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A story in the layers

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Categories: gilded cages, themes, Tags: ,

Historically the writing of subtext has been a challenge for me. Partially it was just struggling with the techniques of it— how you embed meaning without actually referring to it in words —and partially it came from the fear that even if I did manage to include it, the audience would miss it. I often failed in the direction of overwriting it for fear that it was too subtle, and not having any effect on the story at all.

In recent years, thanks to focusing on it with serious practice, I think I have improved. My tastes run much more lately to subtler storytelling, so I’ve tried to take that route with the things I write. I’m pleased to say I think my most recent major piece, Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages, is the most layered narrative I’ve ever put together. It depends in large part on people who are on different wavelengths not realizing they’re talking at cross purposes, who don’t fully understand the implications of their actions, and who don’t have the words or concepts to express themselves with complete accuracy. The fact that I managed to pull that off wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t grown in my ability to suggest things are happening that no party onstage is actually explicitly referring to.

Photo by Steve Karpf

The downside, though, is that very thing subtext made me afraid of all along: the audience missing it. Mostly I believe people grasped the ideas I was trying to go for in the piece— that Reginald’s well-meaning overtures coexist with the fact that he doesn’t understand consent or that he’s behaving in a patriarchal manner. That young Victoria doesn’t realize that she’s acting out of white privilege, and Malaika doesn’t see the dangers that creates for her in their relationship. But every now and then I’ve heard from somebody who didn’t pick up on those things, and as a consequence they didn’t follow aspects of the narrative. I’ve had a surprising number of people ask me, “Why was Mrs. Hawking so miserable with her husband when he was so nice?” I mean, I think it’s partially that we have a problematic cultural tendency to pressure women into giving men a chance because they’re “nice”— but also I think because we kept a lot of the harmful aspects of Reginald’s behavior subtext as opposed to stating them explicitly, I think people missed it.

The story doesn’t quite work, honestly, without the subtextual aspects. It doesn’t make its point without them. But it’s still a richer, more sophisticated piece to have these ideas woven in subtly, even at the cost of some of the audience missing them. I guess, if they’re detectable by some and missed by others, that probably means I can finally be confident that I’ve done subtext right.

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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Odd little name issue

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Categories: development, mrs. frost, Tags:

Gilded Cages 2018-89

In my copious, copious free time, I am picking away at the plot outline for Mrs. Frost, part five of the Mrs. Hawking saga. Among the myriad issues I’m running into— God, writing these plays is hard! —one small one arises that may be representative of the nature of many of the others. Malaika is returning in this story, after being introduced in the previous one, and I’m finding myself at the loss at how to slug her in the script.

“Slugging” refers to the name you use for a character when you indicate that a line is theirs. For example, Victoria Cornelia Stanton Hawking’s lines are slugged with “MRS. HAWKING,” and Mary Frances Stone is “MARY.” Like so:

MRS. HAWKING: One can hide anything from anyone if one so chooses.

MARY: You couldn’t hide it from me.

There are a number of conventions attached to how you decide on a slug, though most people just sort of decide on their own. For example, many people assert that there should be only one, consistently used slug for a character even if what they are referred to as changes, though I chose not to observe that— like I slug the same character alternatively “MRS. HAWKING” in the present day part of Gilded Cages, and “VICTORIA” in the flashback because it felt more accurate to me. Similarly, in those same flashbacks, Malaika is just “MALAIKA,” as she is a young woman and that is what she is commonly referred to as.

Gilded Cages 2018-18

In our current conception of Malaika, she is an ethnically Malay Singaporean, which means her name follows the culture’s traditional rules. Malaysian people do not have family surnames but rather patronymics. Her full name is Malaika binti Shah, or Malaika daughter of Shah. While these names are occasionally elided, giving us “Malaika Shah” for example, one is never solely addressed by one’s father’s name. Therefore, while young Victoria would be addressed as “Miss Stanton” by the customs of her culture, Malaika’s would call her “Miss Malaika,” or “Cik Malaika” in her own language. We see an example in the play when Malaika refers to her mother as “Puan Amina,” which is a respectful title for a married woman, basically “Mrs. Amina” or “Madam Amina.”

My concern is with deciding on how to refer to Malaika as a mature adult woman in a way that is on a level with Mrs. Hawking. The characters can in dialogue call each whatever is appropriate to their relationship, but the slugs should indicate their positions in their world. Even though Malaika is not from a culture that would call her by a different part of her name in order to be respectful, I’m worried it will sound disrespectful to our modern American ears to see her referred to by her first name when her peer Mrs. Hawking is called by the formal title.

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What I am currently leaning towards is making a point of having her known as “Madam Malaika.” It would take into account the customs of her culture, while utilizing a title that my American audience would recognize as one of respect. The naming convention might still make hers seem like the odd one out, but it takes care not to even implicitly suggest she’s not on a level with story’s other women in her age group, even if only because the audience doesn’t know the custom. Perhaps I could even make it text, such as have someone mistakenly refer to her as “Mrs. Shah” and she corrects them to make the distinction clear.

It’s a small detail. But I want to be very, very careful about how I frame this character. I know how easy it is to create disrespectful portrayals of minority characters, and I want to always put in the work to make mine the fullest, most human figures I can. This is one of the many ways I can show that thoughtfulness and care.

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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Upcoming Hawking productions – next performances, and a new film project!

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Categories: performance, Tags: , , ,

The next slate of Mrs. Hawking performances and projects is now ready to be announced!

We are again having a reprise of our Arisia performances at this year’s Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham! If you missed seeing part III: Base Instruments and the debut of this year’s brand new show, part IV: Gilded Cages, you will now have the chance this May in Waltham! And for the Steampunk Festival, attendance is TOTALLY FREE!

MRS. HAWKING parts 3 and 4

at the Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, MA

presented by The Chameleon’s Dish Theatre

Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts
Saturday, May 12th at 2PM

and

Gilded Cages
by Phoebe Roberts
Saturday, May 12th at 6PM

At the New England School of Photography
At 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA

ALSO!!!

We are now beginning a BRAND NEW MRS. HAWKING PROJECT. Team Hawking is delighted to announce that this year we are going to be making our first foray into film!

As we’ve progressed with the Mrs. Hawking series, it’s become clearer and clearer that while we can bring a great deal to performance onstage, this is really a story that belongs on film. I think a lot of people can agree that this narrative would be properly told as a television show.

So, with the help of Boston local artists Sean Sederholm and Francis Charles Sheehan, we are putting together a short piece to demonstrate all the potential for drama, spectacle, and emotional punch the story has to offer. This twelve-to-fifteen-minute piece will take a form somewhere between a trailer and a short film, capturing the essence of the project and suggesting the full breadth of the narrative. Our hope is by filming a sufficiently fascinating tease, it will entice production companies working at a higher level to invest in and support the project. With luck, we could someday get the resources to produce the full Mrs. Hawking series pilot.

We are making plans to begin filming this summer, right after the Watch City Festival production is done, and with our longtime leads of Cari Keebaugh, Circe Rowan, and Jeremiah O’Sullivan. We’ll have more information about the process here on this website soon. But if you’d like to support bringing this project to a reality, we are accepting donations to put towards the costs of productions. Turns out movies take capital, and we’d be incredibly grateful for anything you’d care to give.





For the “Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept” film

Thank you, as always, for any help you give, and for your interest in the Mrs. Hawking project. None of this would be coming to life without our wonderful audience members. So, please join us for our FREE performances of Base Instruments and Gilded Cages in Waltham on Saturday, May 12th, and keep an eye out for more updates on Mrs. Hawking – the Proof of Concept film!

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.

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Script release: Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages

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Categories: gilded cages, Tags: ,

Team Hawking is pleased and proud to say that we have accomplished our performances at Arisia 2018— including part III: Base Instruments and the world premiere of part IV: Gilded Cages! We’ve been told it was our strongest program yet, which has been an incredible honor, and is so gratifying to all the hard work every member of the team put in.

Photo by Steve Karpf
Photo by Steve Karpf

Now that our new show has debuted, I’m releasing the script here on the website. I am deeply proud of this piece— it may indeed be the best in the series to date —and I think it not only plays well but is also interesting to read. The layers of meaning in many of the scenes are to this point unprecedented in this story, bring us to a new level of complexity. I think that even to those who have seen the show, reading at one’s own speed will allow some of the layers to be understood in greater depth.

Many of the scenes depicting important relationships— particularly Victoria and Malaika’s, and Victoria and Reginald’s — are meant to play one way on the surface level. But then, when one begins to pull apart the implications of the interactions, they take on a very different cast that adds new dimension. Also, there are a number of callbacks, parallels, comparisons, and contrasts between the present and the flashbacks of the story which are meant to make points about the characters. Arthur to Reginald, Nathaniel to Reginald, young Victoria to present-day Mrs. Hawking. These things may have gotten missed in seeing one performance of a fast-moving stage show, and I really think they add so much depth.

Photo by Steve Karpf
Photo by Steve Karpf

As always, I’m grateful to all the people whose advice helped us to make the script what it was. Those who helped develop the story to the most powerful level it could be. Those whose perspective on how to most effectively and sensitively depict the issues of the colonial culture. And those whose support and belief in the project enabled it to become a reality.

So be sure to check it out on our Scripts page, for the first piece of our second trilogy, Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages!

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The queerest Hawking story yet

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Categories: character, gilded cages, Tags: ,

For the most part, the queerness of the Mrs. Hawking story has been fairly low key. All of the journey up to this point has been subtly informed by the fact that our hero is an asexual aromantic, but it’s never been explicitly referred to, nor has it been a huge factor in any plot. In our upcoming piece, part IV: Gilded Cages, however, what has mostly been a character note for Mrs. Hawking is finally brought forward in the text.

Because of this, Gilded Cages is our most explicitly queer story yet. Part III: Base Instruments has more queer characters— Miss Zakharova is a lesbian, while ladies’ man Justin is actually bisexual — but it’s part IV where the subtext becomes text.

In the flashbacks to Mrs. Hawking’s youth, we see how she met the man she would eventually marry, Reginald Prescott Hawking. We know from the previous present-day stories that this was not by choice and that the marriage was not a happy one, so the question is raised how it happened at all. However, you will see in Gilded Cages that it’s not as simple as being forced together with a bad man due to some unwelcome arrangement. Indeed, their interactions were significantly more complicated, and in fact they were not always in such opposition to each other. It’s part of the reason why his memory is quite so painful for her.

Something I very much want to convey to the audience is how Reginald and Victoria could have been on such different wavelengths regarding their relationship. A big part of it is they viewed it from such vastly different perspectives. Victoria, an asexual aromantic, did not approach their interactions with the same expectations or interpretations as did Reginald, an alloromantic heterosexual, which allowed a relationship to develop that neither immediately realized was incompatible. I like the complications of that, as two people who mean well cannot connect on the same level—
at least partially because they were never taught a concept of a person who was outside of expected behavioral norms —and end up hurting each other quite tragically.

I really enjoy this dramatic exploration of the impact of an aro ace woman trying to be herself in a society where no one understands it or makes space for it. I won’t give too much away, as it’s an important part of Gilded Cages‘ story. But as noted above, a lot of the result is tragic and painful— but it also demonstrates a lot of personal strength on the part of our protagonist. She is fighting the fight to be true to herself, and it makes her a more complex and interesting hero in the process.

Mrs. Hawking: Gilded Cages and Mrs. Hawking: Mrs. Frost by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 18th at 7:30PM and January 19th at 4PM respectively as part of Arisia 2019 in Grand Ballroom A at the Boston Park Plaza.

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Darker before the dawn, part II

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Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags: ,

Catch part I of this discussion in this blog post here.

As I mentioned, we’re conceiving of the Mrs. Hawking series as a set of trilogies, which we’re referring to as “arc-cycles,” or a series of character journeys that build upon each other. At the moment, as vague as the plan gets more than one or two shows out, we’re thinking of three arc-cycles, with three shows apiece. It is common in that pattern for the middle section to get a little darker. It fits nicely into three act structure, raising the stakes and making the situation seem even more dire before the resolution of the conflict in the climax. It also serves that purpose that we mentioned in part one, the need to challenge and upend the status quo in order to present new struggles to our heroes.

I want to be careful to set the right tone with the stories depicted in these stage shows. Overall, I want the series to have an adventurous, triumphant feel. A lot of our inspirations have a tendency to go grimdark— it common for Batman to be interpreted that way, for example —and that’s the last tone I want to strike for Mrs. Hawking. Instead I’m aiming to never shy away from true, hard-hitting drama, while still maintaining a hopeful and exciting air overall. So when I know I’m going to have to go a little heavier, that is something— the balance between weight and not going too dark —I want to take into account.

The way I’m taking it is by challenging the foundations that have been laid— specifically the relationships. They are the heart of the story, the most important and compelling drama we have to explore. A deep underlying philosophy of my writing is that the purpose of plot is to reveal character, so everything that happens explores our players a little more deeply. The form that these stories tend to take is that we get to know our characters better by seeing how they react to each challenge laid before them. Now that we’ve set down relationships, it’s time to test them, stress them, put them in new contexts to see how they grow and evolve to deal with them. But that does mean going to some darker places than we’ve dared to before.

Part four, Gilded Cages, is definitely going to be a little heavier in tone than the previous three installments have been. The entirety of the second arc-cycle is going to be. I think it’s the natural progression for this story in the intensifying of the challenge and the raising of the stakes. But I’m working very hard to maintain the series’s overall feel— exciting, hopeful, exultant —in the aggregate, even if moments get dark.

I’ve always liked how easy it is to emotionally engage with these plays, particularly when I see a child in the audience having a great time with the spectacle and the super heroics. I like that people cheer in triumph, and laugh at the geneuinely funny jokes. I don’t want to lose that, even as I expand the scope of our emotional range in the opposite direction as well. Gilded Cages is also going have cute moments that make you go “awwwww!” Sweet moments that bring a little tear to your eye. And funny moments to make you laugh out loud. All those things are as intrinsic as the dark stuff. It’s a tricky thing to balance, but I know this is where the story is taking me. I don’t want to shy away from the drama of the story’s true nature, so it’s up to me to handle both interests.

All the best stories, after all, are a little complicated. I think by this point, with three prior successful shows under our belt, we’re up to that challenge!

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

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Gilded Cages now added to our TV Tropes page!

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Categories: gilded cages, supplemental, Tags:

As you may know, Mrs. Hawking has a fairly extensive page on TV Tropes, a website that breaks down the building blocks of narrative and identifies their use and effect across many types of media. Tropes from Gilded Cages have been added to the mentions of elements from our previous three installments!

The image at the head of our Tropes page.

Some examples of the new material added because it occurs in Gilded Cages:

All Girls Want Bad Boys: Subverted with Arthur. He’s just about the sweetest, most straightforward guy you could imagine, and he’s presented as a romantic and attractive figure.

The Cassandra: Elizabeth is always warning Victoria about the consequences of her reckless actions. She’s always right, but still everyone ignores her.

Flashback: About of Gilded Cages takes place in Singapore where Mrs. Hawking grew up, met the Colonel, and made her very first discovery of the injustice of the world.

The Mentor: Elizabeth is this to young Victoria in serving as her governess and companion, specifically in matters of deduction, analysis, and strategy.

As a person who finds it intensely valuable to analyze the tools stories use to reach their audiences, I really enjoy this website. And I’m really proud of Mrs. Hawking’s presence as an included work.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Any tropes that jumped out at you as an audience member and fan? We’d love you to include them, so don’t hesitate to add them in to the page! And be sure to catch the Arisia 2018 performances to see how many new ones you catch!

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

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Extra scenes – a funny and touching recording of brothers Nathaniel and Justin

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Categories: scenes, Tags: , ,

We have another scene made into an audio recording! This time, it’s another moment from earlier in our story’s timeline, a follow up of sorts to “True Gentlemen,” the previous scene we recorded like this.

This scene, “Enough to Compare,” was written as the capper to my 2017 foray in 31 Plays in 31 Days, and features Justin finally finding out that Nathaniel and Clara have begun a relationship. It’s much more humorous in tone than our previous scene— as anything with Justin tends to be! —but it also aims to capture some of the more touching emotional quality that comes from drama between close family members. One of the reasons I particularly enjoy writing scenes between these two characters is because they are both in constant conflict, while simultaneously caring about each other a great deal. It gives a great opportunity for a combination of humor and pathos& dash; one of my favorite ways to tell stories.

 

As I mentioned with the last one, these scenes are a little rough and the recordings are very informal. But these scene particularly makes me smile, and Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel and Christian Krenek as Justin are delightful. So check this out for a laugh and a warm fuzzy feeling, and to learn a little bit more about the greater Hawking story. And if you enjoy their performances, catch Jeremiah as Nathaniel and Christian as Justin in our shows at Arisia 2018!

 

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

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Extra scenes — quick recording of “True Gentleman” with Nathaniel and Clara

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Categories: scenes, Tags: , , ,

BI Performance-8
 

By this point, I’ve been noodling around with stories set in the Mrs. Hawking continuity for several years now. It’s fun to explore these characters beyond just what makes it into the plays, plus it’s helpful for me to know where they’re going if I know where they came from. And I think it can be really interesting to learn the histories of the characters you’ve gotten to know over the course of the series!

A lot of these scenes and moments will never make it into plays. Either they’re from outside the times we’re dealing with, or just don’t fit into the important dramatic moments the full-length shows focus on. But there’s still drama and interest in a lot of these scenes, and I’d like to be able to feature them somehow!

To that end, I’m doing little informal recordings of them, with the actors who play these characters in the full-length shows. The scenes are a little unpolished, and not a lot of rehearsal will go into them. But I think they can be fun little treats for people who have gotten to know the characters of this series and would like to see a little more from them!

The first of these is a staged reading of “True Gentleman,” a scene I wrote from the courtship of Nathaniel and Clara. We know they’re married by the time the shows begin in 1880, and references to their history together have been made. But I thought it might be cute to do a small scene from the beginning of their romantic relationship.

So here’s “True Gentleman,” featuring Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel and Sara Smith as Clara. Enjoy!

 

And if you liked that, be sure to come see Jeremiah and Sara on stage as these characters at Arisia 2018 in Base Instruments and Gilded Cages!

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

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Show times for Base Instruments and Gilded Cages at Arisia 2018!

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Categories: base instruments, gilded cages, performance, Tags:

We are now on the schedule for performance times at Arisia 2018!

MRS. HAWKING parts 3 and 4
By Phoebe Roberts

at Arisia 2018 of Boston, MA

presented by The Chameleon’s Dish Theatre

Part III:
Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts
Friday, January 12th at 7:30PM

and

Part IV:
Gilded Cages
by Phoebe Roberts
Saturday, January 13th at 3:30PM
Sunday, January 14th at 12PM

Shows run 90 minutes without intermission

In Grand Ballroom B
At the Westin Boston Waterfront
425 Summer Street, Boston, MA

Be sure to come see our shows, including the world premiere of part 4: Gilded Cages, at Arisia 2018!

Mrs. Hawking parts III: Base Instruments and IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts are to be performed January 12th-14th as part of Arisia 2018 at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

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