Theatrical theses thrive

December 9, 2010

When most people get frustrated with their big writing assignments, they’ll highlight a paragraph or two (three if their paper is really going nowhere) and defiantly smack the “delete” key. Miranda Hall (COL ’11) recently had that experience when she chopped her senior thesis down to a quarter of its length. Except she gave up on 75 pages.
“It had been about a hundred pages, but I went a little crazy with it, and now it’s 25 pages,” she said.
The piece she is referring to is not some long, tedious dissertation. It’s Orphan Play, a creative piece about race relations and motherhood in the lives of Mexican immigrants in Arizona. Hall is one of two seniors whom the Theater and Performance Studies majors selected to stage their senior theses at Georgetown.
The other student, Courtney Ulrich (COL ’11), has already somewhat witnessed the fruition of her thesis. Watermelon Season, a play about the struggles of migrant workers in Florida that she conceived, wrote, and directed herself, debuted in the Davis Center’s Devine Studio Theater this past weekend. The performance featured student actors and projected an unsettling message about the toil that Americans take for granted. Professor Derek Goldman, Ulrich’s faculty advisor, said it combined “real scholarly research, ethnographic research, and political research, with artistry and development.”
Ever since a sophomore year Sociology class, Ulrich has felt passionate about migrant workers’ rights.
“I had kind of always wanted to write a play about migrant worker justice,” she said. “And I thought that [a senior thesis] would be a perfect opportunity to do so.”
Ulrich picked the right year to graduate. This is the first time in the department’s history that students have been invited to stage their work. Last academic year, the Department of Performing Arts began accepting applications from students who wanted to write senior theses to be performed in the Davis Center and open to the public. Now, each of the two selected students will showcase a work that is, from the research stages to final production, completely her own creation.
“We care deeply about mentoring students’ research in the field,” Professor of Performing Arts and Hall’s faculty advisor Maya Roth wrote in an email. “And the senior thesis production projects provide a venue for us to support an advanced student or two … culminating in some public fashion to the campus at large in the Davis Center.”
Their plays are not just afterthoughts among the Department of Performing Arts’ professionally run shows. This year, both Watermelon Season and Orphan Play are just as integral to the season as all the other performances. The two students, through research, collaboration, and, in Hall’s case, massive rewrites, have created works that will show alongside professional pieces by playwrights who haven’t only just reached the legal drinking age.
Both students have enhanced their works by incorporating the opinions and ideas of their actors. Roth emphasized that the ability for students to learn from one another is a critical and very beneficial aspect of Georgetown’s relatively small, close-knit theater program.
“Making theater is such a deeply collaborative discipline, and new work development often engages artists across roles,” Roth wrote. “This emphasis on new work development—like social engagement and the integration of critical and creative work—distinguishes our program.”
With the emotional, artistic success of Watermelon Season, and Orphan Play showing signs of being just as impressive, the Department of Performing Arts has every intention of continuing to focus on senior thesis projects in the future.

“They really [have become] a key part of our season,” Goldman said. “And they’re really a center of what we’re doing.”

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