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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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Categories: development, performance, Tags: , ,

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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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We’re up on the schedule at the Watch City Steampunk Festival!

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The Watch City Steampunk Festival has now posted its complete schedule of events!  

The Festival takes place from the evening of Friday, May 8th to the evening of Saturday, May 9th. The opening night kickoff on Friday will consist of two parties! The first one at Global Thrift on Moody Street in Waltham, from 7PM to 9PM, where you can purchase items to make yourself a proper steampunk costume. The second one is at the Center for Digital Arts, also on Moody Street, from 8PM to 10PM while light refreshments are served while you wander through a steampunk art exhibit. You may even have a chance to glimpse the set for Mrs. Hawking up close and in person, as it will already be in our CDA performance space. 

Saturday, May 9th is the full day of free steampunk events! The complete schedule of events is now available from viewing, jam-packed with interesting art, performance, music, and exhibition. There is also a list of vendors who will be selling their various steampunk-related crafts, wares, and art pieces on Waltham Common. And of course, Mrs. Hawking is proud to be featured among them! As you can see, there will be two chances to see us, one at 2PM and one at 6PM in the Center for Digital Arts. As our new trailer for the show demonstrates, you won’t want to miss it.

So as if our grand adventure weren’t enough to draw you to the Festival, the myriad of other excellent events for adults and families, steampunks and casual fans, will make for an excellent time. Come for the badass Victorian lady Batman, stay for the rest of the steampunk music, art, and performance!

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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Theatrical trailer for Mrs. Hawking!

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Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: ,

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Curious for a sneak peek of our upcoming production of Mrs. Hawking at the Watch City Steampunk Festival? Well, check out our offical theatrical trailer to get a glimpse of the play!

Many thanks to Bernie Gabin and Joe Gabin for putting this together! We hope to capture the high action, high intensity ride of our steampunk superhero story, so as to intrigue both fans of the genre and casual viewers alike. So if that looks exciting to you, please be sure to join us for our two performances this coming May!

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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Reviewers wanted for Mrs. Hawking at WCSF!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nathaniel’s atypical role in defining the three-man team

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A major goal of the plot in “Mrs. Hawking” is the establishment of the three-man superhero team of Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel. It takes a little working out to nail down everyone’s role, carrying over into the interpersonal conflict in the next story “Vivat Regina,” but by the end of this first play, we see a clear example of how they might fit together. But forming the team is not just for the sake of their superheroing work. It’s also for building a compelling social dynamic that we can explore over the course of their adventures.

I’m hoping to find ways to distinguish this team from other examples in the genre. Just fact that the women take the foremost roles, and actually outnumber the male members, is a good start— and way rarer than it should be. But more than that, I’m recasting the traditional roles characters like that fit into. Mrs. Hawking is the mastermind who runs point on all their operations. Mary is the man on the ground, ready to create a distraction or throw a punch. Still, occasionally you do see women in physical or leadership roles nowadays. So perhaps most unusual at all is Nathaniel, whose role on the team is probably what most people would consider to be the most traditionally feminine.

We learn quickly in “Mrs. Hawking” that Nathaniel is a talker and a people person, able to gain information and advantage through interaction with others and improvising conversation on the spot. He is good-looking, well-connected, and has obvious charisma, which makes him an easy candidate for their faceman. The team charmer, however, is a role usually played by a team’s female member. Additionally, from an interpersonal perspective, Nathaniel is their peacemaker. It is important to him that those close to him are getting along, and he is the one who takes steps to defuse tension and see that relationships are repaired. This is even more striking than the faceman position, as the job of tending to the emotional health of relationships is even more rarely placed on male characters.

I like this because it makes Nathaniel fairly unique in this respect. Also it makes for an interesting juxtaposition with his process of unlearning the standards of patriarchal society that is a big part of his character journey. That’s something I enjoy doing, casting conventionally masculine characters in lights considered to be traditionally feminine, because it upends expectations and widens the variety of portrayals we see in literature. Undermining the rigid definition of gender roles is a worthy goal, but more than that, it serves to define Nathaniel as an individual, giving more dimension to a character I hope to make interesting, unusual, and worth following.

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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Reimagining a production the second time around

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Theater is an interesting, possibly unique art form in that because you produce it live, every time you mount a new production you have the option to change things about it. You can use new actors, new costumes, new blocking, new interpretation of the characters, all of which can make the end product feel like a different story. I tend to encourage people, especially when they’re putting on classic plays that people have seen many times, to put a new and different spin on things to excite the audience. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing yet another Hamlet, Earnest, or Streetcar when we’ve seen it a hundred times?

It makes an interesting question while putting together this next production of Mrs. Hawking. This is a new play that I’m trying to get out in the public conscious, rather than a well-known classic. I’m still working to create an image of what the story and characters are in people’s minds. That means I’m inclined to portray it according to the vision of it I’m hoping to establish. I’m not sure it’s ready to dilute its identity while still in its infancy out in the world.

However, the circumstances of this production are a bit different than the original. We have about half the cast played by new actors, who will necessarily have different capabilities, weaknesses, and affects. In some cases it will be necessary to amend things for that, and it only makes sense to take advantage of different talents. For example, Circe Rowan, our Mary this time around, has a remarkable knowledge and facility for accents, and her ability makes it possible to give Mary a very distinct and accurate working-class lilt.

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Of course, when something needs to change, because it’s my play, I have the right to change anything I need to about it in order to make it work. As written, Sir Walter Grainger has a Yorkshire brogue, specified by the words he uses that are particular to that dialect. However, this time around our Sir Walter is played by Jordan Greeley, and he may feel like he can do a better job with a different accent. In that case, maybe it makes sense to change the script to suit that. As long as the spirit of the piece is captured— that he has a particular country accent, and Mrs. Hawking can determine it by his linguistic quirks —it doesn’t really matter what the particulars are. Flexibility may serve the performance best, and it’s one of the advantages of doing living theater.

We’ll be feeling out what the best choices are as we go. Of course the biggest priority is making sure we make the best production we can. A second run is a chance to bring things to an even higher level of polish, and maybe even correct some mistakes along the way.

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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