Categotry Archives: performance

Descriptions and information about all the performances the piece sees, and processes of making them happen.

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The set for Mrs. Hawking at Arisia 2015

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Categories: performance, Tags: , , , ,

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Building the set for this show may have been the most difficult aspect of producing it. I wanted a real set for it, not only to elevate the production values, but because the plot demanded that Mrs. Hawking physically scale it. I got a lot of heat for that when I was writing it in grad school, but it was very necessary for the spectacle of the piece— we should see what a gymnast Mrs. Hawking is –so I stuck to my guns on it. Unfortunately, that meant a pretty demanding standard for the building of the set. But because of our limited budget, getting shop space was unfortunately not possible. That meant we were forced to build the set in my backyard. If it had been May, that might not have been such a big deal, but we had a week in a Boston January.

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Because of our time and resource limitations, I tried to design the set to require as little build as possible to stand up and be weight-bearing. That was where my idea to adapt a wooden children’s jungle gym into a structural set. We used the tower section to create a climbable freestanding piece that we attached the flat with the fireplace, and then the monkey bar section to create a window with the wall flat. I was incredibly pleased to see that this idea not only worked but also reduced our workload. It might not have been possible otherwise.

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The mantlepiece is particularly special, made by set consultant Carolyn Daitch. She made this gorgeous piece for us out of wood with a special styrofoam panel in the shelf of it, so that Mrs. Hawking can stab it with her knives. The worked BEAUTIFULLY, and allowed for the awesome image of her plunging the Colonel’s Bowie knife into it, leaving it stuck there in mute testament to her rage in that moment. The black and gold color scheme on it was thanks to Samantha LeVangie, who was scenic charge in addition to playing the role of Mary.

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We painted everything as the snow was actively falling down. I was terrified that the paint was freezing rather than drying, and would slough off in a torrent when we got it into a warmer space, but thankfully it managed to hold up. It also made it possible to visually incorporate the playground structures into the Victorian parlor look. Add a couple of gas lamps, curtains, and the portrait of the Colonel, and we were there. We chose red and gold for the colors to give it the warm period appearance.

We actually impressed some people with the quality and extensiveness of the set. It came in looking beautiful, and we put it up quickly and efficiently, thanks to our excellent team. Arisia is apparently not used to full sets, and it was gratifying to hear we turned a few heads. Not to mention that we got Mrs. Hawking in the air, just like we set out to!

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The set’s existence is primarily thanks to the work of Bernie Gabin, our technical director, my frequent collaborator, and my boyfriend. His experience in all aspects of technical theater, not to mention his fierce determination through adversity, made it possible to have any actual build occur. I am also incredibly grateful for the hard work of Eboracum Richter-Dahl, our stage manager, Frances Kimpel, our Mrs. Hawking, Matthew Kamm, our Sir Walter, and Samantha LeVangie, our Mary and our scenic charge. Their toiling out in the snow and freezing temperatures with this was very much above and beyond the call of duty.

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Here is the final product. You’d never think to look at it that it was built in the snow in five days, would you? Next time someone suggests I cannot do something, I will remember this build. It was incredibly grueling at times, but it came out so beautifully that I believe it was worth it.

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Mrs. Hawking at Arisia accomplished!

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Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: ,

We have accomplished our herculean task of putting up our production of Mrs. Hawking at Arisia 2015!

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We performed this past Friday, and I am pleased to report that things went wonderfully. Our very talented cast put on a hell of a show, and the props, costumes, and set pieces we slaved to pull together only added to the experience. We had a sizable and appreciative audience who were full of enjoyment at the performance.

It was a great experience, and I’m so grateful to everyone who made it possible, including the lovely souls who showed up to watch. We’re pretty burnt right now; time for a well-deserved rest. In the weeks to come I’ll be posting about various elements of the production in detail. We put in so much to make this show great, and we’re incredibly proud of the end result.

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ONE WEEK until Arisia opening!

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Our production of Mrs. Hawking opens at Arisia 2015 exactly one week from today!

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This coming Sunday, tech week begins. We’re in good shape with many parts of the show, but we’ve still got to hook all the pieces together, to marry the actors’ excellent performances to all the technical demands of props and costumes to give the show a final layer of polish. It’s a bit daunting, but I’m ready to dive in and make this show the best it can be.

If you’d like to see Mrs. Hawking performed– and you know how happy that would make us all –you must have a membership to Arisia. If you do not wish to buy a full membership, $20 Friday day passes should be available for purchase at the door the day of. They not only permit you to attend Mrs. Hawking, but any other event on the Friday schedule of Arisia.

We’re down to the wire now, so wish us luck! Or, if you really would like to support us, come to Friday night of Arisia, whether with a full membership or a day pass, and see the results of all our hard work.

It’s going to be a great show.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Big badass heroes

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As I’ve mentioned, Mrs. Hawking is a bit of a power fantasy for me. I just love the idea of this small person being so physically dangerous. It’s an important part of her character that she is a warrior, and it sure adds a lot of visual excitement to see her really kick ass. What’s a superhero story or an action caper without awesome fight scenes? So that means that we needed really cool fight choreography to convey just how tough she is.

Our very talented violence designer is Arielle Kaplan, also the actress playing Mrs. Fairmont in this production, and she did an amazing job making Mrs. Hawking look like a badass. And Mary, though new to brawling, gets in a few good licks as well!

We took this little reference video during rehearsal the other day. It shows actors Frances Kimpel (Mrs. Hawking), Samantha LeVangie (Mary), and Bobby Imperato (Colchester) working on their choreography. We’re still a little rough– and you’ll notice a cameo by yours truly standing in for the other mook –but this should give you a taste of the cool scene we have planned. It’s going to look amazing when we get it all polished up.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Dressing the parts

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Costuming adds a whole extra dimension to theatrical productions. So much can be communicated about a character by the way they dress; actors tend to feel so much for like the people they are portraying when in costume; and it can add visual fascination to any production. Not to mention when you’re telling a story about badass superheroes in a period caper, they definitely need to look cool. So we are working our hardest to ensure that all our characters have a distinctive, appealing, and period-appropriate look.

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I have a background in costume design myself, and of course I’ve been thinking about how these characters might dress for ages, but our costumer for this production is Jennifer Giorno, who will also be playing Grace Monroe. Best known for her work in dressing people for live-action roleplay games, where she is known as the Costume Fairy, Jenn’s extensive knowledge of the clothes of the Victorian period make excellent use of everything we find charming about the look of this time and place. I’m really lucky to have her effort and expertise.

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There’s a lot to take into consideration when choosing an effective costume. The culture of the period we’re trying to make come alive has a lot of influence. Mrs. Hawking is a widow, for example, in a time where mourning was strictly regimented. Because she does not want attention drawn to herself, everything she wears in public, then, must be appropriately modest, and of course black. Mary is a working-class maid in a wealthy middle-class house, so her look must speak to both her station and the respectability such a house would want her to reflect.

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But there’s more than that, of course; there’s also their personalities to consider. A feature of Mrs. Hawking is that even people who aren’t aware of what she really does notice that she moves like a cat, a compact creature of uncanny grace and strength, so whatever we dress her in must allow the actress Frances Kimpel to project that in her movements. Mary is a tall, strong girl, perhaps a little unfashionably so by the standards of her time, but it gives her a bold physicality that makes you believe she could jump into superheroing. Again, her costume must allow Samantha LeVangie to demonstrate that level of energy and strength. On the other end of things, we know Nathaniel is a very successful, well-thought-of man who is comfortable in his place in life. Making him a sharp dresser who looks good in his clothes goes a long way toward informing of us how he fits into his world.

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And of course they’ve just got to look cool. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of watching cool people do cool things and look damn cool doing it! So we’re putting extra effort into making certain our heroes are just plain fun to look at it.

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We’re not revealing all of what they’re going to look like yet. We want to save the full looks for the show. But hopefully this will intrigue you enough until you get the full effect during the performance!

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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The drama of stiff upper lips

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One of the things we find so fascinating about Victorians is the behavioral code. Stemming from a morality promulgated by the royal family, people’ conduct was to be mild and polite, conservative and chaste, with a high level of emotional restraint. The fact that the characters involved are not accustomed to talking about their feelings means that there is drama in how they finds ways to relate to each other. There must be great meaning in the wordless actions, the silences, and the things they do manage to say. The blocking must speak volumes, and when they do speak frankly, it’s given that much more weight for how unusual it is.

As for our hero, “She’s so English,” as Elizabeth Hunter commented during the rehearsal process for the staged reading of Vivat Regina. Which is rather ironic, given how much contempt she has for English culture, but she has not been able to completely shrug off its influence. She functions very much by bottling up her feelings. It’s become a survival tactic for her to conceal the extent of her enormous rage. Also, excessive displays of emotion make her uncomfortable; she finds them somewhat unseemly, a sign of a lack of control. But though she believes this is part of what makes her strong, it also makes it difficult for her to trust and connect with the members of her team. There’s a reason she prefers to stay alone. This shows what a struggle it is for her to make a bond with Mary, and Mary’s efforts to break through this reservation make up the most important journey in the play.

Nathaniel is modeled after one breed of Englishman in particular, the cheerful, never-say-die type who believes a sunny disposition is the key to keeping calm and carrying on. This can be seen in the way he deals with Mrs. Hawking when she’s been especially difficult. This is an important note for Jonathan’s acting when he portrays Nathaniel in our production. It shows how hard he’s trying to pretend like everything is normal with his aunt to convince Mary to sign on. And it’s important to establish this behavior for him early, so that when he can no longer maintain the positive front, it makes a very clear point at just how thrown and at a loss he is.

Like most abusers, our antagonist Cedric Brockton co-opts existing cultural structures to serve his own ends. He makes use of the fact that his victims are conditioned to behave politely, place a lot of stock in public opinion, and despise themselves for the ways they do not meet proscribed social standards. It makes them susceptible to meeting his demands as a blackmailer. It is, of course, not a uniquely English thing to care about reputation, but the narrow standards of Victorian behavior gives him a lot of material to make use of. This affects the acting of portrayer Francis Hauert in how he must insinuate the crossing of boundaries, but so subtly that victims of it fall back on their polite habits in the absence of any other idea of how to react.

The major exception to this is Mary. She begins the play as an example typical of her sort; a maidservant in the presence of her betters is supposed to make herself as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. But Mary’s great strengths are her passionate moral compass and her drive to form meaningful connections with others. Once she is on her path, she knows their purpose is far bigger than the petty restrictions of arbitrary social rules. When she has to speak, to affirm her beliefs or reach out and connect, there is no stopping her. The intensity of her feelings comes bursting out of her in this play, overwhelming her old conditioning. Her great journey will be to push past the hangups of others and see that they form the team they have to be in order to do their best work.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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How you can support this production of Mrs. Hawking

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Categories: performance, supplemental, Tags: ,

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As of today, our production of Mrs. Hawking at Arisia is one month away from performance. We’re coming along nicely, as rehearsals are going well, and our technical elements are slowly but surely being pulled together. Still, there is still a great deal left to do. Some lovely people have been wondering what they can do to help out with this project in some way. Well, bless you, lovely people! I am happy to suggest a number of ways you could possibly assist us in the production and promotion of this exciting new play.

Firstly, you can help us with advertising! Spreading the word about the show to those people who might be interested— theater enthusiasts, steampunk fans, Arisia congoers, general geeks, et cetera —could help increase the size of our audience. So tell your friends about it, share it on your Facebook wall. Also, if you have any ideas for what we can do or who we can talk to, don’t hesitate to make the suggestion.

You can volunteer for build! We will be doing the serious building of our set over the course of tech week and the days leading up to it, starting on the 2nd of January 2015. If you have any free time, daytime or evening, between then and our performance on the 16th, please let me know! We can definitely use extra sets of hands that can pitch in to help with construction and painting.

You can donate monetarily! We are on a tight budget to accomplish all the varied demands of producing a show, so any donation at all would be helpful. We have a Paypal account under the email mrshawkingweb@gmail.com if you are inclined this way, and know that it would be gratefully accepted.

You can support our web presence! Bookmark this website or follow it on your blog reader of choice and check back often. Liking our Facebook page gives a tangible record of your interest. Just one quick click would matter to us.

And finally, you can attend the performance at Arisia! It will be an official event of the con, and so is only open to those who purchase a membership. Day passes for Friday may be available at the door if registration does not max out, but buying a weekend pass will not only guaranteed entrance to Mrs. Hawking; it was also give you access to all the rest of the convention.

You see, we are not only hoping to put on a great show. We’re trying to get Mrs. Hawking out to the audiences who will enjoy and want to follow it. Anything you’d care to do to help us reach that goal would be forever appreciated.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Lord Brockton’s walking stick

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Check out this cool walking stick prop I put together for Cedric Brockton to use!

Cedric Brockton Lord Brockton is something of a dandy; it is part of his bulletproof persona that he is always impeccably dressed. A slick walking stick, purely a fashion accessory, seemed like a perfect fit. But as we’re on a tight budget, I didn’t just want to spend money on one. So I got a little creative!

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I got a fancy curtain rod from a dollar store, with that big round crystal on each end. I took it apart and used the longer half. On the open end I glued a doorstop from the hardware store, the kind that you attach to the back of a door so it bounces off the wall. It’s a nice touch to add both style and a bit of length, plus the rubbery end gives it a little traction. On the crystal end, I taped off the orb as well as the rod beneath the little collar, and sprayed that collar with some metallic silver paint.

It’s a little crude up close, but I think from the stage it will read as understatedly elegant. That will make for a perfect prop.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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The rehearsal process

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

We have just gotten through our first week of rehearsal!

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Frances Kimpel and Samantha LeVangie, rehearsing as Mrs. Hawking and Mary.

My style as director, as I’ve mentioned, is to have things fairly specifically planned out before I go into rehearsal. A personal artistic value of mine is a dynamic stage, with lots of interesting action happening at the right times. I really dislike when actors just stand there and talk at each other for long periods; it gets boring and makes it easy for the audience to check out. The action must be engaging, this is an action story, but it must always seem purposeful and never gratuitous. But incorporating the right amount of activity is a careful balance.

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Now with Francis Hauert, Matthew Kamm, and Jonathan Plesser.

Conveying more information about the characters and what’s really going on is also a big responsibility of the action. One thing that’s interesting about telling stories about Victorian characters is that they have certain standards of behavior, as well as social conditioning that they’ve been raised with. Nathaniel is a well-bred, wealthy middle class man, for instance, whereas Mary is a working class domestic servant. The difference in status brought on by their unequal social relationship, their genders, and their personal values has a lot of implications on how they act. For Mary to sit in the presence of her employers, for example, would be a very big deal and might be a serious breach of social etiquette. If I choose to have her sit in a scene, it better be for a meaningful reason, and the message it sends should be clear. They are also famously not a frank-speaking culture, which means there are many things– particularly about their emotions –that they cannot say. That means it’s up to the action to convey what’s going on beneath the genteel facades.

It’s a big challenge, but it’s really exciting to see just how much more of the story I’m able to tell with the visual dimension. And I’m very pleased with my team of actors, who are shouldering the burden of making that real.

IMG_0842.JPGNow with my Coke, also essential to my directing process.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Rehearsals begin for Mrs. Hawking at Arisia

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Tonight is the first read through for Mrs. Hawking at Arisia 2015, which marks the start of our rehearsal period. This is going to be seriously intense. We don’t have long between now and our performance on January 16th, and there’s about week’s worth of lost time due to the winter holidays. That does NOT make for a nice leisurely process of getting a play blocked, memorized, and sufficiently rehearsed so we don’t all embarrass ourselves.

To that end, I am going to work hard to make sure we work as efficiently as possible. As I’ve mentioned, I like to have a pretty solid plan of what the scenes will look like, but I think that’s doubly important now. I still want to be flexible to discovery in the process and allow for the actors’ contributions and creativity, but having purpose will cut down on wasted time.

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We’ve secured rehearsal space in Spingold Theater with the gracious permission of Brandeis University, of which most of our cast are alums. Our first two weeks will see us work through the whole show twice– that’s a lot to get through each night, but I think it’s necessary. When we get back from the holiday break, everyone will be hard off-book. We will have one more week of regular rehearsal, in which we’ll start doing larger chunks at a stretch, then it’s plunging into tech week. It’s a pretty demanding process, but I have faith in this cast to handle it.

To start things off well, I am doing what I always like to do when I begin a rehearsal process, cook everybody a big meal. Before tonight’s read through I will be serving a homemade dinner to my lovely cast to ensure their undying loyalty. Take it from me, having been on both sides of this, the quickest way to win over actors is to feed them.

I’m a little nervous, I won’t lie. I’m afraid we won’t have enough time to make this as good as I want it to be. But I’m going to do my damnedest to make it the best I possibly can. It means a lot to me to represent my work at its best.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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