Tag Archives: humor

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The Mrs. Hawking drinking game

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Categories: looking ahead, supplemental, Tags:


Oh, look, it’s time for the ballroom scene!

When writing a serialized adventure story, you tend to develop some signature features, both of the associated genres and for this particular continuity itself. It helps build the series’s unique identity and gives it a recognizable character. But as we rehearse the shows and continue to develop more, there’s always the challenge of maintaining that signature identity and not falling into formula.

As such, we like to joke about how “now it’s time for the ballroom scene!” or how “now Mrs. Hawking is mean to the client!” It helps us not take ourselves too seriously and have fun in rehearsal. But it’s always a useful reminder to not fall too much into patterns. As I work on part 4, I need to remember to vary from the expectations to keep things original and fresh.

So, in the spirit of fun and keeping all this in mind, I present to you the Mrs. Hawking Drinking Game! For your enjoyment as you get to know the stories better:

The story begins by finishing up another case – 1 drink!

Mary tries to get some positive feedback from Mrs. Hawking – 1 drink!
– Mrs. Hawking grudgingly gives it – 1 drink!
– She balances it out with criticism because God forbid they get too comfy – 2 drinks!

The client withholds some information from Mrs. Hawking – 1 drink!

The team discusses the case – 1 drink!
– The team discusses how they’ve reached a roadblock in the case – 1 drink!

There is an action scene – 1 drink!
– Mary beats someone up – 1 drink!
– Mary beats someone up a fireplace poker – 2 drinks!

They have to attend a ball to investigate the case – 1 drink!
– Mrs. Hawking finds some way to avoid having to show up in a gown – 1 drink!

The team does detective work – 1 drink!

Someone has to make up a clever lie or story on the spot – 1 drink!
– It’s not Nathaniel – 2 drinks!

The team knows who their enemy is – 1 drink!
– The team does NOT know who their enemy is – 2 drinks!

We meet a new member of the Hawking family – 1 drink!

People talk about Mrs. Hawking when she isn’t there – TINY SIP GO IT EASY ON THIS ONE
– People complain about Mrs. Hawking when she isn’t there – 1 drink!
– People make fun of Mrs. Hawking when she isn’t there – FINISH THAT SUCKER

Nathaniel goes to extreme length to win scraps of Mrs. Hawking’s approval – 1 drink!

A small detail is mentioned in an earlier play that is built upon in a later play – 1 drink!

Mrs. Hawking shakes down her own client – 1 drink!

Nathaniel is made to look ridiculous just for trying to help – 1 drink!
– And by the end of the scene, everyone’s mad at him for it – 1 drink!
– Including someone he’s trying to help – 2 drinks!

Mrs. Hawking is an emotionally closed off jerk – 1 drink!
– Mary can’t take it any more and calls her on it – 1 drink!
– Nathaniel can’t take it any more and calls her on it – 2 drinks!

The team has a tender bonding moment – 1 drink!
– Nathaniel bursts in at exactly the right time to ruin somebody else’s moment – 1 drink!
– Mrs. Hawking thinks things are a little too cozy and ruins it – 2 drinks!

The team springs a trap to catch their quarry – 1 drink!
– Arthur comes in to play cleanup – 1 drink!

The team has a wrap-up meeting with the client – 1 drink!

Mrs. Hawking gets a badass finisher line – 1 drink!

Feel free to play along with us at our next productions in Waltham on May 13th! But maybe don’t use alcohol, as you might not make it all the way through the shows.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2017.

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“I Saw Three Ships” – a Mrs. Hawking holiday scene

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Categories: character, scenes, Tags: , , ,

I don’t know where this came from. It’s a little seasonally-appropriate Hawking scene popped into my head tonight, and I scribbled it down in a few minutes just for amusement’s sake. It’s probably never going to fit into any of the plays, but it was an opportunity for some cute character moments, and one really fun line. It’s nice to see them just in a low-stakes character moment that’s purely fun and sweet, rather than all mired in drama.

It made me smile; I hope it does you too. 😁

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“Three Ships”
From the Mrs. Hawking series
By Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, housemaid and apprentice society avenger
VICTORIA HAWKING, society avenger and her mentor
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her nephew and assistant

London, England – December, 1884
~~~

(MARY dusts in the parlor, humming the Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships.” MRS. HAWKING enters to choose a book from the shelf, then exits. MARY begins softly singing.)

MARY: (singing) I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She glances after MRS. HAWKING to make sure she’s gone. Then she goes and gets a flour sack containing a garland of evergreen with holly berries. She holds it up and dances around with it a little, singing louder now.)

MARY: (singing) Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day? Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day in the morning?

(She begins to string up the garland over the mantlepiece and along the parlor wall.)

MARY: (singing) And they sailed into Bethlehem, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And they sailed into Bethlehem,, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dances around the room.)

MARY: (singing) And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dips and twirls, singing at the top of her voice. Without her noticing, NATHANIEL enters, and he hangs back watching her with a smile on his face.)

MARY: (singing) Then let us all rejoice again, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! Then let us all rejoice again on Christmas Day in the morning!

(As she belts out the last note, she spins around to see MRS. HAWKING reenter frowning. She crosses back to the bookshelf, glaring at MARY’s decorating as she goes. She snatches a book off the shelf.)

MRS. HAWKING: Bethlehem is landlocked.

(She exits. MARY turns sheepishly and sees NATHANIEL standing behind her, grinning. After a moment, he takes up the last verse and she joins him.)

BOTH: I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning!

(They break off together, doubled over into laughter.)

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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What I learned from the Bare Bones reading of Base Instruments

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Categories: base instruments, Tags: , ,

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Photos by Beckie Hunter

I was really pleased and proud of how well the staged reading of Base Instruments went this past Friday. The cast did an amazing job, and the audience was great, laughing at all the right parts and having some really interesting feedback in the discussion we held after.

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A major reason to have a staged reading is to hear the words of a play aloud, as they were intended to be heard, in front of a real audience. This enables you to experience the play in a way you can’t just looking at the page alone. It’s even better when you can talk a little with the audience and get a sense of how they actually experienced it.

One thing that was very satisfying was how funny the piece was. Generally, I’d classify these as adventure stories meant to have some genuinely affecting drama in them, but I don’t want them to become heavy or grim. Lightening them with humor is a great way to charm the audience, to keep things fun and to balance out darker moments. I actually discovered the power of this when Vivat Regina was read in an earlier Bare Bones, and saw how well received the increased humor in the second piece versus the first was. Introducing Nathaniel’s brother Justin Hawking worked particularly well for this, as his wit and attitude was a great way to work in jokes. In no small part thanks to Eric Cheung’s performance of him, there were a few scenes where he got a laugh with almost every line!

The reading also cautioned me for the need for clarity. When you’re trying to present a Fairy Play Whodunnit, it’s important that the necessary information to solve the mystery is delivered clearly enough for the audience to solve. There were some qualitative differences in information that were not made plain enough, and that’s good information for me to have.

Also, there are several Russian ballet dancers in the plot whose names and introductions may not have been made sufficiently plain, making them easy to confuse. On that score, some of it may have been because it was a reading, and the same actress Samantha LeVangie read for both of them, which is something that might be fixed in the staging. But it’s very good to know that confusing the characters might be at issue, to alert me to make sure they are each clearly introduced when they enter the story. This might be a matter of editing, but it’s also going to inform how we stage it when it gets fully performed.

Most of all, I am glad to have found that the story works. The plot flowed smoothly, and the character arcs, relationships, and strong emotional moments resonated with the audience. That’s always the most important part of storytelling, and you can never be sure if you’ve managed it until you get in front of living breathing people. I really do believe that each Hawking script has come out better than the last, and this only confirmed it. So thanks very much to everyone who came out to hear it and give their thoughts, and great thanks to Theatre@First for giving us the opportunity to have it read!

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The mistake in Vivat Regina

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

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When I was in graduate school studying playwriting and screenwriting, one of my mentors, the great Boston theater artist Kate Snodgrass, said that everything that in the text of a play is intentional. Whatever writing choices made it into the final draft have to be treated by us, readers and critics, as specifically included on purpose by that writer. It’s all part of the world of the story, and nothing can be chalked up to as accidental, or a mistake.

With all due respect to Kate, I don’t always agree with that. As a writer, I find that the process isn’t always one smooth delivery of brainchild onto the page. I do tend to be a very intentional writer. It’s just my style to do a lot of advance planning, and I always have a motivation for why I made the choice that I made. Doesn’t mean it’s a good choice, of course, but I did it on purpose for a reason!

But even I end up with stuff in my finished projects that weren’t part of my grand design. Sometimes I have a really good part A and a really good part C, so I end up hacking together a part B because it gets me from one to the other. Or sometimes I include something that struck me on a whim at the moment, when if I’d considered it a little more deeply, I might not find it consistent with the overall vision.

One such small moment exists in Vivat Regina. There’s a little recurring bit throughout the piece of how Mrs. Hawking doesn’t like keeping tea biscuits in the house. It’s mostly there as a joke, a way to make fun of her for her weirdness, to give the characters, particularly Mary and Clara, a way to relate to each other.

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“You haven’t even any decent tea biscuits!” Rehearsing with Circe Rowan as Mary and Samantha LeVangie as Clara.

Why is this a mistake? Because– why would Mrs. Hawking have a problem with tea biscuits? It’s not immediately obvious, so you as the audience might be wondering. When I as the writer think about it, it gives me pause as I realize— she actually doesn’t have a reason. At least, she didn’t when I wrote it. Because I didn’t include it because it grew out of some feature that I wanted to make part of Mrs. Hawking’s character. It’s there not because of something about her— it’s there because of something about me. Which is a massively amateurish thing for a writer.

I thought that was funny, without thinking about it too much, because I hate keeping crackers and little munchables around because I eat them all immediately. But that’s my issue, that’s not true of Mrs. Hawking. It’s just not who she is. And that’s a problem, because I included a feature of a character that didn’t derive from that character’s unique nature. It’s a sign of immature writing to make all of your characters reflections of you rather than independent, complex people. So in writing in that little bit, I made a rookie mistake.

Upon reflection, I decided to keep it. It’s funny, it adds something to the interactions. But that means it’s in there. It’s part of the fabric of the world. My challenge now is to find the truth in it. Even though it came from me rather than the character, now I need to find something about the character that makes it true.

Right now, I’m leaving it up to the interpretation of the actors. I’m trying to take in what they bring to the piece to find inspiration for the real meaning. But that just shows you, artists are fallible. Things can work in their despite your best intentions for a grand design. But luckily, in theater you are collaborating with so many other talented people that they can help bring order to the chaos, meaning where there was none.

I leave it up to you whether or not we made it work.

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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Baby got bustle

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Categories: performance, Tags: , , ,

Oh. My. God. Vicky, look at her bustle.

Mrs. Hawking goes up this Saturday, and we’re in tech week! That means making sure all the technical elements are finalized. Part of the fun of our Victorian setting is getting to dress our actors in the eye-catching styles of the period. Our costumer Jennifer Giorno is very concerned with capturing the authentic look for this time and place. Because of this, you may have noticed that our ladies have got an awful lot of junk in the trunk. Because Jenn, you see, likes big bustles.

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She likes big bustles and she cannot lie.
You Victorians can’t deny
That when a lady walks in with a corseted waist
And a bustle made of lace
You get sprung!

Many fashion trends are in some way about exaggerating some physical characteristic of the form. In Victorian times, they pushed out the feminine hourglass, by cinching the waist in with corsets and building out the hips and rear. This latter effect was achieved by means of the bustle, a structural undergarment that sat just below the waist to add fullness to the back of the skirt and keep it from dragging on the ground.

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They could be formed a number of ways, by gathered layers of fabric, special cages one tied onto oneself, or with the use of padding. By the 1880s, bustles had grown to enormous proportions, even to the point where it was a common cultural joke to make fun of them, such as George Bernard Shaw does in Arms and the Man.

Want to pull up tough
‘Cause you notice that skirt was stuffed
Dig that pad and cage she’s wearing
I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring
Baby, I ain’t into that narrow type
Want to take your daguerreotype.

Unfortunately this time around we don’t have access to those gorgeous Pendragon gowns, so we have to figure things out for ourselves. Jenn made the volume in the skirt that Circe Rowan will be wearing as Mary in the ballroom scene by a combination of padding and piling up the lace overlay in the back. The bustle attached to the corset then falls over that, making it even fuller.

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Even Mrs. Hawking, who does not care one whit about fashion, finds herself obligated to wear one because it was so ubiquitous then that it would attract attention if she didn’t. I also like how the huge, unweidy frippery of the bustled skirt contrasts with her sleek, small, lean silhouette in her stealth suit.

So, as the poets say, fuck them skinny bitches in the ballroom– our hustle don’t want none unless you got bustle, hon!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th at 119 School Street, Waltham, MA at 2PM and 6PM as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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What I learned from the Vivat Regina reading

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Categories: looking ahead, performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , ,

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Photo by Beckie Hunter.

I was extremely pleased with how the staged reading of Vivat Regina went this past Thursday. My actors did such a wonderful job bringing the story to life, I couldn’t have been happier with the representation of my work. I had a very nice audience who reacted appreciatively to it, making me believe the piece is in fact in a solid state. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make this possible.

Readings should not only exhibit a piece, they should also teach you something about it as its writer. What jumped out at me in this more than anything else was that people responded to the humor of it. I expected them to like the plot and character arcs, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that pretty much all the jokes got laughs. And I was told afterward that the funny parts were some of the most enjoyable of the entire play.

I would not say I am a particularly skilled comedy writer. But I do understand the value of lightening up a serious narrative with humor. A story like Mrs. Hawking’s, that of a frankly unhappy person acting on their rage and resentment, can easily go too far into the territory of “grimdark,” like Batman at his worst. That can get overbearing and excessively heavy very quickly. So I am extremely happy to hear that not only were my humorous moments in Vivat Regina genuinely funny, but they helped balance the serious parts rather than take away from them.

A lot of the humor is based in knowledge of the Victorian period, like when Nathaniel say that Newcastle was his grand military station abroad, so I was concerned it wouldn’t read. But maybe my audience was just smart, because most of it seemed to come across! Also the humor in Mary and Arthur’s banter in the scene with their first meeting seemed to do a lot to make people enjoy it. I very much wanted Arthur to come off as charming, and I think him being an effortlessly funny and sharp-witted guy helped. That scene was very cute, and did a lot to warm people to the relationship to come.

One thing I did not rely on was making any of the characters inherently absurd. I want this to be a story about people rather than caricatures, and I don’t want anyone reduced to a punchline. Take Clara, for example. Clara is a major source of comic relief in this piece, with her biting wit and mocking critiques of our hero. But I very much wanted her to be a substantial person whose humor came from the clever things she said, rather than from her being an absurd person. To annoy Mrs. Hawking, she intentionally behaves like a parody of the gossipy, self-absorbed society woman her aunt believes her to be, but it is put on, not her true nature. I was extremely glad to see that read.

What I take away from all this is that I should make a real effort in the future to include humor in the Mrs. Hawking stories. That’s a bit of a daunting prospect, as I know comedy is not my forte, but I’m glad to have gathered that information. I want these pieces to be as enjoyable and multi-layered as possible, and the lighter moments really seem to add a lot.

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“Practicing” — scribbling about honing the craft

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

I’ve mentioned that a major influence on the character of Mrs. Hawking is Batman. Mostly this manifests in her internal workings– the way she runs on anger, taking an eternal vengeance for the way the world crushes women. But it also inspires how I imagine she works.

I’ve always thought that the diegetic reason for why Batman is so good at everything he does is that in the time normal people screw around on the Internet and read books and have human relationships, he is studying and training and honing himself into the ultimate weapon against crime. I decided Mrs. Hawking works much the same way, as her work is the most important thing in her life, and she doesn’t see the value so much in doing things for pleasure or having connections to other people.

I think it would add a lot of texture and interest to the stories to demonstrate how almost all her free time is spent in studying and training. The following scribble is short and very rough, but it shows a little of the sort of thing I’m imagining for this. I also like the idea of keeping it a little playful, as I’m always on the lookout for places to add humor and humanity to lighten up the narrative.

Also it was somewhat inspired by the fabulous Zoe Keating song “Escape Artist,” whose cello sounds like how I would represent Mrs. Hawking musically.

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“Practicing”
by Phoebe Roberts

MRS. HAWKING, lady’s society avenger
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her gentleman nephew
~~~

(MRS. HAWKING is tied to a chair, her legs roped to its legs and hands in cuffs bound to the back. She is dressed only in her underclothes, corset, shift, and drawers, and her hair is in a braid.)

(She jerks her head to flip her braid over her shoulder. With her teeth she takes hold of a pin tucked into the braid and pulls it out. She considers a moment, then drops the pin on the seat of the chair beside her. She maneuvers herself to move her bound hands to grab it, then busily works it in the lock of her manacles. In a moment she has them undone.)

(She slips out of the cuffs and shakes them off. As she bends down to untie the ropes on her legs, enter a figure in shadow, running in towards her. She immediately rolls forward, the chair still attached to her ankles. She slams the chair down between her and the man approaching, stopping him dead in his tracks. As he cries out, we see the man is NATHANIEL.)

NATHANIEL: Good God!

MRS. HAWKING: Here already? I must be getting slow.

NATHANIEL: What are you– wait a tick, where are your clothes!?

(He turns away awkwardly.)

MRS. HAWKING: I’m practicing. Captors don’t always make it easy for you. Must keep in training, you know.

NATHANIEL: But madam–!

MRS. HAWKING: This is rather a children’s game, at any rate. Even though I chose to pretend I’d not been left my corset.

NATHANIEL: Thank Heaven you only chose to pretend!