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.

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“Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You” — scribbling on the ballerina client

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Categories: base instruments, development, scenes, Tags: , , , ,

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This early piece for Base Instruments is pretty much pure idea and very, very little refinement. It grew out of the fact that I want to have a ballerina for the client in this one, who can bring up ballet as a metaphor for exploring some of Mrs. Hawking's issues. Ballet dancers, particularly broken down ones, are a favorite subject of mine to write about. I really like using this conceit in the story, and I think I'm really on to something in this scene. I hope it's as subtle as I'm working for it to be.

The trouble is it was written without context, so definitely needs editing once I figure out what the mystery and plot is. For this I just threw in a few details as placeholders; I don't even know who "Alexei" is supposed to be, for example. But I can sort that out later. For now I just wanted to take a stab at the idea, and even in this rough form I think it's going to be a good one.

Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, secret society avenger, early forties
ELENA ZAKHAROVA, prima ballerina of the Royal Ballet, late twenties

London, England, 1883
~~~

(ELENA ZAKHAROVA makes her way down the hall. Suddenly MRS. HAWKING springs out in her stealth suit. MISS ZAKHAROVA starts and sucks in a breath to scream, but MRS. HAWKING whips back her hood to show her face.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hush! It's me!

(With effort MISS ZAKHAROVA calms herself.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: God in Heaven! How– however do you do that?

MRS. HAWKING: A trick of the trade. I had to find you, and I did not wish to be seen.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What is it?

(She notices MRS. HAWKING's intense scrutiny.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Why do you look at me?

MRS. HAWKING: How long have they been like that?

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What?

MRS. HAWKING: Your ankles.

(MISS ZAKHAROVA stiffens.)

MRS. HAWKING: The laudanum concealed the extent of it when you visited me before. But I know those ginger steps to protect against the pain.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I am only– sore from rehearsal!

MRS. HAWKING: It is more than that. A prima ballerina lives on her ankles, and yours are crumbling beneath you. They will only grow worse with time.

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: You're on your on your way out, Miss Zakharova.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Please. You mustn't tell anyone.

MRS. HAWKING: This changes things.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: It changes nothing of this!

MRS. HAWKING: If your position is no longer secure, then you have reason to act against the hierarchy of the company.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I would never! The company is my life!

MRS. HAWKING: And that life is about to end.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I have done nothing but the dance since I was a girl of six! I have sacrificed so much. All I had to my name was my career and Alexei, and now Alexei is dead. Can you not understand?

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: How could you? Your vessel has never betrayed you.

MRS. HAWKING: Miss Zakharova–

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Look at you! To be able to climb as you do like a cat in a tree! Might I be so impertinent as to ask madam's age?

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: Forty-three.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Forty-three. I shall have fortune to walk so long. I would do murder for the clean lines of your legs.

MRS. HAWKING: Nonsense.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Any dancer would.

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: The ballet is my one calling. And in perfecting it, I have ruined myself for it.

MRS. HAWKING: You concealed it.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: So that I might have it just a few moments longer! They will replace me in a breath. In my place, what would you have done?

MRS. HAWKING: That's the trouble. I might have done anything.

8/12/14

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The identity of Mrs. Johanna Braun

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

Warning: spoilers contained herein for “Vivat Regina”

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Though there are plenty of clues in Vivat Regina, it’s never explicitly revealed who the client calling herself Mrs. Johanna Braun truly is. I chose to leave it unsaid in the text of that piece, but it may interest those who have read it to know her real name. She is, in fact, a figure from Victorian history— Princess Beatrice, fifth daughter and ninth and final child of the queen to whom the title refers.

The idea to have a princess for a client first occurred to me when I was doing research by watching this excellent BBC documentary called Queen Victoria’s Children. This details the queen’s personality, her relationship with her husband, and the dynamic she established with her nine children. This was highly influential as to the conception of the character of Queen Victoria that I would be assuming for these stories. But the more I learned about Victoria’s daughters, the more it struck me that a princess in disguise would make for a great client of Mrs. Hawking’s.

The royal couple had five daughters— Victoria, Alice, Louisa, Helena, and Beatrice. At first I was leaning towards using Louisa as the client. Louisa was intelligent, outspoken, educated; she was one of the first women to study art at this particular college in London. You might even consider her something of a “pre-feminist,” and she seemed right up Mrs. Hawking’s alley. However, the timeline of Louisa’s life did not really work out. By 1881, she was already married and living in Canada; it wasn’t really feasible for her to even be visiting London.

So I started looking at the other daughters. The older ones were out because they were also married; in fact, they were already queens in Europe. So that meant it had to be either Helena or Beatrice. What made the decision for me was learning how Queen Victoria treated Beatrice after her husband Prince Albert died. She basically made Beatrice, who was only four years old at the time, into her misery bucket, keeping the little girl her constant companion to absorb the full weight of her mother’s enormous grief. That’s a terrible burden to place on such a young child, and the level of emotional abuse that Beatrice endured due to her mother’s overwhelming control and dependency screwed her up pretty seriously. It was noted that she seemed constantly stressed and aged beyond her years, a meek shadow afraid to ever cross her domineering parent. (It’s a detail I included in the stage direction of Vivat Regina.)

So the conception of this client’s role as as a sort of supporter of Mrs. Hawking’s and a person who is using her own personal agency to step outside the system had to be transformed into something that would fit Beatrice’s personality better. Instead she became more of somebody for whom seeking Mrs. Hawking’s support is an enormous marshaling of courage and confidence that she did not normally have. It became an act of quiet rebellion rather than brazen defiance. I found this useful for the moment when she asserts to Mrs. Hawking that everyone has to find their own way to survive in a harsh world, and our hero’s ways cannot necessarily be her ways. I find myself drifting to this conception of Mrs. Hawking’s clients often, however, and I need to make sure in the future they do not all default to this pattern.

One thing that may have thrown people, by design on my part, is the character’s having a slight German accent. Besides the opportunity it gave me to parallel the opening of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” that is actually historical for the family. We tend to picture English royalty with crisp RP accents, but Victoria was a scion of the House of Hanover, and her upbringing, as well as the language spoken in her home, was extremely German-influenced. On top of that, her husband Prince Albert was from the province of Saxe-Coburg. This of course influenced the children, and while they grew out of it the more exposure they had to the outside world, it was noted how in old age when the royal siblings were reunited, they reverted to the very German accents of their childhood. I thought this slightly obscure bit of history made for a neat way to simultaneously hint at and hide who she was.

In the original draft, I left her identity significantly more ambiguous. Basically without at least a slight grasp of Victorian history, it was pretty opaque. Lately I’ve developed a taste for drama that has a lighter touch, that operates on a more subtle level, so I thought it would be better to never make it clear. But it was suggested to me by early readers that the possibility of figuring out would be more satisfying for the audience, so I gave her that exchange with Mrs. Hawking with “That’s the system your mother has made for us,” and “When majesties and potentates bow before her, how is one such as I to defy her?” That pretty well gives it away. Most people were able to grasp that she was a princess, even if they couldn’t name her as Beatrice.

I’ve painted a pretty tragic picture of her in the story, but it may interest you to know that she turns out okay. While the queen never really let her leave her side, she did eventually meet a man she loved, a minor prince called Henry of Battenburg. They will get married in 1885, and they will live a happy life together. So if “Mrs. Braun” ever encounters our heroes again— and who knows? —she will be a woman in a better place than she was that night she came seeking justice in 1881.

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Rewards and challenges of serialized drama

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Categories: development, looking ahead, Tags: , , ,

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The reading of Vivat Regina this October marks the first time a sequel has been performed as part of the Bare Bones reading series. Sequels are somewhat rare in theatrical drama, but a story like Mrs. Hawking’s has so much long-term potential that it could hardly be told any other way.

In writing Vivat Regina, one thing was certain— the piece had to stand up on its own, even if you had no knowledge of the original. That meant boiling down the essentials of what the audience needs to know in order to grasp what’s important about the situation and the characters. I worked to establish their circumstances quickly— they are operatives in the Sherlock Holmes mode, except perhaps a little more superhero-style derring-do, and Mary is doing her best to learn from her more experienced mentor Mrs. Hawking. The nature of the characters, too, needed to pop quickly; Mary is eager and enthusiastic, but troubled by how long it’s taking her to pick things up, while Mrs. Hawking’s severe, uncompromising anger toward what she sees as a broken world must bleed over into everything she does. It’s wonderful and I think it adds a lot if you know what brought them to that point, but as long as you can grasp what they’re like and the tenor of their interactions, I feel like you can jump into the story and go with it without confusion.

In addition that challenge, there’s a lot of benefits to come from being able to tell multiple stories. Characters arcs have the time and space to grow organically, and it is possible to observe how these people evolve and change in a believable manner. Somebody like Mrs. Hawking, who is bound up in lots of old damage and psychic baggage, is of course going to take a long time to move forward out of it. The time to explore that baggage allows for her to actually grow and change, but allowing for the fact that it is a slow process to move forward from wounds that deep. It allows for full, satisfying exploration of the characters over time.

It also presents the combined challenge and advantage of having to set things up now to pay off later. A serialized piece will exist in a world that grows larger and deeper with every installment told, which can really enrich the storytelling. It increases the sense of immersion to see how connections grow and form, and hints of things that will become important as the development continues. In Vivat Regina, take for example the introduction of the policeman Arthur Swann. He is set to become a very important character in the greater plot, so I wanted to introduce him to the audience, but not reveal his ultimate purpose right away. So I wanted to demonstrate him as a person by giving him something to contribute to this story without necessarily having him perform his ultimate role right away. I think it is interestingly hinted at, though, which should get the audience interested in him as a character.

Also the greater trajectories of the main plot must have the groundwork laid for where they will ultimately go. The relationships between Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel have to take some interesting twists and turns, but I want to them to feel natural and believable to the characters. I need to hint at future conflicts and dynamics now so we see where they came from when they finally occur. I want it so that when you see these things finally manifest, you can identify what they grew from in moments of previous installments. It gives a feeling of completeness to the characters and a depth to the world.

But of course it’s up to you to decide how well I managed all this. You should come to the reading and check it out! Vivat Regina will be read on Thursday, October 2nd at 8PM at Unity Somerville, 8 William Street, Somerville, MA.

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“The Cuff” – scribblings on the end of Mrs. Hawking’s mourning period

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Categories: base instruments, development, scenes, Tags: , , , , ,

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So I’ve been working to figure out the Mrs. Hawking timeline to nail down when each story needs to happen. The main things to work around are that the first story takes place in 1880, to happen in proper proximity to the Indian Rebellion and the Battle of Kandahar, and I want the sixth story to have Mrs. Hawking taking on Jack the Ripper, which would happen in 1888. Six pieces need to be spread across that span, with an amount of time between them that is believable. I’ve decided that it makes more sense to place Base Instruments in 1883 rather than 1882, which is what I had originally been using for all other pieces of it written for this 31P31D, so that the second trilogy can be in 1885, 1886, and 1888, making no gap longer than two years.

If it’s happening in 1883, then, it occurred to me that means that Mrs. Hawking will be almost out of mourning for her late husband the Colonel. Mourning for widows was very regimented in Victorian England, so even if it didn’t match her own feelings or preferences, she would have to observe the etiquette so as not to attract unwanted attention and criticism. I don’t know if this is an especially useful scene to include in Base Instruments, but it’s an interesting thing to address.

The Cuff
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
MARY STONE, her housemaid and assistant

London, England, 1883
~~~

(MRS. HAWKING dresses to go out in public. She regards herself in the mirror. MARY neatens the vanity table.)

MRS. HAWKING: Two months now.

MARY: Two months of what?

MRS. HAWKING: Two months until I’m out of mourning.

MARY: Oh, my. I’d quite forgotten.

(She goes to the wardrobe and begins looking through the dresses.)

MARY: I haven’t looked at your old things since I came. I think it should all still fit.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t much care.

MARY: Well, I should think it would be easier than having to shop.

MRS. HAWKING: I’ve no wish to return to colors. It isn’t as if I can dress how I like anyhow.

MARY: Well. If you kept to blacks, no one would think anything of it.

MRS. HAWKING: Mm.

(She holds up her right hand to look at her wedding ring.)

MRS. HAWKING: I wouldn’t mind dispensing with this, though.

MARY: Oh. I’m… not sure that’s done.

MRS. HAWKING: No. It is not. If you’re shackled to a man, you’re at least rid of him when he dies. But you remain in the cuff until you replace it with some living fellow’s.

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: I had thought to bury the Colonel with his. But Nathaniel saved it, and gave it to me. He thought at the time I might like to have it.

MARY: Did you keep it?

MRS. HAWKING: It’s in a snuffbox in his dressing room. What else could I do? Like this, certain parties would object to anything less.

MARY: It’s a small thing, at least.

MRS. HAWKING: It keeps me beneath notice.

(MARY comes close to look at MRS. HAWKING’s ring.)

MARY: It’s beautiful.

MRS. HAWKING: India ruby. He was so proud.

8/21/14

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“Glad to Be Your Man” — scribbling on the reappearance of Arthur Swann

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, scenes, Tags: , , ,

Base Instruments is likely to have a very large cast. That's not ideal for produceability, but more and more I suspect I just need to adapt these Mrs. Hawking stories into a miniseries or something, so I'm not worrying about that stuff when I'm just trying to figure out what happens in each installment.

Arthur Swann, a young policeman, was introduced in Vivat Regina, and though nothing happened beyond getting to know him a little, it was pretty clear he was positively impressed by Mary. Because I think Base Instruments will end up being a murder mystery, I think it will be necessary to have Arthur reappear in this story, especially since I'm planning on him becoming more and more of an important character. That means the relationship between him and Mary will have to progress. One of his traits is that he's supposed to be charming in a way that respects and admires Mary's capability and independence, which I want to demonstrate in his pursuit of her. However, I have to be careful to not push things too hard, as I want the attentions of Nathaniel's brother Justin to be a legitimate distraction for Mary in this story. Justin'll seem less special and remarkable if lots of dudes are throwing themselves at her. I may be able to rely on the fact that he's very good-looking and a gentleman, the sort of man Mary never would have expected to give her a second look, while Arthur is a bit more ordinary-seeming. But I can balance that out later. Here's a shot at looking what Arthur reappearing in Mary's life would begin with.

I really love him calling her "rare bird," given the significance of the bird motif in these stories. :-)

Glad to Be Your Man
by Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, house maid and assistant society avenger
ARTHUR SWANN, a policeman

London, England, 1883
~~~

(Officer ARTHUR SWANN leans against a lamp post. He notices MARY as she walks by.)

ARTHUR: As I live and breathe. Evening, rare bird.

(MARY turns.)

MARY: I beg your pardon?

ARTHUR: Don't you remember me? Because I couldn't forget you.

MARY: You're that policeman. Who needed some help with a ruffian.

ARTHUR: And you're the girl what gave it to me. Mary Stone.

MARY: Goodness. It's been more than a year, hasn't it?

ARTHUR: I'm like to recall a maid who can swing a poker like that. You know, ever since that night I've been keeping a weather eye out for you, hoping you might come back again this way. But you never have.

MARY: I'm sorry, I've had no cause.

ARTHUR: Shame on you, then. Who knows what trouble I might have gotten into without you around to watch my back? Could you bear to carry that on your conscience?

(MARY laughs.)

ARTHUR: So, then. Can you stay a spell to visit?

MARY: Forgive me, I've things to do.

ARTHUR: More important business, eh? Like German spies slipping away in the night from embassies?

(MARY fights to keep her expression neutral.)

MARY: I… I don't know what you mean.

ARTHUR: Well, it isn't as if us walking bobs often receive tips about when to bust up foreign spy activity. And when it comes after I've only just met a remarkable young lady clearly staking out the embassy…

(MARY laughs breezily.)

MARY: Staking out? Oh, heavens.

ARTHUR: I may look like just a pretty face, but there's a tick or two working behind my baby blues. Thank you kindly for that, by the by. My captain was fair chuffed with me.

MARY: Sir. I really don't know what you're talking about.

ARTHUR: No worries, miss. I'm not about to say anything, have no fear of that.

MARY: Perhaps I'd best be on my way.

ARTHUR: I won't keep you. Only I hope if you've a moment sometime, you might spare it to have a chat with me. And you know… if you ever need another copper to show up at the right time… I'd be glad to be your man.

MARY: Well… that's kind of you, I suppose.

ARTHUR: If I might see you again, I'll do a lot more than that.

(He tips his cap.)

ARTHUR: And remember, the name's Arthur Swann. In case you ever need it again.

8/20/14

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“Family Dinner” — Hawking drama I’m not sure about

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Categories: base instruments, character, development, scenes, Tags: , , ,

I started this scene for inclusion in Base Instruments, but the more I wrote it the less sure I was about it. While it’s roughly in character– Nathaniel wants Mrs. Hawking to show up to a family dinner while his brother Justin is in town, Mrs. Hawking doesn’t want to go –I don’t feel like the motivations are necessarily strong enough.

Yeah, Nathaniel wants his aunt to act like she’s part of the family, but he knows that she and Justin don’t like each other and it’s not likely to be a pleasant evening for anyone involved. I feel like he would be wiser than to force everybody into a situation that’s likely to make the whole family miserable; he would instead pick his battles to work on developing relationships with her that both mattered to him more and had more of a chance of success, such as his and hers, or even hers and Clara’s. Also, I think if Mrs. Hawking didn’t want to go to an event, she just wouldn’t; she’s starting to value Nathaniel and his feelings more, but the concept of “but we’re your faaaaaamily” just doesn’t matter to her. She wouldn’t make herself miserable to do any service to that. I don’t like making characters do thing for the sake of drama or the plot that I don’t feel are really in character.

I tried to make it work. I tried to give Nathaniel an outside reason for why he would insist on this– tying it into his issues with Justin rather than just letting it rely on his desire to make his aunt connect with family. And I tried to make it so she was only trying to minimize her own misery by agreeing to the dinner on his terms, because the alternative would be worse. But I’m not sure I buy it. Also I don’t know if I actually want to include that dinner happening in the story; I’m not sure what dramatic purpose it would serve. Although it might be funny just to see all these people fighting with each other under the guise of polite conversation, with Nathaniel frantically trying to make everybody just be nice to each other for one evening for God’s sake.

Ah, well. Even if I don’t use it, it’s practice. And I won’t have to try to recreate it if I decide that I want to.

Family Dinner
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her nephew and assistant

London, England, 1883
~~~

NATHANIEL: Here’s the research you asked for! Interviews with the company members, and diagrams of the crime scene. And not a soul will know you’ve had them.

(He hands over a folder and she inspects it.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hmm. That was neatly done. Thank you, Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL: Glad to do it, Auntie. And I’ll have the floor plans for the theater on Monday.

(Pause.)

NATHANIEL: Are you pleased?

MRS. HAWKING: I am. I must concede, you’ve been a great help and very little trouble in the recent past.

NATHANIEL: I’m glad to hear it! And I promise not to trouble you by dropping by while you’re ruminating for the rest of the week.

(She freezes suddenly and stares at NATHANIEL in suspicion.)

MRS. HAWKING: What do you want?

NATHANIEL: Now, don’t get cross, Auntie…

MRS. HAWKING: Out with it.

(NATHANIEL takes a deep breath.)

NATHANIEL: Justin is coming to London for a visit, and I’d like you to come to family dinner.

(She turns to walk away.)

NATHANIEL Oh, come on, Aunt Victoria!

MRS. HAWKING: Go chase yourself.

NATHANIEL: It’s only just an evening!

MRS. HAWKING: Which you seem intent to ruin for everyone.

NATHANIEL: Justin’s in town so rarely. Can’t we spend one night at least pretending we can get on like a normal family?

MRS. HAWKING: To what end?

NATHANIEL: My occasional peace of mind.

MRS. HAWKING: Best not to rely on delusions for comfort, nephew.

NATHANIEL: He won’t be here long. He’ll be on to the country in a few days to see Father.

MRS. HAWKING: Then let your father bear him. Your brother is an entitled rake who never stops talking.

NATHANIEL: I thought that was what you thought of me.

MRS. HAWKING: You’re not a rake, I grant you.

NATHANIEL: Indeed? Oh, goodness, Auntie, I never knew you cared.

MRS. HAWKING: Justin, however, I can’t stand across even a dinner table.

NATHANIEL: Oh, come now. It’s rare to have so much of the family together.

MRS. HAWKING: Perhaps think on why that is for a moment.

NATHANIEL: Clara wants you to be there.

MRS. HAWKING: No, she doesn’t.

NATHANIEL: The children never see you!

MRS. HAWKING: By design, Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL: Careful there, Auntie, that’s my flesh and blood you’re talking about.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t care for children, why should you subject yours to me?

NATHANIEL: Because I want them to know you.

MRS. HAWKING: Whatever for?

NATHANIEL: Because you’re important to me! My God, woman, is that so hard for you to grasp? Would I keep coming back for more of your trouble if you weren’t?

(She raises an eyebrow at him. He sighs.)

NATHANIEL: If you must know, Justin has opined to me, loudly and often, that he doesn’t understand why I’ve gone to so much trouble to keep you in my life. If you can manage to bear up through one family dinner without being particularly horrible, it might give the appearance that my efforts haven’t come to nothing, and perhaps it will shut him up. For a moment. Could you possibly see your way to helping me with that? I don’t ask much of you, Auntie.

MRS. HAWKING: Ha!

NATHANIEL: All right, then. In that case, I promise you, if you don’t come, Clara will commandeer this house and have a party laid in ambush for you in your own dining room. And there won’t be any getting rid of us then.

(Pause.)

NATHANIEL: And don’t think Mary won’t help me. Because you know she will! So, what shall it be, then?

MRS. HAWKING: You are becoming quite the ruthless strategist, aren’t you, boy?

(NATHANIEL laughs.)

NATHANIEL: I’ve been learning from the best.

(He goes to retrieve his coat from the rack.)

NATHANIEL: Do cheer up, Auntie. Perhaps little Beatrice might do with your influence.

(MRS. HAWKING looks at him, considering. He smiles.)

NATHANIEL: Imagine what might come of that.

8/16/14

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Early development for Mrs. Hawking 3

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I won’t be able to truly tackle this for a while yet, as I have other projects that are currently more pressing, but I do have a fair bit of preliminary work done on creating the third installment in the Mrs. Hawking story. As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, it will deal primarily with the three following themes:

– Mary’s establishment of what kind of protégé she truly wants to be.

– A hinting at Mrs. Hawking’s fear of her eventual decline into old age.

– The reaction of Nathaniel’s family

I’ve talked a great deal about the first two themes in this space. The third will be dealing with the first time Nathaniel’s involvement in Mrs. Hawking’s work (and his growing feminism, in sharp contrast to the common values of the day) is scrutinized by the by and large conventional members of his family. I’d like to have his brother Justin show up, to demonstrate a clashing ideology, and have his wife Clara actually be informed of what’s really going on and have to respond to it. I want to explore how Nathaniel will handle experiencing the threat of disapproval for basically the first time in his life, and realizing just how much at odds his new worldview is with the rest of society.

The case they shall be working in the course of this episode will be brought to them by a ballet dancer, in order to introduce the ballet motif that will expose Mrs. Hawking’s inner struggle. I haven’t figured out exactly what the problem will be, but it occurs to me that we’ve yet to see Mrs. Hawking deal with a true mystery. The problems in the first and second installments were entirely known quantities— return a stolen child, capture a miscreant hiding behind diplomatic immunity. I’d like to show her actually having to figure out what happened based on the gathering of clues and applying deductive reasoning. I enjoy mysteries a great deal, as the need to seek out more information is a compelling way to pace things, and I love the way it allows stories to unfold.

I struggle a great deal with titles; though I’m pretty happy with “Mrs. Hawking” and “Vivat Regina,” I rarely think I’ve come up with good ones. But I have an idea, at least, of what I’d like to call this third story. I’m leaning towards either “Base Instruments,” regarding to the imperfections of those people who struggle to deliver grand results, or “The Burden of Regard,” in reference to the weight placed on people from whom important things are expected. The first two have a quality of irony about them, which I would like to maintain in this third title if possible. Opinions on what works better are of course welcome.

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The arc-cycles that make up the story

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My boyfriend and frequent artistic collaborator Bernie Gabin has been instrumental in the development of much of the plotting of these stories. While not a particularly dedicated writer himself, he is incredibly talented when it comes to forming the mechanics of a logical, internally consistent plot that unfolds at the correct pace, and I often consult him on related matters. It was he that first proposed I regard, and move forward shaping, the Hawking stories as a series of what I’ll call “arc-cycles,” stories grouped off in sets of three that each develop a certain central idea.

The first arc-cycle we refer to as the Origin Cycle. Mrs. Hawking, Vivat Regina, and the upcoming third one that does not yet have a title. The point of these is to establish the team, so to speak. We learn who Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel are, what obstacles they’re going to face, and how they’re going to build themselves into this little unit that works together and supports one another.

The second arc-cycle is less well-formed yet, but I know for certain that it will, as any serialized storytelling form must, involve upping the stakes. We will have established with the first trilogy that our three main characters make a formidable force for justice when they are banded together. But in this arc-cycle we will challenge that—we will up the challenge level of the things they face. I want to tell the story of Mrs. Hawking’s early life, in flashback in relation to a current case, that demonstrates why she’s become what she is today. I want to introduce Mrs. Hawking’s Moriarty, who will present her with her greatest challenge yet. And I want to send her up against that quintessential Victorian baddie, Jack the Ripper, whose violence against the most downtrodden and helpless women in society make him a perfect villain for our hero’s purpose. And all this will even culminate in the smashing of the new establishment in a way that changes the characters forever.

The third arc-cycle, then, will have to be about what’s built in its place. This is where the notion of the Hawk Family will come, as Mary proposes they become an organization rather than just a few stalwarts holding back the storm. I have even less of a firm notion of these, as they’re so far down the line yet, but I know that in all drama things that do not change die, and in serial storytelling in particular things must continue to grow into new forms. Changing the nature of the game is an appropriate direction for it to go, especially since Mary’s ascendance from Mrs. Hawking’s protégé to her successor will be a major theme of this arc-cycle. And if a different person is in charge, you can bet things are going to have to work a little differently.

Beyond that, I’ve no idea. I think at least for the moment that’s more than enough stories to tell. But who knows how far we can go once we get there?

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The ballet metaphor

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , ,

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I’ve always been fascinated by the art of ballet. First of all, I just find it beautiful, a pure pleasure to watch. But from an intellectual standpoint I’m enthralled by the contradictions. It is viewed as a very delicate, refined art, coded feminine in most modern people’s eyes. But those who practice it at the highest levels is run like an army with just as much discipline. The dancers look frail and delicate, but they have to be unimaginably fit and strong, not to mention able to endure an enormous amount of pain. The dance is so demanding that careers tends to be very short, as many ballet dancers end up physically destroyed by the effort. The image of the broken down ballerina— whose tragedy is that she can no longer practice what she has sacrificed everything to be able to do —is one I return to again and again in my writing.

I find this could make for a perfect parallel to Mrs. Hawking. I want the next story to include a ballerina who is facing inevitable breakdown in order to use her as a metaphor for everything Mrs. Hawking fears. Her work, which involves so much physical punishment, will eventually wear her body down, and age will at some point make it so she can no longer continue. The ballerina character will speak to this part of her, and cause her to ponder how she will eventually address this.

This could tie nicely into the protégé conflict, where she will be trying to mold Mary into a new version of herself. Her fear of her not being able to do her work anymore will motivate her to make Mary into someone she feels like she can trust to properly carry things on— literally, another her. We will see that things won’t exactly go her way on that score, but Mary will in time prove capable of taking up the mantle, if not exactly in the manner Mrs. Hawking initially hopes.

The staged reading of Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will go up on June 10th at 8PM at with the Bare Bones reading series, brought to you by Theatre@First.

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Notes on Vivat Regina: plot

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

Warning: spoilers contained herein for Vivat Regina.

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In addition to character arcs, it needed an over-plot to give it structure, a mission for them to go on as part of Mrs. Hawking’s work. The idea for this one sprung out of the notion I had of a recognizable figure from this part of Victorian history coming incognito to the ladies to ask for their help. This figure is embodied in Mrs. Braun, who it is clear is not using her real name. I will not say her real identity right now, because I would rather not spoil it yet, but what I wanted was for the audience to have a suspicion who this person was even if they weren’t sure. She ties in nicely to the point Mrs. Hawking makes about of the problems of the establishment, even if you don’t fully grasp what her connection to the establishment is. After the first reading, Ben Federlin confirmed for me that it was interesting to leave some ambiguity as to who she was. But Lenny Somervell said that it needed to be clear enough that even somebody without any knowledge of Victorian history would still be able to have a decent guess. Certain other aspects of the story are more compelling if you can make that connection, so I wanted it to be accessible without necessarily being too obvious.

You may have noticed that her entrance into the story bears a strong resemblance to a similar scene in the Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A German-accented person with a noble bearing that they are to some degree trying to conceal who at first introduces themselves by a false comes in as a client to ask a delicate task of our hero. This was a very intentional echoing, down to her line of “You may address me as Mrs. Johanna Braun,” in reference to “You may address me as Count Von Kramm.” I’ve always loved that story– indeed, I once played Irene Adler onstage –and it was fun to pay it that tribute.

I’ve talked at length about why I felt the need to include the subplot with Clara, which you can read about here. I wanted to introduce her for later inclusion, and I wanted the presence of a character who was not overawed by Mrs. Hawking the way Mary and Nathaniel are, but I struggled to figure out what service she could provide to the plot to justify her presence. What I decided to go with, suggested chiefly by my friends Aaron Fischer and Lenny Somervell who were kind enough to give their always-discerning opinions, was that she could basically provide some outside perspective. Their little world of society avenging is so secretive (they can’t tell people about it for security reasons, after all) that they tend to have tunnel vision about it. When Mary is unable to see that she’s been good for Mrs. Hawking, Clara is a fairly objective observer who can let Mary know what a huge positive influence she’s been. They also suggested that her personal reason for doing it can be that, in the service of protecting her husband from Mrs. Hawking’s wrath, she means to cultivate Mary as an ally and a source of information. It will and won’t work, considering the unusual circumstances, but I think it’s a believable motivation for Clara, and the situation will also lead into the possibility of her becoming a genuine friend to Mary.

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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