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She walked in the door and brought trouble with her

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Categories: character, Tags: , , , ,

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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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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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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The art of names

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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