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Mary’s big future

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Of course a big part of any further stories will have to be Mary’s future. Mary would definitely need to come into her own even more, more independence, more agency. She will become more and more important to Mrs. Hawking’s work, to the point where she is not totally just the protege and able to contribute more on her own.

She also will have to develop separately from the path of Mrs. Hawking. I’d love Mary to eventually meet someone and have a romance with a gentleman who was worthy of her, who of course Mrs. Hawking would despise because she would hope Mary to be a confirmed lone wolf like herself. I think a major issue to sort out will be that while the women compliment each other, they are also extremely different from each other, and those differences will sometimes make it difficult to always work in harmony together. I think that will be a great source of dramatic tension.

Honestly, in many ways the story is Mary’s more even than Mrs. Hawking’s. She is, you will notice, the only character in every single scene in the original piece. Mary turned out to be even more central and significant than I ever expected, so I would want her to continue to grow and develop, and, as she proved to be remarkably good at, to force Mrs. Hawking to do the same.

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Mrs. Hawking’s radical versus Mary’s intersectional feminism

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I think it’s pretty clear that this is a feminist story. It engages a great deal with the systemic inequalities in culture against women, and focuses the telling in a way emphasize the female perspective that is all too often lacking in mainstream media. I personally identify very strongly as feminist, and telling the story of dynamic, proactive, and ultimately human female characters was a huge motivating factor in my writing the play.

As such, the central relationship of the piece, and indeed of all the pieces to come in the series, is the friendship between two women who make each other better. Its power is meant to be always at the forefront. They support one another, but they also challenge each other, and the combination of those two things is key. Obviously in this relationship the older, more experienced, more free-thinking Mrs. Hawking is the mentor, while the younger, less radical Mary takes on the role of the protege. Mary of course has much to learn from her– but Mary, with the unique position she acquires of the closest person in Mrs. Hawking’s heretofore solitary life, has a great deal to challenge within Mrs. Hawking as well. She provides a different perspective, a reality check, a sanity check, and a tempering force on her mistress’s fire. Particularly when it comes to their personal expressions of feminism.

The nature of this particular aspect of their relationship was first codified in so many words by Brad Smith, the fabulous actor who read for Cedric Brockton in the Bare Bones staged reading. Both characters are intended to be represented as feminists in a spiritual if not technical academic sense, since that term comes along many years after their time period. But as Brad observed, they do embody it in contrasting forms. Mrs. Hawking represents radical while Mary stands for intersectional feminism.

Mrs. Hawking’s form is modeled as a true second-waver– on the vanguard of the challenge to the flawed system, motivated chiefly by anger. Men are the enemy in her mind, to be overcome and escaped rather than educated. And though she helps women who struggle under the patriarchy, she still carries a lot of contempt for anyone she does not see as taking up arms in the gender war, or who is not smart enough to understand just how oppressed they are.

Mary, by contrast, is supposed to represent more of a third-wave perspective, one based on making allies rather than enemies, with a more nuanced approach to gender equality, and a mind to the ways that oppression compounds on those with fewer privileges. She brings compassion and inclusion to the struggle, and she is meant to bring a voice of critique to her mistress’s judgmental elitism.

This clash resides mostly in the realm of metaphor at the moment, for a number of reasons. Firstly because it’s too early in history for either of these ideologies to literally exist in their minds, it’s mostly meant to speak to the audience’s modern perspective. Secondly, I am aware that while Mary does bring some small amount of intersectionality by virtue of her being working class, there is a definite lack of other axes of oppression currently in the story, such as people of other races. I would like to endeavor to fix this in the future, to make this presence of “intersectional feminism” even more meaningful as I tell more stories in this world. But right now I acknowledge it’s a problem.

But the feminist theme is a major one we’ll be exploring. And I like that even as we tell the story of two very strong female characters, they don’t always get feminism right– and that gives a great opportunity to try and figure it out for ourselves.

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Combining the Parlor Drama with the Caper

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Categories: development, mrs. hawking, Tags:

Mrs. Hawking is the combination of two fairly distinct genres. The first is the Caper, with its action and detective-story elements, and the second is the Parlor Drama, with its manners comedy and its witty, structured conversation. The Parlor Drama is a staple of theater, so it was no trouble working in those bits. But certain things belonging to the Caper, particularly the action-adventure stuff, can be a little tough to stage, as I can’t exactly depict an infiltration into a building or something like a movie can. But I put a great deal of effort into the reconciling of those elements and the corresponding challenges. You’ll notice there is a detectives-planning-their-next move piece, and an undercover-mission-to-obtain-information scene, complete with an element of distract-the-bad-guy-so-the-operation-can-happen. These elements are highly recognizable of the Caper genre, and by including them I illustrate it to the audience without necessarily having to worry about the details that are more difficult to depict onstage.

You don’t know how I wracked my brain to come up with the structure of the action in this piece. It’s extremely important to the tone I want to set that I combine the genres of action mystery story with parlor drama. And that meant coming up with interesting, complicated, tense ACTION that hopefully didn’t descend into absurdity or contrivance. That was extremely hard, but it’s absolutely necessary to achieving the right effect– engaging, exciting action that feels like a genuine challenge to the cleverness of our heroes without feeling false.

There’s also many, many emotional points I wanted to hit. I like the beats individually, but there are a lot of them, and it was difficult to find the right places to put them. I did not want the sequence of events to make no sense, or to make those beats feel crammed in. I was afraid I might have had too many ideas for just one script, but I always believe in early drafts it’s better to have too much material than to have too little; I could always cut the excess later. Perhaps miraculously, pretty much everything I wanted to get in there made the final cut, and I was both pleased and surprised by how I was able to make it all flow together.

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Mrs. Hawking’s name

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I chose the title of the play not to name it after the main character, but specifically because it isn’t really her. Her full legal name is Victoria Cornelia Stanton Hawking, and no part of it belongs to her. I had a vague sense of this when I first picked the title of the play, but more I think about it, the more I realize just how completely, tragically true that is.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on Victorian times recently, specifically ones about the queen. She was a fascinating lady, that’s for sure, and the more I learn, the more I think Mrs. Hawking would not care for her. The queen was of German extraction, and was likely the first time an English baby girl was given the name Victoria. If my calculations are correct, our heroine would have been born right around the time the queen was crowned. Her father, Gareth Stanton, was a high-ranking officer in the colonies, and so likely would have patriotically named the girl in her honor. So her given name came from a woman of whom I can’t see her having a high opinion. Meaningless.

Her middle name, Cornelia, I see as being her mother’s name. The woman died young and Victoria has no memory of her. And from everything she heard growing up about what a proper lady she was, Victoria would likely not think much of her either. Meaningless.

Stanton is her father’s surname, a symbol of his power over her when she was young. One of the driving forces behind her push to never be caged or controlled, to subvert the patriarchy and the rule of men, is her unending rage at her father, her eternal desire to get back at him. She had no attachment to his name. Meaningless.

And then there is the name she currently uses, has no choice but to use, that of her husband, Hawking. Her feelings for Reginald Hawking are complex, but she did not love him– she is not, I think, capable of romantic love –and she resented him intensely for the life that his love and marriage pressed her into. And now, even though he is gone, she still has his name, the mark of his will imposed over her identity. The name is a small thing to her, I think, in comparison to everything else, but still, the primary name by which the world knows her is meaningless to her.

I mentioned once that one of my all-time favorite Batman moments was one on Batman Beyond. One of the bad guys tries to make Bruce Wayne think he’s crazy by putting a voice in his head. But he knows it couldn’t possibly be from his own mind, because the voice called him Bruce. He doesn’t call himself Bruce. :-)

But as much as Mrs. Hawking is my Batman, she doesn’t have a superhero “chosen name” sort of thing. So… what does she call herself? If she has so little attachment to her given names, who is she in her own head?

I think I need to ponder this.

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Mrs. Hawking, Act 1, Scene 1, Version 1

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Mrs. Hawking first came into existence on the page on July 20th, 2011, with the writing of a quick draft of the opening scene. Before I’d figured out where it was going or what the story was going to be about, I conceived of how it might begin, with the first meeting of Mary, Nathaniel, and the lady herself.

Below you’ll find the text of that original draft of the scene. See for yourself how it evolved into its current version! As compared to other parts of the story, this scene underwent shockingly little change. And the characters emerged very strongly for me right away, and from that grew the thrust of the whole story.

Mrs. Hawking – Act I, scene i

(NATHANIEL HAWKING, a well-dressed gentleman in his late twenties, is discovered onstage. He sits in a stylish Victorian parlor and appears to be waiting. A large portrait of a man hangs over the mantelpiece. Before long a bell rings, and he leaps up to answer the door. MARY STONE enters, a plainly dressed working-class young woman. She clasps a suitcase and is bundled against the rain.)

NATHANIEL: Ah, Miss Mary Stone, I presume?

MARY: Indeed I am, sir. And you are Mr. Hawking, then?

NATHANIEL: Call me Nathaniel, if you please. I am very pleased to meet you. I trust you have recovered from your voyage?

MARY: Well enough, though the London weather was quite the shock. I shall certainly miss the Indian climate.

NATHANIEL: I am sure. Oh, allow me.

(He places her suitcase aside, then takes her coat and hangs it for her.)

NATHANIEL: I am certainly glad to find you here. Your turning up in London may be the solution to our problem.

MARY: I understand you advertised on behalf of a relative?

NATHANIEL: My aunt Victoria. She was the wife of my dear uncle, the late Colonel Reginald Hawking of the Afghan campaign. Remarkable woman, I’m terribly fond of her, but… she has queer ideas at times. After my uncle’s passing she dismissed all the staff, but I’ve convinced her that she’s in need of someone around the house. It isn’t right for a lady to go on alone in the world. Almost more than the help, I think she could do with the company.

(Enter a lady in her late thirties to early forties, businesslike and stern, MRS. VICTORIA HAWKING. She regards them, then silently approaches until she is just behind NATHANIEL.)

NATHANIEL: But I must warn you, miss, she is not warm to the idea just yet. She’s stiff-necked, you see. Fiercely independent. You mustn’t take offense if she seems… brusque or standoffish to you, she only just hasn’t quite come round to the notion of needing help.

MARY: I quite understand. I know how difficult it can be to begin your life all over again.

MRS. HAWKING: Is that the girl?

(Startled at the sound of her voice, NATHANIEL spins around and, in an effort to keep from running into her, stumbles backwards onto the ground.)

NATHANIEL: Aunt Victoria!

MRS. HAWKING: How you must suffer for me, Nathaniel.

MARY: Oh, let me help, sir.

(MARY helps him to his feet with practiced ease.)

NATHANIEL: Thank you, miss. Auntie, I am only too glad to be of service. Miss Mary Stone, may I introduce you to my dear lady aunt, Mrs. Victoria Hawking?

MARY: A pleasure to make your acquaintance, madam.

MRS. HAWKING: I’m a fair ways off from my dotage yet, Nathaniel. Do you think me so frail that I require a nursemaid?

NATHANIEL: What are you talking about, Aunt Victoria?

MRS. HAWKING: I consented to hiring a house girl, and you’ve brought me a nurse.

NATHANIEL: Aunt, I’ve done nothing of the kind. Miss Stone isn’t a nurse. You always think you know my meaning before I say it, but truly sometimes you decide in haste!

MARY: I am, in fact, I suppose. In a manner of speaking. I nursed my parents through the last months of their illness.

NATHANIEL: Indeed? Ah, well, see, she is an even more capable lady I’d thought.

MARY: May I ask, ma’am, how did you know?

MRS. HAWKING: The practical way you just now lifted my nephew. You’ve done a great deal of helping bodies in and out of bed.

MARY: Oh, my. That’s it precisely.

NATHANIEL: My dear aunt has quite the keen sense of people, you see. Please, sit here and let us get to know one another, shall we?

MRS. HAWKING: At least this one can string two words together. Unlike that last girl. Wherever did you find her, the lobotomy ward at Colney Hatch?

NATHANIEL: Aunt Victoria, please!

MRS. HAWKING: But now you’ve brought me this girl. Your given plain meek unmarried young woman, new and friendless in London, I see. I would not have left India for this dreary place, but I suppose there are circumstances that can’t be helped.

MARY: That’s the truth of it, ma’am. I see you’ve been told something of my history.

MRS. HAWKING: Only by your dress. A lady who wears Indian linen beneath her greatcoat is one who has not long had need for warm clothes. Very well then, if I must have you then I shall see that I get some use out of you. I would hope a woman who’s lived abroad a time would not be a useless fainting flower. Tell me your accomplishments.

MARY: Accomplishments may perhaps be too strong a word, madam. But I have many years’ time keeping house for my family, hold to a budget, cook well and sew capably. I have attended some school so that I can read and write in English and French—

MRS. HAWKING: Enough of that. You are educated, that is well. Can you keep an appointment-book?

MARY: Very well, Mrs. Hawking.

MRS. HAWKING: And have you the good sense God gave you?

MARY: I very much hope so!

MRS. HAWKING: So too I. I can’t abide a woman who forgets her own head on her shoulders. Well, it gives you a leg up on the other dull-witted chits he’s dragged in front of me. Provided you can hold your tongue and keep your own business, I supposed that you shall do for me.

NATHANIEL: So you’ll have her on?

MRS. HAWKING: I suppose I can stand to.

MARY: Thank you very much, madam! I will not disappoint you.

MRS. HAWKING: I may hope.

MARY: When shall I move in my things?

MRS. HAWKING: I beg your pardon?

MARY: I shan’t need much space. And I can wait for your convenience.

MRS. HAWKING: Nathaniel, I said did not want anyone in the house.

MARY: Oh, dear. I was told that this would be a billeted situation.

NATHANIEL: Aunt Victoria, I explained to you that this would be the way of it. Such is Mary’s situation. And may I point out that you have chased all your other options off?

MRS. HAWKING: Ah, very well. Your claims shall be tested straightaway, it seems. I warn you that I am not a sociable creature, Miss Stone. Heed me well and things shall get on. Well, I suppose that settles that. Can you arrive at ten-thirty sharp tomorrow?

MARY: I will not be late.

MRS: HAWKING: Good. It is another thing I cannot abide. Now you may go. Thank you for your assistance, Nathaniel. I have done.

NATHANIEL: Of course, dear aunt. The Colonel would have wanted me to take care of you.

MRS. HAWKING: Bless him for that.

(Stand and exit MRS. HAWKING.)

NATHANIEL: I am very glad she’ll have you, Mary.

MARY: She seems very displeased with the whole matter.

NATHANIEL: Don’t you worry. Compared to what she thought of the others, she seems quite taken with you.

MARY: Oh, my.

NATHANIEL: She’ll come round in time. My aunt has always been of odd habits, but she’s become… withdrawn of late. I worry for her should she continue on this way. I think you may be precisely what she needs.

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Runner up in a new play competition!

Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, Tags:

mrshawkingicon

Yesterday I received news from a new play competition in which I entered Mrs. Hawking. The McKinney Repertory Theater in Texas held a contest searching for the best new play, saying that they would perform the winning play and give a staged reading to the first runner up. That first runner up is Mrs. Hawking! I do wonder if the demands of the set disqualified it from winning because they did not want to undertake a build that big, but I'm very happy to hear it regardless. I love to think that somebody that's never even met me thought it was good enough to take a prize in a new play contest, and I especially like that exposure to the piece is spreading. I really do need to get cracking on that Mrs. Hawking website, and start stirring up as much attention as I can. This reading won't be happening for a while yet, not until March of 2014, so I have plenty of time to direct interest generated by it that way. But still, this is so encouraging, I should really use this to motivate myself.

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The stealth suit

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An important part of how Mrs. Hawking goes about her work is her stealth. She is a skilled cat burglar to infiltrate the strongholds of her enemies, a spy well-versed in the ways of avoiding detection while gathering information.

I remember how when, at the Bare Bones reading, I said I imagined Mary as being quite tall and Mrs. Hawking as being very small, the audience laughed in surprise. I think it was mostly due to how Elizabeth Hunter playing her is much taller than Gigi Geller, who was playing Mary, but I think it's also that she's such a formidable presence that people tend to picture her as physically imposing. But part of her struggle with her place is that nature made her a small woman, someone that is not immediately recognizable as physically dangerous. So she has to work around it. She uses her small size to be sneaky, to slip into small places where larger people can't go, to be quick and agile. She can't count on being able to overpower her enemies, so she uses what she does have to evade, to outmaneuver, and to strike before being spotted then vanish without a trace.

When she's out on such missions, she wears a special stealth suit, designed for maneuverability, camouflage, and anonymity. Black with a mask concealing her face. I decided I wanted to make an outfit for this look to, and to have Frances Kimpel, my fierce and mighty physical inspiration for the character, to model it for me. I didn't have a good plan for this shoot, and it would be better done in lower light, but I wanted to get an idea of how the costume looked, and mess around with the composition.

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Here is a reference for the outfit. To make it, I bought two loose-fitting dark gray tops from the thrift store and overdyed them twice with black dye. One top is worn like a shirt, and the other one, the turtleneck, is the mask. I had Frances put on her head with her face showing through the neck, then tied the arms in the back. I struggled with what pants to use. I thought at first maybe black trousers with some stretch to them, in hopes of at least vaguely looking like something a Victorian would have access to. But then, when I was digging through my pants drawer, I found a pair of black riding britches. (I haven't ridden much recently, but I've ridden dressage and hunt seat for years.) They're made of a space age material but they are highly flexible, and I like the idea that a sort of "activewear" they actually would have had in the time period would be adapted to Mrs. Hawking's purposes. The belt and gloves (not pictured here, but visible in all other shots) are leather and belong to me. The little leather box hanging off the belt is also thrifted; it's a jewelry box meant for traveling, but I thought it would serve as the box that holds her instruments while she works.

We used the public library in Waltham for our backdrop mostly. I think I will have to redo this shoot in better light– ninjas do most of their work in the dark, right? –but I am pleased with the proof of concept for the look. :-)

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Our homepage image

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IMG_0805.JPG

Mrs. Hawking, version 1
Photography by Stephanie Karol
Hair and makeup by Gabrielle Geller
Directed and costumed designed by Phoebe Roberts

with Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking
and Charlotte Oswald as Mary Stone

This image is in replication of those “family portraits” that were often the standard of photography back in the Victorian period. The mistress of the house, and her beloved maidservant.

Frances, while much younger than Mrs. Hawking is supposed to be, was my visual inspiration for the character. A small person, deceptively pretty with her wavy golden hair and capable of being disguised as something non-threatening, delicate, and socially expected. But, like Frances, she is fierce, agile, and much more physically powerful than you might immediately guess. The dress does a pretty good job of hiding just how ripped she, and the character, are.

Charlotte not only has the right look, she is around the right age. She is tall and strong, and I liked the idea of Mary having her statuesque Amazonian figure, her pretty face, her long dark hair, her freckles. I thought a girl of the lower classes who had to make her own way in the world should be physically capable, and I like the contrast between her kind of presence and Mrs. Hawking’s. Also, a tall girl gets noticed, can’t be ignored, for well or for ill. She has both the power, and the responsibility, to answer for herself.

Gigi did some age makeup to make her look older, I think it helps. I like her expression here, that even when she is pretending to be a normal woman, the intensity of her always shines through in her eyes and expression. We had a discussion about how wide eyes are a Frances thing, but narrowed, searching eyes are a Mrs. Hawking thing. Also, she never smiles. Smiles wouldn’t be the done thing in period photography anyway, but it never is for her.

Frances is wearing a costume I assembled a year ago to play Irene Adler in a larp at Intercon. It is a thrifted prom dress with an interesting kind of corsety bodice over a frilly black gauze blouse. It’s not totally period, but the combination of the garments gives a nice impression of the right era. The hat is an ostrich feather derby hat from the same costume. The colors, brown and black, make for a somewhat stark combination, but Mrs. Hawking is a relatively recent widow in a time with strict mourning practices (Queen Victoria was a HARDCORE mourner) so the look works out well.

Mary’s costume is a bit fancy for a maid. That gorgeous lace blouse belongs to Charlotte, and though it’s a little excessively adorned I love how it looks on her. The skirt is a floor length double-layered black silk, over another, heavier skirt to give it more volume. The apron is my toile one, well-used; I debated bleaching it but it’s not like Mary wouldn’t be using it. Also I think of blue as Mary’s color. This costume too gives the right impression even if it’s not perfectly correct.

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Bare Bones reading accomplished, and musing on next steps

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

 

I am pleased to report that my staged reading of Mrs. Hawking at Bare Bones went well. We filled the house and the presentation went off without a hitch. I was very happy with the actors, and the script is in fairly good shape. There’s a few things I want to change since the reading but not too much, so I think it’s in a pretty tight state.

The question here is next steps. The audience reacted really well to it, but many of them were like, this is begging for sequels, and it’s action, while stageable, is somewhat cinematic– certainly expensive, which may prevent it from ever being produced. That’s something that has been on my mind. Unknown writers do not often get production with big budgets. I hate to think the play will never see any future because of that. And yet, I think some of its expensive bits– the milieu expressed in set and costumes, the stunts –would be part of the story’s appeal.

So I am pondering ways around this sort of thing. I chatted a bit with after the production (and during the lovely cast party reading star hosted) and he spitballed some interesting thoughts. He said it might have a possibility to become a “Kickstarter darling,” appealing to people who like Victoriana, strong female characters, and the neat combination thereof into an action-adventure mystery caper. If I could get the word out to the right people, and a large enough group of them, I could see that. Also the medium is in question. Brad mentioned that it would be fun to pitch it to PBS as a “action Downton Abbey,” which amuses me. I’m sure that’s a little bit too ambitious for them to take me seriously right now, but with some capital, would it be possible to film on my own? I am, I think, capable of adapting it to screenplay. A feature-length already crossed my mind, but I thought maybe that might push the chances of ever seeing it come to production even further. But what if it were in more episodic form? Do each “adventure” as a multi-part “series” of episodes, along the lines of how Sherlock has “series” rather than “seasons”? I am not trained in film production myself, but might that form place it more within the reach of finding someone who could help me bring it to reality?

A lot of stuff to think about. I’m not sure what makes the most sense. But I would love to figure it out.

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Last rehearsal for Bare Bones reading

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I’m going to the last rehearsal for my reading of Mrs. Hawking. We have done every scene, and I’m very happy with them all, but we’ve yet to do everything in sequence. So we shall hear the whole show together tonight. Plus we’ll be adding in the “blocking.” If you’ve ever seen a live presentation of a radio play, and they had the actors in the scene step to the front of the stage while those “offstage” returned to the back, you know what it will look like. I’m confident they will pick things up quickly, they’ve all done such an excellent job so far. Be sure to join us tomorrow night at 8PM at 6 William Street in Somerville!

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