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Act II photo gallery by John Benfield from Mrs. Hawking at WCSF ’15

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Photos of Act II of Mrs. Hawking at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15 now have been posted in our gallery section! Courtesy of John Benfield’s ready camera!

2.2. "Looks to be a service knife."

2.2. “Looks to be a service knife.”

2.5. Battle of the stick weapons.

2.5. Battle of the stick weapons.

2.6. "I hear you help women in rough spots."

2.6. “I hear you help women in rough spots.”

So check out the second half of the photos of our show! And, if you didn’t get a chance to see the first half, they have their own gallery. And, if you’d just like to get a good look at our characters in their costumes, we have a fabulous character portrait gallery taken by Damian Hickey.

Thanks so everyone whose hard work made these beautiful images come together!

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New gallery – Act I of Mrs. Hawking at WCSF ’15

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Thanks to John Benfield, we have a beautiful set of photos taken during the performance of Mrs. Hawking at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15 in our Gallery section!

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.

1.3. "You haven't seen nothing?"

1.3. “You haven’t seen nothing?”

1.5. "Soldiers, miss?"

1.5. “Soldiers, miss?”

These are great to have because they capture something of the magic of all parts of the production working together. We see the actors inhabiting their characters. They wear the gorgeous costumes designed by Jennifer Giorno. They stand in front of the beautiful, ingenious set, built by Bernie Gabin, painted by Samantha LeVangie, with input from Carolyn Daitch and Joe Gabin. The production design, which I and other helping me worked so hard on, all works together.

The images from Act I are now available for your viewing pleasure in the Gallery! Act II will be added soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this lush glimpse into the world of Mrs. Hawking.

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Gallery of character portraits from Mrs. Hawking at WCSF ’15!

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Thanks to Damian Hickey, the CDA photographer at the Watch City Steampunk Festival, we now have a beautiful gallery of in-character portraits from our most recent performance of Mrs. Hawking!

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

These shots are really gorgeous, and I’m very proud of the cast for their ability to evoke their characters in their modeling. Not to mention Jennifer Giorno’s lovely costume design! This is the first section of our new Gallery page, which will be soon followed by shots from the performance itself. But for now, enjoy these gorgeous portraits by Damian Hickey, and see how a combination of good photography, talented actors, and beautiful costuming can capture the spirit of these characters.

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Mrs. Hawking on the highlight reel of Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15!

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Mrs. Hawking is accomplished at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15!

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We had our two performances to excellent audiences this past Saturday, and I couldn’t be more pleased and proud. Thanks to everyone who came out to see us, as well as our hardworking cast and crew who made these wonderful shows possible!

Soon we’ll be reporting in more detail about how this production turned out. In the meantime, check out this highlight reel from all the cool steampunk activities that happened at our venue, the Center for Digital Arts. In addition to shots of scenes 1.1 and 1.3 of our play, keep an eye out for Sarah Jenkins (Mrs. Fairmont), Jordan Greeley (Sir Walter), Frances Kimpel (Mrs. Hawking), and Morgan Ong (Ensemble) in their photo sessions!

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Mrs. Hawking THIS SATURDAY at Watch City Steampunk Festival!

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In just two days, our newest production of Mrs. Hawking goes up at the Watch City Steampunk Festival!

We’re reaching the end of our tech week, and things are really coming together. It’s going to be an amazing show. So please come join us for one of our two totally free performances in downtown Waltham!

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MRS. HAWKING
by Phoebe Roberts

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Two performances
as part of The Watch City Steampunk Festival 2015

presented by The Chameleon’s Dish

FREE to the public
Seating first come, first serve

2PM and 6PM
Saturday, May 9th, 2015
At the Center for Digital Arts
274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Cast
Mrs. Victoria Hawking – Frances Kimpel
Miss Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Celeste Fairmont – Sarah Jenkins
Lord Cedric Brockton – Francis Hauert
Sir Walter Grainger – Jordan Greeley
Mr. John Colchester – Brian Dorfman
Miss Grace Monroe – Jennifer Giorno
Ensemble – Andrew Prentice, Morgan Ong

Crew
Director – Phoebe Roberts
Stage Manager – Eboracum Richter-Dahl
Technical Director – Bernie Gabin
Costume Designer – Jennifer Giorno
Sound Designer – Neil Marsh
Makeup Designer – Indigo Darling
Violence Designer – Arielle Kaplan

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Baby got bustle

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Oh. My. God. Vicky, look at her bustle.

Mrs. Hawking goes up this Saturday, and we’re in tech week! That means making sure all the technical elements are finalized. Part of the fun of our Victorian setting is getting to dress our actors in the eye-catching styles of the period. Our costumer Jennifer Giorno is very concerned with capturing the authentic look for this time and place. Because of this, you may have noticed that our ladies have got an awful lot of junk in the trunk. Because Jenn, you see, likes big bustles.

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She likes big bustles and she cannot lie.
You Victorians can’t deny
That when a lady walks in with a corseted waist
And a bustle made of lace
You get sprung!

Many fashion trends are in some way about exaggerating some physical characteristic of the form. In Victorian times, they pushed out the feminine hourglass, by cinching the waist in with corsets and building out the hips and rear. This latter effect was achieved by means of the bustle, a structural undergarment that sat just below the waist to add fullness to the back of the skirt and keep it from dragging on the ground.

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They could be formed a number of ways, by gathered layers of fabric, special cages one tied onto oneself, or with the use of padding. By the 1880s, bustles had grown to enormous proportions, even to the point where it was a common cultural joke to make fun of them, such as George Bernard Shaw does in Arms and the Man.

Want to pull up tough
‘Cause you notice that skirt was stuffed
Dig that pad and cage she’s wearing
I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring
Baby, I ain’t into that narrow type
Want to take your daguerreotype.

Unfortunately this time around we don’t have access to those gorgeous Pendragon gowns, so we have to figure things out for ourselves. Jenn made the volume in the skirt that Circe Rowan will be wearing as Mary in the ballroom scene by a combination of padding and piling up the lace overlay in the back. The bustle attached to the corset then falls over that, making it even fuller.

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Even Mrs. Hawking, who does not care one whit about fashion, finds herself obligated to wear one because it was so ubiquitous then that it would attract attention if she didn’t. I also like how the huge, unweidy frippery of the bustled skirt contrasts with her sleek, small, lean silhouette in her stealth suit.

So, as the poets say, fuck them skinny bitches in the ballroom– our hustle don’t want none unless you got bustle, hon!

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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Phoebe talks Mrs. Hawking for New England New Play Alliance

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I was lucky enough to give an interview about Mrs. Hawking for the New England New Play Alliance!

In it I discuss my thoughts behind what’s engaging about theater, the appeal of Mrs. Hawking, and how I hope to speak to geeks, theater and otherwise, with their passion and enthusiasm for the stories they love. This interview, and the details of Mrs. Hawking’s upcoming performance this weekend, will be released this Tuesday in issue #49 of their digest.

Thanks to Patti Cassidy of Boston Play Cafe for this interview!

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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Bucking the conventions of our genres

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The Mrs. Hawking stories are clearly grounded in several beloved genres. There are elements of the superhero story, the detective story, and certainly the action caper. There’s a lot to like about these kinds of tales, the excitement, the intrigue, the bold, declarative character types. But they’re also pretty well-worn ground by now, so a lot of the more expected conventions have rather lost their gloss. Not to mention they also have their problems!

Mrs. Hawking is attempting to be a new spin on these classic genres. A big part of that is casting off the dead weight, throwing off the conventions that have become boring, dated, or problematic. Here’s some of the ways that we’re moving past your old expected adventure and into a fresh new story.

  • No code names

This one we’ve already covered. Unlike most superheroes, our guys don’t use code names to conceal who they really are. They have other ways to hide other than behind so-called “secret identities.”

  • No dead parents or lovers

We’re at the point in our cultural consciousness where we see a flashback to a hero’s past and people start to automatically say, “Oh, here’s where the parent gets tragically killed in an alleyway.” Batman is of course a huge influence on Mrs. Hawking, but we all crack up at Will Arnett singing “DARKNESS. NO PARENTS,” so clearly it’s become cliché to the point of parody.

Yes, Mrs. Hawking has her baggage, her fraught relationships, and the wounds left over from the way the world has treated her. But she does her work not only to help others, but to help herself. She wants to fix things, but she also does it to feel like she’s not powerless in the world, to have an outlet for her anger and dissatisfaction. Mary and Nathaniel want to help people, and get a ton of personal satisfaction out of the work at the same time. It’s a more interesting motivation for me to explore than just “My parents are dead.”

  • No “fridging”

Building on this last, we’re working hard to avoid “Women in Refrigerators” syndrome. If I had a nickel for every mother, girlfriend, innocent bystander, whatever, who suffered, died, or got kidnapped in a superhero story to motivate the protagonist to act, I would have been able to pay somebody to build that damn set in my backyard in the snow. As comic writer Gail Simone defined it, it’s when a character, usually a woman, is horribly victimized totally without agency of her own, for no other reason order to motivate another character, usually male, to act and grow emotionally. But it’s objectifying and dehumanizing to whoever gets stuck in the victim position. It’s especially bad when the victim is somebody who’s supposed to be capable, inexplicably suddenly unable to take care of themselves just to serve the plot need to drive a protagonist to act.

While I want our heroes to have to step in and help each other when they need it, I want it to feel like they’re all supporting one another. We won’t be turning Mary into a damsel in distress, just so Mrs. Hawking— or worse, Nathaniel —can step in to save her. Instead, they are all going to function as parts of the machine, each one sometimes needing help from another, but never suddenly becoming ineffective just so another member has a moment to shine.

  • No sending people away or terminating relationships to protect them

You know the drill. The hero tries to push away all his possible allies or supports because his lifestyle places them in danger. I find it boring because it seems so pointless— you know they’re just going to sooner or later overcome the hero’s objection and come back. If they didn’t, the hero would have no significant relationships, and how dull a story would that be?

Our heroes are going to have other kinds of interpersonal conflicts that sometimes lead to pushing each other way— Mrs. Hawking is too much of a lone wolf by nature to make her connections come easily, and her solution is all too often going to be to try to cut people out. But she believes people are better and more worthy of respect when they place themselves in jeopardy for a good cause. She’s never going to try to make Mary, Nathaniel, or anyone else stay out of danger “for their own good.”

  • No infallibility

Batman is good at everything. Sherlock Holmes is always right. Even when they’re surrounded by people who ostensibly have other strengths, even when they act like utter dickheads, in the end everyone defers to their superior awesomeness that turns out was the winning strategy all along. I love those guys, but sometimes they’re so perfect it’s like they’re not heroes— they’re magic.

Mrs. Hawking is a stone cold badass, a smart, tough, super-cool urban ninja. But even in her very first story, we see her screw up and make mistakes. She was spotted on her first mission to help out Mrs. Fairmont and had to run for her life. She gets herself trapped in the rafters during the club scene and needs Mary and Nathaniel to bail her out. She is a real person with limitations and flaws. That’s what makes it meaningful for her to have Mary and Nathaniel on her team. They bring the skills that she lacks— people skills, communication skills, teambuilding skills. She needs them because she’s not all-capable.

  • No “my city”-ing

Brooding over villains screwing up “my city.” Heard it a million times! Boring!

Mrs. Hawking thinks London is kind of a pit. But when your goal is tear down a social order that’s strangling the world, a pit that thinks it’s the center of the universe is a pretty good place to start.

As you can see, we’re not the same old adventure story. So if you’re weary with the endless parade of these conventions, check us out, because we’re determined to show you something new and different.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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Our heroes’ chosen family

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It takes a few stories to get there, but I want to make it clear that the relationship that is building between our three leads is one of chosen family. This is a concept that a lot of our audience finds very resonant, as the ability to choose to surround oneself with those people one loves gives many people a lot of strength. That’s the feeling I want to capture between Mary, Mrs. Hawking, and Nathaniel as their relationships form and grow.

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Frances Kimpel and Circe Rowan rehearse. “I shall be frank. I’ve no idea what to do with you.”

Family in the traditional sense is a contentious concept for these characters. Mary’s mother and father were too wrapped up in their own problems to pay much attention to her beyond expecting her to make herself useful. She tries not to hold it against them, but she they never made her feel like she mattered. For Mrs. Hawking, family is the chain that keeps her tied to her husband’s people, between whom there is a mutual disapproval and dislike. And her father, the only blood relation she ever knew, is probably the person she hated most in the world. Nathaniel is the only one among them with a positive relationship to his family, but because of it, it is important to him that he can extend the definition of that world to include all the people he cares for most.

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Jeremiah O’Sullivan reheasing Nathaniel. “Am I to understand you’ve been going out on these… ventures… for some time now?”

The idea that deep bonds could form between these sorts of people are not expected in this culture. A mistress and her servant, an aunt and her nephew by marriage, a wealthy gentleman and the house girl? Not people who are expected to grow close and come to love each other. But each of them finds themselves drawn to one another as their particular emotional needs and the extraordinary experiences they share make them the only possible people who could fill those roles to each other. They are, after all, becoming partners in a dangerous and secret enterprise. They can’t tell other people what they do. They can’t talk about it with anyone else. They’re in this alone together, and that can’t help but make ties. So we find ourselves observing a very unconventional sort of brother and sister doing their best to win the approval of a very complicated mother figure.

Make no mistake, I am not trying to cast Mrs. Hawking in a “maternal” light. It is pretty firmly established that is not part of who she is, and that a great part of her struggle in society is seeking the freedom to be able to cast that notion off. But she and Mary come to fill each other’s respective voids in that sense. Mary never had a strong female role model who cared for her and wanted to teach her to come into her own, while Mrs. Hawking never had a person for whom she wanted to protect or held shape into the next generation.

As for Nathaniel, he may have an okay relationship with his real dad, but the father figure who he connected to much more strongly was his uncle the Colonel. Their bond led him to want a connection with Mrs. Hawking as well, the person his uncle loved most in the world. And it’s important enough that he’s willing to work for it. The way he and Mary so desperately seek her esteem makes it clear the light that they see her in.

The last relationship is Mary and Nathaniel, perhaps the most unexpected of all for their time and place. As shared struggle creates connections, the work it takes to adapt to the new challenges of heroic life make a friendship grow, as well as the fact that they don’t have many people in their lives they can be frank about their feeling with. It almost makes me sad to think of when people will inevitably slash the characters as fandom is wont to do, because romance is importantly not part of this. Their connection comes from a mutual reliance and respect that does not require attraction or demand to be maintained, nor can it be broken even in times of strife. Your family is always your family, and they become the brother and sister that neither of them ever had.

Each leg of the triangle forms for its own reasons, but the connections make them a family. The people who love you the most, and are capable of hurting you most, with all the support and conflict that any family has.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 7th as part of the 2016 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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Touches of steampunk

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The art design of a production is an important means to establish a show’s feel and personality. Mrs. Hawking is a steampunk superhero play, so we want that slick, high-action, slightly stylized feel from all our artistic choices. Those range from big things, like what the set looks like and how the actors move and speak, to small things, what individual props we choose to use.

I wasn’t totally happy with the gun we used in our first production. It was your basic cowboy-style six-shooter toy that I gave a coat of paint to make it look a little more realistic. So for this one I did more research and purchased one that I thought would make a little more of an impact, and looked a lot more steampunk.

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It has an unusually long barrel, in addition to the cool scrollwork design in the brass finish. It definitely doesn’t look like an ordinary gun in a strictly realistic Victorian story. In that way it’s similar to another weapon prop we use, the Bowie knife that serves as the utility blade Mrs. Hawking was left by the Colonel. In person, the knife seems almost absurdly huge. But interestingly, while on the stage, it seems exactly the right size.

In theater, the action exists at a remove from the audience, who is sitting many feet away from everything that happens. There’s no benefit of a camera lens that can pull in close and show you details if necessary. That means that things often have to be a little bit bigger, a little bit more broadly drawn, in order for them to read to the audience. Touches that are bigger, more ornate, more exaggerated have a better chance of getting the message across.

That, I find, is a great way for us to utilize the steampunk aesthetic. It isn’t only for adding character and texture to our play. Because hallmarks of steampunk include more ornateness and exaggeration, it also helps broadcast ideas and meanings to the audience across the distance.

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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