Been doing some serious work on the third Mrs. Hawking story, Base Instruments, as this summer I have real time to buckle down and write. As I’ve mentioned, this is a tougher project than usual because of the demands of writing a mystery to be performed onstage. But that difficulty is compounded by all the other things that need to be in it.
The Mrs. Hawking story is intended to be a serial, with all the advantages and disadvantages that involves. I love the the fact that our characters can develop overtime, building up rich journeys and the surrounding setting through what stories came before. With two adventures already under our belt, the world of Mrs. Hawking has started to take shape, including a larger cast of characters that we want to see more of. Nathaniel’s wife Clara and Arthur the police constable, both introduced in Vivat Regina, will be returning to continue their roles in Base Instruments. I also want to introduce Nathaniel’s older brother Justin Hawking, to further expand the literal and metaphorical Hawking family, and add in new sources of interaction and conflict.
But doing these cool characters full justice takes a lot of stage time! Though I will be building on what came before, at the same I want the stories to stand alone as much as possible, which means there has to be enough information for people to understand the relationships without necessarily having all the background. And this has to be balanced with all the stuff needed for the solving of the case. We need investigation, deduction, suspects. Lots of scenes are going to have to pull double-duty, advancing the pursuit of the mystery while still getting in the character moments with what’s looking to be the largest cast in a Mrs. Hawking play to date. It takes a lot of characters to include our heroes, our supporting cast, and all the suspects necessarily to tell an engaging and legitimate whodunnit.
The length of the play is also something to watch. Both previous two Mrs. Hawking stories come in at a lively hour and fifteen minutes. That’s actually pretty short for a stage play, but I find I like that. They move at a good pace and there’s no time for the audience to get bored. But Base Instruments is looking to be jam-packed with story to tell. I probably have a little bit of leeway to make it longer than the others, as seventy-five minutes is a fair bit shorter than is usual for plays, but I don’t want to make this story bloated, and take away the piece’s momentum.
So I’ve been working very hard on the structure for Base Instruments, which has held the bulk my attention at this stage of the piece. It’s generally a rule of thumb to introduce characters earlier rather than later, so I’m trying to find ways to get the majority of our cast in view up front. But the action and the investigation has to get going right away as well, so often it’s a matter of figuring out where people can come in around the detective work.
Striking that balance is turning out to be very important. Hopefully both the character interactions as well as the pursuit of the case will engage the audience, so interweaving them with the correct pacing will keep the story moving. I believe that finding the best blend of these threads will be key to making this play a success.