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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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Reimagining a production the second time around

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

Theater is an interesting, possibly unique art form in that because you produce it live, every time you mount a new production you have the option to change things about it. You can use new actors, new costumes, new blocking, new interpretation of the characters, all of which can make the end product feel like a different story. I tend to encourage people, especially when they’re putting on classic plays that people have seen many times, to put a new and different spin on things to excite the audience. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing yet another Hamlet, Earnest, or Streetcar when we’ve seen it a hundred times?

It makes an interesting question while putting together this next production of Mrs. Hawking. This is a new play that I’m trying to get out in the public conscious, rather than a well-known classic. I’m still working to create an image of what the story and characters are in people’s minds. That means I’m inclined to portray it according to the vision of it I’m hoping to establish. I’m not sure it’s ready to dilute its identity while still in its infancy out in the world.

However, the circumstances of this production are a bit different than the original. We have about half the cast played by new actors, who will necessarily have different capabilities, weaknesses, and affects. In some cases it will be necessary to amend things for that, and it only makes sense to take advantage of different talents. For example, Circe Rowan, our Mary this time around, has a remarkable knowledge and facility for accents, and her ability makes it possible to give Mary a very distinct and accurate working-class lilt.

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Of course, when something needs to change, because it’s my play, I have the right to change anything I need to about it in order to make it work. As written, Sir Walter Grainger has a Yorkshire brogue, specified by the words he uses that are particular to that dialect. However, this time around our Sir Walter is played by Jordan Greeley, and he may feel like he can do a better job with a different accent. In that case, maybe it makes sense to change the script to suit that. As long as the spirit of the piece is captured— that he has a particular country accent, and Mrs. Hawking can determine it by his linguistic quirks —it doesn’t really matter what the particulars are. Flexibility may serve the performance best, and it’s one of the advantages of doing living theater.

We’ll be feeling out what the best choices are as we go. Of course the biggest priority is making sure we make the best production we can. A second run is a chance to bring things to an even higher level of polish, and maybe even correct some mistakes along the way.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 9th at 2PM and 6PM at the Center for Digital Arts at 274 Moody Street, Waltham as part of the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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The rehearsal process

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

We have just gotten through our first week of rehearsal!

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Frances Kimpel and Samantha LeVangie, rehearsing as Mrs. Hawking and Mary.

My style as director, as I’ve mentioned, is to have things fairly specifically planned out before I go into rehearsal. A personal artistic value of mine is a dynamic stage, with lots of interesting action happening at the right times. I really dislike when actors just stand there and talk at each other for long periods; it gets boring and makes it easy for the audience to check out. The action must be engaging, this is an action story, but it must always seem purposeful and never gratuitous. But incorporating the right amount of activity is a careful balance.

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Now with Francis Hauert, Matthew Kamm, and Jonathan Plesser.

Conveying more information about the characters and what’s really going on is also a big responsibility of the action. One thing that’s interesting about telling stories about Victorian characters is that they have certain standards of behavior, as well as social conditioning that they’ve been raised with. Nathaniel is a well-bred, wealthy middle class man, for instance, whereas Mary is a working class domestic servant. The difference in status brought on by their unequal social relationship, their genders, and their personal values has a lot of implications on how they act. For Mary to sit in the presence of her employers, for example, would be a very big deal and might be a serious breach of social etiquette. If I choose to have her sit in a scene, it better be for a meaningful reason, and the message it sends should be clear. They are also famously not a frank-speaking culture, which means there are many things– particularly about their emotions –that they cannot say. That means it’s up to the action to convey what’s going on beneath the genteel facades.

It’s a big challenge, but it’s really exciting to see just how much more of the story I’m able to tell with the visual dimension. And I’m very pleased with my team of actors, who are shouldering the burden of making that real.

IMG_0842.JPGNow with my Coke, also essential to my directing process.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Rehearsals begin for Mrs. Hawking at Arisia

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

Tonight is the first read through for Mrs. Hawking at Arisia 2015, which marks the start of our rehearsal period. This is going to be seriously intense. We don’t have long between now and our performance on January 16th, and there’s about week’s worth of lost time due to the winter holidays. That does NOT make for a nice leisurely process of getting a play blocked, memorized, and sufficiently rehearsed so we don’t all embarrass ourselves.

To that end, I am going to work hard to make sure we work as efficiently as possible. As I’ve mentioned, I like to have a pretty solid plan of what the scenes will look like, but I think that’s doubly important now. I still want to be flexible to discovery in the process and allow for the actors’ contributions and creativity, but having purpose will cut down on wasted time.

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We’ve secured rehearsal space in Spingold Theater with the gracious permission of Brandeis University, of which most of our cast are alums. Our first two weeks will see us work through the whole show twice– that’s a lot to get through each night, but I think it’s necessary. When we get back from the holiday break, everyone will be hard off-book. We will have one more week of regular rehearsal, in which we’ll start doing larger chunks at a stretch, then it’s plunging into tech week. It’s a pretty demanding process, but I have faith in this cast to handle it.

To start things off well, I am doing what I always like to do when I begin a rehearsal process, cook everybody a big meal. Before tonight’s read through I will be serving a homemade dinner to my lovely cast to ensure their undying loyalty. Take it from me, having been on both sides of this, the quickest way to win over actors is to feed them.

I’m a little nervous, I won’t lie. I’m afraid we won’t have enough time to make this as good as I want it to be. But I’m going to do my damnedest to make it the best I possibly can. It means a lot to me to represent my work at its best.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Physical storytelling

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

Most of the theater I have been involved with the production of has been classical in nature. In Shakespeare, there is very little in the way of stage directions beyond entrances, exits, and the occasional “pursued by bear.” The great part of that is how it allows for a huge range of interpretation of the text, with nuance created conveyed by whatever kind of action you chose to block. But doing so much of that kind of theater created something of a bias in me for scripts that do not try to hem in the production with specific stage directions. I mostly wrote Mrs. Hawking with that bias. That means that there is, in my opinion, a fair bit of meaning that’s not obvious.

Now that I’m starting in on planning the blocking for Mrs. Hawking at Arisia ’15, this is on my mind. I like the idea that people get to decide for themselves what subtleties are going on when they stage it, but when I’m the one doing the staging, that means I have to determine the most effective way to display my own vision of the action. I like to go on in a rehearsal process with blocking around seventy-five percent figured out ahead of time, to make it possible to jump right in and get things done, but with enough wiggle room to allow stuff to get discovered in the process and for the actors to contribute their own ideas. It has to incorporate Victorian cultural norms, to convey the setting and the social structures therein that would be unspoken parts of the fabric of the world. I’ve also come to appreciate drama that makes the characters and ideas clear with actions rather than words, so I’m hoping to add a whole additional layer of meaning with the acting and blocking. It will be a fun challenge, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the directing process.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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