When you are trying to establish characters with long standing relationships, it’s important to have believable history. Our new show this winter, Mrs. Frost, has many character who have known each other from way back. If I’m going to make the weight of their history have actual impact on their interactions, I have to know what happened between them— at least in the important moments. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the specifics, because specificity is how you create fully realized characters that have all the uniqueness of believable human beings.
In Gilded Cages, the relationship between Victoria and Elizabeth is incredibly important. They are as close as sisters and care about each other, but the connection is colored by Victoria’s blithe sense of entitlement, and Elizabeth’s position of greater responsibility and significantly less privilege. I really enjoy establishing these kinds of complications in people’s feelings for each other, because it makes for really interesting dramatic dynamics.
In this short scene recording, we see the last interaction Elizabeth and Victoria have before they each marry and their lives go their separate ways. I endeavored to capture the particular complexity of their friendship. Also, it establishes where they left one another when they still had a relationship worth speaking of. I love to temper sweetness with sadness, affection with conflict.
This is Bottom Drawer, by Phoebe Roberts, featuring the voice talents of Cari Keebaugh as Victoria Stanton and Arielle Kaplan as Elizabeth Danvers.
Warning: spoilers for Mrs. Hawking IV: Gilded Cages.
It’s been really exciting seeing the new part V: Mrs. Frost script stand up in rehearsals. Due to the schedule on which this one was written, there was not a lot of breathing room between finishing it and beginning to rehearse. We made a movie this summer, so perhaps we can be forgiven, but it meant I didn’t have that chance to sit with it for a while, shed the stress of the push to finish, and enjoy what I’d accomplished with fresh eyes.
But something I’ve worked very hard to do in this story is to make it feel like a living, breathing, fully-fleshed-out world, beyond just what is needed for any one individual story. When you do multiple installments of a piece, it has to feel like the characters are rounded individuals who have more to them than just what’s relevant in one given moment. So I spend a lot of time developing them and their backstories, in order to feel like they have arrived organically at their current places based on a genuine human history. That means figuring out things that happened to them outside even what makes its way into the plays, and using how those experiences informed their needs and actions now.
By this token, I thought a lot of what Mrs. Frost brings into this story. She has a lot of complicated and not always positive history with the other characters, and she is famous for using what she knows about people’s secret selves against them. This is relevant for how she deals with Nathaniel, who she attempts to break down psychologically by manipulating his insecurities and fears. And a powerful tool she has for this is her experience with his hero the Colonel, over whom he is obsessed with the fact that he didn’t know as much as he thought.
Gilded Cages, scene 1.5
To that end, I had to hammer out some important things about the interactions of Frost and the Colonel. Some of that made it into this extra scene, which takes place just after the Colonel started traveling abroad more as a way to get out of the house, and of Mrs. Hawking’s way. I had my amazing cast members do a rough recording of it, with Arielle Kaplan as Mrs. Frost (then Mrs. Cameron), and Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Reginald Hawking, in a scene I’m calling “Hard Truth.”
Warning: possible spoilers for part IV: Gilded Cages.
It’s always amazing to hear the actual actors perform these on the fly. It really helps solidify the moment in my mind and make it come to life, like it was something that really did happen in the history of the characters. I feel like we bring more texture to the full performances when the characters are so grounded in such rich development. And when you come to see Mrs. Frost, see if you can spot the moment the title character makes reference to an important moment from this scene.