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A story between the lines — subtext in the Hawking series

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Subtext has always been an incredibly important technique for telling these stories properly. The art of conveying information with just-below-the-surface cues rather than explicit reference is a challenging one, but is always a component of the drama I find most compelling. I used to struggle with it enormously, so that I’ve dedicated myself to its continual practice. When you’re telling a Victorian story, characters are not always going to feel free to say exactly what they mean, so it’s an absolutely necessary skill to depicting the characters in a genuine, compelling way.

Gilded Cages 2.1

Because I’m continually testing myself on this, I challenge myself to retrace my own process, as it were, to vet it for the level of meaning and effectiveness. Subtext is hard in that because it’s not frankly conveyed, it’s easy to miss, so there must be a lot of effort in choosing the words to suggest the ideas without giving them away. I find drama so moving when it works, so I am always trying to improve my skills at incorporating it!

Here’s a “deleted scene” from the flashback sections of Gilded Cages, one that was recorded as a quick audio drama by actors Cari Keebaugh and Jeremiah O’Sullivan. Here I’ve annotated the scene, entitled “Now Where You’re Standing”, to illustrate why the characters say the things they said, what their intention was behind their lack of free communication and understanding of each other’s position. The relationship between the characters of Victoria Stanton and Reginald Hawking was one that was never on the same page, and I have to sell how they related to each other, how such a profound misunderstanding could come about. And that relies intensely on them plausibly failing to connect with each other, even when they think they are.

So, did I do a good job getting my point across even though it wasn’t explicit? Did I pick the right words? Was I too subtle, or not subtle enough? You be the judge! And be sure to listen to our stellar actors’ recording of it, as they convey a lot of what’s below the surface that the plain script never can!

Now Where You’re Standing
From “Gilded Cages”
By Phoebe Roberts  

VICTORIA STANTON, daughter of the lieutenant territorial governor 
CAPTAIN REGINALD HAWKING, hero of the Indian Rebellion 

Singapore, 1859 

~~~ 

REGINALD: Excuse me, but— might I cut in? Miss Stanton here has promised me a dance, you see. (whispered) I hope you don’t mind. 

VICTORIA: No. Thank you for that. 

REGINALD: I thought you looked as though you could use the rescue. 

His impulse is always to rescue her. He doesn’t see her as a person who can handle herself. She doesn’t yet realize, so she doesn’t yet mind. 

VICTORIA: I hate these stupid parties.  

She’s already identified him as someone she can put her emotions plainly out on the table for. She does this quickly because she has so few others like that in her life.

 REGINALD: That’s clear. Unfortunately, now you’ll have to suffer a dance with me. And I’m afraid I’ve no idea what I’m doing. 

He is trying to make the evening easier for her by pulling her out of an uncomfortable social situation. But I don’t think until he’s actually got her in his arms that he realized how badly he wanted it— the opportunity to be that close to her. The intensity of it is what ends up frightening him off.  

VICTORIA: It’s just dancing. 

This indicates just how little it matters to her to be in this position that’s having such an effect on him. Already, their impressions and positions are not matching up.

REGINALD: We don’t all know ballet. 

He remembers the little details about her because he’s so impressed by how unusual she is. 

VICTORIA: The way you ride and fence, and you can’t do a box step? How ridiculous! 

She genuinely does admire his competence and skills. He is not totally mistaking that there is some connection between him, though he massively overestimates it.

REGINALD: Well— thank you— I think. 

He is flattered by her compliments, even though he acknowledges that they’re couched in her typical judgmental manner.  

VICTORIA: Did you learn in the cavalry? 

She finds him interesting and admirable enough that she actually wants to know things about him.  

REGINALD: It made a man of me, but I’ve been in the saddle all my life. Perhaps a trade is in order— your stars and your dancing, for my horses and navigation tricks. 

I like the idea that Reginald was a great horseman, to the point where it’s something Victoria respected him for even late into life. Also, by encouraging them to exchange skills, he’s encouraging their enmeshment. It’s more time to spend together, more opportunity to bond.  

VICTORIA: And sabers. Make it even. 

He gets a glimpse of her martial impulses, though I think he never understands the extent of it. He would have been intensely surprised if he’d ever learned she became a fighter.  

REGINALD: Hm. If you like. Though I daresay we may get it from your father if I do. 

He doesn’t mind teaching her, but he thinks it’s just a lark. While he mostly gets how much and why she hates her father, he does feel he ought to warn her off of getting herself in trouble with him. Again— his impulse is to protect her from everything. 

VICTORIA: Blast my father. I hate him. I hate all of them. 

She trusts him enough to be honest with him. This isn’t something she tells many people. She isn’t a good liar, especially now, but she mostly just avoids people entirely.  

REGINALD: That’s hard. 

The vitriol of her feelings is slightly off putting to him. He is sympathetic, but it hints at how he’s going to encourage her to bottle up her ugly feelings later in their lives, at least in a public context. Reginald is much more accustomed to putting up to get along— he thinks that’s how life works. It is one of the early wedges in their relationship that she will eventually hate him for.

VICTORIA: Is it, now? Well, Captain, why don’t you spend nineteen years stuck here with them, and we’ll compare notes. 

She has no qualms about being sharp with him. This mild level of it is intensely attractive to him. Eventually it grows to the point where he cannot avoid confronting the painful notion that she hates him, but when they mostly got along and she drew him up every now and again it really pushed his buttons.  

REGINALD: Thank you, but the last few months have been enough. 

He backs down gracefully, and accepts the rebuke without complaint. He actually likes that she’s a little sharp with him.

VICTORIA: Getting to you, is it? 

She is pleased and smug that he’s conceding that the place does kind of suck.  

REGINALD: It’s not here, precisely. It’s— what I have to do. 

Reginald is referring to how he’s being treated as the “rebellion-quelling expert” but sees the signs of unrest brewing, and how they’re reluctant to make the changes he’s recommending to head it off. He’s not telling her much of what is actually bothering him about being there– bad feelings are to be bottled up, again –but he in turn trusts her enough to be honest that he’s not been feeling good about it. 

VICTORIA: You mean be paraded about like a show pony? 

She recognizes this part of the problem because it’s the only one she’s seen— plus he mentioned it specifically in the cellar in scene 1.5. 

REGINALD: That’s certainly part of it. It’s not what I signed on for, that’s for sure. 

He acknowledges what’s correct about her observation without going into specifics about what she’s missing. Ugly feelings are to be bottled for the comfort of others!

VICTORIA: What did you sign on for? 

REGINALD: To tell the truth? To do something that mattered. Something that was hard, but I work at it. Something with a purpose, to the good of the world. 

He’s quoting her own words back to her to show her that he meant it when he said he related to them. 

He also uses a phrase, “to the good of the world,” that we hear Nathaniel use in Base Instruments to describe how he sees his work helping Mrs. Hawking. More and more I find myself giving them the same words; I like the implication that he shares a lexicon with the Colonel; perhaps that’s who he learned much of it from. 

VICTORIA: I see. 

Victoria recognizes her words coming from him and is a little pleased to hear them. At this point she appreciates the implication that they are the same. Also, she likes when people seem to be telling her she’s right.  

REGINALD: But it’s been some time since I thought I was doing any good. 

Again, he is vague on details— he is not an emotionally open man. But this dissatisfaction’s existence is not something he’s confided in anyone else, speaking of the closeness he feels with her. 

VICTORIA: Well. You’ve done me a favor just now. Nobody else would have pulled me out of that rat trap. 

Victoria, sympathetic to his obvious distress, attempts to buck him up. But her reasoning is noticeably immature, citing the fairly small thing he did to cater to her childish impatience, in a manner that centers her whims. She doesn’t realize his worries are on a completely different scale. It underscores their age difference— he’s a grown man of thirty-one, while she’s still a child at nineteen.  

REGINALD: Surely there must be some obliging friend. 

He downplays his action, quite reasonably seeing it as a small gesture. 

VICTORIA: And who would that be? One of the officers’ idiot daughters? Some blockhead soldier? 

She has few peers in this military posting in Singapore, and she doesn’t get along with many people. It’s also a preview of the attitude that dominates her later in life, that, as Mary puts it in Mrs. Hawking, “the women are fools and the men are beasts.” 

REGINALD: I’m one of those blockheads, you know. 

He is not offended or defensive here; in fact, he is being self-deprecating in a manner he often is with her. He means more, “Are you sure you don’t mind hanging out with a blockhead?”  

VICTORIA: (dismissive) You’re different. 

This is not an important statement to her. She fails to see how important it might be to him.  

REGINALD: Do you think so? 

Reginald is quite touched to think that she sees him as special— particularly because he very strongly sees her that way. Her stating this is part of what makes him able to believe that she might be falling for him the way he’s falling for her.  

VICTORIA: You don’t think you know everything. 

Most of the people who talk to Victoria like to lecture her, or tell her about how something she’s doing is wrong. Reginald does not do this— at least not at this stage. Eventually a thing that will deteriorate their relationship is his insistence that people have to put away their feelings to get along in the world.   

REGINALD: That’s certain. But… aren’t you lonely? 

Right now, Reginald doesn’t feel certain of anything, since his career is not turning out the way he thought it would. And he’s not quite sure what emotions he’s developing for her right now, so he’s generally feeling off-balance. 

VICTORIA: I like to be on my own. Besides, I’ve got Malaika now. And Elizabeth too, I suppose. 

Victoria, though suffering for her isolation, does not feel loneliness in the manner that most people do. A good analogy might be that it’s like she is starving, but does not realize because she does not feel hunger. She is unable to see how much her lack of connection to others harms her.  

I also love the way she takes Elizabeth completely for granted— who has, up to this point, completely supported and been there for her. Victoria truly loves Elizabeth, but sees her more as a nagging older sister than a friend she chose for herself. Malaika is the only person she realizes how much she cares about.  

REGINALD: Just your governess and your maid? 

Reginald feels a sudden wave of pity for her thinking that her only friends are people who are paid to be around her.  

VICTORIA: Who else is there?  

Victoria does not see the problem; she doesn’t recognize that her situation is kind of pathetic.

(Pause.)  

REGINALD: You know, miss… it won’t always be like this. 

He is acting from the impulse to rescue her again— in this case, specifically from the loneliness and dissatisfaction of her situation. 

VICTORIA: How do you mean? 

REGINALD: You have your whole life ahead of you. You won’t be here under your father’s thumb forever. 

He’s actually attempting to be frank here, at least as frank as his ethos allows him to be. He wants to give her some hope, specifically the same hope he feels— that the two of them loving each other could be the thing that saves them from the disappointment of their current situations. But he is not a person who can speak plainly of those feelings, so he is attempting to say it without saying it.  

VICTORIA: (scoffing) Ugh! 

Victoria is not really hearing the message. She thinks it’s a sort of generic “chin up, it’ll all turn out in the end” admonition.

REGINALD: It might be hard to see now, but… before long you’ll be past all this. And someday, we’ll be looking back on it all and laughing that we ever thought it mattered.    

By use of “we” he’s unitizing them, suggesting that by the time she’s at that point he will still be in her life in a way that they’ll be able to look back on things together. In a way, it’s him floating the idea of them as a “we” to see how she reacts.  

VICTORIA: And you’re certain of that?  

But she is misses the full significance of the “we”— but at the moment the notion does not offend her. And she has come to like and trust him enough that she is open to the possibility that what he’s saying on the surface— that eventually she’ll be past this —is true. 

REGINALD: I have to be.  

He is holding to hope that the future will be better because of how great his current disappointment is. If he doesn’t believe it will all be to future good, he’ll be really depressed.  

VICTORIA: How? 

REGINALD: Somehow, now where you’re standing… I find it seems very close. 

This is a slip. He’s actually being almost TOO literal here. And it frightens him how honest he is in that moment. 

(Pause.) 

REGINALD: Victoria… I— I— beg your pardon, miss.  

 He is embarrassed and a little frightened by the intensity of his feelings. He was just trying to sound her out a little; he was not ready to “confess” in any way. His apology is for being so ungentlemanly forward.

VICTORIA: What? 

 Fortunately for him, though, she genuinely doesn’t get it.

REGINALD: Thank you for the dance, Miss Stanton. I hope the rest of your evening goes on better than it began.   

 He is retreating back into formality.

VICTORIA: Are you going? Why?

REGINALD: Please understand me, miss, when I say… it’s almost closer than I can bear. 

 He cannot help but be a little more honest here in the face of her confusion. But because he cannot just say these things, which is what allows them to grow, even fester, in a way that traps them both.

(REGINALD exits.) 

 

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BONUS SCENE “Bottom Drawer,” and longstanding character relationships

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Categories: character, gilded cages, mrs. frost, Tags: , ,

When you are trying to establish characters with long standing relationships, it’s important to have believable history. Our new show this winter, Mrs. Frost, has many character who have known each other from way back. If I’m going to make the weight of their history have actual impact on their interactions, I have to know what happened between them— at least in the important moments. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out the specifics, because specificity is how you create fully realized characters that have all the uniqueness of believable human beings.

In Gilded Cages, the relationship between Victoria and Elizabeth is incredibly important. They are as close as sisters and care about each other, but the connection is colored by Victoria’s blithe sense of entitlement, and Elizabeth’s position of greater responsibility and significantly less privilege. I really enjoy establishing these kinds of complications in people’s feelings for each other, because it makes for really interesting dramatic dynamics.

In this short scene recording, we see the last interaction Elizabeth and Victoria have before they each marry and their lives go their separate ways. I endeavored to capture the particular complexity of their friendship. Also, it establishes where they left one another when they still had a relationship worth speaking of. I love to temper sweetness with sadness, affection with conflict.

This is Bottom Drawer, by Phoebe Roberts, featuring the voice talents of Cari Keebaugh as Victoria Stanton and Arielle Kaplan as Elizabeth Danvers.

Warning: spoilers for Mrs. Hawking IV: Gilded Cages.

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BONUS SCENE “Hard Truth,” and building a universe

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Categories: development, mrs. frost, scenes, Tags: ,

 

Gilded Cages, scene 1.5

It’s been really exciting seeing the new part V: Mrs. Frost script stand up in rehearsals. Due to the schedule on which this one was written, there was not a lot of breathing room between finishing it and beginning to rehearse. We made a movie this summer, so perhaps we can be forgiven, but it meant I didn’t have that chance to sit with it for a while, shed the stress of the push to finish, and enjoy what I’d accomplished with fresh eyes.

But something I’ve worked very hard to do in this story is to make it feel like a living, breathing, fully-fleshed-out world, beyond just what is needed for any one individual story. When you do multiple installments of a piece, it has to feel like the characters are rounded individuals who have more to them than just what’s relevant in one given moment. So I spend a lot of time developing them and their backstories, in order to feel like they have arrived organically at their current places based on a genuine human history. That means figuring out things that happened to them outside even what makes its way into the plays, and using how those experiences informed their needs and actions now.

By this token, I thought a lot of what Mrs. Frost brings into this story. She has a lot of complicated and not always positive history with the other characters, and she is famous for using what she knows about people’s secret selves against them. This is relevant for how she deals with Nathaniel, who she attempts to break down psychologically by manipulating his insecurities and fears. And a powerful tool she has for this is her experience with his hero the Colonel, over whom he is obsessed with the fact that he didn’t know as much as he thought.

Gilded Cages, scene 1.5

To that end, I had to hammer out some important things about the interactions of Frost and the Colonel. Some of that made it into this extra scene, which takes place just after the Colonel started traveling abroad more as a way to get out of the house, and of Mrs. Hawking’s way. I had my amazing cast members do a rough recording of it, with Arielle Kaplan as Mrs. Frost (then Mrs. Cameron), and Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Reginald Hawking, in a scene I’m calling “Hard Truth.”

Warning: possible spoilers for part IV: Gilded Cages.

It’s always amazing to hear the actual actors perform these on the fly. It really helps solidify the moment in my mind and make it come to life, like it was something that really did happen in the history of the characters. I feel like we bring more texture to the full performances when the characters are so grounded in such rich development. And when you come to see Mrs. Frost, see if you can spot the moment the title character makes reference to an important moment from this scene.

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Mrs. Hawking part V: Mrs. Frost drafted!

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Categories: development, mrs. frost, Tags: ,

I am pleased to announce that I have a complete draft of the next installment of the Mrs. Hawking series, part V: Mrs. Frost. I finished it just before the beginning of September, and with the very first reading scheduled for the 2nd, I spent the week leading up to it cleaning up the first version into something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show people. I very much rely on the “garbage drafting” method, where you give yourself permission to write whatever you need to, no matter how awkward or bad, in order to just make sure you have a complete beginning, middle, and end. I go on to edit from there, and because I find it most effective to fix something imperfect that exists than try to do it the way I want it on the first try.

The reading, as always, was incalculably helpful. I really need the outside perspectives of intelligent, discerning fellow writers and actors to tell me what would bring the piece up to standards. I even had a number of new attendees this time around who had never attended one of my reading dinners before, which meant fresh viewpoints. I’m incredibly grateful to Jennifer Benfield for offering her house to host, and in addition to her, for the thoughts of Nuance Bryant, Shari Caplan, Jack Cockerill, Naomi Ibatsitas, Matt Kamm, Cari Keebaugh, Isaiah Plovnick, Circe Rowan, and Pieter Wallace. I was very pleased to hear that the script has good bones, but I need to up the sense of stakes in order to make it feel more significant, and handle the arc of one of the characters differently. They even gave me solid, actionable suggestions for how to accomplish those things.

I took several days’ break from it, but today I beginning to dig into the editing process. I recorded all the feedback discussion so I can reference it. I find editing way more challenging than drafting, so it’s not easy for me to get going. But we’ll be going into rehearsal for it within the next months, so I need to have a solid draft of the script plenty in time to get started. Wish me luck!

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New audio recording – “Last Night Before”

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Categories: scenes, Tags: , ,

Presenting another short scene from elsewhere in the Mrs. Hawking timeline, recorded for your listening pleasure by our amazing cast!

Base Instruments 2018-121

I really enjoy depicting the relationships between the characters, particularly when it’s a character I don’t get to work with often in the main stories. I absolutely love the character of Justin Hawking, but I don’t know if he’ll ever get to show back up in the stage series. In the meantime, I like playing around with the backstory that involves him, as it’s always guaranteed to have that blend of humor and pathos that I love. Even though these recordings are made very informally, I’m always impressed with the actors ability to adapt their performances to whatever stage of development their characters are in any given piece. You can definitely hear that these are a significantly younger Nathaniel and Justin, which helps ground this moment in the course of their journeys.

This is “Last Night Before,” by Phoebe Roberts, taking place just before Nathaniel and Clara’s wedding, when the two brothers are out celebrating. It features Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel Hawking and Christian Krenek as Justin Hawking.

Base Instruments 2018-24

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




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New show video of Gilded Cages at Arisia 2018!

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Categories: gilded cages, performance, Tags: ,

We now have this wonderful video of our performance of Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages from its debut at Arisia 2018!


Gilded Cages – Part 4 of the Mrs Hawking Serial Play from sydweinstein on Vimeo.

Thanks to Syd Weinstein and his excellent crew, the very first performance of Gilded Cages has been captured for us to view at our leisure. Rewatching the production now, it makes me even prouder of our most ambitious show yet.

So, if you missed us at this past Arisia or the Watch City Steampunk Festival, be sure to check out this fabulous show video.

And if you want to catch up on the entire Mrs. Hawking saga, head over to our Shows page to see all the great episode recordings that the Arisia video crew has made for us.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




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On to filming after Watch City Fest 2018!

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Categories: performance, Tags: ,

Mrs. Hawking is accomplished at the 2018 Watch City Steampunk Festival!

Thank you so much to our lovely audiences who came out to see us. It meant so much that you enjoyed our performances, and that we had the chance to share our stories with you. And we are incredibly grateful to those generous folks who donated, which is so helpful to bringing future Hawking stories to life.

cropped-Gilded-Cages-2018-68.jpg

So what’s next for Mrs. Hawking?

​”Mrs. Hawking – the Proof of Concept” – our first cinematic project!

As we mentioned at our shows, we are undertaking our first film project this summer! We are making a short piece called a proof of concept to demonstrate the potential of the storytelling of Mrs. Hawking, in hopes of someday getting picked up for a full-scale television production.

To accomplish this, we are looking for volunteers!

General crew assistance!

First we are looking for general crew assistance! We are filming during the day on the dates of June 7th, 14th, 19th, 26th, and 28th. We could use hands at our filming location in Wrentham, MA. No experience necessary, but we do need the ability to do minor lifting and carrying as well as the willingness to take on odd jobs on set. Lunch and dinner provided, as well as your name in the credits of our film.

Ballroom guest extras!

Secondly, we are looking for ensemble members for a ballroom scene! On the shooting date of June 19th, we would love to have members of the steampunk community come dressed in their finest Victorian eveningwear to mingle in the background of one of our scenes. If you’re interested, please email us at mrshawkingweb@gmail.com for the specific details— and a shot of your intended costume would be great! if you’d like to participate as an extra but don’t have you own costuming, please let us know– we have a limited wardrobe that we may be able to dress you from, and we will arrange time for you to be fitted. Again lunch and dinner will be provided, as well as your name in our credits.

Base Instruments 2018-50


If either or both of these seem like fun to you, email us at mrshawkingweb@gmail.com for more information, or to formally register your interest! We’ll let you know everything it entails.

Thanks for your support! We can’t tell you how grateful you are for following the Mrs. Hawking story. We’ll be sure to keep you updated here on the website, and if you’re interested in donating, you can find a link to our Paypal below. We can’t wait to bring you more of this exciting new series!

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




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Extra scenes – a late in life moment with Reginald and Ambrose

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Here’s another bit of Hawking bonus material— featuring the first-ever performance of Ambrose Hawking, Nathaniel and Justin’s dad and Reginald’s older brother.

I really enjoy making these audio recordings of outside scenes to flesh out the world and story line around the main narrative of the plays. The more you think through characters’ journeys, figuring out where they came from and how they got to the places they are, the better able you are to design a truly complete and consistent arc for them. Although it’s generally considered better craft if you develop the characters simultaneously with advancing the narrative, I really like them as relationship explorations, which more thoroughly explore the characters we’ve come to care about.

Gilded Cages 2018-32

Gilded Cages, scene 1.3

It’s so amazing hearing the cast read these moments. In this piece, we have Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Reginald Hawking, with Pieter Wallace, who’s come on for the Watch City ’18 performance as Lord Brockton, stepping into the role of Ambrose. It makes it feel a little more real, like something you can really believe happened in the history of these characters.

Today’s piece “No Knights” expands upon an idea that hangs over part IV: Gilded Cages— how the Colonel was, later in his life, offered a knighthood that he turned down. This is an issue that becomes very important to Nathaniel in that show, and this piece elaborates on how that small detail had big effects on the family. It also explores a bit of a relationship that we know exists but haven’t seen anything of— that between the brothers Reginald and Ambrose, Nathaniel’s oft-mentioned but thus far unseen father. Jeremiah and Peter invest real pathos in the moment, particularly in their effort to convey slightly older, more world-wearied men.

I’m really proud of what this amazing cast can do with this background scribbles. If you’d like to see them in action, be sure to check out our upcoming free May 12th performances at the Watch City Steampunk Festival.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




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Extra scenes – a “deleted scene” from Mrs. Hawking part 4

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Categories: scenes, Tags: , , ,

Because I enjoy playing around in the Hawking universe, getting to know other aspects of the characters’ stories, I enjoy writing extra scenes. Usually these will never appear in the action of one of the main plays, but I find it both interesting and instructive to establish where the characters came from to understand where they are now.

This is a sort of “deleted scene” of part IV: Gilded Cages. It’s something that would have happened during the period the flashback covers, and makes sense as part of the progress of the narrative. And yet, it still doesn’t really belong in the actual play. Dramatic works must be tight, and particularly in a play this full, you have to be ruthlessly efficient with what you include. When part of it is supposed to be about how one character came to fall in love with another, you have to make things MOVE— you basically have three scenes, in order to have the characters meet, have one of them fall, and be in love in a credible way. So, while this moment almost certainly happened in the progress of young Victoria and Reginald’s relationship, and definitely bridges the scenes we do see of them in the play, there isn’t really room for it in the final piece. It simply develops; it does not show us anything new.

I had the talented actors who play these characters, Cari Keebaugh as Victoria and Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Reginald, record the scene as an informal audio performance. These scenes are never rigorously edited, nor recorded in a particularly painstaking fashion. But I think they’re fun to listen to as a little bonus, to get a little bit more of what we love of these actors in their characters.

So this piece is called “Now Where You’re Standing,” a sort of “deleted scene” from the continuity of Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages.

To catch the story in its entirety, join us for the 6pm performance of Gilded Cages on Saturday, May 12th at the Watch City Steampunk Festival and catch it in action from our amazing cast.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




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When character moments are earned

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Categories: character, development, gilded cages, Tags: , ,

Scene 1.4 of Gilded Cages represents a striking landmark in my growth as a writer– specifically, the first half, where Mary and Nathaniel are cleaning out the Colonel’s study and he tells the story of how he and Clara met. I love it, and am proud of it, for a lot of reasons.

Photo by Steve Karpf

Firstly, it may be the most purely character-focused scene in any of the Hawking plays to that point. I am of the school of narrative design that holds that “Plots reveals character”— your figures are confronted by events and how they react to those events allows them to demonstrate who they are. I like this approach because it keeps the narrative structured and engaging while still fostering the development of character. You’ll notice that the majority of the Hawking stories are built according to this idea.

However, I’ve historically had a problem with being so focused on plot that very little character ever gets to happen outside of the unfolding. It has a tendency to give the stories a hurried feel, as if there’s just no time for anything that’s not forward movement. Years ago I wrote about this, my fear of just letting my characters be my characters without actively pursuing plot. It’s out of my concern for things becoming boring or self-indulgent, presenting moments that are shoehorned in and of no interest to anyone but me. But the character journeys ARE the point, not an afterthought; getting to know these people and see where they go is the heart of the story.

So this scene, the first half of 1.4, was me making an effort to insert something purely about character and have it feel like it meaningfully contributed to the story, rather than be a pointless indulgence. I actually feel like I accomplished it. It teaches you a lot about the characters, and it’s engaging! By part IV, if I haven’t made you care about these characters and interested in them for their own sake, then I think I haven’t done my job right. So I can count on having won the audience’s attention for just watching characters they like be themselves and tell us a little more about them. By part IV, that time and attention spent is earned.

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And I do think it tells us a lot of great stuff about them. It showcases Mary and Nathaniel’s friendship, how close and comfortable they’ve become with each other, that they share cute and funny personal anecdotes and talk about romantic relationships. It’s long been part of Circe Rowan’s process that Mary is a reader of fairy-stories, and is enthralled by tales of romance and adventure, and you see it in the way she reacts to Nathaniel’s story. And Nathaniel’s funny, self-deprecating retelling adds a lot of humanity and levity to the play. I am amused by the implication that Justin’s been getting the best of Nathaniel since they were children, but this one instance little brother beat out big, in a romantic exploit no less, and Nathaniel’s never quite gotten over a little smugness over it. And one of my regrets about all of part IV was that I wasn’t able to find a place for Clara in the cast. Nathaniel talking about falling in love with her is a cute way to make her presence felt.

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It’s helped a lot by the performances. Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel is incredibly charismatic, and his warmth, humor, and gentle self-effacement give everything he does a certain charm. And Circe Rowan’s Mary has this wide-eyed, enthusiastic quality as she giggles over her friend’s funny and romantic story, that I think sets the tone for the reaction of the audience.
And you know what? I did manage to loop it back into the larger narrative, as Mary’s asking because she’s trying to figure out how to navigate her own budding relationship with Arthur. So not only does it really give a moment where the characters are simply being themselves, it ultimately leads to a moment that does further the plot. If that’s not the perfect way to balance the best of both worlds, I don’t know what is.

It’s a real triumph for me as a writer who’s constantly trying to develop and grow my skills. To see what I mean, join us for th 6pm performance of Gilded Cages on Saturday, May 12th at the Watch City Steampunk Festival and catch it in action from our amazing cast.

Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.

To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project:




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