Tag Archives: responses

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Reviewers wanted for Mrs. Hawking at WCSF!

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Categories: performance, supplemental, Tags: , ,

Are you the kind of person who thinks deeply about media, forms opinions, and wants to talk about them?

Do you write for a publication or platform that could provide a forum for an arts and culture review?

Do you have a space to reach people of the artistic, social, or most particularly, nerdy persuasion?

I’ve always believe that art should stand up to critique and analysis, and thoughtful examinations can generate interest and investment in a piece. So for our upcoming production of Mrs. Hawking at the Watch City Steampunk Festival, we’re putting out a call for anyone who would be interested in seeing the show and writing a review. 

We’re fortunate in that we have one reviewer having already agreed to come, but it would be great to have more perspectives and more voices out there. If we do well in your eyes, outside voices talking about us could be a great help, and if we don’t, it will be very useful information to know where we need to improve. Let us know you’ll be coming, and we’ll reserve you a seat. And afterward, let us know where we can find your writeup, so we can see how we did. 

So if you or anyone you know has a platform for the arts, steampunk, or general geekery, please come on out and give us the chance to impress you!

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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What the Arisia production taught me about the Mrs. Hawking script

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

One of my excellent writing mentors, science fiction and fantasy author Mark Edwards, said that in the scramble to get the play put together, I would forget that I actually wrote the script that I was trying to put up— that is, until the Wednesday before the opening, when it would hit me like a ton of bricks and I’d have to fight the urge to change everything at the last minute. Even when you’re at the point of the script development process where you’re actually staging it, as the writer you’ve still got to see what the new circumstances can teach you about the script so that everything that worked in theory still works when you get it to the point where it’s actually a living, breathing entity.

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Theater is meant to be an experience, so a script has to hold up under the pressure of physical realities, timing, and audience. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the written words are, what really matters is how they play with actors, properties, and effects. This can be a two-edged sword; on one hand, sometimes production can elevate a script, but even a beautiful script that doesn’t work in practice or is unengaging to watch isn’t good theater. So now that Mrs. Hawking has finally been produced, I have information about it is a play that I didn’t have before.

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Samantha LeVangie and Frances Kimpel rehearsing an exit by window. “Hawking out!”

First of all, I am pleased to say that the piece played very well. I tweaked it a bit before going into rehearsals– mostly wording choices, and details like making sure Mary only calls Nathaniel “Mr. Hawking” for the first part of the play –but made no major changes. In performance the dialogue sounded natural and in-character, the story moved at a nice clip, and the world seemed to draw the audience into it. Though Mrs. Hawking is not as funny as its sequel Vivat Regina, and a few of the jokes early on didn’t get laughs due to what I believe was the audience not having relaxed into it yet, by fifteen or so minutes in they were definitely audibly reacting. One of the biggest moments for them was after the combat scene in the climax, first when Mary goes up against a mook with her poker, then Mrs. Hawking takes out a second one with a head bash and a choke hold. That got a real round of applause! All credit for that goes to Arielle Kaplan, the fight choreographer, and of course actors Frances Kimpel, Samantha LeVangie, Bobby Imperato, and Andrew Prentice.

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Arielle Kaplan instructing Frances Kimpel on the proper way to strangle Bobby Imperato.

It ran, interestingly, a fair bit shorter than I expected it to, at an hour and fifteen minutes when I’d originally guessed an hour an a half. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the page count of the production script. After some thought, I actually don’t think this is a bad thing. The play moved along at a brisk pace, and as they say, it’s always better to leave them wanting more. Also that helped us get into and out of the performance space well within our time allotment, as the production ended before we’d originally expected it to.

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Jonathan Plesser expresses frustration to Samantha LeVangie at the notion at the idea that Mrs. Hawking may have fired Mary.

Of course feasibility of production was a huge concern. When I originally wrote it in graduate school in 2012, I made the decision to just worry about trying to tell a good story. That meant I ended up going with some fairly challenging elements for the sake of punching it up– the quick change into fancy gowns for the ballroom scene, and the infamous moment in the club scene where Mrs. Hawking had to climb the set into the air. I felt they added enough to the story– plus I’m pretty attached to them at this point –that I wanted to try to make them work. You have no idea how relieved I was when we pulled it off.

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Of all the plays I’ve ever directed, Mrs. Hawking was the most piece-intensive, particularly when it came to props and costumes. Transitions between scenes required a great deal of work and precision so that they happened not only correctly but quickly. My biggest fear with the runtime was that excessively draggy transitions would kill the momentum of the story. But my cast and crew really stepped up, and nailed all of their marks when it came to carrying furniture on and off, moving props, and changing clothes. I even heard from an audience member that the pauses between the scenes provided nice “breaths” when taking it all in, allowing them a moment to process and even to whisper to each other over what they’d just seen. That was a nice unexpected reaction! So while it takes some work to manage them right, the required transitions were doable. Great to know!

So I have come to a place where I’m extremely pleased with the state of the script. I think this is serious proof of concept, that this script has what it takes– it plays well, it draws audiences, it engages them once they’re there, it’s doable on a tight schedule, in a tight timeslot, on a small budget. What more could I hope for than that?

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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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“The Difference Between Us” — scribbling on Misses Stanton and Danvers

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Categories: character, gilded cages, looking ahead, scenes, Tags: , , ,

The piece I wrote the day before this one was about a future supervillain of Mrs. Hawking’s, a woman who was her friend growing up in the Asian colonies, who is as smart as she is but choose to manipulate the system rather than fight against it. The piece I wrote for August 27th during 31 Plays in 31 Days 2013 shows them back when they were young Victoria Stanton and Elizabeth Danvers, before they were married and became Mrs. Hawking and Mrs. Frost. I think I will reproduce an awesome comment here by a friend named Kat Davis, because she perfectly summed up exactly what I was going for:

“…Mrs. Hawking up against someone who can meet her on even footing. Seeing her actually sort of lose her cool and lose that sort of detached mentor-ish tone she always has with Mary (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the nephew), is refreshing. I like that Frost gets her worked up, gets inside her guard and gets to her in a way we really never have seen anything else do. I especially like that Frost sort of clucks her tongue and shakes her head and looks down on Hawking, who is always so aloof and above it all. There’s condescension and even, or at least how it reads to me (and how I would read it), a touch of pity. And not because of how she was forced into a life she rejected. Not for what was done to her. But rather for what and who she is.”

You’ll note I am naming the major female figures in the Mrs. Hawking universe after the queens of England. We have Victoria and Mary already. Mrs. Hawking’s nemesis and opposite, then, is Elizabeth– one of the most powerful and brilliant of them all.

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Day #27 – “The Difference Between Us”

VICTORIA: What is that soldier up to, do you think? Hanging about like that?

ELIZABETH: There must be something he wants.

VICTORIA: Such as?

ELIZABETH: Could be any number of things. He could be on some assignment. He could want something from the territorial governor. Or…

VICTORIA: Or what?

ELIZABETH: Or a wife.

VICTORIA: Surely you’re not serious.

ELIZABETH: History has shown men are known to acquire wives from time to time. It happens to all of us before long.

VICTORIA: I am not about to be acquired by anyone, I promise you that.

ELIZABETH: Is that so?

VICTORIA: You know me, Elizabeth. Do you think I could bear to be any man’s nursemaid?

ELIZABETH: I doubt you’ll have much of a choice, when your father decides it’s time.

VICTORIA: Ha! That would require the leftenant to lift his notice to me long enough to recall that I exist.

ELIZABETH: Unmarried daughters lying around are often just inconvenient enough to attract attention.

VICTORIA: Even if that does happen, you can be certain I shan’t go quietly.

ELIZABETH: Oh? And what are you doing to do?

VICTORIA: Whatever it takes!

ELIZABETH: That’s not the way the world works, Victoria.

VICTORIA: Then blast the world.

ELIZABETH: I don’t think it should be so simple.

VICTORIA: What choice do we have? Else to buckle under?

ELIZABETH: I don’t mean to buckle.

VICTORIA: What, then?

ELIZABETH: I mean to make my best advantage.

VICTORIA: I don’t understand.

ELIZABETH: Why fight against the current when you’ve no hope to change its course? Instead, why not ride it where you wish to go?

VICTORIA: Because there’s no such place that it could take me. Is that what you want? Is that enough for you?

ELIZABETH: There is the difference between us, dear. I will not drown myself to spite the water.

8/27/13

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Bare Bones reading accomplished, and musing on next steps

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

 

I am pleased to report that my staged reading of Mrs. Hawking at Bare Bones went well. We filled the house and the presentation went off without a hitch. I was very happy with the actors, and the script is in fairly good shape. There’s a few things I want to change since the reading but not too much, so I think it’s in a pretty tight state.

The question here is next steps. The audience reacted really well to it, but many of them were like, this is begging for sequels, and it’s action, while stageable, is somewhat cinematic– certainly expensive, which may prevent it from ever being produced. That’s something that has been on my mind. Unknown writers do not often get production with big budgets. I hate to think the play will never see any future because of that. And yet, I think some of its expensive bits– the milieu expressed in set and costumes, the stunts –would be part of the story’s appeal.

So I am pondering ways around this sort of thing. I chatted a bit with after the production (and during the lovely cast party reading star hosted) and he spitballed some interesting thoughts. He said it might have a possibility to become a “Kickstarter darling,” appealing to people who like Victoriana, strong female characters, and the neat combination thereof into an action-adventure mystery caper. If I could get the word out to the right people, and a large enough group of them, I could see that. Also the medium is in question. Brad mentioned that it would be fun to pitch it to PBS as a “action Downton Abbey,” which amuses me. I’m sure that’s a little bit too ambitious for them to take me seriously right now, but with some capital, would it be possible to film on my own? I am, I think, capable of adapting it to screenplay. A feature-length already crossed my mind, but I thought maybe that might push the chances of ever seeing it come to production even further. But what if it were in more episodic form? Do each “adventure” as a multi-part “series” of episodes, along the lines of how Sherlock has “series” rather than “seasons”? I am not trained in film production myself, but might that form place it more within the reach of finding someone who could help me bring it to reality?

A lot of stuff to think about. I’m not sure what makes the most sense. But I would love to figure it out.

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Chatting with the director of the Lesley staged reading

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

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Tonight I had a phone conversation with Brett Marks, the gentleman who is the director for my reading of Mrs. Hawking at Lesley. It was a very interesting conversation, but I had no idea what to expect going in. This is a weird process, I must say. I believe that the actors were arranged by Kate Snodgrass, an awesome professor in my program and a major figure in Boston theater. But as I doubt she read my play, the actors could not have been cast based on fitting the roles. What I suspect happened is my adviser Jami Brandli, who I liked very much, passed on the play’s requirements in the most general terms– a middle-aged woman, a young woman, two middle-aged men, et cetera. Okay, I guess I should have expected as much, but there are things I kind of hoped for in order to really hear how the play sounded. For example, I want to hear if I really emulated the Victorian voice, so ideally I’d get to hear it read in an English accent. The director implied that it might in fact be possible with this group, but I’m sure such a thing wasn’t taken into account in the casting. Also, there’s no rehearsal time. It’s just a cold read. Again, that’s fine if that’s how it works, but I do wonder what the director has to do if there’s no time to work on these things beforehand.

Of course, he may just be solely for my benefit, getting the perspective of somebody who reviews scripts for production professionally. And I was glad of what he had to say. He had a lot of good responses, and though he was trying not to criticize, he gave me his early reactions to a lot of things that pointed me in the direction of what I should possibly work further on. For example, he got me thinking that a lot of things I assume the viewer understands about how Victorian culture works– such as how it would be very odd for a wealthy society matron like Mrs. Hawking to not have a housemaid –might not necessarily be clear to somebody who wasn’t as educated on the subject as I am. He also had questions about the figure of Colonel Reginald Hawking. I want him to come across as mostly a good, decent man, but one who completely invalidated the person his wife truly was because it didn’t fit into his patriarchal schema. But the director suggested that if that doesn’t come across, Mrs. Hawking’s anger with him may not be sympathetic. I want it to seem harsh, but at the same time understandable.

Also, and this was a bit vindicating, he found act one scene two where Mrs. Hawking and Mary are getting to know one another to be excessively abrupt. I thought that myself, and in fact it was longer in the original draft, but after receiving critical feedback that it was too slow, I cut it. It pleased me to hear a professional director agree that there needed to be more of the two of them getting know one another. Also, he was familiar with the writing styles of those like Coward and Wilde that I was working to emulate. As great as the instruction I’ve been receiving has been, one perspective I haven’t had much of is whether or not I achieved that emulation. It was cool to have somebody be able to tell me I did that.

I’m excited to see how it goes. I wish I had time to incorporate some of his suggestions, but I’ve already printed all the scripts. So we’ll see what happens, if you join me this Tuesday. Remember, it’s this Tuesday January 8th from 6 to 8PM in the Marran Theater in the Student Center, Doble Campus, Lesley University at 29 Everett Street, Cambridge, MA.