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Cast and crew of Mrs. Hawking at Arisia ’15!

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

Auditions have come and gone, and I am pleased to announce we have a cast for Mrs. Hawking!

The Chameleon’s Dish presents Mrs. Hawking, starring
Mrs. Victoria Hawking: Frances Kimpel
Miss Mary Stone: Samantha LeVangie
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking: Jonathan Plesser
Mrs. Celeste Fairmont: Arielle Kaplan
Lord Cedric Brockton: Francis Hauert
Sir Walter Grainger: Matthew Kamm
Mr. John Colchester: Robert Imperato
Miss Grace Monroe: Jennifer Giorno
Ensemble: Joye Thaller, Andrew Prentice

Many of these actors are past collaborators of mine. Some I know from theater at Brandeis University and specifically Hold Thy Peace, the college’s undergraduate Shakespeare troupe. Frances, Samantha, Jonathan, Arielle, Matthew, Jennifer, and Andrew all are alumni of that group. Robert was a past director of mine. Some have even experience with the world of Mrs. Hawking. In the staged reading of the sequel Vivat Regina with Bare Bones, Samantha read for Clara Hawking, Matthew Kamm read for Arthur Swann, and Joye Thaller for Mrs. Braun. Frances Kimpel is the model for Mrs. Hawking seen in the photographic representations of the character on this website, and I am fortunate to have her fully embodying my protagonist.

And of course there’s our talented crew.

Director: Phoebe Roberts
Technical Director: Bernie Gabin
Stage Manager: Eboracum Richter-Dahl
Set Designers: Joe Gabin and Carolyn Daitch
Costume Designer: Jennifer Giorno
Sound Designer: Neil Marsh

Many of these excellent people also have a history with Hold Thy Peace, including Bernie, Eboracum, and Carolyn. Others are good friends who are kind enough to lend their technical abilities in support of this project. I can’t say enough how fortunate I am that each and every one of them was willing to give their effort, their time, and their expertise to bringing Mrs. Hawking to life.

I am so delighted to have a cast set down. Soon we will be getting into rehearsal, which I will be documenting to talk about here. I can’t wait to dive right in!

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Jumping in on Arisia ’15 production of Mrs. Hawking

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

It’s been a little under a week since I got word that Mrs. Hawking gets to go up at Arisia ’15, and I have tried to waste no time getting preparations underway!

Organizing the team has been the first priority. I am pleased to report that finding production designers has been going well. My technical director is Bernie Gabin, my boyfriend and partner of my labors both creative and mundane. The set design will be a combined effort by two talented technical design professionals, Joe Gabin and Carolyn Daitch. Well-known larp circle costume fairy Jennifer Giorno will be helping with costuming, and experienced sound designer Neil Marsh will be covering music and audio effects. I am incredibly grateful to all those wonderful people for lending their talents to help with this show. I still need a stage manager and a prop person, but I have leads on who to ask to help with those. I could definitely use a producer, though, which is the one job I’m not sure who to look to for.

I also have auditions set up for Monday, November 10th from 7 to 9PM in the Raya Stern Trustees room at the Watertown Public Library. While I am relieved to see that there are people signed up, we could always use more options! If you are interested in auditioning, please don’t hesitate to email me at mrshawkingweb@gmail.com for an appointment. If you can’t make Monday, I would be happy to schedule an alternative time! It’s looking like rehearsals will be through the month of December into January, and there will be a nominal monetary honorarium for all selected actors.

Later on I will likely be soliciting more volunteers for jobs like building the set. I will also be needing runtime stage hands, although I believe that the Arisia convention has a supply of reliable people from which to draw. For now, I am focused on the things we can’t get started without– actors and designers to start making this dream a reality!

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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MRS. HAWKING to be PERFORMED at ARISIA 2015!!!

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

Mrs. Hawking has just received some amazing and overwhelming news! For the first time ever, Mrs. Hawking will be seeing a full production!

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Yes, the first installment of our story will be performed as part of Arisia 2015, a major science fiction and fantasy convention in Boston, MA! It will be performed at the Westin Waterfront Boston hotel as an event for con attendees on Friday, January 6th at 6pm.

This is very exciting, and also a big challenge! We have a lot of work to do in a very short period of time. I’m in the process of gathering a cast and staff as quickly as possible so things can get rolling.

If you are interested in auditioning, I am planning on holding a call on Monday, November 10th from 7-9PM in the Raya Stern Trustees Room of the Watertown Public Library. If you are interested in trying, please send me an email at mrshawkingweb@gmail.com for more information and to secure an audition slot.

If you are interested in being a volunteer for the production, I’d love to hear that too! Send an email to mrshawkingweb@gmail.com and let me know your interest and skill set. We’re going to need plenty of help!

I will keep you apprised of information as it develops, so watch this space! Now it’s time to get to work!

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“Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You” — scribbling on the ballerina client

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Categories: base instruments, development, scenes, Tags: , , , ,

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This early piece for Base Instruments is pretty much pure idea and very, very little refinement. It grew out of the fact that I want to have a ballerina for the client in this one, who can bring up ballet as a metaphor for exploring some of Mrs. Hawking's issues. Ballet dancers, particularly broken down ones, are a favorite subject of mine to write about. I really like using this conceit in the story, and I think I'm really on to something in this scene. I hope it's as subtle as I'm working for it to be.

The trouble is it was written without context, so definitely needs editing once I figure out what the mystery and plot is. For this I just threw in a few details as placeholders; I don't even know who "Alexei" is supposed to be, for example. But I can sort that out later. For now I just wanted to take a stab at the idea, and even in this rough form I think it's going to be a good one.

Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, secret society avenger, early forties
ELENA ZAKHAROVA, prima ballerina of the Royal Ballet, late twenties

London, England, 1883
~~~

(ELENA ZAKHAROVA makes her way down the hall. Suddenly MRS. HAWKING springs out in her stealth suit. MISS ZAKHAROVA starts and sucks in a breath to scream, but MRS. HAWKING whips back her hood to show her face.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hush! It's me!

(With effort MISS ZAKHAROVA calms herself.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: God in Heaven! How– however do you do that?

MRS. HAWKING: A trick of the trade. I had to find you, and I did not wish to be seen.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What is it?

(She notices MRS. HAWKING's intense scrutiny.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Why do you look at me?

MRS. HAWKING: How long have they been like that?

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What?

MRS. HAWKING: Your ankles.

(MISS ZAKHAROVA stiffens.)

MRS. HAWKING: The laudanum concealed the extent of it when you visited me before. But I know those ginger steps to protect against the pain.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I am only– sore from rehearsal!

MRS. HAWKING: It is more than that. A prima ballerina lives on her ankles, and yours are crumbling beneath you. They will only grow worse with time.

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: You're on your on your way out, Miss Zakharova.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Please. You mustn't tell anyone.

MRS. HAWKING: This changes things.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: It changes nothing of this!

MRS. HAWKING: If your position is no longer secure, then you have reason to act against the hierarchy of the company.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I would never! The company is my life!

MRS. HAWKING: And that life is about to end.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I have done nothing but the dance since I was a girl of six! I have sacrificed so much. All I had to my name was my career and Alexei, and now Alexei is dead. Can you not understand?

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: How could you? Your vessel has never betrayed you.

MRS. HAWKING: Miss Zakharova–

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Look at you! To be able to climb as you do like a cat in a tree! Might I be so impertinent as to ask madam's age?

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: Forty-three.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Forty-three. I shall have fortune to walk so long. I would do murder for the clean lines of your legs.

MRS. HAWKING: Nonsense.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Any dancer would.

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: The ballet is my one calling. And in perfecting it, I have ruined myself for it.

MRS. HAWKING: You concealed it.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: So that I might have it just a few moments longer! They will replace me in a breath. In my place, what would you have done?

MRS. HAWKING: That's the trouble. I might have done anything.

8/12/14

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The identity of Mrs. Johanna Braun

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Categories: character, development, influences, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

Warning: spoilers contained herein for “Vivat Regina”

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Though there are plenty of clues in Vivat Regina, it’s never explicitly revealed who the client calling herself Mrs. Johanna Braun truly is. I chose to leave it unsaid in the text of that piece, but it may interest those who have read it to know her real name. She is, in fact, a figure from Victorian history— Princess Beatrice, fifth daughter and ninth and final child of the queen to whom the title refers.

The idea to have a princess for a client first occurred to me when I was doing research by watching this excellent BBC documentary called Queen Victoria’s Children. This details the queen’s personality, her relationship with her husband, and the dynamic she established with her nine children. This was highly influential as to the conception of the character of Queen Victoria that I would be assuming for these stories. But the more I learned about Victoria’s daughters, the more it struck me that a princess in disguise would make for a great client of Mrs. Hawking’s.

The royal couple had five daughters— Victoria, Alice, Louisa, Helena, and Beatrice. At first I was leaning towards using Louisa as the client. Louisa was intelligent, outspoken, educated; she was one of the first women to study art at this particular college in London. You might even consider her something of a “pre-feminist,” and she seemed right up Mrs. Hawking’s alley. However, the timeline of Louisa’s life did not really work out. By 1881, she was already married and living in Canada; it wasn’t really feasible for her to even be visiting London.

So I started looking at the other daughters. The older ones were out because they were also married; in fact, they were already queens in Europe. So that meant it had to be either Helena or Beatrice. What made the decision for me was learning how Queen Victoria treated Beatrice after her husband Prince Albert died. She basically made Beatrice, who was only four years old at the time, into her misery bucket, keeping the little girl her constant companion to absorb the full weight of her mother’s enormous grief. That’s a terrible burden to place on such a young child, and the level of emotional abuse that Beatrice endured due to her mother’s overwhelming control and dependency screwed her up pretty seriously. It was noted that she seemed constantly stressed and aged beyond her years, a meek shadow afraid to ever cross her domineering parent. (It’s a detail I included in the stage direction of Vivat Regina.)

So the conception of this client’s role as as a sort of supporter of Mrs. Hawking’s and a person who is using her own personal agency to step outside the system had to be transformed into something that would fit Beatrice’s personality better. Instead she became more of somebody for whom seeking Mrs. Hawking’s support is an enormous marshaling of courage and confidence that she did not normally have. It became an act of quiet rebellion rather than brazen defiance. I found this useful for the moment when she asserts to Mrs. Hawking that everyone has to find their own way to survive in a harsh world, and our hero’s ways cannot necessarily be her ways. I find myself drifting to this conception of Mrs. Hawking’s clients often, however, and I need to make sure in the future they do not all default to this pattern.

One thing that may have thrown people, by design on my part, is the character’s having a slight German accent. Besides the opportunity it gave me to parallel the opening of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” that is actually historical for the family. We tend to picture English royalty with crisp RP accents, but Victoria was a scion of the House of Hanover, and her upbringing, as well as the language spoken in her home, was extremely German-influenced. On top of that, her husband Prince Albert was from the province of Saxe-Coburg. This of course influenced the children, and while they grew out of it the more exposure they had to the outside world, it was noted how in old age when the royal siblings were reunited, they reverted to the very German accents of their childhood. I thought this slightly obscure bit of history made for a neat way to simultaneously hint at and hide who she was.

In the original draft, I left her identity significantly more ambiguous. Basically without at least a slight grasp of Victorian history, it was pretty opaque. Lately I’ve developed a taste for drama that has a lighter touch, that operates on a more subtle level, so I thought it would be better to never make it clear. But it was suggested to me by early readers that the possibility of figuring out would be more satisfying for the audience, so I gave her that exchange with Mrs. Hawking with “That’s the system your mother has made for us,” and “When majesties and potentates bow before her, how is one such as I to defy her?” That pretty well gives it away. Most people were able to grasp that she was a princess, even if they couldn’t name her as Beatrice.

I’ve painted a pretty tragic picture of her in the story, but it may interest you to know that she turns out okay. While the queen never really let her leave her side, she did eventually meet a man she loved, a minor prince called Henry of Battenburg. They will get married in 1885, and they will live a happy life together. So if “Mrs. Braun” ever encounters our heroes again— and who knows? —she will be a woman in a better place than she was that night she came seeking justice in 1881.

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The problem of Hawking family resemblance

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Categories: gilded cages, performance, Tags: , , ,

When you’re writing something to be performed by people, you can’t get too married to what characters look like. Yes, I have pretty strong mental images of Mrs. Hawking and Mary, inspired by my lovely friends and models Frances Kimpel and Charlotte Oswald, but when you need to cast people you have to be open to the person who can give the best performance in the role, not necessarily the one who most closely resembles your image of it. Still, I can’t help but picture what these characters look in my head.

Drama is a visual medium; what the audience sees can do as much to tell the story as the words the characters speak. So it’s very possible that what the characters look like could influence that storytelling. I imagine Nathaniel, for example, to be a tall, boyishly handsome man in his late twenties with a swimmer’s build and Irish-setter-red hair. And it just so happens that Nathaniel’s appearance, if not those imagined details specifically, has had an explicit effect on the plot. In Vivat Regina, Mrs. Hawking tells him that it’s hard for her to learn to let down her guard with someone who looks so much like the Colonel, the man from whom she spent years hiding everything that was important to her.

Mostly the discomfort of that would have to be informed. You might have some ability to actually depict it by what you chose to have as the portrait of the Colonel over the mantelpiece, but you’d mostly have to take Mrs. Hawking’s word for it that the resemblance existed. That means the impact, the unsettlement, she feels from it is difficult to translate to the audience’s perception. This kind of bothered me, as it’s always better to make the audience feel the emotions rather then just tell them about them. But then it occurred to me that there’s a theatrical way to make the audience see what Mrs. Hawking sees– eventually, at any rate.

In the the fourth piece I have planned, I want to tell Mrs. Hawking’s origin story, how she came to be the person she is today, and part of that is telling how she came to meet and marry the Colonel. This would require depicting Reginald Hawking as a young man. I plan on having flashbacks to that time juxtaposed to a case our heroes were working on in the present day, which of course would involve Nathaniel. My brainwave was that in that play, you could actually double-cast the two characters to be played by the same actor.

Not only would that signal the physical resemblance, I feel like there would be something truly uncomfortable for the audience to see the man they’re accustomed to seeing as her nephew pursuing her in the romantic manner that her eventual husband does. The weirdness for the audience would be caused by Reginald’s resemblance to Nathaniel, rather than how it is vice versa for Mrs. Hawking, probably because of how weird it would be to see a man who looks like that falling in love with her like Reginald does. But I think it would manage to convey the same feeling Victoria experiences, even if the reason for it is different. I think causing that discomfort would be extremely effective in conveying how difficult that relationship was for her, which would utilize the tools of theater to deliver a more visceral audience experience.

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Mrs. Hawking’s strengths and weaknesses as a covert operative

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Categories: character, Tags: , , ,

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When devising challenges for my heroes to face, I like to choose those that will interact interestingly with the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. I want to display the things they’re good at to make for cool, clever moments, and challenge the things they’re bad at so as to maximize the drama. Mrs. Hawking in particular is an interesting combination of remarkable talents and glaring flaws that I want to affect the way she maneuvers in the stories.

As I see it, Mrs. Hawking’s strengths tend to fall into these general categories.

Combat. She is a truly dangerous warrior when it comes down to it. She is trained in a number of martial arts styles, mostly Asian ones, learned during her time living in the colonies. Her preferred weapon is the knife, both as a melee and a thrown weapon. She is extremely strong for her size, about five-foot-two in height and a hundred and fifteen pounds of pure lean, ropy muscle. Her pain tolerance is high, but because she is small she relies very much on speed and agility and her ability to dodge blows.

Infiltration. She is an experienced cat burglar and second story woman. She has been a skilled climber with excellent balance since she was a child. She is flexible in the extreme and can fit through very tiny spaces. She can pick locks and even pockets. She know how to remain completely silent and out of sight. This is perhaps her most honed and elevated skill set; there are more dangerous fighters or more astute detectives, but her stealth abilities are second to none.

Detection. Her keen senses and extreme intelligence have lent themselves well to developing an eye toward evaluating evidence and determining implications. While not on the level of a Sherlock Holmes, she is skilled at noticing small relevant details that may provide clues. When her attention is focused, she at times can absorb memories eidetically.

Tactics. Mrs. Hawking is skilled at masterminding plots to tackle problems. Her keenly analytical mind excels at evaluating challenges and devising creative, unexpected solutions to solve them. She makes a point of always attempting to think several moves ahead. She knows how to evaluate risk, utilize the circumstances and setting around her, and see her plans through to execution.

So she is a warrior, a spy, a detective, and a tactician. But she is not omnicompetent, and those gaps in her expertise are important, as they provide her with challenges and necessitate the help of the members of her team.

And so, her weaknesses.

Deception. Mrs. Hawking is not an actor. While capable of telling lies coolly and concealing truths, she cannot put on any façade more complicated than simply blanking her true feelings. She has no ability to chatter with or charm anyone. As Bare Bones actor Brad Smith once said, “She has no Bruce Wayne.” She can hold her tongue and project neutrality, but she cannot pretend that she is any person other than who she is.

Reading others. She often has difficulty evaluating people’s feelings and motives because she does not always relate to them. Her personal standards and judgmental harshness often make her less empathetic. It also leads to incorrect assessments of situations, which in turn can lead her to making the wrong move in response.

Leadership. She has become so accustomed to working alone that she is not good at acting as a leader and manager of other people. She has little idea how to teach or inspire those who look to her for guidance. This also means she doesn’t always know how to utilize the talents of her team members to maximum effect. Her issues trusting others also mean that she has difficulty relying on anyone other than herself.

Pride. Her personal preferences and baggage affect her work more than she thinks. She often chooses the path that she finds most comfortable to her preferences or vanity rather than truly the most efficient or sensible one. She would rather take an elaborate covert action if it means she can avoid talking to people, she makes choices to validate her worldview, and she dislikes admitting that someone else might know how to handle something better than she does.

I think those things make for an interesting combination. Those are the major things she uses or deals with in her work, but there’s a handful of smaller details as well. Among the miscellany:

In the manner of many highly dynamic and productive people, she rarely requires more than five hours of sleep a night.

She speaks a smattering of a number of different languages, but isn’t fluent in any of them.

She studied ballet seriously in her youth. She is partially self-taught, only intermittently tutored by anyone knowledgeable, and her style displayed some talent and a wild enthusiasm but a slight lack of precision. She has not attempted any ballet in many years.

She is very experienced in needlepoint and embroidery. Though she takes no enjoyment from it, she was obliged to spend a great deal of time on it in her youth, and practices it when working out a knotty thought problem because it helps her think.

Next I’ll have to break down Mary and Nathaniel in the same way. :-)

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What I learned from the Vivat Regina reading

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Categories: looking ahead, performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , ,

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Photo by Beckie Hunter.

I was extremely pleased with how the staged reading of Vivat Regina went this past Thursday. My actors did such a wonderful job bringing the story to life, I couldn’t have been happier with the representation of my work. I had a very nice audience who reacted appreciatively to it, making me believe the piece is in fact in a solid state. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make this possible.

Readings should not only exhibit a piece, they should also teach you something about it as its writer. What jumped out at me in this more than anything else was that people responded to the humor of it. I expected them to like the plot and character arcs, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that pretty much all the jokes got laughs. And I was told afterward that the funny parts were some of the most enjoyable of the entire play.

I would not say I am a particularly skilled comedy writer. But I do understand the value of lightening up a serious narrative with humor. A story like Mrs. Hawking’s, that of a frankly unhappy person acting on their rage and resentment, can easily go too far into the territory of “grimdark,” like Batman at his worst. That can get overbearing and excessively heavy very quickly. So I am extremely happy to hear that not only were my humorous moments in Vivat Regina genuinely funny, but they helped balance the serious parts rather than take away from them.

A lot of the humor is based in knowledge of the Victorian period, like when Nathaniel say that Newcastle was his grand military station abroad, so I was concerned it wouldn’t read. But maybe my audience was just smart, because most of it seemed to come across! Also the humor in Mary and Arthur’s banter in the scene with their first meeting seemed to do a lot to make people enjoy it. I very much wanted Arthur to come off as charming, and I think him being an effortlessly funny and sharp-witted guy helped. That scene was very cute, and did a lot to warm people to the relationship to come.

One thing I did not rely on was making any of the characters inherently absurd. I want this to be a story about people rather than caricatures, and I don’t want anyone reduced to a punchline. Take Clara, for example. Clara is a major source of comic relief in this piece, with her biting wit and mocking critiques of our hero. But I very much wanted her to be a substantial person whose humor came from the clever things she said, rather than from her being an absurd person. To annoy Mrs. Hawking, she intentionally behaves like a parody of the gossipy, self-absorbed society woman her aunt believes her to be, but it is put on, not her true nature. I was extremely glad to see that read.

What I take away from all this is that I should make a real effort in the future to include humor in the Mrs. Hawking stories. That’s a bit of a daunting prospect, as I know comedy is not my forte, but I’m glad to have gathered that information. I want these pieces to be as enjoyable and multi-layered as possible, and the lighter moments really seem to add a lot.

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Bare Bones staged reading of Vivat Regina tonight!

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Categories: performance, vivat regina, Tags:

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Tonight is our one-night-only staged reading of Vivat Regina at Bare Bones with Theater at First!

Last night we held our final rehearsal, which I am pleased to report went well. That was the first time we were able to run through the whole play in its entirety, and it was fascinating to see how the cast used it to carry them through their arcs. More than the original, this is a piece where each scene builds upon the scenes that came before it. It builds up a real momentum that way, where the personal moments and the plot of the caper weave in an out of each other toward their conclusion. I was very proud of the actors for using it to give each character’s story a trajectory. It’s challenging, too, to convey the sense of action and adventure when it’s only a reading, but the narrators reading the stage directions do a phenomenal job telling that part of the story. I think it’s very exciting, even without all the visuals, and I hope you will too.

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So please join us tonight! Come to Unity Somerville at 6 William Street in Somerville, MA at 8pm tonight, October 2nd. Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted to support Theatre@First.

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Meet Elizabeth Hunter, voice of Victoria Hawking in Bare Bones!

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Categories: character, performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

Meet Elizabeth Hunter, the voice of Victoria Hawking in our upcoming staged reading of Vivat Regina with Bare Bones!

Hear Elizabeth’s perspective on portraying the complicated, maddening, and hopefully fascinating lead of our story.

Vivat Regina will be read at 8PM on Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 at Unity Somerville on 6 William Street, Somerville, MA, courtesy of Theatre@First.

And be sure to like us on Facebook!

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