Tag Archives: arc-cycles

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Vivat Regina character arc previews – Mrs. Hawking

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As I’ve said, the best opportunity afford to us by telling the Mrs. Hawking story as a serial is the chance to show the characters develop. Here’s a glimpse into what journeys you can look forward to from our returning characters.

Our hero Mrs. Hawking makes a particular challenge in this department, one that her actor, Frances Kimpel, and I are excited to take on. It’s that the nature of her character means we must balance her resistance to change with a need for real forward movement. It’s part of who she is that she grows slowly, being too stuck in old resentments, but every story has to bring her growth in a way that is true to her character but also emerges genuinely from the circumstances.

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Vivat Regina begins after Mrs. Hawking has taken a very major step, implied by the end of the previous story— finally, she is letting another person into her work, her life, her world. Mary has proved her worthiness in her mistress’s eyes, and that has been enough to convince Mrs. Hawking to open herself up to not only a working relationship, but an actual close human relationship. Mary has become not only her assistant, but her real friend. For our closed-off, lone-wolf protagonist, that is huge, and represented real growth on her part.

But exposing her secrets and her true self to someone is scary, especially to someone like her. And when Mrs. Hawking feels scared or vulnerable, her reaction is to try and bring the situation at hand as much under her control as humanly possible— in this case, Mary’s progress as a fellow society avenger. She’s been willing to allow Mary to take part, to train her to effectively help in her superhero work, but true trust has yet to follow. Any mistake Mary makes may be natural since she’s just learning, but to Mrs. Hawking, any imperfection could bring upon discovery, failure, ruin. So she’s very hard on Mary, offering plenty of criticism but little praise, obsessed with the fear that relying on someone other than herself could wreck everything she’s built if that other person isn’t equal to the task.

2.3. "No, madam. What would you have done?"

2.3. “No, madam. What would you have done?”

A defining characteristic of Mrs. Hawking is her anger, one of her major motivating factors. Her rage at the way the world would trap her into a role that doesn’t fit her drives her to the extraordinary lengths demanded by her work. I think this is one of the most important and noteworthy features about her. It isn’t often that a female character gets to be consistently angry and control the room around them with their difficult behavior. Vivat Regina will show a lot of it come out in the way Mrs. Hawking deals with Mary as she struggles to learn the trade.

Mary and Nathaniel understand this about her, and to some degree accept it. But to have the people around her endlessly validate and make allowances for that kind of behavior neutralizes the conflict. It does not drive Mrs. Hawking to grow or change in any way, and it’s simply not believable that people would endlessly put up with her. So in the course of Vivat Regina, we will see Mrs. Hawking be challenged on these things— her difficulty getting along with others, her lack of trust, her ceaseless criticism, and the hard way her rage makes her behave. So we will see the lone wolf have to adapt to taking other people into consideration for the first time. And if she’s going to be a mentor and the leader of a team, well, she’s going to learn how to mentor and lead.

Striking the right balance of being true to her unique character, while still delivering believable growth before the audience, will be a difficult task. But that is what will make this narrative truly rich, and worth sticking around for more than one installment. You’ll have to come see the show to know how Frances and I manage it!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Greater scope of character development across two shows

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The most exciting thing about doing serial theater at Arisia 2016 is the ability to show the characters grow and change over the course of multiple stories. This development is one of the most engaging things to present for an audience. When we develop an interest in and an affection for characters, we love to track the progress of their personal journeys. Narrative demands growth and change, which of course we’re familiar with seeing over the course of a single play, but with our attempt at serial theater, we’ve got the chance to give the audience a greater scope of character growth then they’ve ever seen onstage before.

This presents an interesting, and in many cases unique, challenge for our actors. With the lion’s share of their experience being in theater, they have not had the chance to play the same character in more than one story. When they reprise Mrs. Hawking, the first play, they recreate the characters’ original journeys that they are already familiar with. However, at the same time, they must start Vivat Regina’s rehearsal process from the place their character ended in Mrs. Hawking.

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Early rehearsal for Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016, with Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel and Isabel Dollar as Frau Gerhard.

So, for example, Jeremiah O’Sullivan, our returning actor playing Nathaniel, must recall where the character begins at the start of Mrs. Hawking, and show him develop into the man he is changed into by the events of that play— with a growing awareness of the ways the world fails people less privileged than he, and a determination to do better. Then, going into Vivat Regina, Jeremiah must incorporate those changes as his starting point for Nathaniel for the next play— and then grow further from there!

It’s imperative that the audience is able to see the characters progress every time we see them. This is how we will engage people for the long haul. We’re hoping to not only tell two Mrs. Hawking stories, but three and four and more– an entire series! It is investment in the characters that will keep people along for the ride— that desire to see where they’re going.

And I love the artistic opportunity it presents for us. Serial theater is something that is rarely attempted, so it’s an experience that few theater actors ever get to take on. I can’t wait to see how our fabulous cast is going to tackle it.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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PERFORMANCE ANNOUNCEMENT: MRS. HAWKING and VIVAT REGINA to go up at Arisia 2016!

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Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, vivat regina, Tags: , ,

We are officially announcing it! The first two shows in our series, MRS. HAWKING and VIVAT REGINA, will be performed in the course of events at Arisia 2016!

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Mrs. Hawking is returning to the event where she saw her performance debut, but this time, she’s going even further. This marks the beginning of an exciting experiment in actually producing serialized theater. One rarely sees live performances that build upon what happened in the course of a previous story. But the Mrs. Hawking series, with its ongoing plot and characters, is breaking down that barrier.

We will be putting together and rehearsing the two shows in tandem with each other, creating a consistent through line of narrative and character development for the audience to enjoy. We have assembled two excellent casts, with some new and some returning actors, to populate the world, including the recurrence of our three leads, Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel. This will afford the audience the rare chance to see live storytelling with greater scope of character development than just a single plot can allow.

It’s going to present some new and interesting challenges, and will involve some figuring things out as we go. But the chance to show a continuing theatrical story, where characters grow, develop, and change based on events that happen before the audience’s very eyes, is too exciting to pass up.

Come join us for this unprecedented event in live storytelling, and see where our heroes journey will take them on the next step!

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 15th at 8PM and January 16th at 4PM and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts January 17th at 1PM at the Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2016.

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Hawking continuity nods in Base Instruments

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As I edit Base Instruments for its intended release on this website, I’m working to keep in mind a goal I have for at least this first Hawking trilogy— to both build on previous storytelling with each installment, and to make certain that each piece serves as a good standalone story. While I love all the advantages serialization confers, I want to ensure anyone seeing these plays in isolation from each other can still enjoy them for their individual stories, without necessarily needing all the backstory.

Still, continuity is a fun aspect for familiar fans. As I go through this third play, I’ve tried to incorporate nods to the Hawking history and backstory without making it too necessary to understand them in order to grasp the whole piece. They’ll add richness and dimension without shutting out new fans. Here’s some of the little continuity mentions you can expect to see in Base Instruments:

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MARY: Good evening, Constable Swann.

ARTHUR: It’s Sergeant now, matter of fact.

MARY: Really! I suppose it’s been a while.

ARTHUR: It has, and shame on you. Who knows what trouble I might have come into without you to swing that poker and watch my back? Could you bear that on your conscience?

This is a reference to the second story, Vivat Regina, and to how Arthur and Mary first meet— she defended him in a street fight from a ruffian with a well-timed blow from her trusty fireplace poker. His offhand joking about it here shows us that he respects Mary’s capability, and that he wishes he could see more of her.

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NATHANIEL: Nearly ready now. I’ve been in meetings all day, or I should have had Chapman bring my tails by the office. He about burst a button when I told him I’d be dressing here.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t know why, it isn’t as if I come to the door.

Here Nathaniel makes mention of Henry Chapman, who appears in the ten minute play Like a Loss, wherein we learned he was the Colonel’s valet who always disapproved of his relationship with Mrs. Hawking. After the Colonel’s death, straightaway Mrs. Hawking gave Chapman his walking papers. Nathaniel took him on to smooth things over, and Chapman’s worked as his valet since then, but it did nothing to decrease his resentment of Mrs. Hawking over the years. This mention here shows the trouble our hero has fitting in with the rest of the Hawking family.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

NATHANIEL: It was the right thing to do.

CLARA: The right thing? Playing at hero? It’s the way of men, isn’t it, marching off to war when duty calls. But you’re not a soldier, Nathaniel. Your year at Newcastle should have taught you that.

Here Clara is referencing Nathaniel’s brief period where he enlisted in the service, as we learned in Vivat Regina, in an effort to emulate his hero the Colonel. But rather than finding grand adventures, his experience in finance saw him assigned to keeping accounts at the naval base. It had the result of driving home that martial work was not where Nathaniel’s talents lie. In Base Instruments, we see Nathaniel cultivating his abilities as a faceman instead.

1.4. "Please... let me help you."

CLARA: Women talk, you know. I must have heard it a half-dozen times now. That, if a respectable lady found herself in some trouble, there was a… they called it a society avenger. A lady’s champion of London. I’m not sure I ever believed it. But look here. Not only real, but my own queer old Aunt Victoria.

This isn’t so much a continuity nod as a Mythology Gag. This is the first time anyone has described Mrs. Hawking as “lady’s champion of London” in the text of a piece, which is how we tend to describe her in supplementary materials like this website. Bringing it in here alludes to how Clara is plugged into the information found in polite conversation and the kind of chats otherwise dismissed as gossip. Surprisingly to our heroes, she has a remarkable power to learn things because of her connections and observant nature.

MARY: So you’re the cleverest person there is, then?

MRS. HAWKING: Hardly. I was nursemaided by cleverer than myself. It’s all in what use you make of it.

And this last is the subtlest reference of all, not so much an allusion to the previous stories but more of a foreshadowing of story to come. This reference is to a figure from Mrs. Hawking’s past, one of the people from whom she learned some of her most important skills and tricks, who will feature again in Mrs. Hawking’s life to come.

All of these things will wash over the casual viewer. But I think making reference to the wider story enriches the world in which it takes place, not to mention rewarding fans who are following things as they unfold.

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Structuring “Mrs. Hawking part 3,” Base Instruments

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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.

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Rewards and challenges of serialized drama

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Categories: development, looking ahead, Tags: , , ,

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The reading of Vivat Regina this October marks the first time a sequel has been performed as part of the Bare Bones reading series. Sequels are somewhat rare in theatrical drama, but a story like Mrs. Hawking’s has so much long-term potential that it could hardly be told any other way.

In writing Vivat Regina, one thing was certain— the piece had to stand up on its own, even if you had no knowledge of the original. That meant boiling down the essentials of what the audience needs to know in order to grasp what’s important about the situation and the characters. I worked to establish their circumstances quickly— they are operatives in the Sherlock Holmes mode, except perhaps a little more superhero-style derring-do, and Mary is doing her best to learn from her more experienced mentor Mrs. Hawking. The nature of the characters, too, needed to pop quickly; Mary is eager and enthusiastic, but troubled by how long it’s taking her to pick things up, while Mrs. Hawking’s severe, uncompromising anger toward what she sees as a broken world must bleed over into everything she does. It’s wonderful and I think it adds a lot if you know what brought them to that point, but as long as you can grasp what they’re like and the tenor of their interactions, I feel like you can jump into the story and go with it without confusion.

In addition that challenge, there’s a lot of benefits to come from being able to tell multiple stories. Characters arcs have the time and space to grow organically, and it is possible to observe how these people evolve and change in a believable manner. Somebody like Mrs. Hawking, who is bound up in lots of old damage and psychic baggage, is of course going to take a long time to move forward out of it. The time to explore that baggage allows for her to actually grow and change, but allowing for the fact that it is a slow process to move forward from wounds that deep. It allows for full, satisfying exploration of the characters over time.

It also presents the combined challenge and advantage of having to set things up now to pay off later. A serialized piece will exist in a world that grows larger and deeper with every installment told, which can really enrich the storytelling. It increases the sense of immersion to see how connections grow and form, and hints of things that will become important as the development continues. In Vivat Regina, take for example the introduction of the policeman Arthur Swann. He is set to become a very important character in the greater plot, so I wanted to introduce him to the audience, but not reveal his ultimate purpose right away. So I wanted to demonstrate him as a person by giving him something to contribute to this story without necessarily having him perform his ultimate role right away. I think it is interestingly hinted at, though, which should get the audience interested in him as a character.

Also the greater trajectories of the main plot must have the groundwork laid for where they will ultimately go. The relationships between Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel have to take some interesting twists and turns, but I want to them to feel natural and believable to the characters. I need to hint at future conflicts and dynamics now so we see where they came from when they finally occur. I want it so that when you see these things finally manifest, you can identify what they grew from in moments of previous installments. It gives a feeling of completeness to the characters and a depth to the world.

But of course it’s up to you to decide how well I managed all this. You should come to the reading and check it out! Vivat Regina will be read on Thursday, October 2nd at 8PM at Unity Somerville, 8 William Street, Somerville, MA.

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“The Cuff” – scribblings on the end of Mrs. Hawking’s mourning period

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So I’ve been working to figure out the Mrs. Hawking timeline to nail down when each story needs to happen. The main things to work around are that the first story takes place in 1880, to happen in proper proximity to the Indian Rebellion and the Battle of Kandahar, and I want the sixth story to have Mrs. Hawking taking on Jack the Ripper, which would happen in 1888. Six pieces need to be spread across that span, with an amount of time between them that is believable. I’ve decided that it makes more sense to place Base Instruments in 1883 rather than 1882, which is what I had originally been using for all other pieces of it written for this 31P31D, so that the second trilogy can be in 1885, 1886, and 1888, making no gap longer than two years.

If it’s happening in 1883, then, it occurred to me that means that Mrs. Hawking will be almost out of mourning for her late husband the Colonel. Mourning for widows was very regimented in Victorian England, so even if it didn’t match her own feelings or preferences, she would have to observe the etiquette so as not to attract unwanted attention and criticism. I don’t know if this is an especially useful scene to include in Base Instruments, but it’s an interesting thing to address.

The Cuff
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
MARY STONE, her housemaid and assistant

London, England, 1883
~~~

(MRS. HAWKING dresses to go out in public. She regards herself in the mirror. MARY neatens the vanity table.)

MRS. HAWKING: Two months now.

MARY: Two months of what?

MRS. HAWKING: Two months until I’m out of mourning.

MARY: Oh, my. I’d quite forgotten.

(She goes to the wardrobe and begins looking through the dresses.)

MARY: I haven’t looked at your old things since I came. I think it should all still fit.

MRS. HAWKING: I don’t much care.

MARY: Well, I should think it would be easier than having to shop.

MRS. HAWKING: I’ve no wish to return to colors. It isn’t as if I can dress how I like anyhow.

MARY: Well. If you kept to blacks, no one would think anything of it.

MRS. HAWKING: Mm.

(She holds up her right hand to look at her wedding ring.)

MRS. HAWKING: I wouldn’t mind dispensing with this, though.

MARY: Oh. I’m… not sure that’s done.

MRS. HAWKING: No. It is not. If you’re shackled to a man, you’re at least rid of him when he dies. But you remain in the cuff until you replace it with some living fellow’s.

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: I had thought to bury the Colonel with his. But Nathaniel saved it, and gave it to me. He thought at the time I might like to have it.

MARY: Did you keep it?

MRS. HAWKING: It’s in a snuffbox in his dressing room. What else could I do? Like this, certain parties would object to anything less.

MARY: It’s a small thing, at least.

MRS. HAWKING: It keeps me beneath notice.

(MARY comes close to look at MRS. HAWKING’s ring.)

MARY: It’s beautiful.

MRS. HAWKING: India ruby. He was so proud.

8/21/14

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The arc-cycles that make up the story

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My boyfriend and frequent artistic collaborator Bernie Gabin has been instrumental in the development of much of the plotting of these stories. While not a particularly dedicated writer himself, he is incredibly talented when it comes to forming the mechanics of a logical, internally consistent plot that unfolds at the correct pace, and I often consult him on related matters. It was he that first proposed I regard, and move forward shaping, the Hawking stories as a series of what I’ll call “arc-cycles,” stories grouped off in sets of three that each develop a certain central idea.

The first arc-cycle we refer to as the Origin Cycle. Mrs. Hawking, Vivat Regina, and the upcoming third one that does not yet have a title. The point of these is to establish the team, so to speak. We learn who Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel are, what obstacles they’re going to face, and how they’re going to build themselves into this little unit that works together and supports one another.

The second arc-cycle is less well-formed yet, but I know for certain that it will, as any serialized storytelling form must, involve upping the stakes. We will have established with the first trilogy that our three main characters make a formidable force for justice when they are banded together. But in this arc-cycle we will challenge that—we will up the challenge level of the things they face. I want to tell the story of Mrs. Hawking’s early life, in flashback in relation to a current case, that demonstrates why she’s become what she is today. I want to introduce Mrs. Hawking’s Moriarty, who will present her with her greatest challenge yet. And I want to send her up against that quintessential Victorian baddie, Jack the Ripper, whose violence against the most downtrodden and helpless women in society make him a perfect villain for our hero’s purpose. And all this will even culminate in the smashing of the new establishment in a way that changes the characters forever.

The third arc-cycle, then, will have to be about what’s built in its place. This is where the notion of the Hawk Family will come, as Mary proposes they become an organization rather than just a few stalwarts holding back the storm. I have even less of a firm notion of these, as they’re so far down the line yet, but I know that in all drama things that do not change die, and in serial storytelling in particular things must continue to grow into new forms. Changing the nature of the game is an appropriate direction for it to go, especially since Mary’s ascendance from Mrs. Hawking’s protégé to her successor will be a major theme of this arc-cycle. And if a different person is in charge, you can bet things are going to have to work a little differently.

Beyond that, I’ve no idea. I think at least for the moment that’s more than enough stories to tell. But who knows how far we can go once we get there?

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Notes on Vivat Regina: character arcs

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Categories: character, development, themes, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Warning: spoilers contained herein for the new script “Vivat Regina.”

I’ve talked a fair bit in this space about my intentions for the character arcs in this piece– chiefly, that I wanted Mrs. Hawking to decide that she will make Mary her protege, and that Nathaniel is going to come into his own way of being of help to our heroes.

Originally I thought I would tackle much more of the protege storyline in this second piece. I thought we’d cover how Mrs. Hawking would make Mary her protege, her trying to mold Mary into another version of herself, and finally Mary’s pushback against the idea when she realized she wanted to follow Mrs. Hawking under her own terms. This storyline is to be the meat of the first arc-cycle in the story. In the very earliest experimental drafting done back during 31 Plays in 31 Days of August ’13, the declaration of her being designated protege was to happen in the very second scene. But Bernie rightly pointed out that would be moving far too quickly through a story that would be more properly explored over a longer period. So it was scaled back to watch Mary feel like she was struggling and an inadequate assistant to Mrs. Hawking because of her mistress’s harsh standards and constant criticism, but to have the turning point be when Mrs. Hawking reveals that not only is she doing well, but that she’s decided Mary is worthy to be successor of all her work.

Nathaniel’s arc I figured out almost immediately. I knew I wanted him, after he learned of Mrs. Hawking’s activities and got over the initial shock, to be incredibly fascinated by her work and want to help her with it. She of course would be resistant, since she despises how much he’s like the Colonel and how she’s come to see him as an impediment to what she wants to do rather than a support. But as I’ve mentioned, Nathaniel’s challenge is to grow past the ways he’s too much like the Colonel, and this story is the beginning of his realizing it.

You’ll also note the nature of the role Nathaniel takes on once he discovers what talent he has to contribute. With his ability to go places only men can access, his enormous personal charm, and his real capacity for thinking on his feet, he basically takes on the job of faceman. I like how this not only because it really suits his character, but also how it places him in what is often a feminine role. Contrast this to the traditionally male-filled positions of the mastermind and the bruiser, who in this case are Mrs. Hawking and Mary respectively. I plan to have him take on “traditionally female” story roles in a number of ways, as I very much enjoy casting traditionally masculine men that way in my writing.

Mrs. Hawking’s arc is the most subtle of three of them. That is for the most part intentional, as one of the issues I want to set up for her in the long term is that because of her long-held anger and baggage, personal growth is difficult and very slow. So hers occurs mostly in relation to the growth of the other leads. She relaxes her harsh criticism of Mary, she lets Nathaniel be judged on his own merits. The most important character note for her in this piece is I wanted to be certain that I firmly established her as a kind of revolutionary. We knew she was immensely critical of the social order, but I don’t know how much hard evidence we saw of it in the first story. I think her indictment of the English imperial system casts it in the right light. It is always tempting when writing in a steampunk setting to let one’s fascination with the picturesque time period to gloss over the horrific implications of the imperial system. I want Mrs. Hawking to acknowledge and stand in opposition to those things in a real way. She will not work on behalf of “queen and country” because that means supporting oppression and devastation, but she will stand up for one real woman who is suffering under it. She is of course prejudiced and limited in her own ways, but she will always be opposed to the Establishment, and I wanted her to demonstrate an awareness of what that really meant.