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Cast and crew for Base Instruments and Gilded Cages at Arisia 2018

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Categories: base instruments, gilded cages, performance, Tags: , ,

I’m pleased to announce we have complete casts and crew for our productions of Mrs. Hawking parts III and IV at Arisia 2018!

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Mrs. Hawking, part III:
Base Instruments
By Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin

Featuring

Mrs. Hawking – Cari Keebaugh
Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Clara Hawking – Sara Smith
Arthur Swann – Matthew Kamm
Justin Hawking – Christian Krenek
Elena Zakharova – Jackie Freyman
Lord Seacourse – Andrew Prentice
Kiril Chernovsky – Lucas Commons-Miller
Yulia Sherba – Jennifer Giorno
Ensemble – Sara Dion, Travis Ellis

and

Mrs. Hawking, part IV:
Gilded Cages
By Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin

1884

Mrs. Hawking – Cari Keebaugh
Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Arthur Swann – Matthew Kamm
Mrs. Chaudhary – Naomi Ibatsitas
Lord Brockton – Isaiah Max Plovnick
Mrs. Frost – Arielle Kaplan
Ensemble – Travis Ellis, Andrew Prentice

1859

Victoria Stanton – Cari Keebaugh
Malaika Shah – Naomi Ibatsitas
Elizabeth Danvers – Arielle Kaplan
Reginald Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Lt. Governor Stanton – Sam Jones

Crew

Director – Phoebe Roberts
Technical director – Bernie Gabin
Stage manager – Jack Cockerill
Costume designers – Claire Brosius, Jennifer Giorno
Sound designer – Neil Marsh
Violence designer – Arielle Kaplan
Run crew – Michael McAfee

I am delighted that while we have some new talents joining Team Hawking for the first time, we are overwhelmingly rejoined by our wonderful old friends who have been with us for multiple productions. Some have played these characters through the entirety of their journeys, while others have taken on a different role in each show. I’ve been so fortunate to have the chance to grow these stories with such a talented group of people again and again.

Notably, the brand-new part IV: Gilded Cages will be the very first time we experiment with casting actors as multiple characters within the same production. This can be a risky move, as it can possibly cause confusion in the audience to have a familiar face taking on a different part upon a subsequent appearance. But we’re hoping to make points about the comparisons between the characters who are played by the same actor, that there is something meaningfully similar between the two— or, in some cases, meaningfully different, which you notice when you see somebody who appears to be the same think and behave in a fundamentally separate way.

I’m very excited to experiment with this. It will be a fascinating challenge for the actors, to meaningfully create the two contrasting personas. And I can’t wait to see the results of their work. So come see us at the Westin Boston Waterfront on January 12th-14th at Arisia 2018 to see how we do!

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Completed script for Mrs. Hawking part 4: Gilded Cages!

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Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags:

I am delighted to announce we have completed the performance version of the script for Mrs. Hawking part 4: Gilded Cages!

This script represents a huge step forward for the series. A major goal of each successive installment is to bring something new to the series, to raise the narrative stakes or attempt a new challenge that we’ve never taken on before. Last year’s piece, part 3: Base Instruments, was our very first true mystery, meticulously designed so that all the pieces hung together and that the audience had all the necessary information to solve the puzzle. This year, our innovations were to be both thematic and technical, and demanded enormous work on our part.

First, we’re making use of a flashback structure, juxtaposing the events of the series’s present day in 1884 with significant from Mrs. Hawking’s youth, twenty-five years ago in the Bengali colony in 1859. This not only lets us to tell a piece of her origin story, how she came to be the person that we knew today, it also allows us to meaningfully comment on the events of the modern-day story. The challenge for us is to make this read clearly, to be sure the audience can follow the transition between past and present, and the connection between the events of ’84 and the events of ’59.

As for the thematic challenge, we’ve known from the start that it would lie in tackling the issue of Victorian colonialism. We wanted to pay proper respect to the fact that the period in which we are set was built upon the conquest of other cultures and peoples, often to devastating effect. It seemed disingenuous to attempt any storytelling in this setting that didn’t present a critique of that colonialism, and to deconstruct White Savior story tropes that so often accompany it. We certainly didn’t want to further the damages of this mentality by turning the struggles of these cultures purely into lessons or challenged for our Western protagonists. Writing this story demanded that we do proper research, listen to the thoughts of people who understood the situation better than we did, and question our own assumptions and prejudices. This was absolutely necessary to portray this colonial situation with honesty and respect, as well as create a character that an actor of color would be proud to play. This involves some of the heaviest concepts we’ve ever tackled in Mrs. Hawking, and it was incredibly important we spare no effort in our attempt to do it right.

As always, we could not have done it without our wonderful early readers, both frequent collaborators and thoughtful friends, whose input helped us make the script better than we ever could on our own. To readers Charlotte Brewer, Jennifer Giorno, Naomi Ibatsitas, Matthew Kamm, Cari Keebaugh, Tegan Kehoe, Marybeth Larivee, Shannon Moore, Isaiah Plovnick, and Circe Rowan, we extend our profound thanks for the insight and ideas they gave to make this piece great.

And on top of that, there are those very kind souls who took on the stern task of evaluating our efforts to portray a situation in colonial Asia and depict the journey of our new character, a woman native those circumstance. We could not have done that without those people who were kind enough to lend their time and effort to considering our play and making suggestions and critiques to help us make our portrayal and our new character the best they could be. Bernie and I want to extend a special thanks to Naomi Ibatsitas, Kara Kaufman, Michael Lin, and Mara Elissa Palma for their critical eye, for taking the time to consider our work, and the patience with which they delivered their thoughts. If we have captured any truth here, or done any justice to telling this story, we owe it to these people who guided us.

Finally, I need to thank my closest collaborator and true partner, Bernie Gabin. In addition to serving as technical director for every production, he contributes so much to the development of the Mrs. Hawking stories that he is as much as writer as I am. None of these stories would be a fraction of what they are without his help, and I am so fortunate and grateful that I have someone like him to help me realize these stories— on the page as well as the stage.

I am not going to post the script here on the website until after our performance. So you will have to come see us at Arisia 2018 to find out not only where Mrs. Hawking’s journey will take her next, but how we the authors tackled the challenges we set for ourselves.

So, make sure to join us at Arisia this January the weekend of the 12th-15th at the Westin Boston Waterfront!

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NEXT PERFORMANCES – Base Instruments and Gilded Cages at Arisia 2018!

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Categories: base instruments, gilded cages, performance, Tags:

Mrs. Hawking is returning to Arisia this January!

I am delighted to announce that Team Hawking is undertaking preparations to begin putting together our next round of production for Arisia 2018! We will be continuing our tradition of performing the two most recent installments, the part we debuted the previous year as a lead-in to a brand-new story, in order to make hook audiences into the flow of the series. So we are proud to present Mrs. Hawking 3: Base Instruments along with Mrs. Hawking 4: Gilded Cages, in its very first public peformance!

Soon we’ll announcing the cast, featuring an array of both familiar faces returning to their roles as well as new stars bringing their talent to the table. And we’ll make sure to keep you up to date on scheduling, development, and process as it unfolds. Until then, I hope to leave you all in anticipation of the next direction the Hawking story is about to explore!

And make sure to join us at Arisia 2018! this January the weekend of the 12th-15th at the Westin Boston Waterfront!

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The elephant in every room

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Categories: character, influences, Tags: , , ,

We joke during rehearsals a lot— for fun, about each other, about the process, and even about the script. Even though these stories are my babies, I don’t want to turn them into some sort of sacred cows that are above critique or mockery. So I try to have a sense of humor about them, to keep a good perspective and in the interest of making them accessible and fun. The Mrs. Hawking drinking game rose directly out of this kind of joking.

One of the things that comes up a lot is how often characters talk about Mrs. Hawking when she’s not there. It’s a common occurrence in the scripts, so not only do we mock the frequency a little, we also mock the very fact. Lest you forget who the main character is, here are a couple of other characters who are here to remind you of how much we all need to focus on her all the time!

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They’re talking about her right now.

I’ve almost got part 4 drafted at this point, and honestly this is not going to be the one where that changes. This is her story, similar to the way the first is Mary’s superhero origin and the third had a lot of focus on Nathaniel. But this is something I need to be careful about. Doing anything too frequently in a serialized story leads to patterns and formulas that can get boring. I don’t want to do TOO much telling the audience what to think about the character, as I’d much rather they be forming opinions for themselves. Other characters need focus and development too, particularly when I’m trying to deepen the cast and the world.

But you know, I can’t help but feel there’s something important and defiant in giving so many in my cast this focus. Mrs. Hawking is our superhero— our Batman, our Sherlock Holmes, the driving force behind why everyone is here and what everyone is doing. And she’s a woman; all this action is centered around a female character. I think there’s something not only significant, but even subversive about making everybody be so influenced by and focused on her.

Think about it. Does anybody question why everyone’s always taking about Batman all the time? Does anyone see a Batman story and wonder why he commands so much of everybody’s attention? Hell, no! Does it seem different because she’s a woman, and it’s not usual for a woman to take up so much space in the tale? Think about the Bechdel-Wallace Test, designed because of how much time characters in any given piece spend talking about a man. Why shouldn’t my particular way of blowing that all to hell be that in the Mrs. Hawking stories, you’re hard pressed to find any two characters who talk to each other about anything besides a woman— and one remarkable, important, complicated woman in particular?

I’ve still got to do it right, of course. There’s no excuse for falling down on the writing job. I’ve got to make it natural, sensible, and workable that she takes up so much of the other characters’ mental real estate. I don’t want to do too much telling the audience what conclusions to draw about her, rather than allowing them to do that for themselves. But I’m not going to stop making a woman the center of her own literary universe. All the male superheroes get to be that, after all.

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Completed outline for Mrs. Hawking part 4!

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I have hit my first milestone in my process of putting together the fourth Mrs. Hawking story!

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For the month of June, Bernie and I worked on creating a complete outline with all the story events with the proper structure. Our goal was to have it done by the end of the month, and we completed it with one day to spare. That means I can successfully move on to drafting it, which is in some ways more fun than planning, but in other ways more challenging— because I have to move on from theory to actual execution.


A scene in the outline.

My plan, as it was last year when writing the previous installment Base Instruments, is to first chunk out all the scenes into self-contained sections. As I mentioned, the “scene” demarcations in the script tend to be based on location and time shifts. I break the scene either when the next action does not happen contiguously in time with the previous action, or when the location shifts and the set needs to change. But within those scenes there are often several dramatic actions that happen in the same place one after the other in real time. So I like to give each of those “sub-designation”— scene 3a, scene 3b, and so on. Not only are these useful later when scheduling rehearsal, but it helps chunk the writing work into smaller pieces that makes each one easier to tackle.

Part 4 is shaping up to be a complex play, with many different threads and fairly complicated scene structure. Not to mention all the challenges inherent to this particular story. On one hand, it means more action takes place in the same location, which will hopefully mean fewer scenic transitions during runtime. But it also means there are a LOT of sub scenes— the current outline suggests thirty-seven in total. Most of them will be pretty short, but that’s a lot of complex action to string together. And I have to get more than one cranked out in a day in order to finish by the end of July like I’ve planned.

I have a handful of early drafts of some scenes that I was imagining that did I for last year’s 31 Plays in 31 Days. But as is always the case, as the planning process proceeds, the less accurate to the current vision old stuff like that becomes. So I can use most of it in bare bones form, but it will have to be heavily edited, and one or two I’ll have to cut entirely because they just don’t fit anymore.

Fortunately, I’m off to a pretty good start already! And I’m excited to actually be making the play, not just planning the ideas in it. Now I’ve just got to make sure I properly execute all the grandiose dreams I’ve got in hopes that it’ll come out great.

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Our important new character in Hawking part 4

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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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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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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.