Categotry Archives: supplemental

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Reviewers wanted for Mrs. Hawking at WCSF!

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Are you the kind of person who thinks deeply about media, forms opinions, and wants to talk about them?

Do you write for a publication or platform that could provide a forum for an arts and culture review?

Do you have a space to reach people of the artistic, social, or most particularly, nerdy persuasion?

I’ve always believe that art should stand up to critique and analysis, and thoughtful examinations can generate interest and investment in a piece. So for our upcoming production of Mrs. Hawking at the Watch City Steampunk Festival, we’re putting out a call for anyone who would be interested in seeing the show and writing a review. 

We’re fortunate in that we have one reviewer having already agreed to come, but it would be great to have more perspectives and more voices out there. If we do well in your eyes, outside voices talking about us could be a great help, and if we don’t, it will be very useful information to know where we need to improve. Let us know you’ll be coming, and we’ll reserve you a seat. And afterward, let us know where we can find your writeup, so we can see how we did. 

So if you or anyone you know has a platform for the arts, steampunk, or general geekery, please come on out and give us the chance to impress you!

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

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Meet Frances Kimpel, the physical embodiment of Mrs. Hawking

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Categories: character, supplemental, Tags: ,

IMG_0957.JPGPhoto by Josh Spiro

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

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Photo by Charlotte Oswald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mrs. Hawking on TV Tropes

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Mrs. Hawking now has a works page on TVTropes.org!

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TV Tropes, if you’ve never heard of it, describes itself as “a catalogue of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction.” As a student of the process of developing literature and literary devices, I’ve always found it fascinating. I made Mrs. Hawking’s page in hopes of drawing the attention of people who are interested in the sort of things that are part of our stories. It’s still new yet, without many tropes listed yet, but it’s well on its way to achiving the literary devices used in the series.

TV Tropes is a publicly-edited wiki, so if there’s something you’d care to add to the page, you’d be very welcome. The more extensive it gets, the greater chance it has of drawing readers in who would love to find pieces of art that include the devices we include.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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How you can support this production of Mrs. Hawking

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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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The Hawking timeline

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When writing a story, particularly as far-reaching as with as many parts as I’d like this one to have, it’s very important to me that the various elements work out logistically. One of those ways is that it follows a workable timeline. I put a lot of work into making sure that the chronology in this story proceeds in a way that both makes sense and serves the story. It’s also a great way to procrastinate writing in a way that is maybe-kinda-sorta useful, and feels like writing. ;-)

This isn’t necessarily set in stone, if I find a reason to shift the chronology, or to nudge an event a year or two. But it’s interesting to have for reference, and to get a sense of cause and effect. I plan on adding to this as more significant events emerge in the plot, but here’s a good start to things that have already been established.

Some spoilers contained ahead!

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1813 – Gareth Stanton is born

1819 – Dawson Frost is born

1820 – Cornelia (Stanton) is born

1823 – Ambrose Marshall Hawking is born

1829 – Reginald Prescott Hawking is born

1831 – Margaret Spenser is born

1833 – Walter Granger is born in Yorkshire

1837 – Cedric Brockton is born

1838 – Elizabeth Danvers is born
– Queen Victoria is crowned

1839 – Gareth Stanton and Cornelia (Stanton) are married

1840 – Victoria Stanton is born to Gareth and Cornelia Stanton

1846 – Cornelia Stanton dies

1850 – Celeste Leighton is born

1851 – Ambrose Hawking and Margaret Spencer are married
– Justin Lionel Hawking is born to Ambrose and Margaret Hawking

1853 – Clara Partridge is born
– Nathaniel James Hawking is born to Ambrose and Margaret Hawking

1855 – George Bracknell is born
– Elena Zakharova is born

1857 – April 14th – Princess Beatrice is born to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
May 10th – The Indian Rebellion begins

1858 – Catherine Stone II is born to Edward and Catherine Stone
June 20th – The Indian Rebellion ends
Arthur Swann is born

1859 – Victoria Stanton and Reginald Hawking first meet
– Elizabeth Danvers and Dawson Frost are married

1860 – Mary Frances Stone is born to Edward and Catherine Stone
– Reginald Hawking and Victoria Stanton are married

1865 – Gabriel Matthew Hawking is born dead to Reginald and Victoria Hawking

1869 – Gabriel Leighton is born to Celeste Leighton

1870 – Celeste Leighton and Jacob Fairmont are married

1874 – Nathaniel Hawking and Clara Partridge are married

1875 – Beatrice Hawking is born to Nathaniel and Clara Hawking

1877 – George Bracknell and Catherine Stone II are married
– Reginald Prescott Hawking II is born to Nathaniel and Clara Hawking

1879 – August – Reginald Hawking dies of a burst ventricle in London, England
– Violet Bracknell is born to Catherine and George Bracknell
– Catherine Stone dies of scarlet fever in India

1880 – Edward Stone dies of scarlet fever in India
– William Gladstone wins the general election for Prime Minister
– Battle of Kandahar is decisive victory for Britain in the Second Afghan War
– September – Victoria Hawking finishes her year and one month of mourning
– Gabriel Leighton is kidnapped by Cedric Brockton
– October – Mrs. Hawking
– Mary Stone comes to work for Victoria Hawking
– Gabriel Leighton is rescued and returned to Celeste Fairmont

1881 – April – Victoria Hawking finishes second mourning
– Hannah Mason is raped by Christoph Austerlitz
– June – Vivat Regina
– Mary Stone and Arthur Swann first meet

1882 – October – Victoria Hawking finishes ordinary mourning

1883 – February – Base Instruments
– April – Victoria Hawking finishes half-mourning

1885 – Miss Stanton
– Victoria Hawking and Elizabeth Frost encounter each other in London again

1886 – Mrs. Frost

1887 – Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

1888 – July – Jack the Ripper murders
Ripper

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Across the universes

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It was suggested to me once by Jami Brandli, one of my excellent writing mentors at Lesley, that these Mrs. Hawking stories should exist in the same universe as The Tailor at Loring’s End and Mrs. Loring, stories I told about Fairfield, a small town in Connecticut, in the 1930s. They are set in fairly distinct milieus, but they both take place in more or less the real world and deal with somewhat similar ideas– they tend to be mysteries, and deal with themes like societal injustice, classism, and feminism. So there’s certainly something appealing about the idea. Thinking about it, the one other story-world of mine that I think could integrate into those others is The Stand, my series of cowboy stories from the American westward expansion period. It’s another historical fiction that takes place in more or less the real world. I like the idea of connections, that these various characters and story that I’m interested in could relate to each other in some way– maybe even meet.

The timelines do overlap a bit, but they are offset enough to curtail character interactions between the three. Space also makes for a real divide. The Stand takes place in 1849 in California, Mrs. Hawking in 1880s London, and Tailor at Loring’s End in Connecticut of 1934. To illustrate the point, it turns out that Mary Stone and Reginald Loring, patriarch of one of the important family in the stories, are about the same age. Which means, for example, if I ever wanted the leads of Mrs. Hawking and of The Tailor of Loring’s End to meet, Mary would be an old woman, and Mrs. Hawking herself probably wouldn’t be alive anymore.

But I would like to figure out some way to make connections between them. Character appearances, family relationships, that sort of thing. Bernie suggested that maybe Alice Loring from Tailor would be a good candidate for Mary’s eventual recruitment, when she assembles a team of heroic women. I also like the idea of some cool American cowboy– or more likely, cowgirl –showing up in London and bringing an adventure to Mrs. Hawking. Those two stories are thirty years, a continent, and an ocean apart, but perhaps an aged version of someone in The Stand or even one of their descendants. I’m not sure what the best way to do it is, but I would like to figure it out.

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Mrs. Hawking’s widows weeds

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In order to give a good mental image of what Mary and Mrs. Hawking are supposed to look like, I’ve been working to create images that are as representative as possible of what I see in my head. Though of course when casting a show one must go with the actress with the best ability to portray the character, the photographs on this website are pretty accurate representations of what I imagine them looking like– Mary is tall and fit with dark hair and freckles, with a kind, pretty face, while Mrs. Hawking is small and powerful, with arresting features behind wavy blonde hair and sharp green eyes.

I recently held a photo shoot to capture more images of the characters with my beautiful models Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking and Charlotte Oswald as Mary. They were kind to oblige me, and they are both lovely, perfect for the look of the characters, and wonderful to work with. I specifically wanted shots depicting scenes that occur in the course of the play.

I photographed them in a number of costumes, but one that turned out especially well was Mrs. Hawking’s widow’s gown. I do most of my costuming by adapting pieces I find in thrift stores to my purposes. This costume is based on an original dress I honestly kind of hated it on sight. On the hanger it looked like a garbage bag, black and shiny and chintzy. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with dresses made of moire– an iridescent fabric that looks like it has water ripples or wood knots in it –because I always find it pretty when I first glance at it, but the longer I look at it, it looks cheap. But it had a lot of the details I’m looking for in the basis of a Victorian gown, a ruffled collar, puffy sleeves, a cloth belt at the waist.

I bought it without high hopes for it. It just looked so damn tacky in the store. The checkout girl used it to wrap a glass decanter I bought in the same trip, and I never even bothered to unpack it. When this photo shoot rolled around, I hadn’t even tried it in combination with the other elements of the costume, so for all I knew it wasn’t going to work at all. But when I tried it on Frances, with black long gloves and over two layers of full tiered skirts kindly lent to me by fellow costumer Jenn Giorno… it transformed. Charlotte pinned the collar closed with a black and silver brooch, and cut a slit up the back of the dress so that it spread out over the skirts, and they even puffed out through the slit in the back to make a sort of bustle-y detail. The moire looked appropriate for the sort of tapestry appearance of fancy Victorian fabric. All together, it made for a shockingly beautiful, and shockingly accurate-looking, costume. I’m really pleased at how well it turned out, but also that I think this is evidence that my eye as costumer is developing, as I’m getting better and better at spotting pieces that will work in combination even if I never actually see them together until they’re fulling assembled.

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The stealth suit

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An important part of how Mrs. Hawking goes about her work is her stealth. She is a skilled cat burglar to infiltrate the strongholds of her enemies, a spy well-versed in the ways of avoiding detection while gathering information.

I remember how when, at the Bare Bones reading, I said I imagined Mary as being quite tall and Mrs. Hawking as being very small, the audience laughed in surprise. I think it was mostly due to how Elizabeth Hunter playing her is much taller than Gigi Geller, who was playing Mary, but I think it's also that she's such a formidable presence that people tend to picture her as physically imposing. But part of her struggle with her place is that nature made her a small woman, someone that is not immediately recognizable as physically dangerous. So she has to work around it. She uses her small size to be sneaky, to slip into small places where larger people can't go, to be quick and agile. She can't count on being able to overpower her enemies, so she uses what she does have to evade, to outmaneuver, and to strike before being spotted then vanish without a trace.

When she's out on such missions, she wears a special stealth suit, designed for maneuverability, camouflage, and anonymity. Black with a mask concealing her face. I decided I wanted to make an outfit for this look to, and to have Frances Kimpel, my fierce and mighty physical inspiration for the character, to model it for me. I didn't have a good plan for this shoot, and it would be better done in lower light, but I wanted to get an idea of how the costume looked, and mess around with the composition.

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Here is a reference for the outfit. To make it, I bought two loose-fitting dark gray tops from the thrift store and overdyed them twice with black dye. One top is worn like a shirt, and the other one, the turtleneck, is the mask. I had Frances put on her head with her face showing through the neck, then tied the arms in the back. I struggled with what pants to use. I thought at first maybe black trousers with some stretch to them, in hopes of at least vaguely looking like something a Victorian would have access to. But then, when I was digging through my pants drawer, I found a pair of black riding britches. (I haven't ridden much recently, but I've ridden dressage and hunt seat for years.) They're made of a space age material but they are highly flexible, and I like the idea that a sort of "activewear" they actually would have had in the time period would be adapted to Mrs. Hawking's purposes. The belt and gloves (not pictured here, but visible in all other shots) are leather and belong to me. The little leather box hanging off the belt is also thrifted; it's a jewelry box meant for traveling, but I thought it would serve as the box that holds her instruments while she works.

We used the public library in Waltham for our backdrop mostly. I think I will have to redo this shoot in better light– ninjas do most of their work in the dark, right? –but I am pleased with the proof of concept for the look. :-)

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Our homepage image

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Mrs. Hawking, version 1
Photography by Stephanie Karol
Hair and makeup by Gabrielle Geller
Directed and costumed designed by Phoebe Roberts

with Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking
and Charlotte Oswald as Mary Stone

This image is in replication of those “family portraits” that were often the standard of photography back in the Victorian period. The mistress of the house, and her beloved maidservant.

Frances, while much younger than Mrs. Hawking is supposed to be, was my visual inspiration for the character. A small person, deceptively pretty with her wavy golden hair and capable of being disguised as something non-threatening, delicate, and socially expected. But, like Frances, she is fierce, agile, and much more physically powerful than you might immediately guess. The dress does a pretty good job of hiding just how ripped she, and the character, are.

Charlotte not only has the right look, she is around the right age. She is tall and strong, and I liked the idea of Mary having her statuesque Amazonian figure, her pretty face, her long dark hair, her freckles. I thought a girl of the lower classes who had to make her own way in the world should be physically capable, and I like the contrast between her kind of presence and Mrs. Hawking’s. Also, a tall girl gets noticed, can’t be ignored, for well or for ill. She has both the power, and the responsibility, to answer for herself.

Gigi did some age makeup to make her look older, I think it helps. I like her expression here, that even when she is pretending to be a normal woman, the intensity of her always shines through in her eyes and expression. We had a discussion about how wide eyes are a Frances thing, but narrowed, searching eyes are a Mrs. Hawking thing. Also, she never smiles. Smiles wouldn’t be the done thing in period photography anyway, but it never is for her.

Frances is wearing a costume I assembled a year ago to play Irene Adler in a larp at Intercon. It is a thrifted prom dress with an interesting kind of corsety bodice over a frilly black gauze blouse. It’s not totally period, but the combination of the garments gives a nice impression of the right era. The hat is an ostrich feather derby hat from the same costume. The colors, brown and black, make for a somewhat stark combination, but Mrs. Hawking is a relatively recent widow in a time with strict mourning practices (Queen Victoria was a HARDCORE mourner) so the look works out well.

Mary’s costume is a bit fancy for a maid. That gorgeous lace blouse belongs to Charlotte, and though it’s a little excessively adorned I love how it looks on her. The skirt is a floor length double-layered black silk, over another, heavier skirt to give it more volume. The apron is my toile one, well-used; I debated bleaching it but it’s not like Mary wouldn’t be using it. Also I think of blue as Mary’s color. This costume too gives the right impression even if it’s not perfectly correct.

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