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“What If I Don’t Want To?” — early drafting of Mary’s arc for Base Instruments

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Categories: base instruments, development, scenes, themes, Tags: , , ,

I find that the overall plot of Base Instruments, which is a mystery, is proving to be hard to nail down. I’m very close now, though it certainly could still change as I test how everything works. The other day I worked out an important aspect of it through drawing a diagram and moving coins around on it that represented where the characters were at various points in the story. Proud of myself for figuring that out!

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I wrote this snippet for Base Instruments as part of 31 Plays in 31 Days 2014. I got the major themes and journeys hammered out pretty quickly, so here's something, getting at the idea that as much as Mary wants to be Mrs. Hawking's protege, she may not be ready for everything Mrs. Hawking's going to expect. This will be Mary’s major struggle for the piece.

What If I Don’t Want To?
By Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, Mrs. Hawking’s maid and protégé
NATHANIEL HAWKING, Mrs. Hawking’s gentleman nephew

London, England, 1883
~~~

MARY: Did you know that Mrs. Hawking studied ballet when she was young?

NATHANIEL: Is that so? I'd no idea, how interesting.

MARY: Apparently she once considered making a career of it.

NATHANIEL: Oh, really? Was she any good, then?

MARY: I don't know. But doesn't that surprise you?

NATHANIEL: I quite honestly don’t believe there’s anything she couldn’t do if she cared to. Why, does it you?

MARY: It’s, well… Mrs. Hawking doesn't often like things for their own sake, now, does she?

NATHANIEL: She doesn't like much of anything.

MARY: That's not what I mean. Everything's to a point with her. She practices skills to hone her craft. She studies facts in case it might serve her to know them. For goodness sake, she only reads for the points of reference. To think of her dancing for only the love of it… why, it's entirely new.

NATHANIEL: Goodness. I think I see what you mean.

MARY: Do you think… she’s always been that way?

NATHANIEL: I’m hard pressed to imagine her before she was so bitter.

MARY: It could have been that. Or… do you think she’s found it necessary? For her work, I mean. To care for nothing but that which serves her purpose because that’s the only way she’s capable of accomplishing the enormous things she accomplishes?

NATHANIEL: Goodness, I hope not. I mean to be of help to her, but I couldn’t bear to live as she does. Devoting herself to nothing but her work.

MARY: What if that’s what it takes?

NATHANIEL: Well, then I haven’t got it. I’ve a family, for heaven’s sake, and a hobby or two I’d care to pursue.

(He laughs, but MARY sits very quietly, eyes wide.)

NATHANIEL: Are you quite all right?

MARY: What if I haven’t got it either?

NATHANIEL: Oh, Mary. I’m sure you too can do anything you want to. If you put your mind to it, I’m sure you could become as honed and dedicated as she is.

MARY: No, Nathaniel… what if I don’t want to?

8/3/14

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“Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You” — scribbling on the ballerina client

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Categories: base instruments, development, scenes, Tags: , , , ,

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This early piece for Base Instruments is pretty much pure idea and very, very little refinement. It grew out of the fact that I want to have a ballerina for the client in this one, who can bring up ballet as a metaphor for exploring some of Mrs. Hawking's issues. Ballet dancers, particularly broken down ones, are a favorite subject of mine to write about. I really like using this conceit in the story, and I think I'm really on to something in this scene. I hope it's as subtle as I'm working for it to be.

The trouble is it was written without context, so definitely needs editing once I figure out what the mystery and plot is. For this I just threw in a few details as placeholders; I don't even know who "Alexei" is supposed to be, for example. But I can sort that out later. For now I just wanted to take a stab at the idea, and even in this rough form I think it's going to be a good one.

Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, secret society avenger, early forties
ELENA ZAKHAROVA, prima ballerina of the Royal Ballet, late twenties

London, England, 1883
~~~

(ELENA ZAKHAROVA makes her way down the hall. Suddenly MRS. HAWKING springs out in her stealth suit. MISS ZAKHAROVA starts and sucks in a breath to scream, but MRS. HAWKING whips back her hood to show her face.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hush! It's me!

(With effort MISS ZAKHAROVA calms herself.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: God in Heaven! How– however do you do that?

MRS. HAWKING: A trick of the trade. I had to find you, and I did not wish to be seen.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What is it?

(She notices MRS. HAWKING's intense scrutiny.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Why do you look at me?

MRS. HAWKING: How long have they been like that?

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What?

MRS. HAWKING: Your ankles.

(MISS ZAKHAROVA stiffens.)

MRS. HAWKING: The laudanum concealed the extent of it when you visited me before. But I know those ginger steps to protect against the pain.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I am only– sore from rehearsal!

MRS. HAWKING: It is more than that. A prima ballerina lives on her ankles, and yours are crumbling beneath you. They will only grow worse with time.

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: You're on your on your way out, Miss Zakharova.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Please. You mustn't tell anyone.

MRS. HAWKING: This changes things.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: It changes nothing of this!

MRS. HAWKING: If your position is no longer secure, then you have reason to act against the hierarchy of the company.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I would never! The company is my life!

MRS. HAWKING: And that life is about to end.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I have done nothing but the dance since I was a girl of six! I have sacrificed so much. All I had to my name was my career and Alexei, and now Alexei is dead. Can you not understand?

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: How could you? Your vessel has never betrayed you.

MRS. HAWKING: Miss Zakharova–

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Look at you! To be able to climb as you do like a cat in a tree! Might I be so impertinent as to ask madam's age?

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: Forty-three.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Forty-three. I shall have fortune to walk so long. I would do murder for the clean lines of your legs.

MRS. HAWKING: Nonsense.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Any dancer would.

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: The ballet is my one calling. And in perfecting it, I have ruined myself for it.

MRS. HAWKING: You concealed it.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: So that I might have it just a few moments longer! They will replace me in a breath. In my place, what would you have done?

MRS. HAWKING: That's the trouble. I might have done anything.

8/12/14

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Early development for Mrs. Hawking 3

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I won’t be able to truly tackle this for a while yet, as I have other projects that are currently more pressing, but I do have a fair bit of preliminary work done on creating the third installment in the Mrs. Hawking story. As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, it will deal primarily with the three following themes:

– Mary’s establishment of what kind of protégé she truly wants to be.

– A hinting at Mrs. Hawking’s fear of her eventual decline into old age.

– The reaction of Nathaniel’s family

I’ve talked a great deal about the first two themes in this space. The third will be dealing with the first time Nathaniel’s involvement in Mrs. Hawking’s work (and his growing feminism, in sharp contrast to the common values of the day) is scrutinized by the by and large conventional members of his family. I’d like to have his brother Justin show up, to demonstrate a clashing ideology, and have his wife Clara actually be informed of what’s really going on and have to respond to it. I want to explore how Nathaniel will handle experiencing the threat of disapproval for basically the first time in his life, and realizing just how much at odds his new worldview is with the rest of society.

The case they shall be working in the course of this episode will be brought to them by a ballet dancer, in order to introduce the ballet motif that will expose Mrs. Hawking’s inner struggle. I haven’t figured out exactly what the problem will be, but it occurs to me that we’ve yet to see Mrs. Hawking deal with a true mystery. The problems in the first and second installments were entirely known quantities— return a stolen child, capture a miscreant hiding behind diplomatic immunity. I’d like to show her actually having to figure out what happened based on the gathering of clues and applying deductive reasoning. I enjoy mysteries a great deal, as the need to seek out more information is a compelling way to pace things, and I love the way it allows stories to unfold.

I struggle a great deal with titles; though I’m pretty happy with “Mrs. Hawking” and “Vivat Regina,” I rarely think I’ve come up with good ones. But I have an idea, at least, of what I’d like to call this third story. I’m leaning towards either “Base Instruments,” regarding to the imperfections of those people who struggle to deliver grand results, or “The Burden of Regard,” in reference to the weight placed on people from whom important things are expected. The first two have a quality of irony about them, which I would like to maintain in this third title if possible. Opinions on what works better are of course welcome.

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The ballet metaphor

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , ,

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I’ve always been fascinated by the art of ballet. First of all, I just find it beautiful, a pure pleasure to watch. But from an intellectual standpoint I’m enthralled by the contradictions. It is viewed as a very delicate, refined art, coded feminine in most modern people’s eyes. But those who practice it at the highest levels is run like an army with just as much discipline. The dancers look frail and delicate, but they have to be unimaginably fit and strong, not to mention able to endure an enormous amount of pain. The dance is so demanding that careers tends to be very short, as many ballet dancers end up physically destroyed by the effort. The image of the broken down ballerina— whose tragedy is that she can no longer practice what she has sacrificed everything to be able to do —is one I return to again and again in my writing.

I find this could make for a perfect parallel to Mrs. Hawking. I want the next story to include a ballerina who is facing inevitable breakdown in order to use her as a metaphor for everything Mrs. Hawking fears. Her work, which involves so much physical punishment, will eventually wear her body down, and age will at some point make it so she can no longer continue. The ballerina character will speak to this part of her, and cause her to ponder how she will eventually address this.

This could tie nicely into the protégé conflict, where she will be trying to mold Mary into a new version of herself. Her fear of her not being able to do her work anymore will motivate her to make Mary into someone she feels like she can trust to properly carry things on— literally, another her. We will see that things won’t exactly go her way on that score, but Mary will in time prove capable of taking up the mantle, if not exactly in the manner Mrs. Hawking initially hopes.

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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