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.