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The challenges of plotting Mrs. Hawking part 4

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Categories: development, gilded cages, Tags: , ,

Bernie and I have begun work on Mrs. Hawking part four, tentatively titled Gilded Cages, and we’re running into some challenges. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as we’ve had this happen with each subsequent installment, but this one has presented some difficulties that are thus far unique.

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The biggest thing to deal with is the fact that we’re writing a colonial story. Part four is going to be split into a present day case in 1885, and a flashback story to Mrs. Hawking’s youth in the colonies. We haven’t decided WHICH colony, though, as we are still doing research to figure out if there are any historical features that would serve our turn. What I’d really like to display is that some terrible event that happened during Victoria’s childhood demonstrated to her how corrupt and broken the system is, which helped to shape her worldview in the present. A natural possibility is witnessing something of the horrors of Victorian colonialism. But I really don’t want to just turn the suffering of the local people to be just a lesson for my white hero, or make her into a white savior for those same. And I definitely don’t want to sidestep the issue and just end up tell a story set in a colony that’s only about the white invaders.

What I’ve got here is a Problem of the Protagonist, to use my own theory– when the need to centralize a particular character ends up objectifying or dehumanizing other characters. Because my hero is white, it runs the risk of turning any characters I include of the local people into objects who exist only to facilitate my protagonist’s story. And I definitely do not want to do that with characters of color.

I’m going to put in the work on this. I’ve got a lot of researching and developing to do yet. But I do know a good way to keep a character human is to give them their own arc, demonstrating that their story is one worth following, and affording them agency in the story, making them take actions in the service of achieving their goals and needs. So, while I’m by no means certain yet, my current idea I’m exploring involves having a local character whose personal mission is the central arc of the flashback’s story. This character, who’d probably be female, could have the protagonistic qualities of wanting something, taking actions to pursue it, and driving the plot with their efforts. Perhaps if she drives the story, and other characters are in the position of being reactive to that, I can avoid making any such person being subservient to Victoria’s development.

I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to do more work. But I’m resolved to figure out how to do this in a respectful, conscientious way.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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THE BALLROOM SCENE: Arisia production showcase party 11/5

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Categories: supplemental

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Ever notice how every Mrs. Hawking show has a scene at a ball? Well, here’s your invitation to the party— and we hope you’ll dress the part!

This November, the team behind the Mrs. Hawking play series is putting on a showcase gala to whet your appetite for our upcoming productions!

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Mrs. Hawking Part 2: Vivat Regina and Part 3: Base Instruments will be performed as part of the Arisia 2017 convention in downtown Boston this January. Before we go up, we’d like to invite you to this free promotional event to eat, dance, and get a behind-the-scenes look at how these stories come together. We’ll even show you a few scenes from the performances to give you an early glimpse at our shows.

There will be fall foods served buffet style. All guests will be given a ticket for a free raffle of door prizes, including a weekend membership to Arisia 2017. We welcome you to come in steampunk costume, and have your picture taken by a photographer to be posted to our Facebook page. Entrance is FREE, but donations toward the show are gladly accepted.

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So put on your finest evening attire and join us at this free event to promote and celebrate our Mrs. Hawking productions, Part 2: Vivat Regina and Part 3: Base Instruments, at Arisia 2017!

THE BALLROOM SCENE:
Saturday, November 5th
8pm-11pm at the Democracy Center at 45 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA

Featuring:
– Food and beverages
– Music
– Door prizes in a free raffle
– Displays of the specially designed properties from the shows
– Sneak peeks into behind the scenes info
– Scenes from our Arisia 2017 shows

More info to come, but mark your calendars now and RSVP on the Facebook event!

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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Cast lists for Vivat Regina and Base Instruments at Arisia 2017!

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Categories: base instruments, performance, vivat regina, Tags: ,

We have finalized our casts for our shows at Arisia 2017, Mrs. Hawking parts 2 and 3, Vivat Regina and Base Instruments!

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Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts

Mrs. Victoria Hawking: Cari Keebaugh
Miss Mary Stone: Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking: Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Johanna Braun: Joye Thaller
Mrs. Clara Hawking: Sara Smith
Officer Arthur Swann: Matthew Kamm
Frau Kirsten Gerhard: Kitty Drexel
Herr Christoph Austerlitz: Andrew Prentice
Ensemble: Sara Dion, Travis Ellis

Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts

Mrs. Victoria Hawking: Cari Keebaugh
Miss Mary Stone: Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking: Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Clara Hawking: Sara Smith
Sergeant Arthur Swann: Matthew Kamm
Mr. Justin Hawking: Eric Cheung
Miss Elena Zakharova: Arielle Kaplan
Henry Cavil, Lord Seacourse: Andrew Prentice
Mr. Kyril Chernovsky: Isaiah Plovnick
Miss Yulia Sherba: Ava Maag
Ensemble: Sara Dion, Travis Ellis

And of course, our amazing crew:

Technical Director, Set Designer: Bernie Gabin
Costume Designer, Wardrobe Mistress: Jennifer Giorno
Violence Designer: Arielle Kaplan
Additional Sound Design: Neil Marsh

As always, I am honored when collaborators have a good enough time working with us that they want to come back, and we have a large number of actors who are gracing us with their talents again. It’s so great to have the chance to watch them build their performances over multiple arcs, and she how they interpret that character’s continuing journey.

I’m also really excited about our new collaborators! As I’ve mentioned, my longtime friend and theater partner Frances Kimpel has moved on, but I’m delighted to welcome Cari Keebaugh to the role. Additionally, a fellow committee member from the Watch City Steampunk Festival, Isaiah Plovnick, will be taking on his first role with us.

It’s a wonderful group, and I can’t wait to see how they continue the Mrs. Hawking story as an ensemble.

But in addition to this cast, we’re looking for a few additional crew members. If anyone is interested in being our stage manager, we could very much use the help. We wouldn’t need you for every rehearsal, and though it would be great to start having you when the actors get off-book, but the only time absolutely necessary is tech week and the shows, starting January 8th going through Arisia weekend, the 13th through 15th. There is a small stipend available, plus free admission to the Arisia convention. If you’re interested in joining Team Hawking, send us an email at mrshawkingweb@gmail.com!

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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Building a prop Victorian gramophone

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Categories: base instruments, Tags:

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People who have experience in the field of properties for the stage may be familiar with a dilemma I’ve run into in producing the Mrs. Hawking plays. Sometimes, your script will call for a specific prop that expensive or difficult to acquire that is needed for only a scene or two, but is integral enough to the plot that it can’t be changed or cut. That means you’re stuck investing in getting or making the damn thing, even though it’s going to be a lot of effort for not a ton of use.

In Vivat Regina, that one prop was the service trolley. It was called for only once in the opening scene, but the action of the scene absolutely depended on it to unfold. Unfortunately, a trolley with the right look for a fancy Victorian party was a pretty specific order, and even at the low end those things don’t come cheap. After a lot of research, the most affordable appropriate one we could find ended up being the single most expensive piece bought for that play.

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For Base Instruments, we’ve talked about the challenges of one specific setting. But the showpiece prop in that one will be the gramophone. The device is important in two scenes, the first when listening to the score of La Bayadere helps Mrs. Hawking determine where certain players would have been at a specific time, and the second when it is used to keep the pace of events during the reconstruction of the crime scene.

Invented in 1877, the phonograph would be a pretty hot new piece of technology for our gang in 1883. At that time, only wealthy households might own one. It may be that Mrs. Hawking went out and bought one specifically in the process of working this case. At the time the device operated not with vinyl discs like later models, but instead with the needle running along the grooves in wax cylinders. There’s a brief reference to one in Vivat Regina when Frau Gerhard offers to play Nathaniel the music from Die Fledermaus.

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Actual antique phonographs are pretty far out of our budget, we are forced to get creative and build a prop version! The important features are the wooden cabinet, the horn, the crank, and the mechanism with the cylinders. We may be able to get away with obscuring the mechanism by implying that it’s hidden inside a lid, but the others are pretty essential. The current plan is to get a lidded wooden box that can be stained to look fancy, an ornate funnel-shaped piece to stand for the horn, and a brass crack to attach to the side. If need be, the carriage of a typewriter might be made to look like the needle mechanism, but that might be difficult and expensive to get a hold of. In that case, a candle could easily stand in for the wax cylinder.

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This will probably be an pricey and perhaps even technically challenging project, but if made correctly it has the potential to be a beautiful and unique piece of stagecraft. Wish me luck putting one together!

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Challenges of staging Base Instruments

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Categories: base instruments, performance, Tags: , ,

This fall we’re going to be going into rehearsals for Base Instruments, the third installment of the Hawking series. I’m extremely excited. Not only is Base Instruments the first true mystery of the series, in my opinion, each installment is better than the last, and so this most recent one is the best story yet. I can’t wait to bring that our audiences at Arisia 2017 next winter. But in moving on to this show, we’re definitely inviting new challenges in the staging process!

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First of all, Base Instruments is longer than either of the previous stories. It’s a result of having built up a cast of recurring characters, including not just our three heroes, but also the return of Clara Hawking and Arthur Swann, on top of all the new cast. That will require more rehearsal time, and a different use of our performance time slot. Do we need an intermission this time, for example? But the advantage is that now we can tell multiple story threads at once, switching between the various journeys. It’s actually easier on the cast to have entire scenes to execute their costume changes and other transitions.

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There’s also some new design and technical demands. We’re lucky in that we can reuse much of the set and costuming that we’ve put together up to this point, but Base Instruments needs a few new properties in addition. With the Victorian convention of changing for dinner, most of our new characters need a day and an evening look. Here’s hoping I can pull together enough gowns and tuxedo jackets! The great challenge will be in the scenic department— the scene where Mary and Mrs. Hawking investigate the scene of the crime takes place in a dressing room devastated by a fire. We’re still figuring out what the best way to convey that onstage is. Ideally we’ll come across something representational that can be quick and easy to switch on and offstage, but that will take some creativity and engineering to put together.

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Lastly, there’s the question of how to block the climax. Unlike the previous two installments, Base Instruments does not have an “action climax,” but instead a scene where the heroes reenact the crime in order to solve it. It’s an information-heavy scene, without some of the flashy action of the highest points of the previous pieces that involved showy fight choreography. The challenge there is to block the reenactment in such a way as to convey the urgency of all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place, so that the audience is on the edge of their seat to finally reach the solution. It is a scene that might benefit from some higher theatricality, which is not always the typical style of our shows. But figuring out exactly how to make it look right, exciting but not over the top, and consistent with the tone of the rest of the show, could have some awesome results.

I’m really excited to get going. I love that the stories have only gotten stronger as they’ve gone on, and that we have the opportunity to bring the third part to life. Wish us luck navigating our way through!

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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Welcoming Cari Keebaugh to the role of Mrs. Hawking

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Categories: performance, Tags: , ,

In our previous four production cycles of the Mrs. Hawking plays, our eponymous lead has been played by Frances Kimpel, the talented actor and artist who was one of the founding members of the Chameleon’s Dish Theatre. Frances is an old and dear friend of mine who I have worked with on many projects since our days in the Hold Thy Peace Shakespearean theater group at Brandeis University. My admiration for her as an actor is so much that she was one of the original inspirations for how the character of Mrs. Hawking looked and moved.

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

This summer, however, Frances, along with our beloved stage manager Eboracum Richter-Dahl, has moved across the country to Washington state, meaning they can no longer perform their previous roles. But sad as I am to lose the chance to work with such great friends and collaborators, the show must go on. Which means I had to search for another person who could perform this unique and challenging central role. It’s not a choice I could make lightly, as the whole productions rest on the charisma, believability, and fascination of this character. I had to find somebody right.

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It’s been my very good fortune that I had the chance to meet the very talented Cari Keebaugh and find she was interested in auditioning. She was introduced to me in person by Circe Rowan, who plays the role of Mary, but I actually first encountered her in The Post Meridian Radio Players’ The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted for performance by another Hawking collaborator Tegan Kehoe. Not only is that one of my all-time favorite stories, which helped inspire my love of Victorian literature and storytelling, but Cari performed the title dual roles. Her performance as a gender-flipped interpretation of the counterparts showcased her versatility and expression, as well as raised familiar issues of a woman being trapped by the conventions of her Victorian world.

As much as I’ll miss Frances, I’m really excited to work with Cari and see what she brings to the role. It’s going to be a transition for me in my vision of the character, but I think that’s a good thing. One of the brilliant features of theater is its potential for endless reinterpretations. If these stories are truly strong, they should welcome that variety. And if the character of Mrs. Hawking, possibly the proudest and most important creation of my life, can stand up to the interpretations of many actors, then I know I’ll have made something with true staying power.

So please join me in welcome Cari to Team Hawking! I can’t wait to see her bring our hero to life.

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Recording of Base Instruments staged reading

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Categories: base instruments, Tags: ,

Were you hoping to catch the Bare Bones staged reading of Mrs. Hawking part three, Base Instruments, but couldn’t make the performance date? Well, turns out you are in luck, because we were able to capture the reading for your listening pleasure!

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The following two files on the Mrs. Hawking YouTube channel have recording of the audio of the Base Instruments reading. Act one is in the first recording and act two is in the second. The quality is not perfect, as they were recorded on the fly during the reading, but they do a good job capturing the performances and the reactions of the audience.

What I particularly enjoy about these is they preserve the natural responses of the listeners in the moment. I really enjoy noting what lines got laughs– Eric Cheung as Justin Hawking had scenes where it was almost a one-to-one laugh-to-line ratio! And I really got a kick out of the charmed reaction they had to the scene between Mary and Arthur. It even draws my attention to where there WASN’T the response I was expecting, so I know where to examine more closely for editing. And of course it captures the awesome performances of the actors. I was really lucky to work with such a talented cast, many of whom were switching not just between characters, but also accents!

So if you missed the Bare Bones reading, please give these a listen. It’s a great way to take in the story of Base Instruments, performed by talented people with live audience feedback, just the way a show like that is intended.

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What I learned from the Bare Bones reading of Base Instruments

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Categories: base instruments, Tags: , ,

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Photos by Beckie Hunter

I was really pleased and proud of how well the staged reading of Base Instruments went this past Friday. The cast did an amazing job, and the audience was great, laughing at all the right parts and having some really interesting feedback in the discussion we held after.

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A major reason to have a staged reading is to hear the words of a play aloud, as they were intended to be heard, in front of a real audience. This enables you to experience the play in a way you can’t just looking at the page alone. It’s even better when you can talk a little with the audience and get a sense of how they actually experienced it.

One thing that was very satisfying was how funny the piece was. Generally, I’d classify these as adventure stories meant to have some genuinely affecting drama in them, but I don’t want them to become heavy or grim. Lightening them with humor is a great way to charm the audience, to keep things fun and to balance out darker moments. I actually discovered the power of this when Vivat Regina was read in an earlier Bare Bones, and saw how well received the increased humor in the second piece versus the first was. Introducing Nathaniel’s brother Justin Hawking worked particularly well for this, as his wit and attitude was a great way to work in jokes. In no small part thanks to Eric Cheung’s performance of him, there were a few scenes where he got a laugh with almost every line!

The reading also cautioned me for the need for clarity. When you’re trying to present a Fairy Play Whodunnit, it’s important that the necessary information to solve the mystery is delivered clearly enough for the audience to solve. There were some qualitative differences in information that were not made plain enough, and that’s good information for me to have.

Also, there are several Russian ballet dancers in the plot whose names and introductions may not have been made sufficiently plain, making them easy to confuse. On that score, some of it may have been because it was a reading, and the same actress Samantha LeVangie read for both of them, which is something that might be fixed in the staging. But it’s very good to know that confusing the characters might be at issue, to alert me to make sure they are each clearly introduced when they enter the story. This might be a matter of editing, but it’s also going to inform how we stage it when it gets fully performed.

Most of all, I am glad to have found that the story works. The plot flowed smoothly, and the character arcs, relationships, and strong emotional moments resonated with the audience. That’s always the most important part of storytelling, and you can never be sure if you’ve managed it until you get in front of living breathing people. I really do believe that each Hawking script has come out better than the last, and this only confirmed it. So thanks very much to everyone who came out to hear it and give their thoughts, and great thanks to Theatre@First for giving us the opportunity to have it read!

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Last rehearsal for Base Instruments reading

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Last night we had our final rehearsal for our staged reading of Base Instruments with Bare Bones at Theatre@First! For most of our rehearsal process, we practiced in pieces, doing scenes not in sequence but the ones that had the same actors. So last night was the first time I got to hear them do the entire piece in order.

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Elizabeth Hunter reading as Mrs. Hawking and Samantha LeVangie as Miss Zakharova in Base Instruments

You never really know how a play’s going to work until actors read it, and I’m really lucky to have this talented cast. All of them have some level of experience with their characters and familiarity with this world, and that allows them to make best use of their abilities. Some of them, like Samantha LeVangie and Eric Cheung, do multiple accents, often switching one scene after another!

And because it’s a murder mystery, we’re going to do something fun. Base Instruments is longer than previous installments, so we decided to have an intermission. And in that intermission, we’ve decided to give the audience a chance to vote on who they think the murderer is.

As I’ve mentioned, Base Instruments is a Fair Play Mystery, and most of the important clues are given in the first act, while the second is the leads pieces them together. So there’s enough information for the audience to at least take a good guess. After the audience votes, all the correct answers will be put into a hat and the one drawn will win a prize.

Finally, if you can stay a little late, there will be a talkback after the show with the cast and myself. Heaven knows I could go on about these stories all day, so if you have any questions about the story, the mystery, the world, or the direction of the series, I’d be happy to talk your ear off in answer!

The staged reading of Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will go up on June 10th at 8PM at with the Bare Bones reading series, brought to you by Theatre@First.

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Reading a mystery

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Categories: base instruments, Tags: ,

One of the fun things about the story of Base Instruments is that it’s a Fair Play Whodunnit. That means it’s a mystery where all the necessary clues are presented to the audience, so they have the chance to solve it along with the detectives.

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Andrew Prentice, Samantha LeVangie, and Elizabeth Hunter reading Base Instruments.

This is important for the June 10th staged reading of Base Instruments with Bare Bones. Many people like to let staged readings wash over them, but when the story is a mystery, it prompts the audience to see if they can figure it out for themselves. But the makes a new challenge for the actors who are reading it. A whodunnit with lots of twists and turns often involves a lot of detail, with the dialogue supplying most of the information. That can lead to a lot of exposition, which can easily all blur together and lose the important clues.

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Circe Rowan reading as Mary Stone.

That means the actors have to take extra care in the scenes where the characters are working through the information they’ve gathered to solve the crime. It has to be kept interesting enough so that no one zones out, but also clear enough so that all the clues come across. And finally, for the sake of verisimilitude, it has to sound natural, like the characters actually are detectives sharing information with each other trying to figure things out.

The combination of all this is the way to get the listeners engaged in unraveling the plot. I love when the audience is hanging on the details of the story, trying to pick apart what’s really going on! That’s the fun of going to all the trouble of putting together a Fair Play Whodunnit.

The staged reading of Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will go up on June 10th at 8PM at with the Bare Bones reading series, brought to you by Theatre@First.

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