Tag Archives: frances kimpel

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Welcoming Cari Keebaugh to the role of Mrs. Hawking

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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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Mrs. Hawking on the radio 12/12!

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This Saturday, December 12th, Mrs. Hawking can be heard on the radio!

We’re a little over one month away from our shows at Arisia, so it’s time to get the word really out! To that end, we’ll be appearing on Beyond the Horizon Radio to talk about our shows! Tune in at 12PM EST to hear a live broadcast featuring Frances Kimpel, our Mrs. Hawking, Circe Rowan, our Mary Stone, and yours truly, the writer and director.

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We’ll be discussing our upcoming productions of Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016, as well as things behind the scenes, our process, and the story at large. Finally, we’ll be performing a selection from Base Instruments, the newly-released third installment, featuring the voices of Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking, Circe Rowan as Mary Stone, and a certain someone else you know doing her best attempt at a Russian accent for new character Elena Zakharova.

Check us out at the Beyond the Horizon Radio website to hear the live broadcast at 12PM EST on Saturday, December 12th!

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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The ballroom scene by Pendragon Costumes

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

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Photos by Jennifer Giorno and John Benfield

When I was first writing Mrs. Hawking, I knew a big part of the appeal of the story would be the trappings and the spectacle. The look of the steampunk setting would add a great deal of gloss to the tale I was trying to tell, and I wanted to take advantage of everything that setting would afford me. And you can’t tell a grand caper set in Victorian London without a few gorgeous period costumes.

The ballroom scene of Mrs. Hawking is a fan favorite. It’s Mary’s first real mission, when she and Mary go undercover as grand society ladies to the villain Lord Brockton’s ball, and she is thrown straight into the deep end. Mrs. Hawking has her distract their opponent by pretending she is the niece of the viceroy of India, and must put on a character that matches the grand ballgown she is wearing as her disguise. It also includes what is probably the best joke in this first play:

MARY: Oh, well, you know how things are… uncle dear thought it was best for me to go away for a while… he feared I was becoming too popular with some of his, well…

LORD BROCKTON: Soldiers, miss?

(She affects a carriage of indignation.)

MARY: My lord! What kind of lady do you take me for? Fraternizing with enlisted men?

(She pauses dramatically.)

MARY: They were all officers!

I do some costume design professionally, and I remember one of the young actresses in a production I worked for a high school asking if when I wrote my own plays, I made sure to write in costuming requirements that were workable. I had to laugh at that, because as often as I bemoan playwrights who design things without any regard to the practicality for production— in fact, I wrote the craft portion of my master’s thesis on it —because Mrs. Hawking is a perfect example of my falling down on that particular job. Characters have TONS of changes in this play, sometimes every other scene, and in and out of complicated Victorian looks. That’s a hell of a task for a cast and a costumer!

Though I pitched in with a few looks for the Arisa 2015 production, mostly ones I’d already put together for the Mrs. Hawking photoshoots, our primary costume designer was Jennifer Giorno, also the actress playing Grace Monroe. So the challenge of putting together Victorian ballroom looks that could be changed in and out of in very short order fell on her. Not an easy task on our budget! But she got a great idea to see if we could a costume company to agree to sponsor our production by lending us some pieces. That is where Pendragon came in, a maker of fine costuming with a fabulous selection of steampunk and Victorian looks in their Mad Girl Clothing line.

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In return for credit in our program, they very generously agreed to lend us three pieces of handmade eveningwear for our leads. It was an incredible thing to happen to us, as it gave us the opportunity to have some of the most important costumes in the play be particularly beautiful, as well as practical for the demands of the quick change.

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A full Pendragon outfit can be seen here on Samantha LeVangie in her role as Mary. It was particularly important that Mary come out looking exquisite– transformatively so –as an indication of Mary’s potential to become a powerful, brilliant, dyanmic person. Jenn asked the company if it would be possible to get Mary’s garments in blue, as I’ve long imagined it to be Mary’s signature color.

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They provided us with two gorgeous pieces from the Corset Gown Outfit— the underskirt with its “front panel of chenille fabric sewn to a cotton skirt” and the matching chenille shrug with its “high, snap down collar.” Samantha also wears their Corset with Bustle, loaned to us by a friend who purchased it from Pendragon a number of years ago.

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When Jenn told Pendragon that the bustle corset was in the color of Welkin Blue, they chose the blue and brown pattern for the coordinating skirt and shrug. It makes for a lovely and complementary combination, particularly given Sam’s coloring and the character of Mary. Sam is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, and she wears this so well.

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The other piece Pendragon so graciously lent us was for Mrs. Hawking, modeled here by Frances Kimpel. This was also a Corset with Bustle, a particularly useful piece not only because it looked so cool, but because its toggle-hooks running down the front assisted in making the quick change a little easier. Because Mrs. Hawking is a widow, of course it had to be in black.

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To keep the looks consistent, Frances also wore a velvet bolero with the labels pinned back so the details of the corset would be visible. The skirts are from Jenn’s collection, also part of her ordinary day look. I also made Frances wear those gloves through the entirety of the play, poor thing. It made sense for all her looks– those where she is supposed to seem like a respectable middle-class widow, and when she is an operating agent in stealth garb.

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One thing that was particularly enjoyable was that the same bustle corset had such different effects when worn by these very different characters and their actresses. The same style of corset top makes Mary look like a princess…

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…has the aspect of armor when worn on Mrs. Hawking.

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If you’re interested in owning some of Pendragon’s gorgeous costuming, don’t hesitate to check out their website. Their work is both truly beautiful and extremely high-quality.

In fact, there is a chance that the pieces they lent to us are still available for purchase, as they went on sale as soon as our show finished! You could end up owning an artifact from the very first production of Mrs. Hawking!

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Meet Frances Kimpel, the physical embodiment of Mrs. Hawking

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Categories: character, supplemental, Tags: ,

IMG_0957.JPGPhoto by Josh Spiro

I have had the privilege to know Frances Kimpel since our time at Brandeis University, where we met in a production of The Tempest put on by our old college theater troupe, Hold Thy Peace. Since then I’m glad to say we have become good friends, and over the years and the many plays we’ve worked on together I’ve had a front-row seat to the fabulous performances she’s delivered in that time. All this led me to the great privilege of having her be the one to embody my hero.

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Photo by Charlotte Oswald

Frances Kimpel is from Tacoma, Washington, with a degree from Brandeis University in History and French, as well as a masters in Medieval History from Durham University in Durham, UK. I have directed Frances many times, starting with our time in Hold Thy Peace, Brandeis’s resident Shakespeare troupe, including a turn as Hamlet. Once she even directed me, when she cast me as Cordelia and the Fool in her moody, contemplative, sepia-toned production of King Lear.

She’s always been a great source of inspiration to me. An incredibly talented actor, dancer, and all-around artist, her versatility on the stage is remarkable. With her blonde hair, green eyes, and trim figure, she can easily step into the personas of innocents and beauties, but just as easily does her physicality lend itself to startling androgyny, making all manner of roles, from intellectual men, to energetic children, to inhuman monsters, all within her grasp.

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Years ago, when I was first conceiving of the character of Victoria Hawking, I knew I wanted her to be a striking, dangerous figure, able to do amazing things, which to me naturally suggested someone who looked looked like Frances— a small, lean figure yet still with intense physical presence. As a friend of ours, once said, “She looks like the blade of a knife.” That combined with her incredible acting ability always made her the person I wanted to take on the character.

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Frances’s favorite roles tend one of two ways, the otherwordly, and the tragically philosophical. For her the first category includes the likes of Puck, Ariel, Caliban, and one of Macbeth’s witches. Of these roles Frances says, “I love portraying non-human characters, both because doing so often incorporates a lot of fun movement and also because I am perpetually fascinated by the border between the familiar and the unknown— between what is human and what is other.” Her talent for changing her physicality shines especially in these roles. On the other hand, some of her most memorable and moving performances were as Hamlet and Brutus, two of the most weighty and challenging roles in Shakespeare. She has always enjoyed “playing characters with complex inner lives— highly imaginative, philosophical, or idealistic characters, characters with great dreams or great delusions —and exploring how those imaginings are reconciled (or not) with a dissonant reality.”

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Frances as Brutus with Cassius as played by Eboracum Richter-Dahl
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Frances as Hamlet with Dave Hinterman as Horatio

So when approaching Mrs. Hawking, Frances brought a great deal of experience building complicated psychologies to inform her acting. I asked Frances how she saw her character and how she went about building her performance in the role. “I usually get to know characters by doing imaginative background work. I try to imagine what sorts of things they habitually think about, how the would react to various hypothetical situations, and moving through various spaces feels like for them. I then try to let these things inform my development of a unique voice, bearing, and set of mannerisms.” In this case she used not only Mrs. Hawking’s life with the Colonel, but who she was before then. “In order to actually portray this character it was important for me to root my understanding of her in something further back still: what was she like before her marriage? Why and how did the marriage— the great tragedy of her life —happen?”

Frances gave a lot of thought to how that informed the person she was stepping into. “As we see her now, her specialty is stealth: everything she does is painstakingly planned and concealed. Though she risks her life on a regular basis, she does so in a manner that— when it comes to the possibility of discovery —is cautious in the extreme, and whenever she slips up in this regard, she is profoundly disappointed in herself. But she was not always this way. Her younger self was much more reckless— much less painfully aware of the limitations within which she must operate —and also much less bitter. Developing an understanding of the metamorphosis that must have transpired is what really made the character ‘click’ for me, and forms the crux of what I brought to her mentally and emotionally. It also helped me to link the character to my own state of being— to provide some through-way for channeling my own natural energy (much more akin to her younger self, I would say) into the mature Mrs. Hawking of this play.”

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Frances’s particular abilities lend themselves especially well to creating our hero’s defining stage presence. “I would describe Mrs. Hawking’s physicality as like mine, but less fidgety and chaotic— more confined, deliberate, and— surprisingly —more delicate… she walks a delicate line— she carries a delicate operation —and that level of masterful precision and forethought shows in how she moves.

“Developing her voice, of course, was the most difficult thing for me, because I had to build the character voice on top of a foreign accent. I think I settled on a lower register than my natural one, with a kind of perpetual edge (whether of irritation or calculation or vigilance or threat— there’s usually something beneath whatever she’s saying) and a tendency to default into irony. This last, I think is because she sees the bulk of social interaction as a ridiculous but obligatory farce.”

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Finally, I asked Frances what she enjoyed about her character. “I love her ferocity, and the tension between the explosiveness of that ferocity and the level of control that has been imposed upon it. I very much enjoyed the process of perfecting her physicality. While I am accustomed to portraying danger in a more chaotic form, I have never played a character with quite her level of deadly precision… Her rage is meticulously contained and channeled into deliberate actions. It was also of course great to get to play a canonically asexual character— as opposed to playing a canonically sexual character with a secret head canon of asexuality, as I am sometimes wont to do. And I loved climbing the set.”

If you’re interested in seeing more of Frances, she’s got a number of other projects in the works. “I am currently preparing to direct The Chameleon’s Dish‘s upcoming performance of my original play, Annabel Lost, an experimental piece combining visual art and performance poetry with a montage of dramatic scenes.” The play will be performed at the Democracy Center in Cambridge, MA, on the evenings of March 22nd, March 29th, April 3rd, and April 5th. She’s also been published in the winter issue of Window Cat Press and in the upcoming publication Polychrome Ink. She will also be performing some of her poetry at Mass Poetry’s U35 Reading Series on May 26. In conjunction with Eboracum Richter-Dahl, Frances additionally craft a line of art objects and jewelry which can be found for sale at Revolutionary Concord at 34 Main Street in Concord, MA, or online on at her Etsy store.

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The art of names

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Categories: development, influences, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

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I have to say, one of my favorite parts of the writing and character-creating process is coming up with names. I like it when I can make them subtly significant, if only in my own head, or at least give my characters names I’m going to enjoy saying over and over again.

I’ve written about how Mrs. Hawking’s name is supposed to be deliberately disassociated from her in-universe, but behind the scenes it was carefully chosen. Her married name, Hawking, came first, because it’s a good solid English name and conveys her bird-of-prey nature. It took much longer to choose her first name, but I went with Victoria because I’ve always loved it, the “victory” meaning connotes her warlike nature, and because of the connection with the regnant queen. Stanton, her maiden name, also took some time to determine, and was chosen mostly because I like the way it sounds.

The character of Mary Stone basically just walked into my mind and introduced herself by name. I love when that happens, it feels as if I’m writing about a real person. Thinking about it, I think there was some influence from the fact that she is in some ways a gender-swapped analogue to Dr. Watson, and Watson’s wife is named Mary. I think Mary’s name fits her so well I’m kind of sorry that her surname will change when she gets married. I have given some thought to who her eventual husband will be, and while I don’t want to mention anything about him yet, I chose his surname with the specific intention that I shouldn’t mind using it to refer to Mary. Her middle name, Frances, came from Frances Kimpel, my model for Mrs. Hawking. I very nearly made Mrs. Hawking’s middle name Charlotte, after Mary’s model Charlotte Oswald, but I didn’t think it sounded right with the rest of our hero’s name. I plan on paying tribute to Charlotte’s name in another way in the future, though.

When I noticed that both she and Mrs. Hawking were named after prominent English queens I decided I would continue on with that trend where appropriate. That’s where her eventual Moriarty, Elizabeth Frost, got her name from. I’m kind of sorry that Nathaniel’s wife Clara doesn’t fit the mold, but I think it fits her too much to change. Their daughter Beatrice doesn’t quite, as there is no English queen by that name, but it was the name of the youngest Victorian princess. Reggie, their son, is so called because of course Nathaniel would name his son after his hero.

As for Nathaniel himself, he is named after my friend Nat Budin. Not for any particular reason, except that I like both Nat and his name.

Stephanie Karol, who read the roles of Celeste Fairmont and Grace Monroe in the Mrs. Hawking Bare Bones reading, commented that I seem to like naming patriarchs “Reginald.” Both the Colonel and the head of the society family in The Tailor at Loring’s End both have it. I like the name, but it does have kind of an old-fashioned masculine sound to it.

Cedric Brockton sounds solidly British and upper-class, perhaps to the point of parody, but I like the way it sounds. Ambrose Hawking came from the same impulse. It might be a little absurd, but I guess I have a taste for names like that.

Gabriel Hawking came from the fact that Gabriel is one of my all-time favorite names. I wanted something powerful and striking, given that the mention of the name has a rather totemic quality when uttered in this story.

Justin’s first name came from something silly. I remember thinking that Ryan Kacani, the actor who played for Nathaniel at the Bare Bones reading, looked like a Justin to me for some reason. So I gave that name to Nathaniel’s brother.

Johanna Braun, the name the client gives in Vivat Regina, was chosen because it translates from German basically to “Joan Brown,” as plain and nondescript a name as they come. There is a reason I wanted it to be so generic, but I won’t say what it is here.

Arthur Swann, also a character introduced in Vivat Regina, is also named in the vein of English royalty, though King Arthur is fictional. Also it’s my granddad’s name and I always liked it.

There’s also a bit of a bird theme going on. The Hawking family, Arthur Swann the police man, Clara’s maiden name being Partridge. It doesn’t have any specific meaning, but the presence of a bird name means that they are a character to watch.

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Mrs. Hawking’s widows weeds

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In order to give a good mental image of what Mary and Mrs. Hawking are supposed to look like, I’ve been working to create images that are as representative as possible of what I see in my head. Though of course when casting a show one must go with the actress with the best ability to portray the character, the photographs on this website are pretty accurate representations of what I imagine them looking like– Mary is tall and fit with dark hair and freckles, with a kind, pretty face, while Mrs. Hawking is small and powerful, with arresting features behind wavy blonde hair and sharp green eyes.

I recently held a photo shoot to capture more images of the characters with my beautiful models Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking and Charlotte Oswald as Mary. They were kind to oblige me, and they are both lovely, perfect for the look of the characters, and wonderful to work with. I specifically wanted shots depicting scenes that occur in the course of the play.

I photographed them in a number of costumes, but one that turned out especially well was Mrs. Hawking’s widow’s gown. I do most of my costuming by adapting pieces I find in thrift stores to my purposes. This costume is based on an original dress I honestly kind of hated it on sight. On the hanger it looked like a garbage bag, black and shiny and chintzy. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with dresses made of moire– an iridescent fabric that looks like it has water ripples or wood knots in it –because I always find it pretty when I first glance at it, but the longer I look at it, it looks cheap. But it had a lot of the details I’m looking for in the basis of a Victorian gown, a ruffled collar, puffy sleeves, a cloth belt at the waist.

I bought it without high hopes for it. It just looked so damn tacky in the store. The checkout girl used it to wrap a glass decanter I bought in the same trip, and I never even bothered to unpack it. When this photo shoot rolled around, I hadn’t even tried it in combination with the other elements of the costume, so for all I knew it wasn’t going to work at all. But when I tried it on Frances, with black long gloves and over two layers of full tiered skirts kindly lent to me by fellow costumer Jenn Giorno… it transformed. Charlotte pinned the collar closed with a black and silver brooch, and cut a slit up the back of the dress so that it spread out over the skirts, and they even puffed out through the slit in the back to make a sort of bustle-y detail. The moire looked appropriate for the sort of tapestry appearance of fancy Victorian fabric. All together, it made for a shockingly beautiful, and shockingly accurate-looking, costume. I’m really pleased at how well it turned out, but also that I think this is evidence that my eye as costumer is developing, as I’m getting better and better at spotting pieces that will work in combination even if I never actually see them together until they’re fulling assembled.

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The stealth suit

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An important part of how Mrs. Hawking goes about her work is her stealth. She is a skilled cat burglar to infiltrate the strongholds of her enemies, a spy well-versed in the ways of avoiding detection while gathering information.

I remember how when, at the Bare Bones reading, I said I imagined Mary as being quite tall and Mrs. Hawking as being very small, the audience laughed in surprise. I think it was mostly due to how Elizabeth Hunter playing her is much taller than Gigi Geller, who was playing Mary, but I think it's also that she's such a formidable presence that people tend to picture her as physically imposing. But part of her struggle with her place is that nature made her a small woman, someone that is not immediately recognizable as physically dangerous. So she has to work around it. She uses her small size to be sneaky, to slip into small places where larger people can't go, to be quick and agile. She can't count on being able to overpower her enemies, so she uses what she does have to evade, to outmaneuver, and to strike before being spotted then vanish without a trace.

When she's out on such missions, she wears a special stealth suit, designed for maneuverability, camouflage, and anonymity. Black with a mask concealing her face. I decided I wanted to make an outfit for this look to, and to have Frances Kimpel, my fierce and mighty physical inspiration for the character, to model it for me. I didn't have a good plan for this shoot, and it would be better done in lower light, but I wanted to get an idea of how the costume looked, and mess around with the composition.

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Here is a reference for the outfit. To make it, I bought two loose-fitting dark gray tops from the thrift store and overdyed them twice with black dye. One top is worn like a shirt, and the other one, the turtleneck, is the mask. I had Frances put on her head with her face showing through the neck, then tied the arms in the back. I struggled with what pants to use. I thought at first maybe black trousers with some stretch to them, in hopes of at least vaguely looking like something a Victorian would have access to. But then, when I was digging through my pants drawer, I found a pair of black riding britches. (I haven't ridden much recently, but I've ridden dressage and hunt seat for years.) They're made of a space age material but they are highly flexible, and I like the idea that a sort of "activewear" they actually would have had in the time period would be adapted to Mrs. Hawking's purposes. The belt and gloves (not pictured here, but visible in all other shots) are leather and belong to me. The little leather box hanging off the belt is also thrifted; it's a jewelry box meant for traveling, but I thought it would serve as the box that holds her instruments while she works.

We used the public library in Waltham for our backdrop mostly. I think I will have to redo this shoot in better light– ninjas do most of their work in the dark, right? –but I am pleased with the proof of concept for the look. :-)

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Our homepage image

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Mrs. Hawking, version 1
Photography by Stephanie Karol
Hair and makeup by Gabrielle Geller
Directed and costumed designed by Phoebe Roberts

with Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking
and Charlotte Oswald as Mary Stone

This image is in replication of those “family portraits” that were often the standard of photography back in the Victorian period. The mistress of the house, and her beloved maidservant.

Frances, while much younger than Mrs. Hawking is supposed to be, was my visual inspiration for the character. A small person, deceptively pretty with her wavy golden hair and capable of being disguised as something non-threatening, delicate, and socially expected. But, like Frances, she is fierce, agile, and much more physically powerful than you might immediately guess. The dress does a pretty good job of hiding just how ripped she, and the character, are.

Charlotte not only has the right look, she is around the right age. She is tall and strong, and I liked the idea of Mary having her statuesque Amazonian figure, her pretty face, her long dark hair, her freckles. I thought a girl of the lower classes who had to make her own way in the world should be physically capable, and I like the contrast between her kind of presence and Mrs. Hawking’s. Also, a tall girl gets noticed, can’t be ignored, for well or for ill. She has both the power, and the responsibility, to answer for herself.

Gigi did some age makeup to make her look older, I think it helps. I like her expression here, that even when she is pretending to be a normal woman, the intensity of her always shines through in her eyes and expression. We had a discussion about how wide eyes are a Frances thing, but narrowed, searching eyes are a Mrs. Hawking thing. Also, she never smiles. Smiles wouldn’t be the done thing in period photography anyway, but it never is for her.

Frances is wearing a costume I assembled a year ago to play Irene Adler in a larp at Intercon. It is a thrifted prom dress with an interesting kind of corsety bodice over a frilly black gauze blouse. It’s not totally period, but the combination of the garments gives a nice impression of the right era. The hat is an ostrich feather derby hat from the same costume. The colors, brown and black, make for a somewhat stark combination, but Mrs. Hawking is a relatively recent widow in a time with strict mourning practices (Queen Victoria was a HARDCORE mourner) so the look works out well.

Mary’s costume is a bit fancy for a maid. That gorgeous lace blouse belongs to Charlotte, and though it’s a little excessively adorned I love how it looks on her. The skirt is a floor length double-layered black silk, over another, heavier skirt to give it more volume. The apron is my toile one, well-used; I debated bleaching it but it’s not like Mary wouldn’t be using it. Also I think of blue as Mary’s color. This costume too gives the right impression even if it’s not perfectly correct.

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Mrs. Hawking scenes 3v3 (substantially rewritten) and 4v2 (significantly expanded)

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Categories: development, mrs. hawking, scenes, Tags: , , , , , ,

The other day I came home to the lovely surprise of Frances and Charlotte performing a scene from Mrs. Hawking in my kitchen. It was the sweetest thing of them to do, and a real joy because they are my fantasy casts for Mrs. Hawking and Mary. It also gave me a real boost in attacking my next homework assignment, which was writing the first half of the play.

I have now just finished writing, and sending in to my teacher, that first half or so. I had a really hard time figuring out how to tell the story I wanted to tell. It’s tough to construct a sensical mystery plot, where both protagonist and antagonist act to the best of their abilities, where neither of them ever “act stupid” for the sake of the story. I really hate that. But it’s tough to build it well enough to avoid that, especially since I tend to be the sort of writer who decides what needs to be accomplished by the story and then designs it to achieve that.

Here are scene three, which I have substantially rewritten from even the second version I posted here, and scene four, which incorporates and significantly expands the small bit I wrote for 31 Plays in 31 Days. I’ve posted them together because they are closely connected, they flow more or less continuously one into the next. I will post scenes five and six separately, as the location and focus strongly shift.

Scene 3

(A well-dressed upper middle class woman, MRS. CELESTE FAIRMONT, sits in her fancy parlor, fretting. The bell rings and MRS. FAIRMONT leaps up to answer it. It is MARY in a walking hat. MRS. FAIRMONT starts exaggeratedly.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, my goodness!

(MARY removes her hat.)

MARY: Forgive me for this intrusion at this hour, but I must speak to Mrs. Celeste Fairmont.

MRS. FAIRMONT: I am she. Who are you?

MARY: I am Mary Stone, I’ve recently come into the employ of Mrs. Victoria Hawking.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Mrs. Hawking sent you?

MARY: Ah— not as such. But madam didn’t come home last night, and according to her appointment book she was engaged to see you that evening. Begging your pardon, but I didn’t know what else to do but come and ask if you knew her whereabouts.

MRS. FAIRMONT: She was indeed here last night… but she hasn’t returned. Not yet.

MARY: Did you expect her? Do you know where she went?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I, ah, I cannot precisely say—

(There is a crashing sound outside. The ladies’ heads whip around.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: What was that?

(A commotion of running feet and raised voices from a gang of people outside. MARY runs to the window beside the door and looks out.)

MARY: There’s a whole gang of ruffians!

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, God!

(The second window starts to scrape and grind open. A figure dressed in black begins to climb in. Again MRS. FAIRMONT panics and makes small sounds of terror, cowering behind a chair. MARY seizes the poker from the fireplace and places herself between the figure and MRS. FAIRMONT. The figure drops catlike to the floor, then stands, cradling one arm in pain. The masked face turns to look at the women.)

MARY: Stop! Stop right there!

(Suddenly MARY stops short, gaping in shock. She drops the poker.)

MARY: Mrs. Hawking!?

(The figure pulls off the mask to reveal MRS. HAWKING.)

MRS. HAWKING: Mary?

(Briefly MRS. HAWKING examines her injured arm. MARY lets the poker clatter to the ground.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Is that blood?

MARY: Are you hurt?

(MRS. HAWKING runs to the door and peers through the peephole.)

MARY: What— what’s happened to you?

MRS. HAWKING: No matter now. Celeste, where are they?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I don’t know, I don’t know!

MARY: They’re nearby but they haven’t come here yet.

MRS. HAWKING: Thank God.

(She goes about securing the windows.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Why are they here?

MRS. HAWKING: Because I was sloppy. Very sloppy.

MRS. FAIRMONT: What are we to—?

(There is a hard thumping at the door. MRS. FAIRMONT freezes. She and MARY both look to MRS. HAWKING.)

MRS. HAWKING: They cannot find me here.

(She ducks into a closet. There is another THUMP THUMP THUMP. MARY and MRS. FAIRMONT look at each other. MARY slowly goes to answer the door. MRS. FAIRMONT collapses stiffly into a chair. MARY opens the door to JOHN COLCHESTER, a large man dressed in rough clothes.)

MARY: Fairmont residence. May I help you?

COLCHESTER: There’s been some commotion in the neighborhood.

MARY: Yes, we heard.

(He pushes past MARY into the room and takes a few steps around, looking.)

COLCHESTER: There’s a dangerous person about. We was after them just now but it seems they’ve disappeared. You haven’t seen nothing?

MARY: I’m sure we’ve no idea what you’re speaking of.

COLCHESTER: What are you all doing up and about at this hour?

MARY: We were disturbed by the noise! And by banging at the door in the wee hours of the morning!

(He moves very close to the closet where MRS. HAWKING is hiding.)

COLCHESTER: And you don’t have any notion of where this fellow went off to?

MARY: Of course we don’t! Now I must insist that you leave! You have frightened Mrs. Fairmont quite enough.

(MARY goes back to the door and holds it open for him. COLCHESTER looks around once more, then nods once and moves toward it.)

COLCHESTER: Right, then. Good evening to you ladies.

MARY: Good evening, sir.

(COLCHESTER goes out the door. She closes it behind him and exhales heavily. MRS. FAIRMONT buries her face in her hands and gives a sob of relief. MRS. HAWKING emerges from the closet.)

MRS. HAWKING: That was quite splendid of you, Mary.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking, this is— this is highly irregular!

(MRS. HAWKING goes to peer out the window.)

MRS. HAWKING: Good, they’re clearing out now.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Thank God! Oh, how awful that was!

MRS. HAWKING: Entirely my fault, Mrs. Fairmont. I was spotted due to an error in my calculations. I very much apologize for drawing them on to you.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Have they discovered us, then?

MRS. HAWKING: They never saw my face… but if they know your name, it may not bode well that they came knocking on your door. But for the moment I believe the enterprise is still secure.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking!

MRS. HAWKING: Well, perhaps not entirely. Mary, whatever are you doing here?

MARY: Looking for you! When you didn’t return last night— Mrs. Hawking— I beg your pardon, but I must insist—

MRS. HAWKING: Mary, please—

MRS. FAIRMONT: Never mind that! Did you find the culprits? Who are they?

MRS. HAWKING: I tracked them all up and down the row. They were shockingly circumspect for an alley gang. It led me to suspect they answered to a higher authority. And when at last the crows returned to roost, they confirmed my suspicion. There was such a man.

MRS. FAIRMONT: And who was that?

MRS. HAWKING: Brockton.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Heaven help me.

MARY: Brockton— Lord Cedric Brockton? The— the undersecretary’s clerk?

MRS. FAIRMONT: But he’s a well-born, prominent man! My God, he’s hosting the queen’s ball in celebration of the new Afghan victory! What is the meaning of this?

MRS. HAWKING: I believe you should soon expect a pageboy with a rather serious letter for you, madam.

MRS. FAIRMONT: What? Why?

MRS. HAWKING: Because he would not have taken an interest in anything of yours unless he could make use of it to blackmail you.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, no. No! Oh, God, no…

(MRS. FAIRMONT buries her face in her hands.)

MARY: Blackmail!?

MRS. HAWKING: We must discuss, Mrs. Fairmont, just what it is that you’ve done.

MRS. FAIRMONT: You promised me you would not pry!

MRS. HAWKING: Circumstances have changed.

MRS. FAIRMONT: It is a private matter!

MRS. HAWKING: I know this man, Celeste, I know how he operates. If I am to help you against him, I must understand what it is at stake.

(MRS. FAIRMONT protests, growing more and more hysterical. MRS. HAWKING speaks sternly over her, increasingly irate. Finally MARY springs forward.)

MARY: Please, stop!

(They turn in shock to look at her.)

MARY: Please. This is all… very unsettling… I must… I must ask that you tell me what all this is about. Right away.

MRS. HAWKING: My word, Mary.

MARY: Mrs. Hawking! I must insist.

(MRS. HAWKING considers. Finally she nods.)

MRS. HAWKING: Very well. You’ve done a great deal this evening without being asked… you’ve the right to ask something of me.

(She looks to MRS. FAIRMONT.)

MRS. HAWKING: Celeste… perhaps we should begin at the beginning.

(MRS. FAIRMONT looks distressed for a moment, then relents with a nod.)

    Scene 4

(Still in the Fairmont parlor, MRS. FAIRMONT sits in a chair having collected herself somewhat. MRS. HAWKING stands at the window, gazing sternly ahead at nothing. MARY pours a cup of tea for MRS. FAIRMONT, then politely takes her own seat.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: You must see… we are very respectable people. My husband’s family, the Fairmonts, and of course my own. I would never do anything to compromise our good names, you must understand that.

MRS. HAWKING: And yet, things do not always go as we plan them to.

MRS. FAIRMONT: No. No, indeed they do not. You see… it seemed to me of late that there’s been someone… following me.

MARY: Following you? When you’re out and about?

MRS. FAIRMONT: Not all the time. Only when… you see, we keep… that is to say, I keep… some rooms in Cheapside. I visit this place upon occasion. And it seemed that there was someone on my heels whenever I made my way over there. I thought I might be imagining it, until… until I arrived one day to find that someone had broken into the rooms. The place had been… raided, torn apart.

MARY: Were the police of no assistance?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I could not go to the police! My husband… does not know I keep these rooms. No one does. But I had heard… something that women whispered of, society ladies, their washerwomen, women of all standings… that when a lady finds herself in a predicament that she cannot resolve alone… there is someone… someone outside the usual workings of society, who can take extraordinary action to help. I took steps to learn who this person was, to seek this service for myself.

MRS. HAWKING: And that is where I came in.

MARY: You?

MRS. HAWKING: There is so much that presses on a woman in this world of ours. It offers them so little recourse when those presses become too great. Someone must step outside all of that to do what’s necessary. That someone is me.

MARY: My God.

MRS. HAWKING: Mrs. Fairmont engaged me to discover who had broken into her rooms. And now that I am certain that your assailants acted on the orders of Lord Cedric Brockton, I must tell you immediately that your situation is quite serious.

MRS. FAIRMONT: You’ve had dealings with this man before?

MRS. HAWKING: Not directly, but I am familiar with his operations. He appears publically to be a man of minor nobility holding a post as a minor public official. But he is one of the most dangerous blackmailers in Europe. His network of spies and operatives gather for him the secrets of the most powerful personages in the country, those secrets that would destroy them were they ever made known, and exacting a heavy price to keep them concealed. He is slowly building an empire of these skeletons, concealed from connection to him, of victims powerless to strike back lest their secrets be revealed. He would not have set his sights on you unless there was something he could use against you.

(MRS. FAIRMONT covers her face with her hands.)

MRS. HAWKING: Brockton’s men that broke in, it was clear that they must have been looking for something. Something you’ve been hiding.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Good heavens.

MRS. HAWKING: I had occasion to investigate this place in my tracing of those men. You had done your best to purge it of all your connection to it, but there was no mistaking the cherub trim along the baseboard, nor the profession of the nursemaid you employed. Even hiding the cradle could not hide it for a nursery. Tell me who it was, Mrs. Fairmont, that they were looking for.

(MRS. FAIRMONT wrestles with it, then relents.)

MRS. FAIRMONT: Not looking for. They found him. They found my son.

MARY: Your son?

MRS. FAIRMONT: My boy, my Gabriel. They’ve taken him. They’ve stolen away my boy.

MARY: Why in God’s name would they take your child?

MRS. HAWKING: For the same reason, I would imagine, that you should keep him in rented rooms and may visit him only on occasion. I take it he is not the son of Mr. Fairmont as well?

MRS. FAIRMONT: I was young. I made a mistake.

MRS. HAWKING: Before or after your marriage?

MRS. FAIRMONT: Before. I was but a girl. We lived in the country, there was a young man, only a groom that worked in the stables, but he had red hair, and he was very charming. But I was to marry Jacob. My father was beside himself. He sent my young man away, but… the damage was done. And when Gabriel was born, he sent my child away as well.

MARY: Oh, madam. How terrible.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Jacob and I were wed, and we came here to London. But… I could not leave my boy. It took me years but I found him again. My father had given him to a workhouse, to be raised as an unwanted orphan. My poor boy… so I stole him away from that wretched place to those secret rooms in Cheapside, and engaged a nurse to care for him by days.

MRS. HAWKING: You have been running quite a risk these last few years to keep the boy.

MRS. FAIRMONT: He is my son! I could not bear leaving him in that dreadful place!

MRS. HAWKING: And now he has fallen into the clutches of Cedric Brockton.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Jacob does not know, you see. It would… it would destroy him to know I had dishonored us this way. Not to mention the ruin of his career if anyone knew…

MRS. HAWKING: Naturally. Quite the bargaining chip he’s found himself, then. And quite the challenge for us, to save a good name and the boy as well.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Surely— surely there’s something you can do. They say you have saved dozens of women. For my blameless husband’s sake, and for my poor child whose only crime is the folly of his mother.

MRS. HAWKING: I shall be frank, madam. This will not be a simple operation. But I will do everything that is in my power to see you through.

(MRS. FAIRMONT clings to her in desperate gratitude. MRS. HAWKING winces and tenses her left side.)

MARY: Mrs. Hawking, your arm.

MRS HAWKING: I’d quite forgotten.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, my goodness, you’re still hurt! We should— we should send for someone.

MRS. HAWKING: No doctors, Celeste.

MRS. FAIRMONT: But, Victoria—

MRS. HAWKING: Certainly not!

MARY: Please— allow me.

(She moves close to MRS. HAWKING, who instinctively withdraws.)

MARY: I have some knowledge of this, madam.

(MRS. HAWKING regards her a moment, and then undresses to her shift. MARY pushes it down off her shoulders and she pulls out her bare arm to reveal a bleeding bruise.)

MARY: Oh, my. This requires some attention. Madam, if you’ll bring me the dipper.

(MRS. FAIRMONT brings over the basin of water. MARY draws a white cloth from her apron pocket.)

MARY: Mrs. Fairmont, have you any clean linen about? This will want wrapping.

MRS. FAIRMONT: Oh, yes, of course.

MARY: And some alcohol to bathe it.

MRS. FAIRMONT: I’ll go and fetch it.

(MRS. FAIRMONT exits. MARY wets her cloth and begins dabbing at MRS. HAWKING’s wound.)

MARY: This is serious.

MRS. HAWKING: I have seen worse.

(MARY examines up her arm.)

MARY: You have… so many scars.

MRS. HAWKING: As I said.

MARY: Does this happen… often? In this work that you do?

MRS. HAWKING: On occasion. You may count how often.

(MARY works in silence a moment.)

MARY: And… what do you do?

MRS. HAWKING: I beg your pardon?

MARY: When this happens. If you will not see a doctor.

MRS. HAWKING: I manage well enough on my own.

MARY: I see. If I may ask… what if it were more serious than this? Something that you could not manage on your own?

MRS. HAWKING: Seeking medical attention is out of the question, Miss Stone. Any outside attention risks exposure of my… enterprise.

MARY: I understand. But… you’ve no other assistance? Is there no one trustworthy?

MRS. HAWKING: I cannot chance it. Discovery by the wrong person could mean the end of everything.

MARY: I think you make a great mistake in that.

MRS. HAWKING: I did not ask your opinion, Miss Stone.

MARY: Everyone has need of help sometime.

MRS. HAWKING: You are out of turn, Miss Stone.

MARY: Forgive me, madam… but if there is never anyone to help when you need it, it could mean the end of everything.

MRS. HAWKING: It is an easy thing to say when you need not live in fear of your well-meaning fool of a husband putting a stop to you for what he thinks is your own good.

MARY: He never knew?

MRS. HAWKING: I could not permit it.

MARY: In twenty years of marriage?

MRS. HAWKING: One can hide anything from anyone if one so chooses.

MARY: You couldn’t hide it from me.

(MRS. HAWKING’s eyes widen in surprise, and she turns her head to regard MARY very seriously. MRS. FAIRMONT returns with the linen and alcohol. She hands it over to MARY.)

MARY: Thank you.

(She soaks the linen in the alcohol.)

MARY: There will be pain, madam.

MRS. HAWKING: I have no fear of that.

(Her face is stern as MARY wraps her wounds in it.)

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