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McTighe Prize Winner Writes Plays That Tackle Social Issues
February 28, 2011
When Miranda Hall (C’11) first arrived on the Hilltop four years ago, she believed writing for the theater would only be an extracurricular pursuit. But as the great-granddaughter of the poet Ogden Nash, and the daughter of a Baltimore Sun journalist, Hall’s literary genes took over soon after she won Georgetown’s prestigious McTighe Prize in her sophomore year.

“When I realized I could get credit for doing something I love, I had this epiphany,” said Hall, an English and Theater and Performance Studies double major and French minor. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. Why not? Why wouldn’t I do this?’” Awarded annually to an undergraduate student who embodies the Georgetown University ideal of academic excellence and community involvement, the McTighe Prize was followed by other honors. She later won the annual Mask & Bauble playwriting contest and also placed first in the Larry Neal Writers’ Competition. Despite the accolades, however, Hall admitted that the most mundane situations produce the ideas that inspire her. Her acclaimed senior thesis “The Orphan Play”–the first student-written work to be presented in the Davis Performing Arts Center’s 236-seat Gonda Theatre–was conceptually born during a history class in which she learned about the real-life events that color its narrative.
“We were studying the [American] West at the turn of the century when I came across this story in our reader of these forty Irish orphans with no prospective families living in New York in 1904,” Hall explained. “Nuns who were running the orphanage contacted a priest in Arizona and sent the children there because he promised families for them. But the children were placed in Mexican families because those were the only Catholic families in town, and the Anglo women were just totally outraged. Their husbands formed vigilante squads and kidnapped the children in the middle of the night.”
Normally such a tragic and bizarre story makes for good melodrama. Hall, however, wanted to use the account more seriously, as a way to explore unresolved social questions about motherhood, citizenship, and race. “Every writer has a question or a subject that he or she can’t get away from, and I think mine is absence and loss,” Hall said. “It’s just amazing to me how intertwined those questions still are in our current historical moment.”
Juxtaposing stories from 1904 and 2010, “The Orphan Play” was not created in response to Arizona Senate Bill 1070, an anti-illegal immigration law that stirred controversy when it was passed in 2010. Yet, Hall accepts that sometimes art accidentally imitates life. “It was a really surprising set of circumstances when that crazy law came with the play,” she said.

Hall attributes her willingness to address social concerns to the closeness of the Georgetown community. “Professors and students here really work together. They form very deep friendships with each other,” Hall said. “[This friendship] is founded on principles of civic engagement and social reflection, as well as on creating and studying performance.” Hall is a regular participant in service initiatives that “inspire” her “as an artist,” most of them available through the Department of Performing Arts. “Last year I directed a play about a woman getting out of prison, so they invited former inmates to our rehearsal room,” Hall said. “We learned about their experiences and gave one former inmate the role of the prison warden.”
Although Hall isn’t sure what her future holds, she is intent on “committing” herself to a career as a writer. “In my sophomore year I was less eager to define myself only as a playwright because I’m also a performer and I was getting to direct and I hadn’t written a thesis,” Hall said. “But I want to write, I think I want to teach, and, at the moment, I want to work in theater.” Today Hall believes her receipt of the McTighe Prize symbolizes an important life lesson for students struggling to find their niche as she once was. “There are a lot of people in the creative disciplines at Georgetown who really struggle to justify their career choices,” Hall said. “But you will find a voice – even if that seems like an impossible reality.”
--Brittany Coombs
Photos from top: Miranda Hall with books that inspired her thesis; advertising "The Orphan Play"; Hall oversees another stage in the Department of Performing Arts. Photos by Yovcho Yovchev.  
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