Categotry Archives: character

Explorations of the internal workings and motivations of the characters, both major and minor.

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The elephant in every room

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Categories: character, influences, Tags: , , ,

We joke during rehearsals a lot— for fun, about each other, about the process, and even about the script. Even though these stories are my babies, I don’t want to turn them into some sort of sacred cows that are above critique or mockery. So I try to have a sense of humor about them, to keep a good perspective and in the interest of making them accessible and fun. The Mrs. Hawking drinking game rose directly out of this kind of joking.

One of the things that comes up a lot is how often characters talk about Mrs. Hawking when she’s not there. It’s a common occurrence in the scripts, so not only do we mock the frequency a little, we also mock the very fact. Lest you forget who the main character is, here are a couple of other characters who are here to remind you of how much we all need to focus on her all the time!

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They’re talking about her right now.

I’ve almost got part 4 drafted at this point, and honestly this is not going to be the one where that changes. This is her story, similar to the way the first is Mary’s superhero origin and the third had a lot of focus on Nathaniel. But this is something I need to be careful about. Doing anything too frequently in a serialized story leads to patterns and formulas that can get boring. I don’t want to do TOO much telling the audience what to think about the character, as I’d much rather they be forming opinions for themselves. Other characters need focus and development too, particularly when I’m trying to deepen the cast and the world.

But you know, I can’t help but feel there’s something important and defiant in giving so many in my cast this focus. Mrs. Hawking is our superhero— our Batman, our Sherlock Holmes, the driving force behind why everyone is here and what everyone is doing. And she’s a woman; all this action is centered around a female character. I think there’s something not only significant, but even subversive about making everybody be so influenced by and focused on her.

Think about it. Does anybody question why everyone’s always taking about Batman all the time? Does anyone see a Batman story and wonder why he commands so much of everybody’s attention? Hell, no! Does it seem different because she’s a woman, and it’s not usual for a woman to take up so much space in the tale? Think about the Bechdel-Wallace Test, designed because of how much time characters in any given piece spend talking about a man. Why shouldn’t my particular way of blowing that all to hell be that in the Mrs. Hawking stories, you’re hard pressed to find any two characters who talk to each other about anything besides a woman— and one remarkable, important, complicated woman in particular?

I’ve still got to do it right, of course. There’s no excuse for falling down on the writing job. I’ve got to make it natural, sensible, and workable that she takes up so much of the other characters’ mental real estate. I don’t want to do too much telling the audience what conclusions to draw about her, rather than allowing them to do that for themselves. But I’m not going to stop making a woman the center of her own literary universe. All the male superheroes get to be that, after all.

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Our ace heroine

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One thing that makes the Mrs. Hawking series unique is that we not only have a queer protagonist, she is of a kind you very rarely see represented– our hero is an asexual aromantic, and it’s very important to the conception of her character.

A large part of her story is the difficulties she faces in maneuvering through a world that has no understanding of asexuality. The social expectations surrounding her provide constant challenge– the way she has no inclination toward romantic love, the stranglehold she found in the obligation of marriage, and not only the inability to reciprocate the Colonel’s feelings for her, but even to relate to them. She herself doesn’t have a word for it, only the sense that she is different from most others, and perhaps even beyond their understanding, even those who work hardest to grow closest to her.

While love and romance can be fun threads to explore, and our story deals with them in the form of Nathaniel’s marriage and Mary’s developing relationships, it also takes some of the emphasis on romance as the only kind of truly significant relationship. The most important connections in the story are unconventional and not easily defined– not as simple and clear cut as parent and child, or simply friends, but complicated by familial love, the bonds between teammates, and the relationship between mentor and protege. Mary’s role as Mrs. Hawking’s student makes the girl the most important person in her life, while Mrs. Hawking s not simply Nathaniel’s aunt, but an important figure of authority and approval whose validation he desperately craves. And while there is no romance between Mary and Nathaniel, the intense struggles they weather together make an unbreakable friendship between them.

I enjoy the chance to explore some of the more unexpected bonds that can form between people, and demonstrate that romances are not the only important connections in people’s lives. I think Mrs. Hawking’s asexuality helps not only represent a subgroup that is not often present in fiction, it helps redshift the focus to the wider spectrum of meaningful human relationships.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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“I Saw Three Ships” – a Mrs. Hawking holiday scene

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Categories: character, scenes, Tags: , , ,

I don’t know where this came from. It’s a little seasonally-appropriate Hawking scene popped into my head tonight, and I scribbled it down in a few minutes just for amusement’s sake. It’s probably never going to fit into any of the plays, but it was an opportunity for some cute character moments, and one really fun line. It’s nice to see them just in a low-stakes character moment that’s purely fun and sweet, rather than all mired in drama.

It made me smile; I hope it does you too. 😁

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“Three Ships”
From the Mrs. Hawking series
By Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, housemaid and apprentice society avenger
VICTORIA HAWKING, society avenger and her mentor
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her nephew and assistant

London, England – December, 1884
~~~

(MARY dusts in the parlor, humming the Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships.” MRS. HAWKING enters to choose a book from the shelf, then exits. MARY begins softly singing.)

MARY: (singing) I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She glances after MRS. HAWKING to make sure she’s gone. Then she goes and gets a flour sack containing a garland of evergreen with holly berries. She holds it up and dances around with it a little, singing louder now.)

MARY: (singing) Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day? Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day in the morning?

(She begins to string up the garland over the mantlepiece and along the parlor wall.)

MARY: (singing) And they sailed into Bethlehem, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And they sailed into Bethlehem,, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dances around the room.)

MARY: (singing) And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dips and twirls, singing at the top of her voice. Without her noticing, NATHANIEL enters, and he hangs back watching her with a smile on his face.)

MARY: (singing) Then let us all rejoice again, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! Then let us all rejoice again on Christmas Day in the morning!

(As she belts out the last note, she spins around to see MRS. HAWKING reenter frowning. She crosses back to the bookshelf, glaring at MARY’s decorating as she goes. She snatches a book off the shelf.)

MRS. HAWKING: Bethlehem is landlocked.

(She exits. MARY turns sheepishly and sees NATHANIEL standing behind her, grinning. After a moment, he takes up the last verse and she joins him.)

BOTH: I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning!

(They break off together, doubled over into laughter.)

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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The power of the anger of women

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As big a fan of the superhero genre as I am, there’s a common trope in it that’s always gotten on my nerves. How often do you see a female character get angry about something, only to have that anger swept aside because the usually male hero’s efforts to save the world make it impossible for her to stay mad?

It’s something that’s bothered me a long time, as it’s an indication of a larger cultural pressure for women never to get angry about anything— to only have pleasant feelings that are comfortable for those around them, to focus on making others feel better. But our plays are meant to stand in direction contradiction to that, because the character of Mrs. Hawking is ALL ABOUT anger.

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Our hero is a character driven by anger first and foremost, at the circumstances of the world, at the way society has tried to trap her in a box. It is never treated as unreasonable or indecent; in fact, it’s acknowledged that it’s a source of her strength. On top of that, when her anger causes Mrs. Hawking to inappropriately lash out against Mary, Mary’s anger gets respected as well. Mary is given the opportunity to express her upset at injustice or disrespect, and presents as reasonable demanding better treatment.

It’s a major way we’re aiming to make Mrs. Hawking different from other entries in the superhero genre. Not only do we tell stories about powerful and courageous female heroes, they are allowed the full range of human emotion to keep them interesting and real.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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Meet Circe Rowan, the actress playing Mary Stone

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For a show, the playwright isn’t the only one with a responsibility to bring the characters to life. The actors who portray them have a great deal of power to make you invest emotionally, to fall in love with the people you’re watching. A story like this lives and dies on the strength of the characters, so to a large degree, your ability to connect rests on the strength of our cast. We’ve worked hard to get the right people together to make you believe in the story we’re telling, such as Circe Rowan, the actor portraying Mary, one of our heroes and the beating human heart of the story.

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

To give you a glimpse inside the process of making these characters real, I asked Circe a series of questions about how she goes about playing Mary. Here’s what she had to say about taking on the role.

What’s your theater background?

Circe: “I got my start early. Back in the mid-80s, my mother taught at a dance studio. A lot of the other instructors had older kids who were involved in community theater, and one year they put on a production of Alice In Wonderland, for which they needed a Dormouse. I was four, I could follow instructions, and standing up in front of a bajillion people didn’t scare me, so they put me in a mouse-eared onesie and plunked me down on stage to snooze through the tea party. I think I had two or three lines, even. Naturally, I was also in dance classes— one of the perks of Mom working for the studio! —and around the time I got to junior high, I also discovered I could sing. I’ve done all kinds of performance, off and on, ever since.”

How do you see the role of Mary and how do you approach playing the character?

Circe: “How do I approach the character? With a great deal of glee! I’m not a very big person, so I’m almost never cast as the party tank. Usually I’m the femme fatale or the detective. This time, I get to beat up my very own goon! It’s exciting.

“With Mary, I’m in the unusual position of playing a character who has to learn guile. I get to do a lot of comedy in the “undercover” scenes, as Mary is thrown into the spy game head-first by Mrs. Hawking, and a lot of pathos in the parlor scenes, where Mary learns how to best handle her employer. As an actor, any role where you play someone who’s learning to stop fooling themselves and start fooling other people is fascinatingly multi-layered.

“Some of Mary’s subtleties are not spelled out, but are pointers that, as an actor, I can hang bits of backstory on. The script makes it clear that, due to her background, Mary’s had more education that one might expect from a mere servant girl— she handles Mrs. Hawking’s appointment book and mail at various points, so she’s literate, and she ran her family household, so she would have to have basic arithmetic and the like. The second play also makes it clear that she has at least a smattering of British history. Her life was also rather lonely before she came to London and was hired on by the Hawking household, so I’ve put it all together and decided she got a lot of her ideas about being a hero from innumerable penny dreadfuls and adventure serials, which would have come over to India by boat, and which she probably cadged from the housewives and soldiers she grew up with.”

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

What do you find most interesting about her?

Circe: “Mary is oblivious to her own best qualities. There are lots of unusual things about her that she doesn’t seem to realize will be interesting, even valuable, to other people. Some of the things are explicit in the script. Mary has a forthrightness unusual for the time and her position, for example. She’s stubborn and stalwart, but still innocent enough to throw herself into the fray without hesitation, believing she can win.

“The way Mary sees herself is often very different than how the other characters see her, and it throws her off-balance when people react to what they see in her, rather than what she’s aware of. How other people see her is also colored by their own preconceptions, which only makes things more complicated. All her life, Mary has based her self-image on others’ assessments of her character, and back in India, all of those people were conventional, and wanted her to be conventional, too. In London, from the moment Nathaniel takes her coat and offers her a seat in the parlour, treating her like a guest instead of like a servant girl, she’s bombarded with new and sometimes very strange reflections of herself in the eyes of other people.

“Out here in real life, my field is somewhere in the vicinity of sociology and cognitive science, so trying to bring things like Johari windows to the stage is always interesting to me.”

What do you hope the audience takes away from your performance?

Circe: “Enjoyment! Mary is in many ways the audience stand-in. She’s an ordinary person who gets mixed up with superheroes. It’s strange and confusing to her at first, but she grows into it, and becomes a useful part of the team. I hope there’s a little something in her character that makes everyone in the audience say, “Yeah! If she could become a hero, maybe I could, too.””

And that is the person behind our hero Mary! Check us out at our upcoming performances to see the final result.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.

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She walked in the door and brought trouble with her

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One of the things Mrs. Hawking borrows from Sherlock Holmes is that her work comes from clients— specific people in need who come to her seeking her help, skills, and advice. All the cases that provide the overall structure for each episode are from women who bring them in for Mrs. Hawking to work on. This is where Mrs. Hawking’s epithet comes from– unless she has no ladies to stand up for, she cannot be the Lady’s Champion of London.

Because we’ve got a model going, the challenge is to include lots of different variations on theme. Each client needs to be her own person, with her own attitude, her own characteristics, her own situation, her own unique problem.

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Our very first client was Celeste Fairmont. A refined society woman married to an important man, Mrs. Fairmont faces the challenges of the word armored in an air of intense respectability. She comes into the story when her one transgression in all her life is discovered by the villain, blackmailer Lord Cedric Brockton. While at first she tries to hide the truth even from Mrs. Hawking, the reveal of her scandalous secret ends up driving our hero to confront some old wounds of her own.

Sarah Jenkins as Mrs. Fairmont

Sarah Jenkins played Mrs. Fairmont in our most recent production of Mrs. Hawking at the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival, but for our upcoming, Arielle Kaplan, our original Mrs. Fairmont, will be returning to again perform at Arisia.

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The client in Vivat Regina comes cloaked in mystery and misdirection. Speaking in a slight German accent, this well-dressed lady introduces herself with, “You may address me as Mrs. Johanna Braun,” in reference to Sherlock Holmes classic “A Scandal in Bohemia.” It is clear that she is not exactly who she says she is. But as the play goes on, more and more hints are dropped as to her true identity, and perhaps the viewer will figure it out as Mrs. Hawking does. Her mission, as well as her secret self, casts a harsh light on the real social problems the Victorian age was rife with.

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Mrs. Braun will be portrayed in this first-ever stage performance of the character by actress Joye Thaller. Joye also read for the role of Mrs. Braun in the Vivat Regina staged reading, hosted by Theatre@First’s Bare Bones reading series in 2014.

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The third installment, Base Instruments, which will be released in full script form shortly, introduces Miss Elena Zakharova as the client, a rising star in the St. Petersberg ballet. With the murder of her fellow dancer, she brings the first true mystery we ever watch the team solve. But the story she brings into Mrs. Hawking’s parlor is not the whole story, and the real truth reveals a lurking darkness even beyond the grimness of murder.

Of course, with a series of characters who all serve a similar role in the story, some patterns do emerge. Given the restrictions on women in Victorian society, the same one that often make it so they have need of Mrs. Hawking, mean they are taking quite a risk in even seeking out her help. Does this mean they are frightened when they come in? Full of righteous anger at the state of affairs? Is it taking every ounce of courage they have in order to reach out, or has the direness of the situation given them passion? I try to give the actresses portraying these characters some room to bring their own interpretation. But everything starts with the script, so I want the text to inspire them to complete characterizations.

One thing is common— Mrs. Hawking may be their champion, but it seems that at one point or another in each story, she finds a need to shake down her own client! Whether she thinks they’re lying or taking advantage the system she fights, our hero sometimes loses sight of exactly what she’s fighting for. It reveals an aspect of our hero that may have real consequences on the storytelling in the future, so I need to take great care to explore all the possibilities brought on by the ladies walking into the parlor.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.

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The mistake in Vivat Regina

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Categories: character, development, vivat regina, Tags: ,

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When I was in graduate school studying playwriting and screenwriting, one of my mentors, the great Boston theater artist Kate Snodgrass, said that everything that in the text of a play is intentional. Whatever writing choices made it into the final draft have to be treated by us, readers and critics, as specifically included on purpose by that writer. It’s all part of the world of the story, and nothing can be chalked up to as accidental, or a mistake.

With all due respect to Kate, I don’t always agree with that. As a writer, I find that the process isn’t always one smooth delivery of brainchild onto the page. I do tend to be a very intentional writer. It’s just my style to do a lot of advance planning, and I always have a motivation for why I made the choice that I made. Doesn’t mean it’s a good choice, of course, but I did it on purpose for a reason!

But even I end up with stuff in my finished projects that weren’t part of my grand design. Sometimes I have a really good part A and a really good part C, so I end up hacking together a part B because it gets me from one to the other. Or sometimes I include something that struck me on a whim at the moment, when if I’d considered it a little more deeply, I might not find it consistent with the overall vision.

One such small moment exists in Vivat Regina. There’s a little recurring bit throughout the piece of how Mrs. Hawking doesn’t like keeping tea biscuits in the house. It’s mostly there as a joke, a way to make fun of her for her weirdness, to give the characters, particularly Mary and Clara, a way to relate to each other.

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“You haven’t even any decent tea biscuits!” Rehearsing with Circe Rowan as Mary and Samantha LeVangie as Clara.

Why is this a mistake? Because– why would Mrs. Hawking have a problem with tea biscuits? It’s not immediately obvious, so you as the audience might be wondering. When I as the writer think about it, it gives me pause as I realize— she actually doesn’t have a reason. At least, she didn’t when I wrote it. Because I didn’t include it because it grew out of some feature that I wanted to make part of Mrs. Hawking’s character. It’s there not because of something about her— it’s there because of something about me. Which is a massively amateurish thing for a writer.

I thought that was funny, without thinking about it too much, because I hate keeping crackers and little munchables around because I eat them all immediately. But that’s my issue, that’s not true of Mrs. Hawking. It’s just not who she is. And that’s a problem, because I included a feature of a character that didn’t derive from that character’s unique nature. It’s a sign of immature writing to make all of your characters reflections of you rather than independent, complex people. So in writing in that little bit, I made a rookie mistake.

Upon reflection, I decided to keep it. It’s funny, it adds something to the interactions. But that means it’s in there. It’s part of the fabric of the world. My challenge now is to find the truth in it. Even though it came from me rather than the character, now I need to find something about the character that makes it true.

Right now, I’m leaving it up to the interpretation of the actors. I’m trying to take in what they bring to the piece to find inspiration for the real meaning. But that just shows you, artists are fallible. Things can work in their despite your best intentions for a grand design. But luckily, in theater you are collaborating with so many other talented people that they can help bring order to the chaos, meaning where there was none.

I leave it up to you whether or not we made it work.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.

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Vivat Regina character arc previews – Mrs. Hawking

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Categories: character, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

As I’ve said, the best opportunity afford to us by telling the Mrs. Hawking story as a serial is the chance to show the characters develop. Here’s a glimpse into what journeys you can look forward to from our returning characters.

Our hero Mrs. Hawking makes a particular challenge in this department, one that her actor, Frances Kimpel, and I are excited to take on. It’s that the nature of her character means we must balance her resistance to change with a need for real forward movement. It’s part of who she is that she grows slowly, being too stuck in old resentments, but every story has to bring her growth in a way that is true to her character but also emerges genuinely from the circumstances.

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Vivat Regina begins after Mrs. Hawking has taken a very major step, implied by the end of the previous story— finally, she is letting another person into her work, her life, her world. Mary has proved her worthiness in her mistress’s eyes, and that has been enough to convince Mrs. Hawking to open herself up to not only a working relationship, but an actual close human relationship. Mary has become not only her assistant, but her real friend. For our closed-off, lone-wolf protagonist, that is huge, and represented real growth on her part.

But exposing her secrets and her true self to someone is scary, especially to someone like her. And when Mrs. Hawking feels scared or vulnerable, her reaction is to try and bring the situation at hand as much under her control as humanly possible— in this case, Mary’s progress as a fellow society avenger. She’s been willing to allow Mary to take part, to train her to effectively help in her superhero work, but true trust has yet to follow. Any mistake Mary makes may be natural since she’s just learning, but to Mrs. Hawking, any imperfection could bring upon discovery, failure, ruin. So she’s very hard on Mary, offering plenty of criticism but little praise, obsessed with the fear that relying on someone other than herself could wreck everything she’s built if that other person isn’t equal to the task.

2.3. "No, madam. What would you have done?"

2.3. “No, madam. What would you have done?”

A defining characteristic of Mrs. Hawking is her anger, one of her major motivating factors. Her rage at the way the world would trap her into a role that doesn’t fit her drives her to the extraordinary lengths demanded by her work. I think this is one of the most important and noteworthy features about her. It isn’t often that a female character gets to be consistently angry and control the room around them with their difficult behavior. Vivat Regina will show a lot of it come out in the way Mrs. Hawking deals with Mary as she struggles to learn the trade.

Mary and Nathaniel understand this about her, and to some degree accept it. But to have the people around her endlessly validate and make allowances for that kind of behavior neutralizes the conflict. It does not drive Mrs. Hawking to grow or change in any way, and it’s simply not believable that people would endlessly put up with her. So in the course of Vivat Regina, we will see Mrs. Hawking be challenged on these things— her difficulty getting along with others, her lack of trust, her ceaseless criticism, and the hard way her rage makes her behave. So we will see the lone wolf have to adapt to taking other people into consideration for the first time. And if she’s going to be a mentor and the leader of a team, well, she’s going to learn how to mentor and lead.

Striking the right balance of being true to her unique character, while still delivering believable growth before the audience, will be a difficult task. But that is what will make this narrative truly rich, and worth sticking around for more than one installment. You’ll have to come see the show to know how Frances and I manage it!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Greater scope of character development across two shows

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Categories: character, mrs. hawking, performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

The most exciting thing about doing serial theater at Arisia 2016 is the ability to show the characters grow and change over the course of multiple stories. This development is one of the most engaging things to present for an audience. When we develop an interest in and an affection for characters, we love to track the progress of their personal journeys. Narrative demands growth and change, which of course we’re familiar with seeing over the course of a single play, but with our attempt at serial theater, we’ve got the chance to give the audience a greater scope of character growth then they’ve ever seen onstage before.

This presents an interesting, and in many cases unique, challenge for our actors. With the lion’s share of their experience being in theater, they have not had the chance to play the same character in more than one story. When they reprise Mrs. Hawking, the first play, they recreate the characters’ original journeys that they are already familiar with. However, at the same time, they must start Vivat Regina’s rehearsal process from the place their character ended in Mrs. Hawking.

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Early rehearsal for Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016, with Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel and Isabel Dollar as Frau Gerhard.

So, for example, Jeremiah O’Sullivan, our returning actor playing Nathaniel, must recall where the character begins at the start of Mrs. Hawking, and show him develop into the man he is changed into by the events of that play— with a growing awareness of the ways the world fails people less privileged than he, and a determination to do better. Then, going into Vivat Regina, Jeremiah must incorporate those changes as his starting point for Nathaniel for the next play— and then grow further from there!

It’s imperative that the audience is able to see the characters progress every time we see them. This is how we will engage people for the long haul. We’re hoping to not only tell two Mrs. Hawking stories, but three and four and more– an entire series! It is investment in the characters that will keep people along for the ride— that desire to see where they’re going.

And I love the artistic opportunity it presents for us. Serial theater is something that is rarely attempted, so it’s an experience that few theater actors ever get to take on. I can’t wait to see how our fabulous cast is going to tackle it.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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“What if the Colonel did black ops?”

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Categories: character, development, Tags: , , ,

As I mentioned in the entry on Early Installment Weirdness, it is common for your conception of who a character is and what they’re like to change the more you work with them. While a fair bit of this happened with the more central characters, particularly Mrs. Hawking herself, you know which person ended up changing the most in my mind? Everyone’s favorite Ghost Character, her late husband Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking.

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Back when I was imagining Mrs. Hawking as more of a straight-up Sherlock Holmes type— more purely calculating, intellectual, and reserved —I imagined that it might be intriguing if her interior life was something of a black box. I thought it might be engaging if she remained largely inscrutable in her feelings and motivations, leaving the audience to guess from her actions alone. The Colonel, correspondingly, was even more opaque— a distant, detached figure who by virtue of his absence and Mrs. Hawking’s complete lack of interest in him would never be fully understood.

But I really could not stick to this view of them. As the Batman influence became more and more prominent, it became clear that Mrs. Hawking actually had LOTS of strong feelings and motivations, which no matter how much she kept bottling them always threatened to burst out. Maybe it’s a weakness on my part, but I found it much more satisfying to actively, obviously explore her inner life. And by that same token, it became much more interesting to me to make the Colonel a more complex, human figure.

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The first step of that was the devising of his central tragedy— that he really loved Victoria, and was incapable of understanding how that love managed to hurt her. And from there, all these things about him started to assert himself. He was actively excited to have a family with her, and when that was no longer possible he was extremely sad. He realized that she didn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and so decided removing the burden of his presence from her life would be the kindest thing he could do. A lot of people ask me how Mrs. Hawking managed to hide her society avenging work from him for twenty years. The answer to that is partially that he was away a lot, in his capacity as a prominent commander of the British empire. But because we made him more interesting, we found ourselves getting more interested in him. And that means now I wonder a lot about how he spent that time.

Bernie suggested he might have had cool adventures in his time abroad, perhaps serving in some elite capacity in special operations all across the empire. Maybe he led some kind of Howling Commandos-type special force. Who knows what sort of missions he could have run? And, seeing as they were in service to the engine of the British Empire, they might not all have been the most righteous causes. He’s a loyal soldier, but he’s not without moral understanding. How might the Colonel have felt about that?

It’s hard to bring this stuff into the story as we currently conceive of it. It’s Mrs. Hawking’s story above all, not the Colonel’s. But it certainly enriches thing to know what happened behind the scenes, even if we never completely tell the audience what it is. The little character moments it could inform could add so much dimension to our understanding of these people.

I had a vision of how maybe it was an old family legend among the Hawkings that the Colonel was once offered a knighthood and turned it down. Being the reserved person that he was, he never said why, or what for. Nathaniel would of course be fascinated by such a thing, and could ask Mrs. Hawking about it. But she would say she didn’t know why, because, to Nathaniel’s uncomprehending shock, she never asked. And a moment like that says a lot about all parties involved. A great little moment to reveal character.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2017.

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