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Our important new character in Hawking part 4

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Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The plan for scripting Mrs. Hawking part 4

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Categories: gilded cages, looking ahead, Tags:

So now is the time that my collaborator Bernie and I are seriously buckling down on the script for the fourth and next installment of Mrs. Hawking. We’ve been at work on it for a while now, but the demands of production pushed it to the back burner. But now that it will be time to debut part 4 for the next Arisia in 2018, we have made a plan to get it completely scripted.

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We mostly know what this story is going to be about. It will deal with themes of history and the lack of it, of honest communication versus silence, by juxtaposing a case in the team’s present with a story from Mrs. Hawking’s past twenty years earlier. It’s a challenging story to put together, not least because it will involve dealing respectfully with the effects of colonialism. But the technical demands of designing a story that meaningfully switches between the two make it really tough to fully explore both pieces in the hour and thirty minutes we’ve got to tell it. That means extreme efficiency and careful structuring, to keep just enough of the scaffolding of plot in place to enable us to capture the truly important moments of high emotion and character development.

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So our current plan is as follows. I’m a writer who works best when I have a firm structural design to follow, so our first step is to get a really detailed outline of all the scenes planned out. I want a scene-by-scene breakdown of everything that happens, from plot movement to the details of character trajectory. That will not only allow me absolute confidence in the story before writing, it really helps me figure out how to actually draft the scenes when I know what direction they’re supposed to take. Our deadline for the completed outline is June 30th, which gives us the rest of the month to finalize it.

For the month of July, I will devote it to actually drafting. I may end up treating it sort of like a 31 Plays in 31 Days situation. For the past five years, I have completed a writing challenge where I wrote a dramatic scene of at least one page in length every day for the month of August. I’ve found this a productive exercise, but as I have larger-scale projects I want to complete, it’s been most useful when I go into it with a plan of what I need to write. Armed with the part 4 outline, using the 31P31D structure will make it much easier for me to write out the scenes. I usually save this for August, but I’d like to finish this earlier than that, so my deadline for that draft will be the 31st of July.

August will be for editing. I like to have what I call reading dinners, where I invite actor friends over to read the piece aloud and give me their thoughts on it, in exchange for a lovingly home-cooked meal. It’s so useful for a writer to hear a script as an actor interprets it, so as to get an idea of how it would play onstage. And to get the thoughts of other experienced theater artists really gives the extra perspective needed to bring a script to the next level. So with one or two of those, I hope to get enough feedback to have a finalized, ready-to-rehearse draft by the end of that month.

So that is my plan! I’ve got the summer to accomplish this, so cross your fingers for me that I’ll hit all the targets I’ve set!

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Watch City Steampunk Festival ’17 performances accomplished!

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Categories: performance, Tags:

This past weekend, we successfully completed our performances of Vivat Regina and Base Instruments at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2017!

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I am so proud of Team Hawking’s work to bring these shows to life for this event. We played to two full houses that were so packed we were down to standing room only. I can’t tell you how lovely and flattering it was to see people willing to stand in the back for the entirety of the shows just to get the chance to see them. And these were very good performances; the cast knocked both pieces out of the park, with high energy and extreme precision, bringing the excitement and fascination to the onlookers.

And this was a particularly challenging production run. There was a lot of unusual difficulty during the process, from losing cast members to illnesses to random bad luck that nobody could help. We didn’t always have access to the people or materials we needed, so it often meant we had to compensate on the fly, thinking up solutions to unexpected problems. Not only did it challenge my ability as a director to provide leadership through the difficulties, but it showed me what an amazing cast I had, who pressed forward gamely and delivered the best possible performances no matter what.