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, Associate Director/LCT3
Natasha Sinha (Associate Director/LCT3): Hi Miranda! We’re so excited to have you here at LCT3 for your professional debut with Plot Points in Our Sexual Development— a queer love story about two people trying to understand one another despite the awkwardness of intimacy. Can you start by talking a bit about how you became a writer? Why did you want to move into writing character and dialogue for the stage?
MRH: Well, I started as a poet. When I was a kid, I wrote a lot of poems. I come from a really artistic family so there was always a lot of creative enthusiasm in the house. My dad’s a musician and my mom’s a writer, and on her side of the family, there are a lot of writers. I always felt that writing was a powerful way to connect with my family. I always wrote poems, and they would totally consume me as a kid and as a teenager. I would spend whole weekends writing special occasional poems— like for my mom’s birthday, or to share with my English teachers. I feel like I started cultivating a private writing practice, outside of what was required of me at school, when I was in early high school. When I got to college, I started dating someone who was taking a playwriting class. And the students in this class would all get together on couches in one of their houses and eat snacks and read their plays aloud to each other. I was like, “That is awesome! How do I join this group? I guess I need to write a play to be a part of this group!” It took me until I was about 18 or 19 to realize out that playwrights could be living people. When I found that out, I was really shocked.
NS: Absolutely, I think a lot of us are really struck when we make that realization. Who were some of the people who influenced you, whether poets or playwrights, alive or dead, queer or not…? What drew you to them?
MRH: Sarah Ruhl was a very important writer to me when I was a young playwright. And then, she became a very important mentor to me when she was my teacher in graduate school.
NS: Did you share stories of being a poet moving into playwriting?
MRH: Yes, and I think her love for poetry is one of the things I love most about her. She even assigned writing poems in her playwriting classes, and I always was very grateful to her for that. Tennessee Williams is another poet-playwright who was really important to me as a young person. In my senior year of college, we did this Tennessee Williams Festival, and I just saw this whole world of his queer plays onstage and it blew me away. I thought, “Oh my god. What would happen if I created a body of work that could also have this many queer stories in it?” Although, mine would get to be a little bit more upfront than his were. That was a big deal for me. Paula Vogel is also a really important writer to me. And Jackie Sibblies Drury. And Amy Herzog. And Marsha Norman. And Suzan-Lori Parks! Her sense of poetry and story is so breathtaking to me.
NS: Those are some of the best folks in theater! How did Plot Points emerge from this landscape?
MRH: I actually have to forget about all my influences and ambitions when I’m writing a play or else I would never write a play! In graduate school, I was inundated with all these new ideas about technique and structure, which I had never encountered before. I had to kind of forget about being a poet and ask some hard questions of my work like, “Why is this a play, and not a poem?" I tried not to think about the poetry so much, and just focus on other aspects of craft and writing plays. In the last couple years, I have felt confident enough in my technical abilities to just trust that both drama and poetry will be present when I sit down to write a play. I don’t ever think, “Oh, I want to write a poetry play,” because I think if I sat down to write that, I would just write bad poetry.
NS: Do you still separately write poetry?
MRH: I don’t sit down to write poems, really. I do find fragment ideas that kind of come out as mini poems, but they are not cohesive. I suppose I write letters and postcards that are sometimes mini-poems. But I have stopped loving obscure poetry. I think I have gotten very invested in the tangible nature of theater, of solid objects, of looking someone in the eyes and saying something directly.
NS: What feels important for you to be saying through your plays?
MRH: Well, I hope that all of my plays can express, somehow, ways that love has been made known to me.
NS: And how does the need to write theater interact with your poetic inclinations— and also, the fact that you’re a playwriting professor [at Georgetown University]?
MRH: Teaching is the opposite of writing a play, because I have to be in charge of the classroom and hold space for a lot people. Maybe it's more like directing. I do really enjoy organizing a conversation and structuring a container for people to explore their ideas, and their classmates' ideas, the ideas set down by other writers. But writing feels like the total opposite, because I can’t be so composed as I want to be when I’m teaching. I have to get private and unruly, so sometimes it can be difficult to go between the composure you need to teach, and the feral vulnerability you need to write something. When I write, I’m very private about my work. I sit on my floor, on my little writing rug, and — I danced for a really long time, so I think I have this idea that when you’re doing real work, you need movement clothes. So I sit on the floor in my movement clothes to do my writing, which often starts by hand. I try to fill up a notebook of all the ideas that somehow relate to the story I’m trying to tell. Then, I start putting it into a computer and combing through it. I was very private about Plot Points for a very long time. I am way more private about this play than other plays I’ve written. It is probably also because this is the first time in a couple years where I wasn’t a part of a writing group, so I wasn’t bringing in pages to anybody. Or maybe it's because I challenged myself to write about the last thing I ever wanted to discuss in public, and that made me choosy about my readers! I guess that’s also kind of the spiritual practice of my writing— choosing a subject matter that feels it is a little in the wilderness, and letting writing be the practice of pursuing the wilderness. That doesn’t always have to do with a fearful or dangerous subject matter, but I feel really drawn to the wilderness. Writing a play is my way of learning more about that uncharted territory of my heart and imagination.
NS: You’ve also said that when you were younger, you didn’t have plays like Plot Points to look to, and that you want a lot of young, queer people to see this play. I love when folks accomplish something that their younger selves would have wanted.
MRH: I think my younger self would have been freaked out if she encountered this between the ages 14 – 18! I guess I didn’t have a lot of artistic role models for how to talk about sex and sexuality. I mean, I obviously watched a lot of rom-coms where sexuality is very present, but it’s not really discussed— you just sort of take it in. I read all the COSMOPOLITAN-type magazines where sensuality is a trendy commodity. And I remember when I was 23 and trying to figure out how the hell to be a playwright, and I sat down with Paula Vogel , when she came to Center Stage to work her play Civil War Christmas. She was like, “Okay, you want to be a playwright? Do these three things: subscribe to American Theatre magazine, get the Dramatists Sourcebook, go to New York and see Fun Home.” I don’t exactly know how she knew to tell me to go see Fun Home, but she just did. So I went to go see Fun Home and my jaw was on the ground. I was weeping — which is my favorite expression of joy and disbelief. I had never seen such a personal, sexy, hilarious, heartbreaking, queer, family story. It had so much heart and craft. I was just cross-eyed looking at grown-up Alison, thinking “Oh my God, you are on STAGE!”… and I lost it in “Ring of Keys,” which has become such a touchstone for me and my queer friends. I was talking to a lesbian friend recently, and she described meeting the young child of a friend of hers, and she was like, “When that kid saw me, it was like a ‘Ring of Keys’ moment.” It just had such an influence and that really inspired me to try to fill in the gap where I did not see myself, or the people I love, onstage. I have certainly never seen a play, not that they don’t exist, about a cis queer woman and a transmasculine genderqueer person, which reflects the dynamics of my own intimate partnership. It felt like a missing piece of myself that I hadn’t seen in American theater.
NS: I can’t wait for audiences to see this one—especially young folks from the LGBTQIA community, and particularly during our three Singles Nights that Ianne [Fields Stewart] is putting together with hosts and other fun stuff!
MRH: I can’t wait for Queer Singles Nights.
NS: What makes you so excited for those? What’s your hope for those evenings?
MRH: Obviously, that people find love at the theater! That is always my hope.
NS: “Come to LCT3 and find your person!”
MRH: Yes! "See a play, and find love forever!” I also hope that people feel inspired to tell their own stories in a way that they haven’t seen before. When they see all of the care and attention and resources that LCT3 has given to my play, I hope that inspires people who relate to aspects of my play, but personally have a different story to tell. I hope it gives people faith that there is room for those stories. And I also hope that having the shared experience of watching something together can help people start new conversations with each other. Finding love and deepening community -- I suppose those are always my great hopes.