Where did they come from? In telling a story centering on queer intimacy, why were they the vessels that you chose? Or was it that they came forth more gradually in the writing process of writing a play where you wanted to focus on two people listening to one another?
MRH: They definitely came through slowly. When I truly starting writing this play, I started thinking about embarrassing stories about sexual development, and there were more than two voices and characters. Over time, the voices that were the most interesting to me became Cecily and Theo. When I started writing this, I had no idea there was an argument. I had no idea there was this specific relationship. I knew that all the fodder in my imagination, in the unformed phases of writing, related to the dynamics of this relationship and queer sexuality. These specific characters really did come into focus over time. It started more about the feeling of what they were saying than the specific details that feel so clear to me now. And over time, it became clear that the most honest way to tell the story was to locate these characters in the region and the communities that I grew up in. I felt like that was how I could be myself inside writing, which felt totally necessary to tell an intimate story.
NS: Yes, it is such vulnerable material—and I imagine that to revisit these moments of self-discovery and joy and recognition and pain—
MRH: Oh my god, in the very beginning, it felt too scary to write down! I would have to write for five seconds and then jump up and take a lap around my apartment. Just kind of pace around and convince myself to go back in.
NS: How was it to go through that process with Margot, Jax and Marianne rather than just alone in your mind?
MRH: I feel unbelievably lucky that Jax, Marianne and Margot all operate off of principles of kindness and rigor. You don’t necessarily put that in the job description: “I need kind, rigorous people.” I think that chemistry and sense of respect and kindness made a welcoming room, where I could ask very difficult questions of the work and of the characters. Just when I thought I had started to really figure things out, there was one point in the rehearsal process where it became clear there was a lot of momentum building up, and I hadn’t given them a chance to let that truly explode. I went home and was like “Oh my god, I have to let this explode again.” That’s always a very humbling part of the process. I cried and ate an ice cream sandwich and sat down and said, “Okay, spill your guts!” And then the next day, we got into the room all together, and revised it even more. I really couldn’t have found the courage to keep going without a loving team.
NS: Can you talk more about how it was to bring Margot, Jax and Marianne into the play while you were still figuring out what the play is?
MRH: I feel like the play has its own logic and the playwright has her own logic, but the play is a real teacher. The play that you think you’re writing is an important guide because it gets you in the ballpark, but then, there is the part of the play that asks you for something that you wouldn’t have been able to give all by yourself. It asks you to move away and move outside the limits of what the brain can control on its own. So there is the play you think you’re writing, the play you’re actually writing, and the play that is trying to become itself. It’s a funny dance between those realms. The actors and the director teach you so much, because you see it in their bodies, their questions, their expressions, and their points of concern and confusion. Letting the play belong to somebody else is critical in remembering the play is not something you can complete on your own.
NS: This is definitely such a connected company. Éamon wrote that beautiful piece about the rehearsal room and holding space for one another, which is obviously is very connected to the way this world of the play is imagined— the way Theo and Cecily try to ensure each other’s emotional safety, even during the impasse that happens in this play. They are so thoughtful about and sensitive to what the other may need rather than assuming a default satisfactory way of behaving. I love that so much—the idea of imagining a radically thoughtful world and seeing that onstage. They’re flawed humans and they still hurt each other, and yet, the world imagined feels more aware… and better.
MRH: Margot and I have been talking a lot about how the conflict in this play is not about how people are trying to kill each other. I think conflict can be a misleading term because it sounds inherently aggressive or brutal. For many years, I thought it meant that you needed sword fights. One thing I really wanted to explore is how there can be so much conflict when you’re trying to love each other. This feeling that if you had just shown your partner what is true for you, or if you could just get your partner to see you, they would understand where you’re coming from, and there would be no problem. So it is not a conflict of antagonism—it is the tension of not seeing each other. But it is also important for me to have moments of wounding and suffering. It is a struggle. There is battle underway, but it uses different kinds of swords, and it grounds itself in a longing to love and understand each other.
NS: And there’s so much humor in the play that helps balance things, and reminds us of the complexity of humanity, since we are also wincing at recognizably awkward moments that we’ve experienced, at moments that dig so deep. Can you talk about those conversations we’ve had about the community programming that we are doing around this play? You wanted to keep it buoyant and joyous, because you had been to similar kinds of events that would fall into tragedy and despair, right? I understand the tendency towards weightiness as a response to what’s happening in the world— to lend gravity to those communities that are not being seen-- but it can do damage by not painting the full human picture of those people.
MRH: I am definitely fighting in my own brain not to internalize the queer tragedy arc, which I think you kind of have to work through. It is a tragedy that homophobia and transphobia result in so much suffering, despair, and violence — that is truly tragic. But also, there is joy in being yourself, and being with others who are truly themselves, and being in a space where that can flourish. I hope and pray that the more we share that joy, and the more space it takes up in the world, the more love and flourishing there will be.
NS: I love that you’re portraying queer and trans folks onstage yet you are not starting from a place where you’re trying to explain. You are not othering these characters from the very beginning—they simply exist. We enter their space and we are listening. That’s it. That alone is a kind of a huge thing to do. To focus in on these two people who had this incident a couple minutes ago and are now grappling with that and arguing and we’re watching this unfold in the moment.
MRH: And there is kind of a leap of faith with what audiences know, or don’t know, coming into the play. But I kind of just decided that our culture has progressed in such a way that if I don’t explain to an audience member what it means to be cis, that it will be easy for them to leave the theater and find that out for themselves. Even six years ago, that would have been a different story.
NS: You are showing the humanity of these two people, rather than giving the audience an identity lesson. I don’t know what people are leaving the theater knowing or not knowing, but so far I have heard people talking about these characters. Most importantly, it is about the people in the audience who finally get to see themselves onstage. It must be so rare and special to go so deep into the hearts and minds of people who share something with you, and who you don’t usually get to see in stories on stage in this way.
MRH: I hope that is true for the people who come in. I have got to hand it to Margot and Jax and Marianne for reminding me how humans function. There was a point in the workshop where inevitably, after talking about these stories and relating them to our own lives, we would get on a roll about sharing stories like, “When I was two years old I did this, this and this.” Listening to the rhythms of how people spontaneously tell those really embarrassing stories, and listening to how they arrive naturally in conversation, taught me a lot about the first part of the play. I think it is a big deal when you start rehearsing, you start to change the play from a written document to a living document. To me, it was important that it sounded lived-in, even though it remained a piece of dramatic literature. I have retained some of my literary style. It is a stylized piece. It was great to hear Jax and Marianne remind me about humanity and the written word.
NS: Especially with this play, each person’s personal histories must be on everyone’s mind so much throughout the process.
MRH: It is always overwhelming and surprising how much deep, private and personal work it takes to make something that can be shared in community. I think that is required of everybody on the team. Certainly, it’s required of Jax, Marianne and Margot and the designers, and it inevitably leads them to say, “Hm, I don’t understand how this part works, because in my experience, x, y, z.” So we hash that out together. And in terms of making it personal, I think it takes a lot of courage and bravery for these actors to truly release themselves inside these rhythms I have manufactured for them, and even in material that we have developed together. It is very beautiful to watch them make it their own.
Read Part 1 of LCT3-D with Miranda Rose Hall!