Categotry Archives: gilded cages

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Gilded Cages and Mrs. Frost scheduled at Arisia 2019!

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Our two newest shows, Gilded Cages and Mrs. Frost, are now scheduled in performance slots at Arisia 2019!

MRS. HAWKING parts 4 and 5

at Arisia 2019 in Boston, MA

presented by Breaking Light Productions

Gilded Cages
by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin

“London, 1884— “What if Sherlock Holmes were a lady Batman?” For twenty-five years, our hero Mrs. Hawking has battled injustice as the Lady’s Champion of London. But it has been a difficult path to her life’s work as a superhero, and now the truth behind Mrs. Hawking’s discovery of her calling is finally revealed. As she takes on a case against an enemy beyond any she’s ever faced, she will find the struggles and mistakes of her past have come back to haunt her. Content note: parental abuse, mention of stillbirth.”

Friday, January 18th at 7:30PM
In Grand Ballroom A

and introducing

Mrs. Frost
by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin

“London, 1886— The reveal of Mrs. Hawking’s greatest enemy yet has left our hero brooding over past failures, and so consumed by her quest to destroy the criminal mastermind that even her apprentices Mary and Nathaniel feel frozen out of her life. But when Nathaniel is taken captive by her nemesis, and an important figure from her past returns, Mrs. Hawking must work with a team of remarkable women to confront their demons and tear down this criminal empire once and for all. CN: mention of sexual assault, Victorian mental health practices.”

Saturday, January 19th at 3:30PM
In Grand Ballroom A

at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel
50 Park Plaza, Boston, MA‎

Come join us at the convention for our most ambitious and intense program yet!

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A story between the lines — subtext in the Hawking series

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Subtext has always been an incredibly important technique for telling these stories properly. The art of conveying information with just-below-the-surface cues rather than explicit reference is a challenging one, but is always a component of the drama I find most compelling. I used to struggle with it enormously, so that I’ve dedicated myself to its continual practice. When you’re telling a Victorian story, characters are not always going to feel free to say exactly what they mean, so it’s an absolutely necessary skill to depicting the characters in a genuine, compelling way.

Gilded Cages 2.1

Because I’m continually testing myself on this, I challenge myself to retrace my own process, as it were, to vet it for the level of meaning and effectiveness. Subtext is hard in that because it’s not frankly conveyed, it’s easy to miss, so there must be a lot of effort in choosing the words to suggest the ideas without giving them away. I find drama so moving when it works, so I am always trying to improve my skills at incorporating it!

Here’s a “deleted scene” from the flashback sections of Gilded Cages, one that was recorded as a quick audio drama by actors Cari Keebaugh and Jeremiah O’Sullivan. Here I’ve annotated the scene, entitled “Now Where You’re Standing”, to illustrate why the characters say the things they said, what their intention was behind their lack of free communication and understanding of each other’s position. The relationship between the characters of Victoria Stanton and Reginald Hawking was one that was never on the same page, and I have to sell how they related to each other, how such a profound misunderstanding could come about. And that relies intensely on them plausibly failing to connect with each other, even when they think they are.

So, did I do a good job getting my point across even though it wasn’t explicit? Did I pick the right words? Was I too subtle, or not subtle enough? You be the judge! And be sure to listen to our stellar actors’ recording of it, as they convey a lot of what’s below the surface that the plain script never can!

Now Where You’re Standing
From “Gilded Cages”
By Phoebe Roberts  

VICTORIA STANTON, daughter of the lieutenant territorial governor 
CAPTAIN REGINALD HAWKING, hero of the Indian Rebellion 

Singapore, 1859 

~~~ 

REGINALD: Excuse me, but— might I cut in? Miss Stanton here has promised me a dance, you see. (whispered) I hope you don’t mind. 

VICTORIA: No. Thank you for that. 

REGINALD: I thought you looked as though you could use the rescue. 

His impulse is always to rescue her. He doesn’t see her as a person who can handle herself. She doesn’t yet realize, so she doesn’t yet mind. 

VICTORIA: I hate these stupid parties.  

She’s already identified him as someone she can put her emotions plainly out on the table for. She does this quickly because she has so few others like that in her life.

 REGINALD: That’s clear. Unfortunately, now you’ll have to suffer a dance with me. And I’m afraid I’ve no idea what I’m doing. 

He is trying to make the evening easier for her by pulling her out of an uncomfortable social situation. But I don’t think until he’s actually got her in his arms that he realized how badly he wanted it— the opportunity to be that close to her. The intensity of it is what ends up frightening him off.  

VICTORIA: It’s just dancing. 

This indicates just how little it matters to her to be in this position that’s having such an effect on him. Already, their impressions and positions are not matching up.

REGINALD: We don’t all know ballet. 

He remembers the little details about her because he’s so impressed by how unusual she is. 

VICTORIA: The way you ride and fence, and you can’t do a box step? How ridiculous! 

She genuinely does admire his competence and skills. He is not totally mistaking that there is some connection between him, though he massively overestimates it.

REGINALD: Well— thank you— I think. 

He is flattered by her compliments, even though he acknowledges that they’re couched in her typical judgmental manner.  

VICTORIA: Did you learn in the cavalry? 

She finds him interesting and admirable enough that she actually wants to know things about him.  

REGINALD: It made a man of me, but I’ve been in the saddle all my life. Perhaps a trade is in order— your stars and your dancing, for my horses and navigation tricks. 

I like the idea that Reginald was a great horseman, to the point where it’s something Victoria respected him for even late into life. Also, by encouraging them to exchange skills, he’s encouraging their enmeshment. It’s more time to spend together, more opportunity to bond.  

VICTORIA: And sabers. Make it even. 

He gets a glimpse of her martial impulses, though I think he never understands the extent of it. He would have been intensely surprised if he’d ever learned she became a fighter.  

REGINALD: Hm. If you like. Though I daresay we may get it from your father if I do. 

He doesn’t mind teaching her, but he thinks it’s just a lark. While he mostly gets how much and why she hates her father, he does feel he ought to warn her off of getting herself in trouble with him. Again— his impulse is to protect her from everything. 

VICTORIA: Blast my father. I hate him. I hate all of them. 

She trusts him enough to be honest with him. This isn’t something she tells many people. She isn’t a good liar, especially now, but she mostly just avoids people entirely.  

REGINALD: That’s hard. 

The vitriol of her feelings is slightly off putting to him. He is sympathetic, but it hints at how he’s going to encourage her to bottle up her ugly feelings later in their lives, at least in a public context. Reginald is much more accustomed to putting up to get along— he thinks that’s how life works. It is one of the early wedges in their relationship that she will eventually hate him for.

VICTORIA: Is it, now? Well, Captain, why don’t you spend nineteen years stuck here with them, and we’ll compare notes. 

She has no qualms about being sharp with him. This mild level of it is intensely attractive to him. Eventually it grows to the point where he cannot avoid confronting the painful notion that she hates him, but when they mostly got along and she drew him up every now and again it really pushed his buttons.  

REGINALD: Thank you, but the last few months have been enough. 

He backs down gracefully, and accepts the rebuke without complaint. He actually likes that she’s a little sharp with him.

VICTORIA: Getting to you, is it? 

She is pleased and smug that he’s conceding that the place does kind of suck.  

REGINALD: It’s not here, precisely. It’s— what I have to do. 

Reginald is referring to how he’s being treated as the “rebellion-quelling expert” but sees the signs of unrest brewing, and how they’re reluctant to make the changes he’s recommending to head it off. He’s not telling her much of what is actually bothering him about being there– bad feelings are to be bottled up, again –but he in turn trusts her enough to be honest that he’s not been feeling good about it. 

VICTORIA: You mean be paraded about like a show pony? 

She recognizes this part of the problem because it’s the only one she’s seen— plus he mentioned it specifically in the cellar in scene 1.5. 

REGINALD: That’s certainly part of it. It’s not what I signed on for, that’s for sure. 

He acknowledges what’s correct about her observation without going into specifics about what she’s missing. Ugly feelings are to be bottled for the comfort of others!

VICTORIA: What did you sign on for? 

REGINALD: To tell the truth? To do something that mattered. Something that was hard, but I work at it. Something with a purpose, to the good of the world. 

He’s quoting her own words back to her to show her that he meant it when he said he related to them. 

He also uses a phrase, “to the good of the world,” that we hear Nathaniel use in Base Instruments to describe how he sees his work helping Mrs. Hawking. More and more I find myself giving them the same words; I like the implication that he shares a lexicon with the Colonel; perhaps that’s who he learned much of it from. 

VICTORIA: I see. 

Victoria recognizes her words coming from him and is a little pleased to hear them. At this point she appreciates the implication that they are the same. Also, she likes when people seem to be telling her she’s right.  

REGINALD: But it’s been some time since I thought I was doing any good. 

Again, he is vague on details— he is not an emotionally open man. But this dissatisfaction’s existence is not something he’s confided in anyone else, speaking of the closeness he feels with her. 

VICTORIA: Well. You’ve done me a favor just now. Nobody else would have pulled me out of that rat trap. 

Victoria, sympathetic to his obvious distress, attempts to buck him up. But her reasoning is noticeably immature, citing the fairly small thing he did to cater to her childish impatience, in a manner that centers her whims. She doesn’t realize his worries are on a completely different scale. It underscores their age difference— he’s a grown man of thirty-one, while she’s still a child at nineteen.  

REGINALD: Surely there must be some obliging friend. 

He downplays his action, quite reasonably seeing it as a small gesture. 

VICTORIA: And who would that be? One of the officers’ idiot daughters? Some blockhead soldier? 

She has few peers in this military posting in Singapore, and she doesn’t get along with many people. It’s also a preview of the attitude that dominates her later in life, that, as Mary puts it in Mrs. Hawking, “the women are fools and the men are beasts.” 

REGINALD: I’m one of those blockheads, you know. 

He is not offended or defensive here; in fact, he is being self-deprecating in a manner he often is with her. He means more, “Are you sure you don’t mind hanging out with a blockhead?”  

VICTORIA: (dismissive) You’re different. 

This is not an important statement to her. She fails to see how important it might be to him.  

REGINALD: Do you think so? 

Reginald is quite touched to think that she sees him as special— particularly because he very strongly sees her that way. Her stating this is part of what makes him able to believe that she might be falling for him the way he’s falling for her.  

VICTORIA: You don’t think you know everything. 

Most of the people who talk to Victoria like to lecture her, or tell her about how something she’s doing is wrong. Reginald does not do this— at least not at this stage. Eventually a thing that will deteriorate their relationship is his insistence that people have to put away their feelings to get along in the world.   

REGINALD: That’s certain. But… aren’t you lonely? 

Right now, Reginald doesn’t feel certain of anything, since his career is not turning out the way he thought it would. And he’s not quite sure what emotions he’s developing for her right now, so he’s generally feeling off-balance. 

VICTORIA: I like to be on my own. Besides, I’ve got Malaika now. And Elizabeth too, I suppose. 

Victoria, though suffering for her isolation, does not feel loneliness in the manner that most people do. A good analogy might be that it’s like she is starving, but does not realize because she does not feel hunger. She is unable to see how much her lack of connection to others harms her.  

I also love the way she takes Elizabeth completely for granted— who has, up to this point, completely supported and been there for her. Victoria truly loves Elizabeth, but sees her more as a nagging older sister than a friend she chose for herself. Malaika is the only person she realizes how much she cares about.  

REGINALD: Just your governess and your maid? 

Reginald feels a sudden wave of pity for her thinking that her only friends are people who are paid to be around her.  

VICTORIA: Who else is there?  

Victoria does not see the problem; she doesn’t recognize that her situation is kind of pathetic.

(Pause.)  

REGINALD: You know, miss… it won’t always be like this. 

He is acting from the impulse to rescue her again— in this case, specifically from the loneliness and dissatisfaction of her situation. 

VICTORIA: How do you mean? 

REGINALD: You have your whole life ahead of you. You won’t be here under your father’s thumb forever. 

He’s actually attempting to be frank here, at least as frank as his ethos allows him to be. He wants to give her some hope, specifically the same hope he feels— that the two of them loving each other could be the thing that saves them from the disappointment of their current situations. But he is not a person who can speak plainly of those feelings, so he is attempting to say it without saying it.  

VICTORIA: (scoffing) Ugh! 

Victoria is not really hearing the message. She thinks it’s a sort of generic “chin up, it’ll all turn out in the end” admonition.

REGINALD: It might be hard to see now, but… before long you’ll be past all this. And someday, we’ll be looking back on it all and laughing that we ever thought it mattered.    

By use of “we” he’s unitizing them, suggesting that by the time she’s at that point he will still be in her life in a way that they’ll be able to look back on things together. In a way, it’s him floating the idea of them as a “we” to see how she reacts.  

VICTORIA: And you’re certain of that?  

But she is misses the full significance of the “we”— but at the moment the notion does not offend her. And she has come to like and trust him enough that she is open to the possibility that what he’s saying on the surface— that eventually she’ll be past this —is true. 

REGINALD: I have to be.  

He is holding to hope that the future will be better because of how great his current disappointment is. If he doesn’t believe it will all be to future good, he’ll be really depressed.  

VICTORIA: How? 

REGINALD: Somehow, now where you’re standing… I find it seems very close. 

This is a slip. He’s actually being almost TOO literal here. And it frightens him how honest he is in that moment. 

(Pause.) 

REGINALD: Victoria… I— I— beg your pardon, miss.  

 He is embarrassed and a little frightened by the intensity of his feelings. He was just trying to sound her out a little; he was not ready to “confess” in any way. His apology is for being so ungentlemanly forward.

VICTORIA: What? 

 Fortunately for him, though, she genuinely doesn’t get it.

REGINALD: Thank you for the dance, Miss Stanton. I hope the rest of your evening goes on better than it began.   

 He is retreating back into formality.

VICTORIA: Are you going? Why?

REGINALD: Please understand me, miss, when I say… it’s almost closer than I can bear. 

 He cannot help but be a little more honest here in the face of her confusion. But because he cannot just say these things, which is what allows them to grow, even fester, in a way that traps them both.

(REGINALD exits.) 

 

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BONUS SCENE “Bottom Drawer,” and longstanding character relationships

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When you are trying to establish characters with long standing relationships, it’s important to have believable history. Our new show this winter, Mrs. Frost, has many character who have known each other from way back. If I’m going to make the weight of their history have actual impact on their interactions, I have to know what happened between them— at least in the important moments. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the specifics, because specificity is how you create fully realized characters that have all the uniqueness of believable human beings.

In Gilded Cages, the relationship between Victoria and Elizabeth is incredibly important. They are as close as sisters and care about each other, but the connection is colored by Victoria’s blithe sense of entitlement, and Elizabeth’s position of greater responsibility and significantly less privilege. I really enjoy establishing these kinds of complications in people’s feelings for each other, because it makes for really interesting dramatic dynamics.

In this short scene recording, we see the last interaction Elizabeth and Victoria have before they each marry and their lives go their separate ways. I endeavored to capture the particular complexity of their friendship. Also, it establishes where they left one another when they still had a relationship worth speaking of. I love to temper sweetness with sadness, affection with conflict.

This is Bottom Drawer, by Phoebe Roberts, featuring the voice talents of Cari Keebaugh as Victoria Stanton and Arielle Kaplan as Elizabeth Danvers.

Warning: spoilers for Mrs. Hawking IV: Gilded Cages.

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New show video of Gilded Cages at Arisia 2018!

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We now have this wonderful video of our performance of Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages from its debut at Arisia 2018!


Gilded Cages – Part 4 of the Mrs Hawking Serial Play from sydweinstein on Vimeo.

Thanks to Syd Weinstein and his excellent crew, the very first performance of Gilded Cages has been captured for us to view at our leisure. Rewatching the production now, it makes me even prouder of our most ambitious show yet.

So, if you missed us at this past Arisia or the Watch City Steampunk Festival, be sure to check out this fabulous show video.

And if you want to catch up on the entire Mrs. Hawking saga, head over to our Shows page to see all the great episode recordings that the Arisia video crew has made for us.

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




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Extra scenes – a late in life moment with Reginald and Ambrose

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Here’s another bit of Hawking bonus material— featuring the first-ever performance of Ambrose Hawking, Nathaniel and Justin’s dad and Reginald’s older brother.

I really enjoy making these audio recordings of outside scenes to flesh out the world and story line around the main narrative of the plays. The more you think through characters’ journeys, figuring out where they came from and how they got to the places they are, the better able you are to design a truly complete and consistent arc for them. Although it’s generally considered better craft if you develop the characters simultaneously with advancing the narrative, I really like them as relationship explorations, which more thoroughly explore the characters we’ve come to care about.

Gilded Cages 2018-32

Gilded Cages, scene 1.3

It’s so amazing hearing the cast read these moments. In this piece, we have Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Reginald Hawking, with Pieter Wallace, who’s come on for the Watch City ’18 performance as Lord Brockton, stepping into the role of Ambrose. It makes it feel a little more real, like something you can really believe happened in the history of these characters.

Today’s piece “No Knights” expands upon an idea that hangs over part IV: Gilded Cages— how the Colonel was, later in his life, offered a knighthood that he turned down. This is an issue that becomes very important to Nathaniel in that show, and this piece elaborates on how that small detail had big effects on the family. It also explores a bit of a relationship that we know exists but haven’t seen anything of— that between the brothers Reginald and Ambrose, Nathaniel’s oft-mentioned but thus far unseen father. Jeremiah and Peter invest real pathos in the moment, particularly in their effort to convey slightly older, more world-wearied men.

I’m really proud of what this amazing cast can do with this background scribbles. If you’d like to see them in action, be sure to check out our upcoming free May 12th performances at the Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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:




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When character moments are earned

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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:




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A story in the layers

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Categories: gilded cages, themes, Tags: ,

Historically the writing of subtext has been a challenge for me. Partially it was just struggling with the techniques of it— how you embed meaning without actually referring to it in words —and partially it came from the fear that even if I did manage to include it, the audience would miss it. I often failed in the direction of overwriting it for fear that it was too subtle, and not having any effect on the story at all.

In recent years, thanks to focusing on it with serious practice, I think I have improved. My tastes run much more lately to subtler storytelling, so I’ve tried to take that route with the things I write. I’m pleased to say I think my most recent major piece, Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages, is the most layered narrative I’ve ever put together. It depends in large part on people who are on different wavelengths not realizing they’re talking at cross purposes, who don’t fully understand the implications of their actions, and who don’t have the words or concepts to express themselves with complete accuracy. The fact that I managed to pull that off wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t grown in my ability to suggest things are happening that no party onstage is actually explicitly referring to.

Photo by Steve Karpf

The downside, though, is that very thing subtext made me afraid of all along: the audience missing it. Mostly I believe people grasped the ideas I was trying to go for in the piece— that Reginald’s well-meaning overtures coexist with the fact that he doesn’t understand consent or that he’s behaving in a patriarchal manner. That young Victoria doesn’t realize that she’s acting out of white privilege, and Malaika doesn’t see the dangers that creates for her in their relationship. But every now and then I’ve heard from somebody who didn’t pick up on those things, and as a consequence they didn’t follow aspects of the narrative. I’ve had a surprising number of people ask me, “Why was Mrs. Hawking so miserable with her husband when he was so nice?” I mean, I think it’s partially that we have a problematic cultural tendency to pressure women into giving men a chance because they’re “nice”— but also I think because we kept a lot of the harmful aspects of Reginald’s behavior subtext as opposed to stating them explicitly, I think people missed it.

The story doesn’t quite work, honestly, without the subtextual aspects. It doesn’t make its point without them. But it’s still a richer, more sophisticated piece to have these ideas woven in subtly, even at the cost of some of the audience missing them. I guess, if they’re detectable by some and missed by others, that probably means I can finally be confident that I’ve done subtext right.

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:




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Script release: Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages

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Team Hawking is pleased and proud to say that we have accomplished our performances at Arisia 2018— including part III: Base Instruments and the world premiere of part IV: Gilded Cages! We’ve been told it was our strongest program yet, which has been an incredible honor, and is so gratifying to all the hard work every member of the team put in.

Photo by Steve Karpf
Photo by Steve Karpf

Now that our new show has debuted, I’m releasing the script here on the website. I am deeply proud of this piece— it may indeed be the best in the series to date —and I think it not only plays well but is also interesting to read. The layers of meaning in many of the scenes are to this point unprecedented in this story, bring us to a new level of complexity. I think that even to those who have seen the show, reading at one’s own speed will allow some of the layers to be understood in greater depth.

Many of the scenes depicting important relationships— particularly Victoria and Malaika’s, and Victoria and Reginald’s — are meant to play one way on the surface level. But then, when one begins to pull apart the implications of the interactions, they take on a very different cast that adds new dimension. Also, there are a number of callbacks, parallels, comparisons, and contrasts between the present and the flashbacks of the story which are meant to make points about the characters. Arthur to Reginald, Nathaniel to Reginald, young Victoria to present-day Mrs. Hawking. These things may have gotten missed in seeing one performance of a fast-moving stage show, and I really think they add so much depth.

Photo by Steve Karpf
Photo by Steve Karpf

As always, I’m grateful to all the people whose advice helped us to make the script what it was. Those who helped develop the story to the most powerful level it could be. Those whose perspective on how to most effectively and sensitively depict the issues of the colonial culture. And those whose support and belief in the project enabled it to become a reality.

So be sure to check it out on our Scripts page, for the first piece of our second trilogy, Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages!

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The queerest Hawking story yet

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Categories: character, gilded cages, Tags: ,

For the most part, the queerness of the Mrs. Hawking story has been fairly low key. All of the journey up to this point has been subtly informed by the fact that our hero is an asexual aromantic, but it’s never been explicitly referred to, nor has it been a huge factor in any plot. In our upcoming piece, part IV: Gilded Cages, however, what has mostly been a character note for Mrs. Hawking is finally brought forward in the text.

Because of this, Gilded Cages is our most explicitly queer story yet. Part III: Base Instruments has more queer characters— Miss Zakharova is a lesbian, while ladies’ man Justin is actually bisexual — but it’s part IV where the subtext becomes text.

In the flashbacks to Mrs. Hawking’s youth, we see how she met the man she would eventually marry, Reginald Prescott Hawking. We know from the previous present-day stories that this was not by choice and that the marriage was not a happy one, so the question is raised how it happened at all. However, you will see in Gilded Cages that it’s not as simple as being forced together with a bad man due to some unwelcome arrangement. Indeed, their interactions were significantly more complicated, and in fact they were not always in such opposition to each other. It’s part of the reason why his memory is quite so painful for her.

Something I very much want to convey to the audience is how Reginald and Victoria could have been on such different wavelengths regarding their relationship. A big part of it is they viewed it from such vastly different perspectives. Victoria, an asexual aromantic, did not approach their interactions with the same expectations or interpretations as did Reginald, an alloromantic heterosexual, which allowed a relationship to develop that neither immediately realized was incompatible. I like the complications of that, as two people who mean well cannot connect on the same level—
at least partially because they were never taught a concept of a person who was outside of expected behavioral norms —and end up hurting each other quite tragically.

I really enjoy this dramatic exploration of the impact of an aro ace woman trying to be herself in a society where no one understands it or makes space for it. I won’t give too much away, as it’s an important part of Gilded Cages‘ story. But as noted above, a lot of the result is tragic and painful— but it also demonstrates a lot of personal strength on the part of our protagonist. She is fighting the fight to be true to herself, and it makes her a more complex and interesting hero in the process.

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.

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Darker before the dawn, part II

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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.

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