Categotry Archives: character

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

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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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Learning from Early Installment Weirdness

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There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs when writing characters in a serialized story. You of course get to know them better the longer you work with them. But because your stories get completed at different stages of that development process, sometimes a finalized piece features a character in ways that aren’t part of the ultimate conception you have of them. This is often referred to as Early Installment Weirdness, to use the TV Tropes term— when the true nature of the story you’re telling evolves and solidifies in the process of telling it.

I’m pleased that we don’t have TOO much of this in Mrs. Hawking. But as I work on later installments, I do notice things in the original that I probably wouldn’t have included if I were writing it with the understanding I have now. Mrs. Hawking, for example, accepts the job from Mrs. Fairmont while allowing certain details of what’s going on to remain a secret. Vivat Regina shows that Mrs. Hawking will turn down jobs that she doesn’t believe to fit with her mission, so I don’t know if it’s totally her to take on a problem without all the facts. I guess it took some time to realize just how mean she was! Also, given her fierce distaste for interacting with people face to face, the fact that she’s so willing to take Mary’s suggestion to go in as guests at Brockton’s ball— as opposed to sneaking in unseen —is a little off as well.

1.3. "Mrs. Hawking sent you?"
Mrs. Hawking shaking down her own client turns out to be TOTALLY in character

Fortunately I don’t find these to be big problems. Maybe Mrs. Fairmont lied about her problem originally, and that wasn’t clear to Mrs. Hawking until she started investigating. Maybe her plan all along was to make Mary do the talking at the ball. But it does serve as a reminder to consider what’s really in character when I make storytelling choices. You generate more belief in the characters and their actions when they do not what you need them to do, not what the plot needs them to do, but what grows naturally out of the people that they are.

1.5. "Fancy that. You're in attendance this evening."
Would this asshole willingly put herself into a situation where she had to… TALK to people?

In fact, I think that’s the reason Early Installment Weirdness even happens. Because the more you work with the people and the world, the more they tell you who they are. And it usually turns out better when you work with whatever direction it takes. And it turns out that Mrs. Hawking told me she was meaner and more socially maladjusted than I suspected! Lucky for me, there’s a ton of story to get out of that!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th at 119 School Street, Waltham, MA at 2PM and 6PM as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Costume interviews with Jenn Giorno – the menswear

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

Did you admire the lovely Victorian costuming in our production of Mrs. Hawking? It was the work of Jennifer Giorno, our primary designer and the actress who portrayed Grace Monroe, and my very dear friend. She, like me, believes very strongly in the power of costuming to help tell the story and define the characters.

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I had the chance to sit down with Jenn and ask her how she approached the fairly challenging task of emulating historical fashions on a tight budget that had to stand up to the rigors and quick changing of theater. She had some fascinating things to say about the process, on a wide variety of costuming issues! So I’ll be breaking it into parts, and today’s section will be on one of my favorites, the menswear!

The menswear of Mrs. Hawking was designed after the very regimented styles worn in Victorian England. There was a separate uniform for respectable gentlemen’s daywear, the morning and frock suits, and eveningwear, the white and black tie tuxedos. It’s a very visually recognizable style, so it would be clear if we did it wrong. Given that we were working mostly with found, borrowed, and thrifted items, it’s amazing just how dapper our gentlemen turned out!

2.2. "Why, yes, sounds a capital idea."

Phoebe: “What do you like about Victorian menswear?”

Jenn: “I love frock coats, I love mourning coats. If men still wore morning coats as as everyday thing, I’d just be so distracted, always! Because I love the cut, even more then regular tails.”

P: “We got that in there, with Nathaniel!”

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

J: “Yep! It’s so sleek, it’s so good-looking. For me, one of the important things was distinguishing the high-class characters from the low-class ones, or the ones who were pretending to it. So Colchester is a trumped up thug with delusions of grandeur. He wears a bowler hat, which isn’t quite the thing, but it’s close enough to being the thing, so that’s what he goes to. And his coat, it’s a little bit shapeless, but it’s still a nice coat.”

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

P: “We joked that Brian made it look too good!”

J: “Yeah! But it definitely looked less crisp than all the other men. And in this performance we had him half-untucked. And in he’s not wearing a vest or tie at all, which really speaks to his low-class.

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Jordan Greeley as Sir Walter Grainger

“And with Grainger, it was subtler. He’s technically nobility, but he’s country, so he wears a lovely waistcoat, but his evening suit and shirt aren’t quite as nice and don’t fit quite as well. We even have him in a scene where he’s a little unbuttoned. So with the men, it was trying to be accurate, but getting color choices that spoke to the characters, and making the subtle class distinctions.

“Nathaniel’s looks, his daywear is gray, his eveningwear is black and silver. It speaks to him as a proper, clean-cut character. It says he wants to make a good impression and for people to like him.”

2.3. "Am I to take it that you've been going out on these... ventures... for some time now?"

P: “And to our modern eyes, I think it gives off signals that we can interpret as that he’s a good dresser. I’ve always thought Nathaniel cared about fashion, he’s interested in it and keeps up with it.”

2.5. Badass disarm.

J: “Yes, it’s important that Nathaniel, and Brockton as well, come off as a good dresser.”

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

“Brockton’s also showier about it. It’s part of his persona as the blackmailer. He likes to flaunt his power, and his dress is one of the ways he does it. The daywear in gold and black, and the nightwear in red and black. High class, but also a little sinister.”

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

“We didn’t go with proper white tie, even though that would have been appropriate. It would have had them basically all looking like penguins! That just would have been too generic. We wanted those flashes of color in there from their vests and cravats. It adds texture and speaks to their personalities.”

I’m with Jenn; I love men in sharp suits and eveningwear. It added so much to the visual impact of our male characters to have them dressed so sharply.

2.2. "What ho, gentlemen! I was hoping I might interest everyone in a game of cards."

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Our heroes’ chosen family

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Categories: character, Tags: , , ,

It takes a few stories to get there, but I want to make it clear that the relationship that is building between our three leads is one of chosen family. This is a concept that a lot of our audience finds very resonant, as the ability to choose to surround oneself with those people one loves gives many people a lot of strength. That’s the feeling I want to capture between Mary, Mrs. Hawking, and Nathaniel as their relationships form and grow.

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Frances Kimpel and Circe Rowan rehearse. “I shall be frank. I’ve no idea what to do with you.”

Family in the traditional sense is a contentious concept for these characters. Mary’s mother and father were too wrapped up in their own problems to pay much attention to her beyond expecting her to make herself useful. She tries not to hold it against them, but she they never made her feel like she mattered. For Mrs. Hawking, family is the chain that keeps her tied to her husband’s people, between whom there is a mutual disapproval and dislike. And her father, the only blood relation she ever knew, is probably the person she hated most in the world. Nathaniel is the only one among them with a positive relationship to his family, but because of it, it is important to him that he can extend the definition of that world to include all the people he cares for most.

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Jeremiah O’Sullivan reheasing Nathaniel. “Am I to understand you’ve been going out on these… ventures… for some time now?”

The idea that deep bonds could form between these sorts of people are not expected in this culture. A mistress and her servant, an aunt and her nephew by marriage, a wealthy gentleman and the house girl? Not people who are expected to grow close and come to love each other. But each of them finds themselves drawn to one another as their particular emotional needs and the extraordinary experiences they share make them the only possible people who could fill those roles to each other. They are, after all, becoming partners in a dangerous and secret enterprise. They can’t tell other people what they do. They can’t talk about it with anyone else. They’re in this alone together, and that can’t help but make ties. So we find ourselves observing a very unconventional sort of brother and sister doing their best to win the approval of a very complicated mother figure.

Make no mistake, I am not trying to cast Mrs. Hawking in a “maternal” light. It is pretty firmly established that is not part of who she is, and that a great part of her struggle in society is seeking the freedom to be able to cast that notion off. But she and Mary come to fill each other’s respective voids in that sense. Mary never had a strong female role model who cared for her and wanted to teach her to come into her own, while Mrs. Hawking never had a person for whom she wanted to protect or held shape into the next generation.

As for Nathaniel, he may have an okay relationship with his real dad, but the father figure who he connected to much more strongly was his uncle the Colonel. Their bond led him to want a connection with Mrs. Hawking as well, the person his uncle loved most in the world. And it’s important enough that he’s willing to work for it. The way he and Mary so desperately seek her esteem makes it clear the light that they see her in.

The last relationship is Mary and Nathaniel, perhaps the most unexpected of all for their time and place. As shared struggle creates connections, the work it takes to adapt to the new challenges of heroic life make a friendship grow, as well as the fact that they don’t have many people in their lives they can be frank about their feeling with. It almost makes me sad to think of when people will inevitably slash the characters as fandom is wont to do, because romance is importantly not part of this. Their connection comes from a mutual reliance and respect that does not require attraction or demand to be maintained, nor can it be broken even in times of strife. Your family is always your family, and they become the brother and sister that neither of them ever had.

Each leg of the triangle forms for its own reasons, but the connections make them a family. The people who love you the most, and are capable of hurting you most, with all the support and conflict that any family has.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 7th as part of the 2016 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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Nathaniel’s atypical role in defining the three-man team

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A major goal of the plot in “Mrs. Hawking” is the establishment of the three-man superhero team of Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel. It takes a little working out to nail down everyone’s role, carrying over into the interpersonal conflict in the next story “Vivat Regina,” but by the end of this first play, we see a clear example of how they might fit together. But forming the team is not just for the sake of their superheroing work. It’s also for building a compelling social dynamic that we can explore over the course of their adventures.

I’m hoping to find ways to distinguish this team from other examples in the genre. Just fact that the women take the foremost roles, and actually outnumber the male members, is a good start— and way rarer than it should be. But more than that, I’m recasting the traditional roles characters like that fit into. Mrs. Hawking is the mastermind who runs point on all their operations. Mary is the man on the ground, ready to create a distraction or throw a punch. Still, occasionally you do see women in physical or leadership roles nowadays. So perhaps most unusual at all is Nathaniel, whose role on the team is probably what most people would consider to be the most traditionally feminine.

We learn quickly in “Mrs. Hawking” that Nathaniel is a talker and a people person, able to gain information and advantage through interaction with others and improvising conversation on the spot. He is good-looking, well-connected, and has obvious charisma, which makes him an easy candidate for their faceman. The team charmer, however, is a role usually played by a team’s female member. Additionally, from an interpersonal perspective, Nathaniel is their peacemaker. It is important to him that those close to him are getting along, and he is the one who takes steps to defuse tension and see that relationships are repaired. This is even more striking than the faceman position, as the job of tending to the emotional health of relationships is even more rarely placed on male characters.

I like this because it makes Nathaniel fairly unique in this respect. Also it makes for an interesting juxtaposition with his process of unlearning the standards of patriarchal society that is a big part of his character journey. That’s something I enjoy doing, casting conventionally masculine characters in lights considered to be traditionally feminine, because it upends expectations and widens the variety of portrayals we see in literature. Undermining the rigid definition of gender roles is a worthy goal, but more than that, it serves to define Nathaniel as an individual, giving more dimension to a character I hope to make interesting, unusual, and worth following.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 9th at 2PM and 6PM at the Center for Digital Arts at 274 Moody Street, Waltham as part of the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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Rehearsing “Like a Loss” for staged reading with Bare Bones

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Categories: character, gilded cages, performance, Tags: , , , ,

This Sunday we had rehearsal for the staged reading of the ten-minute play Like a Loss at Bare Bones 16: At War. As I’ve mentioned, Like a Loss is unique in that it’s the only time up to this point in the story that the Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking ever actually appears onstage. I like the opportunity this gives for the audience to fill in certain blanks, to compare what they observe of the man themselves to the disparate viewpoints taken of him by other characters.

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This piece stars the Colonel as well his longtime personal valet Henry Chapman, who in having served him for so many years through so many adventures has become his good friend. What makes the piece interesting is that it depicts a rare moment of emotional exploration between two gentlemen who do not often discuss such things under any context. They are Victorian gentlemen, of a culture that keeps these things to themselves. They are master and servant, and while closer than many, there is a level of formality and distance that makes such things off-limits. And finally, the Colonel is in the very delicate position of having pretty much every single person he’s close to in a total state of confusion as to why he married such a difficult, disagreeable woman. His family hates her, and Chapman thinks she’s unforgivably cruel to him; none of them see in her what the Colonel sees. Even among all the other factors, that in particular makes it so the Colonel has no one safe to talk to about what he’s currently struggling with. But Chapman cares about his master a great deal, and is taking this opportunity to try and address the pain that the Colonel is so clearly in.

This was a great opportunity for me as a writer, as it demanded effective use of subtext, which is always hard for me. It also presents a particular challenge to our actors, Brad Smith as the Colonel and Eboracum Richter-Dahl as Henry Chapman, his faithful batman and valet. They must convey to the audience just the depth and significance of the emotional moments while maintaining that superficial even keel. It was fascinating to watch them manage those moments, to bring levels that required a huge amount of nuance to read through their guarded, civil attitudes. Like Nathaniel, I always pictured the Colonel to maintain that particular variety of never-say-die British cheer, which is strongly at odds with the difficulty he’s going through in this piece– and Chapman is seeing right through it while politely pretending he isn’t. Brad and Eboracum did a beautiful job illustrating what is actually an extremely tragic story, that of a man who loved of a woman who utterly lacked the capacity to love him back, and of how completely without meaning to they ended up ruining each other’s lives.

The moment depicted in this particular piece alludes to lots of story we’ve yet to see. One thing we do know for sure is that the marriage of Colonel and Mrs. Hawking was extremely fraught. But there’s a great deal of lead-up before it reaches the state it was in when the Colonel died, one year before “Mrs. Hawking” opens. This piece hits at some of those stages it passed through, how they may not always have been as completely at odds as they ended up, how their conflict evolved from friendly opposition to directionless anger and ultimately to the chilly distance that was the final straw in breaking Reginald’s heart.

Someday we’ll tell that whole story. In fact, I’d like to detail the journey of how Victoria and Reginald met and married in what I’m planning to be the fourth full-length installment, after the upcoming Base Instruments. But for now, we only get a glimpse at another point in that timeline, here right after a major downward turn, in the the tragedy of the man who had the terrible misfortune to fall in love with our distant, damaged hero.

Come join us for our one-night only performance as the opener of Bare Bones 16: At War for piece, The Wheel, written by Zinnie Harris and directed by Jess Viator, on Thursday, March 26th, 2015 at 8pm at Unity Somerville, at 6 William Street, Somerville, MA.

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Mrs. Hawking has no code name

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Categories: character, influences, Tags: , , , ,

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At its most basic, Mrs. Hawking is a superhero story— an extraordinary individual who uses their abilities to make the world a more just place. The clear influence that the character of Batman has had on the conception of our hero helped solidify that. So I’ve taken a lot of cues from the superhero genre to figure out how to tell these stories. But because of this square grounding in such an established form, one way in which we deviate from it stands out as particularly strange. Like many superheroes, Mrs. Hawking has a secret identity, that of reclusive society widow. She does not, however, have a name for her hero identity, a code name by which her heroic actions are known, of the likes of Batman for Bruce Wayne and Captain America for Steve Rogers. 

I supposed it might be regarded as an oversight on my part. Admittedly, in the very, very earliest imaginings she was a little more of a straight detective than a superhero, so even though that quickly changed, that may have been the reason why it never occurred to me to give her a code name. But by the time I noticed the problem, I’d already written two stories, and by that point, I really didn’t feel like it could be retrofitted. Making it tougher for me is that, while in-universe she really doesn’t feel like the name Victoria Hawking represents her, out-of-universe I chose it super-carefully specifically BECAUSE I felt like it suits her so well. What could I choose that would fit her better?

So, I have come to the conclusion that she doesn’t really have one. But it IS a strange omission for a story of this genre, so does that have any difficult consequences on the unfolding? Does that mean that the only people who are aware of her are the ones that know her real name? She does operate a great deal on the fact that she seems too outlandish to most people to actually exist, but we know from moments like her conversation with Sir Walter in the first story that occasionally she deals with people from behind the anonymity afforded by her stealth suit. So how would people who realize there is such a masked figure in existence, but didn’t know her personally, refer to her? 

I tend to subscribe to the theory that you can’t name yourself in this way. It usually feels more organic— and let’s face it, less absurd —when the hero’s code name is chosen by popular habit. So there’s probably something they call her just for the convenience of having some way to talk about her. This actually becomes necessary to have an answer for as I work on installment three, Base Instruments it occurred to me that Nathaniel’s wife Clara is very socially connected and well-informed when it comes to the goings on of London’s ladies, and may very well have heard of this secret agent that helps women who have nowhere else to turn. I haven’t precisely settled, but I tend to think that they don’t have a name that could be considered a “Batman” equivalent, nothing so formal and declarative. But there may be some sort of title along the lines of “the Dark Knight” for her, perhaps even something like “the lady’s champion of London,” a phrase which has yet to be mentioned in-universe, but one I made up as a way to explain just what it is Mrs. Hawking does. 

There is one superhero name that does immediately jump out at me. While Mrs. Hawking’s dissocation with her married name makes it unlikely– not to mention too obvious –that she would use something about it to represent herself, it does become the clear progenitor for the name of the Hawks, the team that Mary eventually puts together to carry on her work. When she assembles a team of talented operatives to expand the reach of their work for justice, it will be Mary’s own interpretation of Mrs. Hawking’s missions. So, though I don’t think they will be completely insensible of the irony, they will consider themselves to be named in her honor. And I think that’s a fun twist on the convention of the superhero name.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 9th at 2PM and 6PM at the Center for Digital Arts at 274 Moody Street, Waltham as part of the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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Meet Frances Kimpel, the physical embodiment of Mrs. Hawking

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Categories: character, supplemental, Tags: ,

IMG_0957.JPGPhoto by Josh Spiro

I have had the privilege to know Frances Kimpel since our time at Brandeis University, where we met in a production of The Tempest put on by our old college theater troupe, Hold Thy Peace. Since then I’m glad to say we have become good friends, and over the years and the many plays we’ve worked on together I’ve had a front-row seat to the fabulous performances she’s delivered in that time. All this led me to the great privilege of having her be the one to embody my hero.

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Photo by Charlotte Oswald

Frances Kimpel is from Tacoma, Washington, with a degree from Brandeis University in History and French, as well as a masters in Medieval History from Durham University in Durham, UK. I have directed Frances many times, starting with our time in Hold Thy Peace, Brandeis’s resident Shakespeare troupe, including a turn as Hamlet. Once she even directed me, when she cast me as Cordelia and the Fool in her moody, contemplative, sepia-toned production of King Lear.

She’s always been a great source of inspiration to me. An incredibly talented actor, dancer, and all-around artist, her versatility on the stage is remarkable. With her blonde hair, green eyes, and trim figure, she can easily step into the personas of innocents and beauties, but just as easily does her physicality lend itself to startling androgyny, making all manner of roles, from intellectual men, to energetic children, to inhuman monsters, all within her grasp.

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Years ago, when I was first conceiving of the character of Victoria Hawking, I knew I wanted her to be a striking, dangerous figure, able to do amazing things, which to me naturally suggested someone who looked looked like Frances— a small, lean figure yet still with intense physical presence. As a friend of ours, once said, “She looks like the blade of a knife.” That combined with her incredible acting ability always made her the person I wanted to take on the character.

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Frances’s favorite roles tend one of two ways, the otherwordly, and the tragically philosophical. For her the first category includes the likes of Puck, Ariel, Caliban, and one of Macbeth’s witches. Of these roles Frances says, “I love portraying non-human characters, both because doing so often incorporates a lot of fun movement and also because I am perpetually fascinated by the border between the familiar and the unknown— between what is human and what is other.” Her talent for changing her physicality shines especially in these roles. On the other hand, some of her most memorable and moving performances were as Hamlet and Brutus, two of the most weighty and challenging roles in Shakespeare. She has always enjoyed “playing characters with complex inner lives— highly imaginative, philosophical, or idealistic characters, characters with great dreams or great delusions —and exploring how those imaginings are reconciled (or not) with a dissonant reality.”

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Frances as Brutus with Cassius as played by Eboracum Richter-Dahl
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Frances as Hamlet with Dave Hinterman as Horatio

So when approaching Mrs. Hawking, Frances brought a great deal of experience building complicated psychologies to inform her acting. I asked Frances how she saw her character and how she went about building her performance in the role. “I usually get to know characters by doing imaginative background work. I try to imagine what sorts of things they habitually think about, how the would react to various hypothetical situations, and moving through various spaces feels like for them. I then try to let these things inform my development of a unique voice, bearing, and set of mannerisms.” In this case she used not only Mrs. Hawking’s life with the Colonel, but who she was before then. “In order to actually portray this character it was important for me to root my understanding of her in something further back still: what was she like before her marriage? Why and how did the marriage— the great tragedy of her life —happen?”

Frances gave a lot of thought to how that informed the person she was stepping into. “As we see her now, her specialty is stealth: everything she does is painstakingly planned and concealed. Though she risks her life on a regular basis, she does so in a manner that— when it comes to the possibility of discovery —is cautious in the extreme, and whenever she slips up in this regard, she is profoundly disappointed in herself. But she was not always this way. Her younger self was much more reckless— much less painfully aware of the limitations within which she must operate —and also much less bitter. Developing an understanding of the metamorphosis that must have transpired is what really made the character ‘click’ for me, and forms the crux of what I brought to her mentally and emotionally. It also helped me to link the character to my own state of being— to provide some through-way for channeling my own natural energy (much more akin to her younger self, I would say) into the mature Mrs. Hawking of this play.”

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Frances’s particular abilities lend themselves especially well to creating our hero’s defining stage presence. “I would describe Mrs. Hawking’s physicality as like mine, but less fidgety and chaotic— more confined, deliberate, and— surprisingly —more delicate… she walks a delicate line— she carries a delicate operation —and that level of masterful precision and forethought shows in how she moves.

“Developing her voice, of course, was the most difficult thing for me, because I had to build the character voice on top of a foreign accent. I think I settled on a lower register than my natural one, with a kind of perpetual edge (whether of irritation or calculation or vigilance or threat— there’s usually something beneath whatever she’s saying) and a tendency to default into irony. This last, I think is because she sees the bulk of social interaction as a ridiculous but obligatory farce.”

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Finally, I asked Frances what she enjoyed about her character. “I love her ferocity, and the tension between the explosiveness of that ferocity and the level of control that has been imposed upon it. I very much enjoyed the process of perfecting her physicality. While I am accustomed to portraying danger in a more chaotic form, I have never played a character with quite her level of deadly precision… Her rage is meticulously contained and channeled into deliberate actions. It was also of course great to get to play a canonically asexual character— as opposed to playing a canonically sexual character with a secret head canon of asexuality, as I am sometimes wont to do. And I loved climbing the set.”

If you’re interested in seeing more of Frances, she’s got a number of other projects in the works. “I am currently preparing to direct The Chameleon’s Dish‘s upcoming performance of my original play, Annabel Lost, an experimental piece combining visual art and performance poetry with a montage of dramatic scenes.” The play will be performed at the Democracy Center in Cambridge, MA, on the evenings of March 22nd, March 29th, April 3rd, and April 5th. She’s also been published in the winter issue of Window Cat Press and in the upcoming publication Polychrome Ink. She will also be performing some of her poetry at Mass Poetry’s U35 Reading Series on May 26. In conjunction with Eboracum Richter-Dahl, Frances additionally craft a line of art objects and jewelry which can be found for sale at Revolutionary Concord at 34 Main Street in Concord, MA, or online on at her Etsy store.

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