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Hawking continuity nods in Base Instruments

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As I edit Base Instruments for its intended release on this website, I’m working to keep in mind a goal I have for at least this first Hawking trilogy— to both build on previous storytelling with each installment, and to make certain that each piece serves as a good standalone story. While I love all the advantages serialization confers, I want to ensure anyone seeing these plays in isolation from each other can still enjoy them for their individual stories, without necessarily needing all the backstory.

Still, continuity is a fun aspect for familiar fans. As I go through this third play, I’ve tried to incorporate nods to the Hawking history and backstory without making it too necessary to understand them in order to grasp the whole piece. They’ll add richness and dimension without shutting out new fans. Here’s some of the little continuity mentions you can expect to see in Base Instruments:

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MARY: Good evening, Constable Swann.

ARTHUR: It’s Sergeant now, matter of fact.

MARY: Really! I suppose it’s been a while.

ARTHUR: It has, and shame on you. Who knows what trouble I might have come into without you to swing that poker and watch my back? Could you bear that on your conscience?

This is a reference to the second story, Vivat Regina, and to how Arthur and Mary first meet— she defended him in a street fight from a ruffian with a well-timed blow from her trusty fireplace poker. His offhand joking about it here shows us that he respects Mary’s capability, and that he wishes he could see more of her.

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NATHANIEL: Nearly ready now. I’ve been in meetings all day, or I should have had Chapman bring my tails by the office. He about burst a button when I told him I’d be dressing here.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t know why, it isn’t as if I come to the door.

Here Nathaniel makes mention of Henry Chapman, who appears in the ten minute play Like a Loss, wherein we learned he was the Colonel’s valet who always disapproved of his relationship with Mrs. Hawking. After the Colonel’s death, straightaway Mrs. Hawking gave Chapman his walking papers. Nathaniel took him on to smooth things over, and Chapman’s worked as his valet since then, but it did nothing to decrease his resentment of Mrs. Hawking over the years. This mention here shows the trouble our hero has fitting in with the rest of the Hawking family.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

NATHANIEL: It was the right thing to do.

CLARA: The right thing? Playing at hero? It’s the way of men, isn’t it, marching off to war when duty calls. But you’re not a soldier, Nathaniel. Your year at Newcastle should have taught you that.

Here Clara is referencing Nathaniel’s brief period where he enlisted in the service, as we learned in Vivat Regina, in an effort to emulate his hero the Colonel. But rather than finding grand adventures, his experience in finance saw him assigned to keeping accounts at the naval base. It had the result of driving home that martial work was not where Nathaniel’s talents lie. In Base Instruments, we see Nathaniel cultivating his abilities as a faceman instead.

1.4. "Please... let me help you."

CLARA: Women talk, you know. I must have heard it a half-dozen times now. That, if a respectable lady found herself in some trouble, there was a… they called it a society avenger. A lady’s champion of London. I’m not sure I ever believed it. But look here. Not only real, but my own queer old Aunt Victoria.

This isn’t so much a continuity nod as a Mythology Gag. This is the first time anyone has described Mrs. Hawking as “lady’s champion of London” in the text of a piece, which is how we tend to describe her in supplementary materials like this website. Bringing it in here alludes to how Clara is plugged into the information found in polite conversation and the kind of chats otherwise dismissed as gossip. Surprisingly to our heroes, she has a remarkable power to learn things because of her connections and observant nature.

MARY: So you’re the cleverest person there is, then?

MRS. HAWKING: Hardly. I was nursemaided by cleverer than myself. It’s all in what use you make of it.

And this last is the subtlest reference of all, not so much an allusion to the previous stories but more of a foreshadowing of story to come. This reference is to a figure from Mrs. Hawking’s past, one of the people from whom she learned some of her most important skills and tricks, who will feature again in Mrs. Hawking’s life to come.

All of these things will wash over the casual viewer. But I think making reference to the wider story enriches the world in which it takes place, not to mention rewarding fans who are following things as they unfold.

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Finished draft of Base Instruments!

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I am pleased to announce that Base Instruments, part three of the Mrs. Hawking series, has a complete draft!

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I had some friends over to read it, as I love to do when evaluating a play, and the response was great. Now I have a direction for the edit! Thanks to Jane Becker, Charlotte Brewer, Matthew Kamm, Tegan Kehoe, and Samantha LeVangie for their great feedback! The stuff I need to fix isn’t huge, fortunately, but it will require some deft tweaking in order to improve, and that level of subtlety will be challenging. And hearing the whole piece together means I learned some interesting things about this new installment of the story.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

Base Instruments turned out to be very much Nathaniel’s play. It wasn’t exactly intentional, but with so many of his close family members featuring, it was only natural that he would end up being the most central character. Even though I want the series to mostly belong to Mary and Mrs. Hawking, it became clear in the writing of the previous two plays that Nathaniel was going to serve as the third lead. And since those first two dealt with the two of them primarily, it was all right if Nathaniel came to the forefront by piece three. Not only does he have the most stage time, his arc plays out with more characters than anyone else’s. I like to think he’s getting really developed.

Justin, Nathaniel’s brother, proved to be very charismatic, as I hoped he would be! Similarly to Clara in Vivat Regina, he was the cool new character Base Instruments added to the cast. I’ve become very devoted to the idea that these pieces need comic relief to balance the drama, and both he and Clara brought some of the lightest moments of wit and humor. I don’t know how often he’ll be able to come back, given the direction the series will take from here, but it will be a real shame if I don’t figure out how to fit him in again.

In fact, the structure of the play changed in an interesting way because of the expansion of the world in this manner. While the two previous installments mostly just followed around Mrs. Hawking and Mary, mostly together, Base Instruments had enough threads going on that its scenes skip back and forth between them. It gives the story a breadth and texture, allowing a much more complex series of events to happen, with a more careful pacing as the threads break each other up. And frankly? It’s pretty damn cool that one of the most engaging scenes in the play happens between two secondary characters, one who’ve we’ve only just met in this piece. That can only be possible when the world and its dynamics are very rich.

My plan is to dig into the edit and get it done in the next few weeks. After that I’d like to have a second reading, to make sure the changes improved and tightened things. Then it will be posted here on the website, and I can truly say I’m completed the first trilogy in the Mrs. Hawking saga!

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“What if the Colonel did black ops?”

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As I mentioned in the entry on Early Installment Weirdness, it is common for your conception of who a character is and what they’re like to change the more you work with them. While a fair bit of this happened with the more central characters, particularly Mrs. Hawking herself, you know which person ended up changing the most in my mind? Everyone’s favorite Ghost Character, her late husband Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking.

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Back when I was imagining Mrs. Hawking as more of a straight-up Sherlock Holmes type— more purely calculating, intellectual, and reserved —I imagined that it might be intriguing if her interior life was something of a black box. I thought it might be engaging if she remained largely inscrutable in her feelings and motivations, leaving the audience to guess from her actions alone. The Colonel, correspondingly, was even more opaque— a distant, detached figure who by virtue of his absence and Mrs. Hawking’s complete lack of interest in him would never be fully understood.

But I really could not stick to this view of them. As the Batman influence became more and more prominent, it became clear that Mrs. Hawking actually had LOTS of strong feelings and motivations, which no matter how much she kept bottling them always threatened to burst out. Maybe it’s a weakness on my part, but I found it much more satisfying to actively, obviously explore her inner life. And by that same token, it became much more interesting to me to make the Colonel a more complex, human figure.

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The first step of that was the devising of his central tragedy— that he really loved Victoria, and was incapable of understanding how that love managed to hurt her. And from there, all these things about him started to assert himself. He was actively excited to have a family with her, and when that was no longer possible he was extremely sad. He realized that she didn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and so decided removing the burden of his presence from her life would be the kindest thing he could do. A lot of people ask me how Mrs. Hawking managed to hide her society avenging work from him for twenty years. The answer to that is partially that he was away a lot, in his capacity as a prominent commander of the British empire. But because we made him more interesting, we found ourselves getting more interested in him. And that means now I wonder a lot about how he spent that time.

Bernie suggested he might have had cool adventures in his time abroad, perhaps serving in some elite capacity in special operations all across the empire. Maybe he led some kind of Howling Commandos-type special force. Who knows what sort of missions he could have run? And, seeing as they were in service to the engine of the British Empire, they might not all have been the most righteous causes. He’s a loyal soldier, but he’s not without moral understanding. How might the Colonel have felt about that?

It’s hard to bring this stuff into the story as we currently conceive of it. It’s Mrs. Hawking’s story above all, not the Colonel’s. But it certainly enriches thing to know what happened behind the scenes, even if we never completely tell the audience what it is. The little character moments it could inform could add so much dimension to our understanding of these people.

I had a vision of how maybe it was an old family legend among the Hawkings that the Colonel was once offered a knighthood and turned it down. Being the reserved person that he was, he never said why, or what for. Nathaniel would of course be fascinated by such a thing, and could ask Mrs. Hawking about it. But she would say she didn’t know why, because, to Nathaniel’s uncomprehending shock, she never asked. And a moment like that says a lot about all parties involved. A great little moment to reveal character.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2017.

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Learning from Early Installment Weirdness

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There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs when writing characters in a serialized story. You of course get to know them better the longer you work with them. But because your stories get completed at different stages of that development process, sometimes a finalized piece features a character in ways that aren’t part of the ultimate conception you have of them. This is often referred to as Early Installment Weirdness, to use the TV Tropes term— when the true nature of the story you’re telling evolves and solidifies in the process of telling it.

I’m pleased that we don’t have TOO much of this in Mrs. Hawking. But as I work on later installments, I do notice things in the original that I probably wouldn’t have included if I were writing it with the understanding I have now. Mrs. Hawking, for example, accepts the job from Mrs. Fairmont while allowing certain details of what’s going on to remain a secret. Vivat Regina shows that Mrs. Hawking will turn down jobs that she doesn’t believe to fit with her mission, so I don’t know if it’s totally her to take on a problem without all the facts. I guess it took some time to realize just how mean she was! Also, given her fierce distaste for interacting with people face to face, the fact that she’s so willing to take Mary’s suggestion to go in as guests at Brockton’s ball— as opposed to sneaking in unseen —is a little off as well.

1.3. "Mrs. Hawking sent you?"
Mrs. Hawking shaking down her own client turns out to be TOTALLY in character

Fortunately I don’t find these to be big problems. Maybe Mrs. Fairmont lied about her problem originally, and that wasn’t clear to Mrs. Hawking until she started investigating. Maybe her plan all along was to make Mary do the talking at the ball. But it does serve as a reminder to consider what’s really in character when I make storytelling choices. You generate more belief in the characters and their actions when they do not what you need them to do, not what the plot needs them to do, but what grows naturally out of the people that they are.

1.5. "Fancy that. You're in attendance this evening."
Would this asshole willingly put herself into a situation where she had to… TALK to people?

In fact, I think that’s the reason Early Installment Weirdness even happens. Because the more you work with the people and the world, the more they tell you who they are. And it usually turns out better when you work with whatever direction it takes. And it turns out that Mrs. Hawking told me she was meaner and more socially maladjusted than I suspected! Lucky for me, there’s a ton of story to get out of that!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th at 119 School Street, Waltham, MA at 2PM and 6PM as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Process of drafting Base Instruments

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At last, all that outlining for Base Instruments is paying off. I worked my ass off, with Bernie’s help, to figure out what would happen in each scene, and while that tactic can be grueling, I find it so much easier to actually draft the piece with that effort put in on the front end.

Here is my current process strategy. I have broken each scene down into discreet sections. On stage, changing locations is a big shift, so scenes tend to be demarcated by things that happen in the same circumscribed place (like the parlor, the ballroom, et cetera) in the same continuous time period. So, if Nathaniel and Mary are having a conversation just the two of them for a while, but Mrs. Hawking enters at a later point of it and they three talk together, that’s the same SCENE because of the location and temporal continuity, but I’m considering them different subsections. I find such chunking very useful, as it enables me to break down the task of writing everything into manageable pieces.

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A glimpse of my outline

My goal is to write at least one complete subsection a day until I have a complete first draft. Since it’s usually just a part of the scene, it will only works out to a few pages. I do well with breaking big tasks down into smaller, measurable milestones, so this is really helping me dig into the drafting.

The one thing I’m a little sorry about is that the more I learn about how this story is actually going to be put together, the more of the original scene drafting (much of it done during 31 Plays in 31 Days 2014) is not going to be useable. A shame, a couple pieces I liked there either won’t be room for, or just aren’t applicable anymore. Alas, but sometimes darlings are casualties of the process.

The only thing I haven’t yet worked out in the outline is the ending. I know sort of what I want to happen, but there’s a few mechanical issues I haven’t solved. But I think I needed to switch gears, so I thought switching to writing to waste less time. Still, the climax where they fix everything is still up in the air. But maybe actually fleshing out the piece will help inspire a great solution.

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“What If I Don’t Want To?” — early drafting of Mary’s arc for Base Instruments

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I find that the overall plot of Base Instruments, which is a mystery, is proving to be hard to nail down. I’m very close now, though it certainly could still change as I test how everything works. The other day I worked out an important aspect of it through drawing a diagram and moving coins around on it that represented where the characters were at various points in the story. Proud of myself for figuring that out!

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I wrote this snippet for Base Instruments as part of 31 Plays in 31 Days 2014. I got the major themes and journeys hammered out pretty quickly, so here's something, getting at the idea that as much as Mary wants to be Mrs. Hawking's protege, she may not be ready for everything Mrs. Hawking's going to expect. This will be Mary’s major struggle for the piece.

What If I Don’t Want To?
By Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, Mrs. Hawking’s maid and protégé
NATHANIEL HAWKING, Mrs. Hawking’s gentleman nephew

London, England, 1883
~~~

MARY: Did you know that Mrs. Hawking studied ballet when she was young?

NATHANIEL: Is that so? I'd no idea, how interesting.

MARY: Apparently she once considered making a career of it.

NATHANIEL: Oh, really? Was she any good, then?

MARY: I don't know. But doesn't that surprise you?

NATHANIEL: I quite honestly don’t believe there’s anything she couldn’t do if she cared to. Why, does it you?

MARY: It’s, well… Mrs. Hawking doesn't often like things for their own sake, now, does she?

NATHANIEL: She doesn't like much of anything.

MARY: That's not what I mean. Everything's to a point with her. She practices skills to hone her craft. She studies facts in case it might serve her to know them. For goodness sake, she only reads for the points of reference. To think of her dancing for only the love of it… why, it's entirely new.

NATHANIEL: Goodness. I think I see what you mean.

MARY: Do you think… she’s always been that way?

NATHANIEL: I’m hard pressed to imagine her before she was so bitter.

MARY: It could have been that. Or… do you think she’s found it necessary? For her work, I mean. To care for nothing but that which serves her purpose because that’s the only way she’s capable of accomplishing the enormous things she accomplishes?

NATHANIEL: Goodness, I hope not. I mean to be of help to her, but I couldn’t bear to live as she does. Devoting herself to nothing but her work.

MARY: What if that’s what it takes?

NATHANIEL: Well, then I haven’t got it. I’ve a family, for heaven’s sake, and a hobby or two I’d care to pursue.

(He laughs, but MARY sits very quietly, eyes wide.)

NATHANIEL: Are you quite all right?

MARY: What if I haven’t got it either?

NATHANIEL: Oh, Mary. I’m sure you too can do anything you want to. If you put your mind to it, I’m sure you could become as honed and dedicated as she is.

MARY: No, Nathaniel… what if I don’t want to?

8/3/14

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Structuring “Mrs. Hawking part 3,” Base Instruments

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Been doing some serious work on the third Mrs. Hawking story, Base Instruments, as this summer I have real time to buckle down and write. As I’ve mentioned, this is a tougher project than usual because of the demands of writing a mystery to be performed onstage. But that difficulty is compounded by all the other things that need to be in it.

The Mrs. Hawking story is intended to be a serial, with all the advantages and disadvantages that involves. I love the the fact that our characters can develop overtime, building up rich journeys and the surrounding setting through what stories came before. With two adventures already under our belt, the world of Mrs. Hawking has started to take shape, including a larger cast of characters that we want to see more of. Nathaniel’s wife Clara and Arthur the police constable, both introduced in Vivat Regina, will be returning to continue their roles in Base Instruments. I also want to introduce Nathaniel’s older brother Justin Hawking, to further expand the literal and metaphorical Hawking family, and add in new sources of interaction and conflict.

But doing these cool characters full justice takes a lot of stage time! Though I will be building on what came before, at the same I want the stories to stand alone as much as possible, which means there has to be enough information for people to understand the relationships without necessarily having all the background. And this has to be balanced with all the stuff needed for the solving of the case. We need investigation, deduction, suspects. Lots of scenes are going to have to pull double-duty, advancing the pursuit of the mystery while still getting in the character moments with what’s looking to be the largest cast in a Mrs. Hawking play to date. It takes a lot of characters to include our heroes, our supporting cast, and all the suspects necessarily to tell an engaging and legitimate whodunnit.

The length of the play is also something to watch. Both previous two Mrs. Hawking stories come in at a lively hour and fifteen minutes. That’s actually pretty short for a stage play, but I find I like that. They move at a good pace and there’s no time for the audience to get bored. But Base Instruments is looking to be jam-packed with story to tell. I probably have a little bit of leeway to make it longer than the others, as seventy-five minutes is a fair bit shorter than is usual for plays, but I don’t want to make this story bloated, and take away the piece’s momentum.

So I’ve been working very hard on the structure for Base Instruments, which has held the bulk my attention at this stage of the piece. It’s generally a rule of thumb to introduce characters earlier rather than later, so I’m trying to find ways to get the majority of our cast in view up front. But the action and the investigation has to get going right away as well, so often it’s a matter of figuring out where people can come in around the detective work.

Striking that balance is turning out to be very important. Hopefully both the character interactions as well as the pursuit of the case will engage the audience, so interweaving them with the correct pacing will keep the story moving. I believe that finding the best blend of these threads will be key to making this play a success.

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Costume interviews with Jenn Giorno – Mary’s new ballgown

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In our first production at Arisia ’15, we were very generously lent our leading ladies’ eveningwear by the costume company Pendragon Costumes. They are gorgeous and beautifully made, and we were really grateful to have them.

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But for the recent performance at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15, we had to find alternatives to use. Given the elaborateness of Victorian ballgowns, and the fairly punishing quick costume changes I wrote into the script, that posed a pretty big challenge for our costume designer, Jennifer Giorno. When I interviewed Jenn about her design process, Mary’s dress proved a perfect example of how she attacked that particular problem.

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

Phoebe: “So what was your approach to building the new ballgown for Mary?”

Jenn: “Well, we had the same corset piece as before, at least, so I had to try to balance the quick change with what we could add to this to make it look like a unified ballgown. So the question was, what could we add that worked quickly and affordably? And of course it had to be in Mary’s signature blue.

“I basically started off with the bolero idea. I thought the easiest thing would be to try to use the same types of pieces as we used before. Her shoulders needed to be covered, and a bolero was the easiest way to add that, because it wouldn’t have been accurate to have an entirely strapless gown. I found the bolero on eBay, and I liked that it was lace. It would complement the color of the corset. It did what we needed it to do.”

2.1. "So it is safe to say that our writer is a man of some background, and was raised in the country."2.1. "But I thought you said there was nothing to identify it." "Ah, but there is. It simply requires the proper eye to see it."

P: “I actually thought that one thing that made for a really nice change this time around was I liked her bare arms. It made her seem younger and fresher.”

J: “It does. Young women would have had shorter sleeves. Always the gloves, but shorter sleeves.”

P: “She had the gloves! It was a very elegant effect.”

1.5. "I don't believe we've met."

J: “Then I needed to match the bolero, to make it look like one unified dress instead of lots of separate pieces. It would have spoiled the effect if we had too many different shades of blue. I knew that we could make a petticoat easily, just a drawstring skirt, to mimic the pieces we used before. I made that out of a dark blue satin with a medium shine. The lace overlay was sort of a last-minute flash.”

P: “It tied it all together.”

2.1. "Oh, how exhilarating that was!"

J: “I loved the way it came out. I wanted to be able to do some sort of overlay, because they were so popular back then, and it would have been a little too plain for the standards of the time without it. Originally I was going to make it a full overlay, the layer of satin under the layer of lace. But then I liked the way the half-length overlay looked when I tried it all together.”

P: “I did too! It gave it more texture.”

J: “And it gave it another tier! Victorians loved tiers on skirts. And the fact that it was lace tied it to the bolero. It was a slightly different color of lace, but not so visibly, and it created a slight gradation of blues down the whole dress. And the way we ended up draping it in the back, it made a nice curvature with the corset’s bustle. So it looks layered and tiered all the way around, even though it’s a very simple design. It’s just a layer of lace folded over itself and gathered in the back.”

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P: “It took an eye to figure out how to make those pieces work together. To figure out how those disparate elements could create the look of one ballgown.”

J: “One thing I’m really good at is being Costume MacGyver. Having a problem and finding a way to fix it using materials at hand.”

P: “Necessity is the mother of invention. Or desperation, as I like to say lately!”

1.5. "They were all officers!"

J: “Yes! But I was happy with how Mary’s outfit came out. But throwing that lace overlay in between the corset and the skirt turned out to be the one thing that I didn’t realize was missing from the look.”

P: “It was the last thing it needed to make it look like an ensemble. It came out beautifully.”

J: “Thank you!”

2.1. "I suppose we must act quickly, then, before he has the chance to bolster his defenses."

P: “And on top of all that, the quick-change could happen.”

J: “That was the most important part. Making sure it could come on and off quickly, with the things we had at hand. I couldn’t just go out and buy a two hundred dollar dress with a zipper in the back. Because of this, of all the outfits in the show, Mary’s ballgown is probably the least close to period. But the silhouette was there, and that was enough. I tried to keep it in the right spirit— the right bustle shape, the corseted look. It kept it sufficiently evocative, even though I know it wasn’t exact, and was still really pretty.”

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

More pictures of Mary in her ballgown can be seen in our Gallery section, as beautifully worn by Mary’s actress, Circe Rowan.

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The colors of Mrs. Hawking

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Color choice in theater has always been very important to me. As a visual medium, it can add a great deal to the experience, and I think you can invest a lot of medium when color is carefully chosen.

1.1. "Is that the girl?"

1.1. “Is that the girl?”

Though not as a firm rule, we stuck to a very definite color palette in Mrs. Hawking. It was partially luck, as in many things, such as the costume design, we were limited by what we were able to acquire on our budget. But as anyone who is family with my own design tendencies would notice, I am often drawn to particular colors, in particular combinations when I’m working on the production design of shows.

Mrs. Hawking is mostly focused in a limited palette of six colors, specifically set up as dichotomies: red and blue, black and white, silver and gold. It’s not the first time I’ve sampled from that selection, as I find they’re highly evocative combinations. The trick is not to necessarily make the audience understand exactly what you intended with them, but to encourage them to draw connections and notice juxtapositions.

1.5. "Soldiers, miss?"

1.5. “Soldiers, miss?”

The red and blue dichotomy, roughly indicates the upper classes versus the lower classes. Mrs. Hawking’s parlor is painted red, to indicate its richness. You only see red in the costumes of the well-to-do, respectable characters, like Lord Brockton and Mrs. Fairmont. Nathaniel even has a red cravat with his day look in the opening scene.

1.3. "Please, for my husband's sake, and for my blameless child whose only  crime is the folly of his mother."

1.3. “Please, for my husband’s sake, and for my blameless child whose only crime is the folly of his mother.”

1.5. "They were all officers!"

1.5. “They were all officers!”

1.1 Nathaniel is the first character we lay eyes on in the world of Mrs. Hawking.

1.1 Nathaniel is the first character we lay eyes on in the world of Mrs. Hawking.

By contrast, the working class people wear blue. I’ve actually always considered blue to be Mary’s signature color, and she sets the tone for the rest of the play. She is the primary example in this mostly middle- and upper-class setting, but it carries over into Grace Monroe, the other explicitly working class character.

1.4. Mary figures out what she's going to say to

1.4. Mary figures out what she’s going to say to

1.5. "Good luck, madam." "To you as well."

1.5. “Good luck, madam.” “To you as well.”

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Black and white were juxtaposed against silver and gold. Black and white was about blending in, conforming to expectations. Black tuxedoes, white aprons and shirts, Mrs. Hawking’s widow’s weeds and stealth suit. The character who must, or want to, fit in, or even hide, use it to recede from notice.

2.3. "Now I want you to leave."

2.3. “Now I want you to leave.”

2.2. "Oh, hecky-pecky!"

2.2. “Oh, hecky-pecky!”

1.2. "I shall be frank. I've no idea what to do with you."

1.2. “I shall be frank. I’ve no idea what to do with you.”

Silver and gold, however, are about standing out, commanding attention. They feature in characters who have the power or the presence so that others notice them, give them the time of day. You see them mostly in the characters who are used to having some control over things, even if in the show it’s taken away. Nathaniel’s eveningwear is in a sharp silver, as the skirt of Mrs. Hawking’s ballgown, which also subtly ties them together. The silvery gray of Colchester’s coat speaks to his pretensions. Gold features in Brockton’s frock coat costume, and is a prominent tone in Sir Walter’s waistcoast. These people are using their power to command attention to themselves.

1.5. "It seems, Miss Stone, that we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown."

1.5. “It seems, Miss Stone, that we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown.”

2.2. "Lord Brockton-- the undersecretary? He is here?"

2.2. “Lord Brockton– the undersecretary? He is here?”

2.5. "He's lightning quick, and I'd wager he's the same body we was tracking the other night."

2.5. “He’s lightning quick, and I’d wager he’s the same body we was tracking the other night.”

2.5 "Suddenly he threatened to ruin me unless I kept the boy for him."

2.5 “Suddenly he threatened to ruin me unless I kept the boy for him.”

2.5. Big finish-- the villain breaks in with a gun.

2.5. Big finish– the villain breaks in with a gun.

When choosing these things, it’s not so much that you are trying to get the audience to consciously pick up on all your reasoning for them. It just unifies the images before their eyes in a pleasing way, and gets them thinking about what is connected to, or contrasted with, by uses of color.

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Costume interviews with Jenn Giorno – the menswear

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

Did you admire the lovely Victorian costuming in our production of Mrs. Hawking? It was the work of Jennifer Giorno, our primary designer and the actress who portrayed Grace Monroe, and my very dear friend. She, like me, believes very strongly in the power of costuming to help tell the story and define the characters.

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I had the chance to sit down with Jenn and ask her how she approached the fairly challenging task of emulating historical fashions on a tight budget that had to stand up to the rigors and quick changing of theater. She had some fascinating things to say about the process, on a wide variety of costuming issues! So I’ll be breaking it into parts, and today’s section will be on one of my favorites, the menswear!

The menswear of Mrs. Hawking was designed after the very regimented styles worn in Victorian England. There was a separate uniform for respectable gentlemen’s daywear, the morning and frock suits, and eveningwear, the white and black tie tuxedos. It’s a very visually recognizable style, so it would be clear if we did it wrong. Given that we were working mostly with found, borrowed, and thrifted items, it’s amazing just how dapper our gentlemen turned out!

2.2. "Why, yes, sounds a capital idea."

Phoebe: “What do you like about Victorian menswear?”

Jenn: “I love frock coats, I love mourning coats. If men still wore morning coats as as everyday thing, I’d just be so distracted, always! Because I love the cut, even more then regular tails.”

P: “We got that in there, with Nathaniel!”

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

J: “Yep! It’s so sleek, it’s so good-looking. For me, one of the important things was distinguishing the high-class characters from the low-class ones, or the ones who were pretending to it. So Colchester is a trumped up thug with delusions of grandeur. He wears a bowler hat, which isn’t quite the thing, but it’s close enough to being the thing, so that’s what he goes to. And his coat, it’s a little bit shapeless, but it’s still a nice coat.”

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

P: “We joked that Brian made it look too good!”

J: “Yeah! But it definitely looked less crisp than all the other men. And in this performance we had him half-untucked. And in he’s not wearing a vest or tie at all, which really speaks to his low-class.

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Jordan Greeley as Sir Walter Grainger

“And with Grainger, it was subtler. He’s technically nobility, but he’s country, so he wears a lovely waistcoat, but his evening suit and shirt aren’t quite as nice and don’t fit quite as well. We even have him in a scene where he’s a little unbuttoned. So with the men, it was trying to be accurate, but getting color choices that spoke to the characters, and making the subtle class distinctions.

“Nathaniel’s looks, his daywear is gray, his eveningwear is black and silver. It speaks to him as a proper, clean-cut character. It says he wants to make a good impression and for people to like him.”

2.3. "Am I to take it that you've been going out on these... ventures... for some time now?"

P: “And to our modern eyes, I think it gives off signals that we can interpret as that he’s a good dresser. I’ve always thought Nathaniel cared about fashion, he’s interested in it and keeps up with it.”

2.5. Badass disarm.

J: “Yes, it’s important that Nathaniel, and Brockton as well, come off as a good dresser.”

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

“Brockton’s also showier about it. It’s part of his persona as the blackmailer. He likes to flaunt his power, and his dress is one of the ways he does it. The daywear in gold and black, and the nightwear in red and black. High class, but also a little sinister.”

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

“We didn’t go with proper white tie, even though that would have been appropriate. It would have had them basically all looking like penguins! That just would have been too generic. We wanted those flashes of color in there from their vests and cravats. It adds texture and speaks to their personalities.”

I’m with Jenn; I love men in sharp suits and eveningwear. It added so much to the visual impact of our male characters to have them dressed so sharply.

2.2. "What ho, gentlemen! I was hoping I might interest everyone in a game of cards."

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