Tag Archives: plot

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Reading a mystery

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Categories: base instruments, Tags: ,

One of the fun things about the story of Base Instruments is that it’s a Fair Play Whodunnit. That means it’s a mystery where all the necessary clues are presented to the audience, so they have the chance to solve it along with the detectives.

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Andrew Prentice, Samantha LeVangie, and Elizabeth Hunter reading Base Instruments.

This is important for the June 10th staged reading of Base Instruments with Bare Bones. Many people like to let staged readings wash over them, but when the story is a mystery, it prompts the audience to see if they can figure it out for themselves. But the makes a new challenge for the actors who are reading it. A whodunnit with lots of twists and turns often involves a lot of detail, with the dialogue supplying most of the information. That can lead to a lot of exposition, which can easily all blur together and lose the important clues.

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Circe Rowan reading as Mary Stone.

That means the actors have to take extra care in the scenes where the characters are working through the information they’ve gathered to solve the crime. It has to be kept interesting enough so that no one zones out, but also clear enough so that all the clues come across. And finally, for the sake of verisimilitude, it has to sound natural, like the characters actually are detectives sharing information with each other trying to figure things out.

The combination of all this is the way to get the listeners engaged in unraveling the plot. I love when the audience is hanging on the details of the story, trying to pick apart what’s really going on! That’s the fun of going to all the trouble of putting together a Fair Play Whodunnit.

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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She walked in the door and brought trouble with her

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One of the things Mrs. Hawking borrows from Sherlock Holmes is that her work comes from clients— specific people in need who come to her seeking her help, skills, and advice. All the cases that provide the overall structure for each episode are from women who bring them in for Mrs. Hawking to work on. This is where Mrs. Hawking’s epithet comes from– unless she has no ladies to stand up for, she cannot be the Lady’s Champion of London.

Because we’ve got a model going, the challenge is to include lots of different variations on theme. Each client needs to be her own person, with her own attitude, her own characteristics, her own situation, her own unique problem.

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Our very first client was Celeste Fairmont. A refined society woman married to an important man, Mrs. Fairmont faces the challenges of the word armored in an air of intense respectability. She comes into the story when her one transgression in all her life is discovered by the villain, blackmailer Lord Cedric Brockton. While at first she tries to hide the truth even from Mrs. Hawking, the reveal of her scandalous secret ends up driving our hero to confront some old wounds of her own.

Sarah Jenkins as Mrs. Fairmont

Sarah Jenkins played Mrs. Fairmont in our most recent production of Mrs. Hawking at the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival, but for our upcoming, Arielle Kaplan, our original Mrs. Fairmont, will be returning to again perform at Arisia.

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The client in Vivat Regina comes cloaked in mystery and misdirection. Speaking in a slight German accent, this well-dressed lady introduces herself with, “You may address me as Mrs. Johanna Braun,” in reference to Sherlock Holmes classic “A Scandal in Bohemia.” It is clear that she is not exactly who she says she is. But as the play goes on, more and more hints are dropped as to her true identity, and perhaps the viewer will figure it out as Mrs. Hawking does. Her mission, as well as her secret self, casts a harsh light on the real social problems the Victorian age was rife with.

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Mrs. Braun will be portrayed in this first-ever stage performance of the character by actress Joye Thaller. Joye also read for the role of Mrs. Braun in the Vivat Regina staged reading, hosted by Theatre@First’s Bare Bones reading series in 2014.

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The third installment, Base Instruments, which will be released in full script form shortly, introduces Miss Elena Zakharova as the client, a rising star in the St. Petersberg ballet. With the murder of her fellow dancer, she brings the first true mystery we ever watch the team solve. But the story she brings into Mrs. Hawking’s parlor is not the whole story, and the real truth reveals a lurking darkness even beyond the grimness of murder.

Of course, with a series of characters who all serve a similar role in the story, some patterns do emerge. Given the restrictions on women in Victorian society, the same one that often make it so they have need of Mrs. Hawking, mean they are taking quite a risk in even seeking out her help. Does this mean they are frightened when they come in? Full of righteous anger at the state of affairs? Is it taking every ounce of courage they have in order to reach out, or has the direness of the situation given them passion? I try to give the actresses portraying these characters some room to bring their own interpretation. But everything starts with the script, so I want the text to inspire them to complete characterizations.

One thing is common— Mrs. Hawking may be their champion, but it seems that at one point or another in each story, she finds a need to shake down her own client! Whether she thinks they’re lying or taking advantage the system she fights, our hero sometimes loses sight of exactly what she’s fighting for. It reveals an aspect of our hero that may have real consequences on the storytelling in the future, so I need to take great care to explore all the possibilities brought on by the ladies walking into the parlor.

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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Finished draft of Base Instruments!

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

I am pleased to announce that Base Instruments, part three of the Mrs. Hawking series, has a complete draft!

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I had some friends over to read it, as I love to do when evaluating a play, and the response was great. Now I have a direction for the edit! Thanks to Jane Becker, Charlotte Brewer, Matthew Kamm, Tegan Kehoe, and Samantha LeVangie for their great feedback! The stuff I need to fix isn’t huge, fortunately, but it will require some deft tweaking in order to improve, and that level of subtlety will be challenging. And hearing the whole piece together means I learned some interesting things about this new installment of the story.

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

Base Instruments turned out to be very much Nathaniel’s play. It wasn’t exactly intentional, but with so many of his close family members featuring, it was only natural that he would end up being the most central character. Even though I want the series to mostly belong to Mary and Mrs. Hawking, it became clear in the writing of the previous two plays that Nathaniel was going to serve as the third lead. And since those first two dealt with the two of them primarily, it was all right if Nathaniel came to the forefront by piece three. Not only does he have the most stage time, his arc plays out with more characters than anyone else’s. I like to think he’s getting really developed.

Justin, Nathaniel’s brother, proved to be very charismatic, as I hoped he would be! Similarly to Clara in Vivat Regina, he was the cool new character Base Instruments added to the cast. I’ve become very devoted to the idea that these pieces need comic relief to balance the drama, and both he and Clara brought some of the lightest moments of wit and humor. I don’t know how often he’ll be able to come back, given the direction the series will take from here, but it will be a real shame if I don’t figure out how to fit him in again.

In fact, the structure of the play changed in an interesting way because of the expansion of the world in this manner. While the two previous installments mostly just followed around Mrs. Hawking and Mary, mostly together, Base Instruments had enough threads going on that its scenes skip back and forth between them. It gives the story a breadth and texture, allowing a much more complex series of events to happen, with a more careful pacing as the threads break each other up. And frankly? It’s pretty damn cool that one of the most engaging scenes in the play happens between two secondary characters, one who’ve we’ve only just met in this piece. That can only be possible when the world and its dynamics are very rich.

My plan is to dig into the edit and get it done in the next few weeks. After that I’d like to have a second reading, to make sure the changes improved and tightened things. Then it will be posted here on the website, and I can truly say I’m completed the first trilogy in the Mrs. Hawking saga!

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“What if the Colonel did black ops?”

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Categories: character, development, Tags: , , ,

As I mentioned in the entry on Early Installment Weirdness, it is common for your conception of who a character is and what they’re like to change the more you work with them. While a fair bit of this happened with the more central characters, particularly Mrs. Hawking herself, you know which person ended up changing the most in my mind? Everyone’s favorite Ghost Character, her late husband Colonel Reginald Prescott Hawking.

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Back when I was imagining Mrs. Hawking as more of a straight-up Sherlock Holmes type— more purely calculating, intellectual, and reserved —I imagined that it might be intriguing if her interior life was something of a black box. I thought it might be engaging if she remained largely inscrutable in her feelings and motivations, leaving the audience to guess from her actions alone. The Colonel, correspondingly, was even more opaque— a distant, detached figure who by virtue of his absence and Mrs. Hawking’s complete lack of interest in him would never be fully understood.

But I really could not stick to this view of them. As the Batman influence became more and more prominent, it became clear that Mrs. Hawking actually had LOTS of strong feelings and motivations, which no matter how much she kept bottling them always threatened to burst out. Maybe it’s a weakness on my part, but I found it much more satisfying to actively, obviously explore her inner life. And by that same token, it became much more interesting to me to make the Colonel a more complex, human figure.

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The first step of that was the devising of his central tragedy— that he really loved Victoria, and was incapable of understanding how that love managed to hurt her. And from there, all these things about him started to assert himself. He was actively excited to have a family with her, and when that was no longer possible he was extremely sad. He realized that she didn’t seem to want anything to do with him, and so decided removing the burden of his presence from her life would be the kindest thing he could do. A lot of people ask me how Mrs. Hawking managed to hide her society avenging work from him for twenty years. The answer to that is partially that he was away a lot, in his capacity as a prominent commander of the British empire. But because we made him more interesting, we found ourselves getting more interested in him. And that means now I wonder a lot about how he spent that time.

Bernie suggested he might have had cool adventures in his time abroad, perhaps serving in some elite capacity in special operations all across the empire. Maybe he led some kind of Howling Commandos-type special force. Who knows what sort of missions he could have run? And, seeing as they were in service to the engine of the British Empire, they might not all have been the most righteous causes. He’s a loyal soldier, but he’s not without moral understanding. How might the Colonel have felt about that?

It’s hard to bring this stuff into the story as we currently conceive of it. It’s Mrs. Hawking’s story above all, not the Colonel’s. But it certainly enriches thing to know what happened behind the scenes, even if we never completely tell the audience what it is. The little character moments it could inform could add so much dimension to our understanding of these people.

I had a vision of how maybe it was an old family legend among the Hawkings that the Colonel was once offered a knighthood and turned it down. Being the reserved person that he was, he never said why, or what for. Nathaniel would of course be fascinated by such a thing, and could ask Mrs. Hawking about it. But she would say she didn’t know why, because, to Nathaniel’s uncomprehending shock, she never asked. And a moment like that says a lot about all parties involved. A great little moment to reveal character.

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Process of drafting Base Instruments

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At last, all that outlining for Base Instruments is paying off. I worked my ass off, with Bernie’s help, to figure out what would happen in each scene, and while that tactic can be grueling, I find it so much easier to actually draft the piece with that effort put in on the front end.

Here is my current process strategy. I have broken each scene down into discreet sections. On stage, changing locations is a big shift, so scenes tend to be demarcated by things that happen in the same circumscribed place (like the parlor, the ballroom, et cetera) in the same continuous time period. So, if Nathaniel and Mary are having a conversation just the two of them for a while, but Mrs. Hawking enters at a later point of it and they three talk together, that’s the same SCENE because of the location and temporal continuity, but I’m considering them different subsections. I find such chunking very useful, as it enables me to break down the task of writing everything into manageable pieces.

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A glimpse of my outline

My goal is to write at least one complete subsection a day until I have a complete first draft. Since it’s usually just a part of the scene, it will only works out to a few pages. I do well with breaking big tasks down into smaller, measurable milestones, so this is really helping me dig into the drafting.

The one thing I’m a little sorry about is that the more I learn about how this story is actually going to be put together, the more of the original scene drafting (much of it done during 31 Plays in 31 Days 2014) is not going to be useable. A shame, a couple pieces I liked there either won’t be room for, or just aren’t applicable anymore. Alas, but sometimes darlings are casualties of the process.

The only thing I haven’t yet worked out in the outline is the ending. I know sort of what I want to happen, but there’s a few mechanical issues I haven’t solved. But I think I needed to switch gears, so I thought switching to writing to waste less time. Still, the climax where they fix everything is still up in the air. But maybe actually fleshing out the piece will help inspire a great solution.

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Bucking the conventions of our genres

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Categories: influences, Tags: , , , ,

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The Mrs. Hawking stories are clearly grounded in several beloved genres. There are elements of the superhero story, the detective story, and certainly the action caper. There’s a lot to like about these kinds of tales, the excitement, the intrigue, the bold, declarative character types. But they’re also pretty well-worn ground by now, so a lot of the more expected conventions have rather lost their gloss. Not to mention they also have their problems!

Mrs. Hawking is attempting to be a new spin on these classic genres. A big part of that is casting off the dead weight, throwing off the conventions that have become boring, dated, or problematic. Here’s some of the ways that we’re moving past your old expected adventure and into a fresh new story.

  • No code names

This one we’ve already covered. Unlike most superheroes, our guys don’t use code names to conceal who they really are. They have other ways to hide other than behind so-called “secret identities.”

  • No dead parents or lovers

We’re at the point in our cultural consciousness where we see a flashback to a hero’s past and people start to automatically say, “Oh, here’s where the parent gets tragically killed in an alleyway.” Batman is of course a huge influence on Mrs. Hawking, but we all crack up at Will Arnett singing “DARKNESS. NO PARENTS,” so clearly it’s become cliché to the point of parody.

Yes, Mrs. Hawking has her baggage, her fraught relationships, and the wounds left over from the way the world has treated her. But she does her work not only to help others, but to help herself. She wants to fix things, but she also does it to feel like she’s not powerless in the world, to have an outlet for her anger and dissatisfaction. Mary and Nathaniel want to help people, and get a ton of personal satisfaction out of the work at the same time. It’s a more interesting motivation for me to explore than just “My parents are dead.”

  • No “fridging”

Building on this last, we’re working hard to avoid “Women in Refrigerators” syndrome. If I had a nickel for every mother, girlfriend, innocent bystander, whatever, who suffered, died, or got kidnapped in a superhero story to motivate the protagonist to act, I would have been able to pay somebody to build that damn set in my backyard in the snow. As comic writer Gail Simone defined it, it’s when a character, usually a woman, is horribly victimized totally without agency of her own, for no other reason order to motivate another character, usually male, to act and grow emotionally. But it’s objectifying and dehumanizing to whoever gets stuck in the victim position. It’s especially bad when the victim is somebody who’s supposed to be capable, inexplicably suddenly unable to take care of themselves just to serve the plot need to drive a protagonist to act.

While I want our heroes to have to step in and help each other when they need it, I want it to feel like they’re all supporting one another. We won’t be turning Mary into a damsel in distress, just so Mrs. Hawking— or worse, Nathaniel —can step in to save her. Instead, they are all going to function as parts of the machine, each one sometimes needing help from another, but never suddenly becoming ineffective just so another member has a moment to shine.

  • No sending people away or terminating relationships to protect them

You know the drill. The hero tries to push away all his possible allies or supports because his lifestyle places them in danger. I find it boring because it seems so pointless— you know they’re just going to sooner or later overcome the hero’s objection and come back. If they didn’t, the hero would have no significant relationships, and how dull a story would that be?

Our heroes are going to have other kinds of interpersonal conflicts that sometimes lead to pushing each other way— Mrs. Hawking is too much of a lone wolf by nature to make her connections come easily, and her solution is all too often going to be to try to cut people out. But she believes people are better and more worthy of respect when they place themselves in jeopardy for a good cause. She’s never going to try to make Mary, Nathaniel, or anyone else stay out of danger “for their own good.”

  • No infallibility

Batman is good at everything. Sherlock Holmes is always right. Even when they’re surrounded by people who ostensibly have other strengths, even when they act like utter dickheads, in the end everyone defers to their superior awesomeness that turns out was the winning strategy all along. I love those guys, but sometimes they’re so perfect it’s like they’re not heroes— they’re magic.

Mrs. Hawking is a stone cold badass, a smart, tough, super-cool urban ninja. But even in her very first story, we see her screw up and make mistakes. She was spotted on her first mission to help out Mrs. Fairmont and had to run for her life. She gets herself trapped in the rafters during the club scene and needs Mary and Nathaniel to bail her out. She is a real person with limitations and flaws. That’s what makes it meaningful for her to have Mary and Nathaniel on her team. They bring the skills that she lacks— people skills, communication skills, teambuilding skills. She needs them because she’s not all-capable.

  • No “my city”-ing

Brooding over villains screwing up “my city.” Heard it a million times! Boring!

Mrs. Hawking thinks London is kind of a pit. But when your goal is tear down a social order that’s strangling the world, a pit that thinks it’s the center of the universe is a pretty good place to start.

As you can see, we’re not the same old adventure story. So if you’re weary with the endless parade of these conventions, check us out, because we’re determined to show you something new and different.

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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The challenge of writing Base Instruments

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The third installment of Mrs. Hawking is now underway. With Bernie’s help, I have begun the challenging process of plotting it out, and it’s clear that this will significantly harder than what I’ve done before.

First of all, Base Instruments will be a true mystery, as opposed to a caper like the first two stories. In Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina, our heroes are presented with a problem rather than a question. “Foil a blackmailer and return a kidnapped child.” “Bring a monster to justice who is hiding behind diplomatic immunity.” They knew what they were going after, and their challenge was to figure out how to accomplish it. In a mystery, however, they have to investigate to find out the answer to what’s gone on. That’s a very different story design process, as it requires the slow unfolding of the truth based on the gathering of clues, which is really tough to do in a theatrical medium. Think about it; most mystery stories require lots of people to interview and places to investigate, while in theater you have to minimize both locations and characters in order to make staging feasible. The few theatrical mysteries tend to be of the “locked room” variety, to keep both suspect pool and number of settings down.

Bernie and I are trying to use that “locked room” model after a fashion for that very reason. Still, this play is going to have a LOT of speaking characters, there’s just no way around it. We’ve got our three leads, of course, and we’re starting to build up a cast of supporting characters we want to recur and develop– in this case, Nathaniel’s wife Clara and Arthur, the policeman Mary befriended. I also want to include Nathaniel’s brother Justin Hawking, and of course there’s going to have to be all the characters specifically involved in the mystery.

But we’re trying to concern ourselves more with telling the best possible story than with “production stuff” yet. Writing a compelling mystery will be tough enough on its own. I’ve been watching a ton of mysteries lately for research, and we’re going to be working out a lot of kinks. Wish us luck! I want the next installment of this story to continue the upward trajectory of the last two.

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Rewards and challenges of serialized drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Notes on Vivat Regina: plot

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

Warning: spoilers contained herein for Vivat Regina.

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In addition to character arcs, it needed an over-plot to give it structure, a mission for them to go on as part of Mrs. Hawking’s work. The idea for this one sprung out of the notion I had of a recognizable figure from this part of Victorian history coming incognito to the ladies to ask for their help. This figure is embodied in Mrs. Braun, who it is clear is not using her real name. I will not say her real identity right now, because I would rather not spoil it yet, but what I wanted was for the audience to have a suspicion who this person was even if they weren’t sure. She ties in nicely to the point Mrs. Hawking makes about of the problems of the establishment, even if you don’t fully grasp what her connection to the establishment is. After the first reading, Ben Federlin confirmed for me that it was interesting to leave some ambiguity as to who she was. But Lenny Somervell said that it needed to be clear enough that even somebody without any knowledge of Victorian history would still be able to have a decent guess. Certain other aspects of the story are more compelling if you can make that connection, so I wanted it to be accessible without necessarily being too obvious.

You may have noticed that her entrance into the story bears a strong resemblance to a similar scene in the Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A German-accented person with a noble bearing that they are to some degree trying to conceal who at first introduces themselves by a false comes in as a client to ask a delicate task of our hero. This was a very intentional echoing, down to her line of “You may address me as Mrs. Johanna Braun,” in reference to “You may address me as Count Von Kramm.” I’ve always loved that story– indeed, I once played Irene Adler onstage –and it was fun to pay it that tribute.

I’ve talked at length about why I felt the need to include the subplot with Clara, which you can read about here. I wanted to introduce her for later inclusion, and I wanted the presence of a character who was not overawed by Mrs. Hawking the way Mary and Nathaniel are, but I struggled to figure out what service she could provide to the plot to justify her presence. What I decided to go with, suggested chiefly by my friends Aaron Fischer and Lenny Somervell who were kind enough to give their always-discerning opinions, was that she could basically provide some outside perspective. Their little world of society avenging is so secretive (they can’t tell people about it for security reasons, after all) that they tend to have tunnel vision about it. When Mary is unable to see that she’s been good for Mrs. Hawking, Clara is a fairly objective observer who can let Mary know what a huge positive influence she’s been. They also suggested that her personal reason for doing it can be that, in the service of protecting her husband from Mrs. Hawking’s wrath, she means to cultivate Mary as an ally and a source of information. It will and won’t work, considering the unusual circumstances, but I think it’s a believable motivation for Clara, and the situation will also lead into the possibility of her becoming a genuine friend to Mary.

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