Categotry Archives: development

Discussion of the process of developing the story into its best and most final form, including all the changes and versions that it goes through.

by

When character moments are earned

No comments yet

Categories: character, development, gilded cages, Tags: , ,

Scene 1.4 of Gilded Cages represents a striking landmark in my growth as a writer– specifically, the first half, where Mary and Nathaniel are cleaning out the Colonel’s study and he tells the story of how he and Clara met. I love it, and am proud of it, for a lot of reasons.

Photo by Steve Karpf

Firstly, it may be the most purely character-focused scene in any of the Hawking plays to that point. I am of the school of narrative design that holds that “Plots reveals character”— your figures are confronted by events and how they react to those events allows them to demonstrate who they are. I like this approach because it keeps the narrative structured and engaging while still fostering the development of character. You’ll notice that the majority of the Hawking stories are built according to this idea.

However, I’ve historically had a problem with being so focused on plot that very little character ever gets to happen outside of the unfolding. It has a tendency to give the stories a hurried feel, as if there’s just no time for anything that’s not forward movement. Years ago I wrote about this, my fear of just letting my characters be my characters without actively pursuing plot. It’s out of my concern for things becoming boring or self-indulgent, presenting moments that are shoehorned in and of no interest to anyone but me. But the character journeys ARE the point, not an afterthought; getting to know these people and see where they go is the heart of the story.

So this scene, the first half of 1.4, was me making an effort to insert something purely about character and have it feel like it meaningfully contributed to the story, rather than be a pointless indulgence. I actually feel like I accomplished it. It teaches you a lot about the characters, and it’s engaging! By part IV, if I haven’t made you care about these characters and interested in them for their own sake, then I think I haven’t done my job right. So I can count on having won the audience’s attention for just watching characters they like be themselves and tell us a little more about them. By part IV, that time and attention spent is earned.

Gilded Cages 2018-37

And I do think it tells us a lot of great stuff about them. It showcases Mary and Nathaniel’s friendship, how close and comfortable they’ve become with each other, that they share cute and funny personal anecdotes and talk about romantic relationships. It’s long been part of Circe Rowan’s process that Mary is a reader of fairy-stories, and is enthralled by tales of romance and adventure, and you see it in the way she reacts to Nathaniel’s story. And Nathaniel’s funny, self-deprecating retelling adds a lot of humanity and levity to the play. I am amused by the implication that Justin’s been getting the best of Nathaniel since they were children, but this one instance little brother beat out big, in a romantic exploit no less, and Nathaniel’s never quite gotten over a little smugness over it. And one of my regrets about all of part IV was that I wasn’t able to find a place for Clara in the cast. Nathaniel talking about falling in love with her is a cute way to make her presence felt.

Gilded Cages 2018-35

It’s helped a lot by the performances. Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel is incredibly charismatic, and his warmth, humor, and gentle self-effacement give everything he does a certain charm. And Circe Rowan’s Mary has this wide-eyed, enthusiastic quality as she giggles over her friend’s funny and romantic story, that I think sets the tone for the reaction of the audience.
And you know what? I did manage to loop it back into the larger narrative, as Mary’s asking because she’s trying to figure out how to navigate her own budding relationship with Arthur. So not only does it really give a moment where the characters are simply being themselves, it ultimately leads to a moment that does further the plot. If that’s not the perfect way to balance the best of both worlds, I don’t know what is.

It’s a real triumph for me as a writer who’s constantly trying to develop and grow my skills. To see what I mean, join us for th 6pm performance of Gilded Cages on Saturday, May 12th at the Watch City Steampunk Festival and catch it in action from our amazing cast.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




by

Odd little name issue

No comments yet

Categories: development, mrs. frost, Tags:

Gilded Cages 2018-89

In my copious, copious free time, I am picking away at the plot outline for Mrs. Frost, part five of the Mrs. Hawking saga. Among the myriad issues I’m running into— God, writing these plays is hard! —one small one arises that may be representative of the nature of many of the others. Malaika is returning in this story, after being introduced in the previous one, and I’m finding myself at the loss at how to slug her in the script.

“Slugging” refers to the name you use for a character when you indicate that a line is theirs. For example, Victoria Cornelia Stanton Hawking’s lines are slugged with “MRS. HAWKING,” and Mary Frances Stone is “MARY.” Like so:

MRS. HAWKING: One can hide anything from anyone if one so chooses.

MARY: You couldn’t hide it from me.

There are a number of conventions attached to how you decide on a slug, though most people just sort of decide on their own. For example, many people assert that there should be only one, consistently used slug for a character even if what they are referred to as changes, though I chose not to observe that— like I slug the same character alternatively “MRS. HAWKING” in the present day part of Gilded Cages, and “VICTORIA” in the flashback because it felt more accurate to me. Similarly, in those same flashbacks, Malaika is just “MALAIKA,” as she is a young woman and that is what she is commonly referred to as.

Gilded Cages 2018-18

In our current conception of Malaika, she is an ethnically Malay Singaporean, which means her name follows the culture’s traditional rules. Malaysian people do not have family surnames but rather patronymics. Her full name is Malaika binti Shah, or Malaika daughter of Shah. While these names are occasionally elided, giving us “Malaika Shah” for example, one is never solely addressed by one’s father’s name. Therefore, while young Victoria would be addressed as “Miss Stanton” by the customs of her culture, Malaika’s would call her “Miss Malaika,” or “Cik Malaika” in her own language. We see an example in the play when Malaika refers to her mother as “Puan Amina,” which is a respectful title for a married woman, basically “Mrs. Amina” or “Madam Amina.”

My concern is with deciding on how to refer to Malaika as a mature adult woman in a way that is on a level with Mrs. Hawking. The characters can in dialogue call each whatever is appropriate to their relationship, but the slugs should indicate their positions in their world. Even though Malaika is not from a culture that would call her by a different part of her name in order to be respectful, I’m worried it will sound disrespectful to our modern American ears to see her referred to by her first name when her peer Mrs. Hawking is called by the formal title.

Gilded Cages 2018-90

What I am currently leaning towards is making a point of having her known as “Madam Malaika.” It would take into account the customs of her culture, while utilizing a title that my American audience would recognize as one of respect. The naming convention might still make hers seem like the odd one out, but it takes care not to even implicitly suggest she’s not on a level with story’s other women in her age group, even if only because the audience doesn’t know the custom. Perhaps I could even make it text, such as have someone mistakenly refer to her as “Mrs. Shah” and she corrects them to make the distinction clear.

It’s a small detail. But I want to be very, very careful about how I frame this character. I know how easy it is to create disrespectful portrayals of minority characters, and I want to always put in the work to make mine the fullest, most human figures I can. This is one of the many ways I can show that thoughtfulness and care.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




by

Darker before the dawn, part II

No comments yet

Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags: ,

Catch part I of this discussion in this blog post here.

As I mentioned, we’re conceiving of the Mrs. Hawking series as a set of trilogies, which we’re referring to as “arc-cycles,” or a series of character journeys that build upon each other. At the moment, as vague as the plan gets more than one or two shows out, we’re thinking of three arc-cycles, with three shows apiece. It is common in that pattern for the middle section to get a little darker. It fits nicely into three act structure, raising the stakes and making the situation seem even more dire before the resolution of the conflict in the climax. It also serves that purpose that we mentioned in part one, the need to challenge and upend the status quo in order to present new struggles to our heroes.

I want to be careful to set the right tone with the stories depicted in these stage shows. Overall, I want the series to have an adventurous, triumphant feel. A lot of our inspirations have a tendency to go grimdark— it common for Batman to be interpreted that way, for example —and that’s the last tone I want to strike for Mrs. Hawking. Instead I’m aiming to never shy away from true, hard-hitting drama, while still maintaining a hopeful and exciting air overall. So when I know I’m going to have to go a little heavier, that is something— the balance between weight and not going too dark —I want to take into account.

The way I’m taking it is by challenging the foundations that have been laid— specifically the relationships. They are the heart of the story, the most important and compelling drama we have to explore. A deep underlying philosophy of my writing is that the purpose of plot is to reveal character, so everything that happens explores our players a little more deeply. The form that these stories tend to take is that we get to know our characters better by seeing how they react to each challenge laid before them. Now that we’ve set down relationships, it’s time to test them, stress them, put them in new contexts to see how they grow and evolve to deal with them. But that does mean going to some darker places than we’ve dared to before.

Part four, Gilded Cages, is definitely going to be a little heavier in tone than the previous three installments have been. The entirety of the second arc-cycle is going to be. I think it’s the natural progression for this story in the intensifying of the challenge and the raising of the stakes. But I’m working very hard to maintain the series’s overall feel— exciting, hopeful, exultant —in the aggregate, even if moments get dark.

I’ve always liked how easy it is to emotionally engage with these plays, particularly when I see a child in the audience having a great time with the spectacle and the super heroics. I like that people cheer in triumph, and laugh at the geneuinely funny jokes. I don’t want to lose that, even as I expand the scope of our emotional range in the opposite direction as well. Gilded Cages is also going have cute moments that make you go “awwwww!” Sweet moments that bring a little tear to your eye. And funny moments to make you laugh out loud. All those things are as intrinsic as the dark stuff. It’s a tricky thing to balance, but I know this is where the story is taking me. I don’t want to shy away from the drama of the story’s true nature, so it’s up to me to handle both interests.

All the best stories, after all, are a little complicated. I think by this point, with three prior successful shows under our belt, we’re up to that challenge!

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

by

Darker before the dawn, part 1

No comments yet

Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags: ,

Bernie and I have come to think about the Mrs. Hawking play series in terms of what we call arc-cycles, or a series of trilogies that each complete a full arc within the larger story, each one building upon the last but with an internal completeness of its own.

The first arc-cycle, consisting of I.i Mrs. Hawking, I.ii Vivat Regina, and I.iii Base Instruments, is about the formation of our main superhero team, of Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel. This is where their relationships are established, as well as their working dynamic, with a stable understanding being reached by the end of part 3.

But part of serialization is establishing a particular sort of dynamic equilibrium, where new conflicts constantly arise to provoke growth and change, but the spirit of the premise is consistently maintained so that the series retains its identity. So the next arc-cycle has to move what’s been established forward by challenging the newly formed status quo— which in our case is that stable team dynamic. The stuff we’ve built in arc-cycle 1, arc-cycle 2 is obligated to in some way disrupt.

The difficulty of that is that you don’t want to wreck all the great stuff you’ve established just for the sake of having new story to tell. The development has to be maintained in some way, and explored further from there, but new conflicts have to be introduced to induce new growth. So, as we went into part 4: Gilded Cages— or II.i by the arc-cycles —we went in with the understanding that the basis of this second trilogy was going to have to a shakeup of something the audience had been led to desire and become settled with.

After all, when your thesis is the formation of the team, the antithesis that is only natural to meet it is to put stress on that formation. We’ve established a sort of Mrs. Hawking mythos— she is a ferocious, complicated hero with some very particular strengths and weaknesses— now it’s time to deconstruct some of that persona, and in a way, put our money where our mouth is when it comes to making those strengths and weaknesses real.

That means, as often happens in part two of a trilogy, the story is going to get a little darker.

More to be elaborated on this in part II.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




by

Completed script for Mrs. Hawking part 4: Gilded Cages!

No comments yet

Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags: ,

I am delighted to announce we have completed the performance version of the script for Mrs. Hawking part 4: Gilded Cages!

This script represents a huge step forward for the series. A major goal of each successive installment is to bring something new to the series, to raise the narrative stakes or attempt a new challenge that we’ve never taken on before. Last year’s piece, part 3: Base Instruments, was our very first true mystery, meticulously designed so that all the pieces hung together and that the audience had all the necessary information to solve the puzzle. This year, our innovations were to be both thematic and technical, and demanded enormous work on our part.

First, we’re making use of a flashback structure, juxtaposing the events of the series’s present day in 1884 with significant from Mrs. Hawking’s youth, twenty-five years ago in the Bengali colony in 1859. This not only lets us to tell a piece of her origin story, how she came to be the person that we knew today, it also allows us to meaningfully comment on the events of the modern-day story. The challenge for us is to make this read clearly, to be sure the audience can follow the transition between past and present, and the connection between the events of ’84 and the events of ’59.

As for the thematic challenge, we’ve known from the start that it would lie in tackling the issue of Victorian colonialism. We wanted to pay proper respect to the fact that the period in which we are set was built upon the conquest of other cultures and peoples, often to devastating effect. It seemed disingenuous to attempt any storytelling in this setting that didn’t present a critique of that colonialism, and to deconstruct White Savior story tropes that so often accompany it. We certainly didn’t want to further the damages of this mentality by turning the struggles of these cultures purely into lessons or challenged for our Western protagonists. Writing this story demanded that we do proper research, listen to the thoughts of people who understood the situation better than we did, and question our own assumptions and prejudices. This was absolutely necessary to portray this colonial situation with honesty and respect, as well as create a character that an actor of color would be proud to play. This involves some of the heaviest concepts we’ve ever tackled in Mrs. Hawking, and it was incredibly important we spare no effort in our attempt to do it right.

As always, we could not have done it without our wonderful early readers, both frequent collaborators and thoughtful friends, whose input helped us make the script better than we ever could on our own. To readers Charlotte Brewer, Eric Cheung, Jennifer Giorno, Naomi Ibatsitas, Matthew Kamm, Cari Keebaugh, Tegan Kehoe, Marybeth Larivee, Shannon Moore, Isaiah Plovnick, and Circe Rowan, we extend our profound thanks for the insight and ideas they gave to make this piece great.

And on top of that, there are those very kind souls who took on the stern task of evaluating our efforts to portray a situation in colonial Asia and depict the journey of our new character, a woman native those circumstance. We could not have done that without those people who were kind enough to lend their time and effort to considering our play and making suggestions and critiques to help us make our portrayal and our new character the best they could be. Bernie and I want to extend a special thanks to Eric Cheung, Naomi Ibatsitas, Kara Kaufman, Michael Lin, and Mara Elissa Palma for their critical eye, for taking the time to consider our work, and the patience with which they delivered their thoughts. If we have captured any truth here, or done any justice to telling this story, we owe it to these people who guided us.

Finally, I need to thank my closest collaborator and true partner, Bernie Gabin. In addition to serving as technical director for every production, he contributes so much to the development of the Mrs. Hawking stories that he is as much as writer as I am. None of these stories would be a fraction of what they are without his help, and I am so fortunate and grateful that I have someone like him to help me realize these stories— on the page as well as the stage.

I am not going to post the script here on the website until after our performance. So you will have to come see us at Arisia 2018 to find out not only where Mrs. Hawking’s journey will take her next, but how we the authors tackled the challenges we set for ourselves.

So, make sure to join us at Arisia this January the weekend of the 12th-15th at the Westin Boston Waterfront!

by

Completed outline for Mrs. Hawking part 4!

No comments yet

Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags:

I have hit my first milestone in my process of putting together the fourth Mrs. Hawking story!

DSCF7972-HDR

For the month of June, Bernie and I worked on creating a complete outline with all the story events with the proper structure. Our goal was to have it done by the end of the month, and we completed it with one day to spare. That means I can successfully move on to drafting it, which is in some ways more fun than planning, but in other ways more challenging— because I have to move on from theory to actual execution.


A scene in the outline.

My plan, as it was last year when writing the previous installment Base Instruments, is to first chunk out all the scenes into self-contained sections. As I mentioned, the “scene” demarcations in the script tend to be based on location and time shifts. I break the scene either when the next action does not happen contiguously in time with the previous action, or when the location shifts and the set needs to change. But within those scenes there are often several dramatic actions that happen in the same place one after the other in real time. So I like to give each of those “sub-designation”— scene 3a, scene 3b, and so on. Not only are these useful later when scheduling rehearsal, but it helps chunk the writing work into smaller pieces that makes each one easier to tackle.

Part 4 is shaping up to be a complex play, with many different threads and fairly complicated scene structure. Not to mention all the challenges inherent to this particular story. On one hand, it means more action takes place in the same location, which will hopefully mean fewer scenic transitions during runtime. But it also means there are a LOT of sub scenes— the current outline suggests thirty-seven in total. Most of them will be pretty short, but that’s a lot of complex action to string together. And I have to get more than one cranked out in a day in order to finish by the end of July like I’ve planned.

I have a handful of early drafts of some scenes that I was imagining that did I for last year’s 31 Plays in 31 Days. But as is always the case, as the planning process proceeds, the less accurate to the current vision old stuff like that becomes. So I can use most of it in bare bones form, but it will have to be heavily edited, and one or two I’ll have to cut entirely because they just don’t fit anymore.

Fortunately, I’m off to a pretty good start already! And I’m excited to actually be making the play, not just planning the ideas in it. Now I’ve just got to make sure I properly execute all the grandiose dreams I’ve got in hopes that it’ll come out great.

by

Our important new character in Hawking part 4

No comments yet

Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags: ,

I am busily working away at my plan to have Mrs. Hawking part 4—tentatively titled Gilded Cages —ready to go into rehearsal by the end of the summer. That means all this month Bernie and I have been working on the outline for the story, as I like to get the structure and shape of it down before I actually start drafting.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the toughest parts of this piece is dealing with the presence of Victorian colonialism. It’s a major factor in this story, and I want exploring the issues that stem from it to have an important place in the story’s theme. Without revealing too much, I will say we’re including a character who is an indigenous resident of a colonized place in Asia. It is incumbent upon us to be as respectful as possible in that character’s portrayal. This is particularly challenging because we will be adding this character to an already established cast, where the protagonist is a white woman. Even under the best of circumstances, there is a very real danger of what I refer to as my theory of The Problem of the Protagonist— in short, where the centrality of your main character necessitates subordination of any other character’s story, which can result in those supporting roles’ marginalization or dehumanization.

DSCF7713
But we want this character to be as well-rounded, human, and interesting as any other protagonist in this series. To do this, our rules for the character are as follows:

– She will have goals of her own, stemming from her own needs and desires
– She will have the agency to make active choices in order to meaningfully pursue those goals
– She will have an arc of personal growth where she ends up meaningfully different than she was when she began
– She will have personal flaws that are human and believable
– She will not be objectified, instrumentalized, or accessorized for the story of any other character
– She will not exist to be a lesson for any other character

To that end, we’re dedicated to doing our due diligence in responsibly depicting this character. We’ve been doing a lot of research into not only what would be present and realistic in this kind of person. The first step of that was reading, and a lot of it— reading into the colonial history of Victorian Britain, and what life and conditions were like in British colonies. We may be telling a stylized superhero story, but we really don’t want that to make us gloss over the colonial reality and make it seem less seriously horrible than it was. There’s a lot that’s fun about writing in this time period, but to represent the imperial progression as anything less than destructive would be dishonest— and honest exploration of hard truths is the essence of drama.

The next step was to consult with people who might have some better perspective than Bernie or I do. This character will be native to a colony in Asia, and we are aware of how many stereotypes and denials of these characters’ full humanity exist in literature and storytelling. We are determined to do everything we can to write this character as an interesting, complicated, and the hero of her own story.

So our other research method has been to consult with Asian-American theater artists on whether or not we were on the right track with our plan for the character. We asked them to approach it if they were going to be playing the role— would they feel like they were embodying a real human? Was her journey given sufficient dimension and weight? Was her struggle conceived of honestly without reducing her to the difficulty of the circumstances of her life?

So far, we have friends Eric Cheung, Naomi Ibatsitas, Michael Lin, and Mara Elissa Palma to thank for taking the time to give their thoughts and insight on how to best depict this character. Their ideas and suggestions have been invaluable in not only shaping this to be a respectful portrayal, but a dramatically compelling one as well. It is a generous donation of time and emotional labor, so I am extremely grateful.

The goal is to have this outline settled by the end of June of 2017. That’s not to say it can’t evolve in the drafting process, but a strong sense of direction is very helpful for me to keep arc and theme in mind. So getting this right is very important. Not only do I want to do right by the material, but a richer, more human cast will only make the story more powerful.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




by

The challenges of plotting Mrs. Hawking part 4

No comments yet

Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags: , ,

Bernie and I have begun work on Mrs. Hawking part four, tentatively titled Gilded Cages, and we’re running into some challenges. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as we’ve had this happen with each subsequent installment, but this one has presented some difficulties that are thus far unique.

img_1228

The biggest thing to deal with is the fact that we’re writing a colonial story. Part four is going to be split into a present day case in 1885, and a flashback story to Mrs. Hawking’s youth in the colonies. We haven’t decided WHICH colony, though, as we are still doing research to figure out if there are any historical features that would serve our turn. What I’d really like to display is that some terrible event that happened during Victoria’s childhood demonstrated to her how corrupt and broken the system is, which helped to shape her worldview in the present. A natural possibility is witnessing something of the horrors of Victorian colonialism. But I really don’t want to just turn the suffering of the local people to be just a lesson for my white hero, or make her into a white savior for those same. And I definitely don’t want to sidestep the issue and just end up tell a story set in a colony that’s only about the white invaders.

What I’ve got here is a Problem of the Protagonist, to use my own theory– when the need to centralize a particular character ends up objectifying or dehumanizing other characters. Because my hero is white, it runs the risk of turning any characters I include of the local people into objects who exist only to facilitate my protagonist’s story. And I definitely do not want to do that with characters of color.

I’m going to put in the work on this. I’ve got a lot of researching and developing to do yet. But I do know a good way to keep a character human is to give them their own arc, demonstrating that their story is one worth following, and affording them agency in the story, making them take actions in the service of achieving their goals and needs. So, while I’m by no means certain yet, my current idea I’m exploring involves having a local character whose personal mission is the central arc of the flashback’s story. This character, who’d probably be female, could have the protagonistic qualities of wanting something, taking actions to pursue it, and driving the plot with their efforts. Perhaps if she drives the story, and other characters are in the position of being reactive to that, I can avoid making any such person being subservient to Victoria’s development.

I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to do more work. But I’m resolved to figure out how to do this in a respectful, conscientious way.

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.

by

Mrs. Hawking TV show bible posted!

No comments yet

Categories: development, supplemental, Tags:

The show bible for the Mrs. Hawking TV pilot is now available!

DSCF6059

As you may know, the Mrs. Hawking story could be adapted to many different kinds of media, but I can’t help but think that serialized television is the ideal form. To that end, the first stage script has been adapted into a pilot for a TV series on this website, now updated and in polished form.

But when you’re trying to a script for a TV show out there, a useful tool to have for pitching it is the show bible. That’s a short, five-page document outlining the important broad strokes of the series. It describes the setting, the major ideas, the important characters and their journeys, as well as giving an idea of the direction the storytelling is going to take. So we decided to put one together to accompany our pilot.

The bible is now posted on this website. It was hard to boil things down to their essentials, but actually all the writing about the characters and planning out the story in the blog was incredibly helpful for figuring out what to say! Check out the bible to get an idea of how we’d translate this idea to the screen.

Until then, there’s always the stage plays! Be sure to check out our shows Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina at the Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham on Satuday, May 7th! We’ll give you some cinematic action performed live for your enjoyment!

by

The mistake in Vivat Regina

No comments yet

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

image

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.

image
“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.

1 2 3 4 5