Alumna Finalist for Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for an Environmental Play
Theater and Performance Studies alumna Miranda Rose Hall (C’11) is a 2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist for her work, A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction. One of 10 finalists, Hall’s play was selected from 160 nominated pieces from around the world and will premiere this spring at Baltimore Center Stage in Maryland through a digital showing.
Playing with Playwriting
When she first came to Georgetown as an English major, Hall was sure that she wanted to be a poet. As she more deeply delved into the artform, Hall realized that she preferred a profession that would allow her to interact with other people.
“I frequently felt overwhelmed by the sense of loneliness that came with writing poetry, so I auditioned for a play in the fall semester of my first year,” says Hall. “Many people I met were in playwriting class and I loved that there was a sense of community. After that experience, I decided to try my hand at this medium instead.”
That same year, Hall submitted a play to the Donn B. Murphy One Acts Festival. Though she did not win, her play was a finalist and was later directed in the Mask and Bauble performance at Georgetown by Sean Sullinger (MSB ’10). Hall began writing numerous plays that she would share with theater and performance studies faculty, but she knew that she had truly found her calling at the end of her senior year during a celebration for Tennessee Williams on campus.
“Participating in that event solidified my desire to pursue playwriting as a profession because it combined my love of writing with my sense of community” Hall says. “As a playwright you are lonely only half the time, but the other half, you come together with other artists and that is really the beautiful part, because you can’t make a play happen on your own. You write something and it becomes the north star for the production, but a play is never complete without the genius of your collaborators.”
Art and Activism
After graduating in 2011 with a double major in English and theater and performance studies, Hall spent two years working for Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest in Alaska and Montana before moving home to Baltimore where she was the 2013-2014 Hot Desk Playwright in Residence at Baltimore Center Stage. She later applied and was accepted to the Yale School of Drama.
Hall returned to Georgetown to teach playwriting and play analysis and adaptation after completing her masters in 2017. The playwright says that she was motivated to teach at the university due to her experiences as an undergraduate.
“It was so meaningful to have discovered playwriting as a student, and I wanted to pass on my experiences as an educator as well as contribute to the growth of the Department of Performing Arts,” Halls says. “My time as a student inspired me and three others to co-found LubDub Theatre Company, which was the group that commissioned A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction.”
LubDub Theatre Company, which was in residence at Georgetown in 2019, was founded by a collaboration of artists including Georgetown alumni Caitlin Cassidy (C’11) and Robert Duffley (C’15). The group later decided to prioritize the focus of the company’s productions around the environment and climate change after reading Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, which is a call to action for fiction writers to show up in the climate change discussion.
A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction, as part of that commitment, is a one-woman-show that discusses extinction and the crisis of morality. In it, a woman named Naomi must single handedly run a show on its last night of production after her co-creators leave unexpectedly due to a tragedy. Naomi, who is typically in charge of running the show from behind the scenes, must now lead the show’s performance.
“Naomi represents the everyday person — she is not a climate scientist, she is simply trying to make sense of the overwhelming reality of the impacts of climate change, which is something that we have all felt,” Hall says. “At its core, the humanities try to tell these stories of life and death and the climate crisis is an epic story of life and death, and what it means to be alive right now.”
Due to COVID-19, theater companies have been unable to host in-person shows for over a year. Even though A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction is being recorded in person at the Baltimore Center Stage to be shown virtually, Hall says that being able to gather with others in an adapted theater space has been “wonderfully surreal.”
The play has already been shared at two readings at the Davis Performing Arts Center, including at The Lab’s Gathering in May 2019 and at an auxiliary event to LubDub Theatre Company’s On the Lawn with Georgetown.
Maya Roth, artistic director for the Davis Center for Performing Arts and one of Hall’s mentors during her time at Georgetown, also taught A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction to her Ignatian Seminar last fall. The professor says that her first year Ignatian Students were “moved by the play’s immediacy, its versatile reframing of information and relationships to the environment and the way it teaches and connects us through metaphor, wit and activist critique.”
“Miranda’s play is a marvel and so important for the world,” says Roth. “It creatively gives shape to grief and to climate catastrophe, expressing immensity of scope while translating human and non-human stakes in such artful, accessible ways.”
Hall, who also received the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award in 2020, says that seeing her play be recognized as a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize was an enormous honor.
“My life has been changed so many times sitting in the audience of the theater and I am so grateful that I am a part of this industry,” Hall says. “I had fantastic mentors at Georgetown who always supported and encouraged me even after I left the hilltop — many of my peers and mentors came to my professional debut at the Lincoln Center! The love and support of my Georgetown community have made it feel possible to pursue this career.”
-by Shelby Roller (G’19)