“The Haunting of Hartfield Hall” based on Muhlenberg ghost story

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‘Berg New Works is an inaugural opportunity for Muhlenberg College sophomores, juniors, seniors and alumni who graduated in 2022 or 2023 to collaborate with faculty mentors, a cast, crew and designers to bring their scripts to life in workshop productions as part of the theatre departmental season in spring ‘24. The committee ended up picking two pieces, “The Haunting of Hartfield Hall” written by Lottie Segal ‘23 and directed by Muhlenberg’s Director of Theatre Jim VanValen, and “-in-chief” written by Ally Duvak ‘22 and directed by Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Jessie Dean. 

Segal explained the synopsis of their play stating that “‘Haunting’ is about a student at Claremont Academy getting haunted by a ghost in the girls’ dorm and realizing he is transgender. Just as much as it is about the difficulties of high school, like making new friends and getting to class on time, it is also about how much harder life is made for trans people and how the system is designed to exclude us. 

The play was actually inspired by Muhlenberg College’s campus. Segal detailed, “This play was inspired by Brown Hall. I had heard stories of the ghost, Ingrid, and how she was upset by boys staying the night when the dorm was an all-girls dorm. I was living in Brown and thinking about my gender and this ghost and the story of the play grew from that.”

In regards to what the audience should take away from watching this play, Segal said, “I hope that audiences gain insight into what it is like to be a young trans person, when it feels like the whole world is against you. But I also hope, along with that, they see the immense beauty and joy that comes from being young and trans. Most of all, I want audiences to feel hopeful about the future and to see that there is a path forward where harmful systems can be dismantled.” 

VanValen expressed similar sentiments mentioning that “The play is a ghost story, it’s a coming-of-age story, it’s an empowerment story and it’s a story that, in its own way, challenges certain ideas on tradition, structure and systems.  I hope audiences leave the theatre thinking about these things — while also feeling a bit more happy and a bit more hopeful about the future.” 

Directors can have different ideologies about how they want to manage the cast and the ensemble. VanValen said, “I always try my best to encourage our rehearsal space and process to be a place of compassion and discovery. The play explores important topics — and I think it does it through a lens of courage, connection and celebration. These are qualities that I have been seeing throughout our ensemble and production team over these many weeks, and I think we are all working together to share a wonderful story for all audiences to embrace.” 

Alec Gould ‘26, who identifies as a transgender man, plays Lee. Concerning his role, they said, “I’ve loved rehearsing as Lee! It’s been such an interesting experience from reading the script and seeing some of the experiences that I thought only I had or things that only I had thought about down on paper. Makes a guy feel a little less alone sometimes.”

With respect to whether Lee’s experiences will help audience members come to terms with their identities, Gould stated, “I absolutely think that Lee’s character will help audience members who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community to come to terms with themselves and realize that it’s ok to be who you are. And it’s my hope that people who are less supportive of the community will see the show and come to a better understanding about the LGBTQIA+ community and maybe begin to shift their views.”

Macy Sauder ‘27, who plays Rowan in the play, stated, “I think that my favorite part of the rehearsal experience has been really diving into the characterization of my character. I would say that Rowan helps Lee feel comfortable enough in his identity journey to come out to his other classmates and teachers, making her a strong and supportive ally.”

Griffin Nielsen ‘27 who plays West, reflects on their journey playing this character. “I am playing West, and this journey has been incredible. Working with Jim VanValen on focusing and finding this character has been unlike anything I’ve ever acted.”

Carolina Escobar Rosales ‘27 plays Alice, who is more of an enemy to Lee. She states, “Alice is a complicated character to enjoy per say, she’s got an entitled and demanding personality that we see during the play as she voices her dislike for Lee and the ‘problems’ he brings to the table. However, these characteristics seem to come out due to inner turmoil she has about herself. To me, it seems like she is only insecure because Lee is so sure about himself.

But I, of course, enjoyed being a part of the process and being able to perform a character that isn’t the usual happy and positive characters seen on stage but reflects a real and essential experience trans people face. So, I’m happy to be a part of the process and bring awareness to transness/queerness as a result.” 

Escobar Rosales continued “I’m definitely one of the big adversaries that Lee faces in the play and while [my character] doesn’t support him in accepting his identity, I think my berating nature helps him realize that all the pushback and reluctance that he receives from the people around him is just a sign that he’s doing something that’s important and that’s worth fighting for,”

“My character symbolizes the widely accepted ideas in society about gender norms and because it’s not something that can be easily altered, Lee learns to find a way around it instead of constantly exerting his energy and in that, I think he finally learns to embrace his identity and love himself,” she continued. You can see “The Haunting of Hartfield Hall” from Feb. 29 – Mar. 3. Tickets are available online at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow. 

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