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Challenges of staging Base Instruments

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Categories: base instruments, performance, Tags: , ,

This fall we’re going to be going into rehearsals for Base Instruments, the third installment of the Hawking series. I’m extremely excited. Not only is Base Instruments the first true mystery of the series, in my opinion, each installment is better than the last, and so this most recent one is the best story yet. I can’t wait to bring that our audiences at Arisia 2017 next winter. But in moving on to this show, we’re definitely inviting new challenges in the staging process!

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First of all, Base Instruments is longer than either of the previous stories. It’s a result of having built up a cast of recurring characters, including not just our three heroes, but also the return of Clara Hawking and Arthur Swann, on top of all the new cast. That will require more rehearsal time, and a different use of our performance time slot. Do we need an intermission this time, for example? But the advantage is that now we can tell multiple story threads at once, switching between the various journeys. It’s actually easier on the cast to have entire scenes to execute their costume changes and other transitions.

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There’s also some new design and technical demands. We’re lucky in that we can reuse much of the set and costuming that we’ve put together up to this point, but Base Instruments needs a few new properties in addition. With the Victorian convention of changing for dinner, most of our new characters need a day and an evening look. Here’s hoping I can pull together enough gowns and tuxedo jackets! The great challenge will be in the scenic department— the scene where Mary and Mrs. Hawking investigate the scene of the crime takes place in a dressing room devastated by a fire. We’re still figuring out what the best way to convey that onstage is. Ideally we’ll come across something representational that can be quick and easy to switch on and offstage, but that will take some creativity and engineering to put together.

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Lastly, there’s the question of how to block the climax. Unlike the previous two installments, Base Instruments does not have an “action climax,” but instead a scene where the heroes reenact the crime in order to solve it. It’s an information-heavy scene, without some of the flashy action of the highest points of the previous pieces that involved showy fight choreography. The challenge there is to block the reenactment in such a way as to convey the urgency of all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place, so that the audience is on the edge of their seat to finally reach the solution. It is a scene that might benefit from some higher theatricality, which is not always the typical style of our shows. But figuring out exactly how to make it look right, exciting but not over the top, and consistent with the tone of the rest of the show, could have some awesome results.

I’m really excited to get going. I love that the stories have only gotten stronger as they’ve gone on, and that we have the opportunity to bring the third part to life. Wish us luck navigating our way through!

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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The colors of Vivat Regina

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Categories: performance, vivat regina, Tags: ,

I’ve always loved the potential for storytelling in the choices one makes in costume design. In Mrs. Hawking, we used a series of oppositional color pairings to make statements about the characters and their circumstances. In Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016, with the help of costume designer Jennifer Giorno, we devised a new palette to support the new story.

For the leads, they maintained the color schemes they were introduced with in the original. Between her stealth suit and her widow’s weeds, Mrs. Hawking’s color is black. Nathaniel’s splash of color is his familiar red cravat. And Mary, with her maid’s apron and skirt and ballgown, sets the tone for the rest of the play with her blue.

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For Vivat Regina, we stuck to a cool, blue-based color palette. Unlike in the previous piece, where high class was indicated by red, we had everyone in the opening ballroom scene in shades of blue. Mary is getting better at blending in, but her obviously lighter shade indicates that she’s not really one of them.

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Arthur is of course in a traditional police blue. As a police officer, he will always appear in blue, just as Mary does, which forges a subtle visual connection between them.

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For Mrs. Braun, she appears in a dark violet that serves as a subtle hint to the character’s true identity. It’s a blend of the blue of our palette and the red that previously was saved for the upper classes, and this color in particular has traditionally been reserved for the highest ranking members of society in a number of cultures.

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For Clara, we wanted something eye-catching and just a little bit daring, so we went with green. It’s a step away from blue, but different enough from any other character to always catch the eye. It tells us that Clara has no trouble fitting into her society, but she can’t help but stand out.

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The green even crosses over to Nathaniel in the scene in the embassy. Though his eveningwear included a silver vest and cravat in part one, for part two we decided we wanted him to pick up Clara’s color. It shows them unified as a team.

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Finally, the one other coloring shakeup comes in the form of Mrs. Hawking’s dishabille. Her robe is her typical black, but when she’s not dressing for anyone else, some white enters her wardrobe. We’ve never seen her in anything but black before, so even this one small change is eye-catching. Still, her colorless presence keeps her stark against the rest of the cast.

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Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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The Team Hawking promise

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Categories: performance, Tags: , ,

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As anyone who does theater knows, the process is a serious undertaking, with a significant investment of time and resources asked of anyone who chooses to be involved. With all the things that can go wrong and the wildcard personalities it can involve, it can be tough to find a production that you can trust to work responsibly AND be fun to take part in.

But know that if you’re considering being part of a Mrs. Hawking play, we’re dedicated to making sure we conduct ourselves in a manner we can be proud of. So if you’re on the team, you can expect a level of competence and respect for your abilities and contributions in order to thank you for lending them.

Here is the Team Hawking promise:

– A focused, professional, and enjoyable process

When you’re part of the Hawking crew, you can count on the process being run responsibly and effectively. We know what we’re doing, and everyone will be there with the intention of making the best possible piece of work we can with focus, dedication, and planning. There will be no scrambling at the last minute, and even when unexpected difficulties arise, we will handle them with determination and grace. At the same time, we’re going to enjoy ourselves, never becoming so serious that we forget we do this for fun and personal enrichment. We’re here to put on a good show while making the process as smooth and pleasant as possible.

– Respect for your time

We know that your agreeing to be part of the shows is a great expression of confidence and a generous offering of your time and effort. We will do everything in our power to show respect for that gift. You will be scheduled for rehearsals in as efficient a manner as possible, and when you are at rehearsals, we will make sure to work productively while we have you. We will never waste your time due to poor planning nor taking your presence for granted.

– Respect for your contributions as an artist

If you’re on the team, it means we have enormous respect for your abilities as a performer. Because of that, it’s important that you feel you are an active, valued part of the process of creating the story. You can feel free to offer your thoughts, and though the director has the final say, your input is welcome as a collaborator. Also, we want you to feel comfortable, so if something about your blocking or performance is causing a problem for you, we’ll make every effort to work out a way that works for both you and the needs of the show.

– The resources needed for the best show possible

Theater has many moving parts that must work together to make the show great. Our crew is made up of talented, responsible individuals who do their best to see that all the required resources are in place to show our work to the best possible advantage. If issues arise, which they often do despite even the best of efforts, they will be managed with cool heads dedicated to seeing the task through to the best possible ending.

– Appropriate gratitude

Your hard work, talent, and dedication will not be taken for granted as part of the Hawking crew. We will take the time to make our acknowledgement and respect clear, and the actors we select will receive a small gift at the end of the process. It’s a token to tangibly represent how truly appreciative we are of those people who help make our shows great.

– A product you can be proud of

We aren’t messing around here. Make no mistake, we want these shows to come out good. We want every aspect, from the script to the performances to the sets to the sound to the costuming to the fight choreography, to be the best it possibly can be. And we’re willing to work until it is. Trust me. You’ll be proud of having been a part of it.

Does that sound good to you? If so, sign up to audition for our upcoming performances this May!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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The new portrait of the Colonel

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Categories: performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , ,

You may remember that for last year’s Mrs. Hawking productions we made this portrait to serve as the framed photograph of the Colonel that hangs above the mantlepiece in the Hawking parlor.

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I liked this portrait because it was a genuine Victorian image, with a sort of quiet sadness in the look in the gentleman’s eyes. But now we are not only performing Mrs. Hawking, but also Vivat Regina, which you may have noted contains explicit reference to what that portrait looks like. Specifically, it’s a significant moment when Mrs. Hawking expresses her discomfort with Nathaniel’s resemblance to her late husband. With that resemblance being pointed out in the dialogue, it doesn’t really serve to have just any old person’s image hanging there for all the audience to see.

To that end, we made a new picture to go inside the portrait frame. This meant we temporarily had to cast the character of Colonel Reginald Hawking— with Jeremiah O’Sullivan, our actor playing the role of Nathaniel.

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We dressed Jeremiah in a military-style jacket and a costume mustache with spirit gum— after all, Mrs. Hawking says the Colonel has “whiskers” in that picture. This not only ensures the resemblance, it’s a nice hinting at stories to come. The Colonel is set to appear in part four of Mrs. Hawking, back before he was the Colonel, in flashbacks juxtaposed with a present-day story. I thought it would be cool to double cast Nathaniel and the Colonel in that piece, to convey not just their similarities, but to drive home to the audience how hard it is for Mrs. Hawking to see anyone but the Colonel when she looks at her nephew.

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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Performance times for Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina!

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

We have been scheduled for times and locations for our upcoming performances at Arisia 2016!

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Mrs. Hawking
by Phoebe Roberts
8PM on Friday, January 15th
Grand Ballroom B

4PM on Saturday, January 16th
Grand Ballroom A

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts
1PM on Sunday, January 17th
Grand Ballroom B

At the Westin Waterfront Boston
425 Summer St, Boston, MA

Go here to sign up to attend Arisia 2016! Be sure to join us for the continuing story of the lady’s champion of London!

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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Cast and crew for Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016

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

For our double-header performance at Arisia 2016, we needed a serious cast and crew! I’m happy to say we’ve found them. For the two plays, we are very lucky to have many actors returning from previous performances and iterations of the Mrs. Hawking stories.

1.1. "I would not have left England for this dreary place, but I suppose there are some circumstances that can't be helped."

For Mrs. Hawking, our first installment, the majority of the cast is a veteran from a previous full production, whether our original at Arisia 2015 or the encore at the Watch City Steampunk Festival later that year. This gives us a great advantage in producing this time around, as most of the cast already know their roles well and won’t require a ton of work to whip the show into shape.

Mrs. Hawking
Cast

Mrs. Victoria Hawking – Frances Kimpel
Miss Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Celeste Fairmont – Arielle Kaplan
Lord Cedric Brockton – Francis Hauert
Sir Walter Grainger – Jordan Greeley
Mr. John Colchester – Andrew Prentice
Miss Grace Monroe – Jennifer Giorno
Ensemble – Joye Thaller, Chris Denmead

As for Vivat Regina, we have of course our three leads played by the same actors as they will be in Mrs. Hawking– Frances Kimpel, Circe Rowan, and Jeremiah O’Sullivan. But much of the additional cast are veterans of the Vivat Regina staged reading, with Joye Thaller, Samantha LeVangie, and Matthew Kamm all reprising the roles they read. While this will be an entirely new rehearsal process, it’s a great blessing to work with actors who know their characters so well.

Vivat Regina
Cast

Mrs. Victoria Hawking – Frances Kimpel
Miss Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Johanna Braun – Joye Thaller
Mrs. Clara Hawking – Samantha LeVangie
Constable Arthur Swann – Matthew Kamm
Frau Kirsten Gerhard – Isabella Dollar
Ensemble – Chris Denmead, Tegan Kehoe, Sara Dion

And of course there’d be no show without the crew. The talented technical artists who helped bring Mrs. Hawking to life previously will be returning to bring the same magic to Vivat Regina.

Crew

Director – Phoebe Roberts
Technical Director – Bernie Gabin
Costume Designer – Jennifer Giorno
Sound Designer – Neil Marsh
Violence Designer – Arielle Kaplan
Run Crew – Eboracum Richter-Dahl

We are becoming quite the little troupe! Any theater project, not to mention any one so large and experimental as serialized live shows, requires a lot of great people to bring together. I am so honored to have so many talented people signing onto the project. Watch this space to see everything they bring to the process!

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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PERFORMANCE ANNOUNCEMENT: MRS. HAWKING and VIVAT REGINA to go up at Arisia 2016!

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

We are officially announcing it! The first two shows in our series, MRS. HAWKING and VIVAT REGINA, will be performed in the course of events at Arisia 2016!

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Mrs. Hawking is returning to the event where she saw her performance debut, but this time, she’s going even further. This marks the beginning of an exciting experiment in actually producing serialized theater. One rarely sees live performances that build upon what happened in the course of a previous story. But the Mrs. Hawking series, with its ongoing plot and characters, is breaking down that barrier.

We will be putting together and rehearsing the two shows in tandem with each other, creating a consistent through line of narrative and character development for the audience to enjoy. We have assembled two excellent casts, with some new and some returning actors, to populate the world, including the recurrence of our three leads, Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel. This will afford the audience the rare chance to see live storytelling with greater scope of character development than just a single plot can allow.

It’s going to present some new and interesting challenges, and will involve some figuring things out as we go. But the chance to show a continuing theatrical story, where characters grow, develop, and change based on events that happen before the audience’s very eyes, is too exciting to pass up.

Come join us for this unprecedented event in live storytelling, and see where our heroes journey will take them on the next step!

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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Costume interviews with Jenn Giorno – Mary’s new ballgown

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In our first production at Arisia ’15, we were very generously lent our leading ladies’ eveningwear by the costume company Pendragon Costumes. They are gorgeous and beautifully made, and we were really grateful to have them.

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But for the recent performance at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15, we had to find alternatives to use. Given the elaborateness of Victorian ballgowns, and the fairly punishing quick costume changes I wrote into the script, that posed a pretty big challenge for our costume designer, Jennifer Giorno. When I interviewed Jenn about her design process, Mary’s dress proved a perfect example of how she attacked that particular problem.

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

Phoebe: “So what was your approach to building the new ballgown for Mary?”

Jenn: “Well, we had the same corset piece as before, at least, so I had to try to balance the quick change with what we could add to this to make it look like a unified ballgown. So the question was, what could we add that worked quickly and affordably? And of course it had to be in Mary’s signature blue.

“I basically started off with the bolero idea. I thought the easiest thing would be to try to use the same types of pieces as we used before. Her shoulders needed to be covered, and a bolero was the easiest way to add that, because it wouldn’t have been accurate to have an entirely strapless gown. I found the bolero on eBay, and I liked that it was lace. It would complement the color of the corset. It did what we needed it to do.”

2.1. "So it is safe to say that our writer is a man of some background, and was raised in the country."2.1. "But I thought you said there was nothing to identify it." "Ah, but there is. It simply requires the proper eye to see it."

P: “I actually thought that one thing that made for a really nice change this time around was I liked her bare arms. It made her seem younger and fresher.”

J: “It does. Young women would have had shorter sleeves. Always the gloves, but shorter sleeves.”

P: “She had the gloves! It was a very elegant effect.”

1.5. "I don't believe we've met."

J: “Then I needed to match the bolero, to make it look like one unified dress instead of lots of separate pieces. It would have spoiled the effect if we had too many different shades of blue. I knew that we could make a petticoat easily, just a drawstring skirt, to mimic the pieces we used before. I made that out of a dark blue satin with a medium shine. The lace overlay was sort of a last-minute flash.”

P: “It tied it all together.”

2.1. "Oh, how exhilarating that was!"

J: “I loved the way it came out. I wanted to be able to do some sort of overlay, because they were so popular back then, and it would have been a little too plain for the standards of the time without it. Originally I was going to make it a full overlay, the layer of satin under the layer of lace. But then I liked the way the half-length overlay looked when I tried it all together.”

P: “I did too! It gave it more texture.”

J: “And it gave it another tier! Victorians loved tiers on skirts. And the fact that it was lace tied it to the bolero. It was a slightly different color of lace, but not so visibly, and it created a slight gradation of blues down the whole dress. And the way we ended up draping it in the back, it made a nice curvature with the corset’s bustle. So it looks layered and tiered all the way around, even though it’s a very simple design. It’s just a layer of lace folded over itself and gathered in the back.”

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P: “It took an eye to figure out how to make those pieces work together. To figure out how those disparate elements could create the look of one ballgown.”

J: “One thing I’m really good at is being Costume MacGyver. Having a problem and finding a way to fix it using materials at hand.”

P: “Necessity is the mother of invention. Or desperation, as I like to say lately!”

1.5. "They were all officers!"

J: “Yes! But I was happy with how Mary’s outfit came out. But throwing that lace overlay in between the corset and the skirt turned out to be the one thing that I didn’t realize was missing from the look.”

P: “It was the last thing it needed to make it look like an ensemble. It came out beautifully.”

J: “Thank you!”

2.1. "I suppose we must act quickly, then, before he has the chance to bolster his defenses."

P: “And on top of all that, the quick-change could happen.”

J: “That was the most important part. Making sure it could come on and off quickly, with the things we had at hand. I couldn’t just go out and buy a two hundred dollar dress with a zipper in the back. Because of this, of all the outfits in the show, Mary’s ballgown is probably the least close to period. But the silhouette was there, and that was enough. I tried to keep it in the right spirit— the right bustle shape, the corseted look. It kept it sufficiently evocative, even though I know it wasn’t exact, and was still really pretty.”

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

More pictures of Mary in her ballgown can be seen in our Gallery section, as beautifully worn by Mary’s actress, Circe Rowan.

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The colors of Mrs. Hawking

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Color choice in theater has always been very important to me. As a visual medium, it can add a great deal to the experience, and I think you can invest a lot of medium when color is carefully chosen.

1.1. "Is that the girl?"

1.1. “Is that the girl?”

Though not as a firm rule, we stuck to a very definite color palette in Mrs. Hawking. It was partially luck, as in many things, such as the costume design, we were limited by what we were able to acquire on our budget. But as anyone who is family with my own design tendencies would notice, I am often drawn to particular colors, in particular combinations when I’m working on the production design of shows.

Mrs. Hawking is mostly focused in a limited palette of six colors, specifically set up as dichotomies: red and blue, black and white, silver and gold. It’s not the first time I’ve sampled from that selection, as I find they’re highly evocative combinations. The trick is not to necessarily make the audience understand exactly what you intended with them, but to encourage them to draw connections and notice juxtapositions.

1.5. "Soldiers, miss?"

1.5. “Soldiers, miss?”

The red and blue dichotomy, roughly indicates the upper classes versus the lower classes. Mrs. Hawking’s parlor is painted red, to indicate its richness. You only see red in the costumes of the well-to-do, respectable characters, like Lord Brockton and Mrs. Fairmont. Nathaniel even has a red cravat with his day look in the opening scene.

1.3. "Please, for my husband's sake, and for my blameless child whose only  crime is the folly of his mother."

1.3. “Please, for my husband’s sake, and for my blameless child whose only crime is the folly of his mother.”

1.5. "They were all officers!"

1.5. “They were all officers!”

1.1 Nathaniel is the first character we lay eyes on in the world of Mrs. Hawking.

1.1 Nathaniel is the first character we lay eyes on in the world of Mrs. Hawking.

By contrast, the working class people wear blue. I’ve actually always considered blue to be Mary’s signature color, and she sets the tone for the rest of the play. She is the primary example in this mostly middle- and upper-class setting, but it carries over into Grace Monroe, the other explicitly working class character.

1.4. Mary figures out what she's going to say to

1.4. Mary figures out what she’s going to say to

1.5. "Good luck, madam." "To you as well."

1.5. “Good luck, madam.” “To you as well.”

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Black and white were juxtaposed against silver and gold. Black and white was about blending in, conforming to expectations. Black tuxedoes, white aprons and shirts, Mrs. Hawking’s widow’s weeds and stealth suit. The character who must, or want to, fit in, or even hide, use it to recede from notice.

2.3. "Now I want you to leave."

2.3. “Now I want you to leave.”

2.2. "Oh, hecky-pecky!"

2.2. “Oh, hecky-pecky!”

1.2. "I shall be frank. I've no idea what to do with you."

1.2. “I shall be frank. I’ve no idea what to do with you.”

Silver and gold, however, are about standing out, commanding attention. They feature in characters who have the power or the presence so that others notice them, give them the time of day. You see them mostly in the characters who are used to having some control over things, even if in the show it’s taken away. Nathaniel’s eveningwear is in a sharp silver, as the skirt of Mrs. Hawking’s ballgown, which also subtly ties them together. The silvery gray of Colchester’s coat speaks to his pretensions. Gold features in Brockton’s frock coat costume, and is a prominent tone in Sir Walter’s waistcoast. These people are using their power to command attention to themselves.

1.5. "It seems, Miss Stone, that we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown."

1.5. “It seems, Miss Stone, that we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown.”

2.2. "Lord Brockton-- the undersecretary? He is here?"

2.2. “Lord Brockton– the undersecretary? He is here?”

2.5. "He's lightning quick, and I'd wager he's the same body we was tracking the other night."

2.5. “He’s lightning quick, and I’d wager he’s the same body we was tracking the other night.”

2.5 "Suddenly he threatened to ruin me unless I kept the boy for him."

2.5 “Suddenly he threatened to ruin me unless I kept the boy for him.”

2.5. Big finish-- the villain breaks in with a gun.

2.5. Big finish– the villain breaks in with a gun.

When choosing these things, it’s not so much that you are trying to get the audience to consciously pick up on all your reasoning for them. It just unifies the images before their eyes in a pleasing way, and gets them thinking about what is connected to, or contrasted with, by uses of color.

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Touches of steampunk

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The art design of a production is an important means to establish a show’s feel and personality. Mrs. Hawking is a steampunk superhero play, so we want that slick, high-action, slightly stylized feel from all our artistic choices. Those range from big things, like what the set looks like and how the actors move and speak, to small things, what individual props we choose to use.

I wasn’t totally happy with the gun we used in our first production. It was your basic cowboy-style six-shooter toy that I gave a coat of paint to make it look a little more realistic. So for this one I did more research and purchased one that I thought would make a little more of an impact, and looked a lot more steampunk.

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It has an unusually long barrel, in addition to the cool scrollwork design in the brass finish. It definitely doesn’t look like an ordinary gun in a strictly realistic Victorian story. In that way it’s similar to another weapon prop we use, the Bowie knife that serves as the utility blade Mrs. Hawking was left by the Colonel. In person, the knife seems almost absurdly huge. But interestingly, while on the stage, it seems exactly the right size.

In theater, the action exists at a remove from the audience, who is sitting many feet away from everything that happens. There’s no benefit of a camera lens that can pull in close and show you details if necessary. That means that things often have to be a little bit bigger, a little bit more broadly drawn, in order for them to read to the audience. Touches that are bigger, more ornate, more exaggerated have a better chance of getting the message across.

That, I find, is a great way for us to utilize the steampunk aesthetic. It isn’t only for adding character and texture to our play. Because hallmarks of steampunk include more ornateness and exaggeration, it also helps broadcast ideas and meanings to the audience across the distance.

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

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