“I didn’t realize that playwrights could be alive until I was in college,” said Miranda Rose Hall in an interview with The Daily Californian.
When one thinks of a playwright, images of William Shakespeare and Arthur Miller often come to mind. However, since she began writing for the stage, Hall has proven the playwright to be a live force to be reckoned with, actively working to center the people and stories that have traditionally remained in the wings.
“I was joking with my director that maybe one day a collection of my plays could be called ‘Offstage Men,’ ” Hall said. “Because so often what I write is centering women, queer people, trans people and allowing them to have the complexity of humanity that I haven’t always seen.”
In her latest production “The Kind Ones,” which debuted at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre on Feb. 2, Hall centers on two characters as they grapple with legacies of domestic violence. In her writing process, she calls upon her own personal experiences as inspiration for the work’s themes and subject matter. For this particular production, she looks back to when she was 23, working at a domestic violence shelter in rural Montana.
“I try to think about who I care about and who I want to see on stage,” Hall said. “Just writing from my own life, from the people that I know and the people that I love and the people whose stories I care about — that’s who ends up on the stage.”
“The Kind Ones” stands apart from her other plays in that it blends various genres, making it difficult to pin down. Hall describes it as a “gothic thriller” that is largely grounded in the real world, though it is occasionally punctuated by “abstract expressionist interludes” that convey the passage of time.
Phones ring and people fight throughout the play’s more realist moments. However, in the world of the pig sty, events play out quite differently. Light, sound, gesture and the imagination move to the forefront, straying away from mere mimetic representation. According to Hall, it is in these moments that the audience observes an abstract version of the passage of time.
In bringing this vision to life, Hall readily leans into the collaborative nature of the theater. “What’s really exciting about playwriting is you can write something down without saying how it happens or what it looks like,” Hall said. “Then you can hand it to a director or a group of designers, and they can make something extraordinary.”
Especially after the closure of live venues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hall is excited to be back in the theater. For the first time in three years, “The Kind Ones” offers her the opportunity to sit among a live audience and watch her words come to life on stage. For Hall, this experience is crucial — it allows her to fully see and understand what she is trying to accomplish.
“It’s really sad to watch an industry that you love be brought to its knees,” Hall said of the pandemic’s effect on live theater. “The pandemic really just reminds us all that health and safety are the foundation of a vibrant artistic practice. That’s a very humbling recognition: to know that in certain circumstances the show can’t go on.”
Though Hall cannot help but feel nervous the first time she presents a piece to the world, she also bubbles with genuine excitement. “It’s a Christmas morning,” she said about seeing her words come to life. “I’m thrilled and terrified all at once. I think that’s the excitement of live theater. It’s so exciting to see your work prepared with care and virtuosity.”
Besides “The Kind Ones,” Hall is working on various productions around the world. Notably, she has partnered with the Sustainable Theatre? project in Europe to produce “A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction,” a one-woman show about the climate crisis. In order to minimize the production’s carbon footprint, sets are made from sustainable materials, and people on bicycles power the show’s electricity.
For Hall, the global reach and creative capacity of her words have not yet completely settled in. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the cyclists in Switzerland bringing it to life,” she said. “That’s the magic of collaboration.”
For aspiring playwrights, Hall has a simple bit of advice that she received from her own mentor: “band together, be patient, be generous.” In many ways, these are the values she has embraced in her own work; leaning into the collaborative process, it’s evident how she has taken genuine care to present the people and stories she cares about most.