Tag Archives: victoria hawking

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Our ace heroine

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One thing that makes the Mrs. Hawking series unique is that we not only have a queer protagonist, she is of a kind you very rarely see represented– our hero is an asexual aromantic, and it’s very important to the conception of her character.

A large part of her story is the difficulties she faces in maneuvering through a world that has no understanding of asexuality. The social expectations surrounding her provide constant challenge– the way she has no inclination toward romantic love, the stranglehold she found in the obligation of marriage, and not only the inability to reciprocate the Colonel’s feelings for her, but even to relate to them. She herself doesn’t have a word for it, only the sense that she is different from most others, and perhaps even beyond their understanding, even those who work hardest to grow closest to her.

While love and romance can be fun threads to explore, and our story deals with them in the form of Nathaniel’s marriage and Mary’s developing relationships, it also takes some of the emphasis on romance as the only kind of truly significant relationship. The most important connections in the story are unconventional and not easily defined– not as simple and clear cut as parent and child, or simply friends, but complicated by familial love, the bonds between teammates, and the relationship between mentor and protege. Mary’s role as Mrs. Hawking’s student makes the girl the most important person in her life, while Mrs. Hawking s not simply Nathaniel’s aunt, but an important figure of authority and approval whose validation he desperately craves. And while there is no romance between Mary and Nathaniel, the intense struggles they weather together make an unbreakable friendship between them.

I enjoy the chance to explore some of the more unexpected bonds that can form between people, and demonstrate that romances are not the only important connections in people’s lives. I think Mrs. Hawking’s asexuality helps not only represent a subgroup that is not often present in fiction, it helps redshift the focus to the wider spectrum of meaningful human relationships.

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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“I Saw Three Ships” – a Mrs. Hawking holiday scene

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I don’t know where this came from. It’s a little seasonally-appropriate Hawking scene popped into my head tonight, and I scribbled it down in a few minutes just for amusement’s sake. It’s probably never going to fit into any of the plays, but it was an opportunity for some cute character moments, and one really fun line. It’s nice to see them just in a low-stakes character moment that’s purely fun and sweet, rather than all mired in drama.

It made me smile; I hope it does you too. 😁

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“Three Ships”
From the Mrs. Hawking series
By Phoebe Roberts

MARY STONE, housemaid and apprentice society avenger
VICTORIA HAWKING, society avenger and her mentor
NATHANIEL HAWKING, her nephew and assistant

London, England – December, 1884
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(MARY dusts in the parlor, humming the Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships.” MRS. HAWKING enters to choose a book from the shelf, then exits. MARY begins softly singing.)

MARY: (singing) I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She glances after MRS. HAWKING to make sure she’s gone. Then she goes and gets a flour sack containing a garland of evergreen with holly berries. She holds it up and dances around with it a little, singing louder now.)

MARY: (singing) Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day? Wither sailed those ships all three, on Christmas Day in the morning?

(She begins to string up the garland over the mantlepiece and along the parlor wall.)

MARY: (singing) And they sailed into Bethlehem, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And they sailed into Bethlehem,, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dances around the room.)

MARY: (singing) And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. And all the bells on earth shall ring, on Christmas Day in the morning.

(She dips and twirls, singing at the top of her voice. Without her noticing, NATHANIEL enters, and he hangs back watching her with a smile on his face.)

MARY: (singing) Then let us all rejoice again, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! Then let us all rejoice again on Christmas Day in the morning!

(As she belts out the last note, she spins around to see MRS. HAWKING reenter frowning. She crosses back to the bookshelf, glaring at MARY’s decorating as she goes. She snatches a book off the shelf.)

MRS. HAWKING: Bethlehem is landlocked.

(She exits. MARY turns sheepishly and sees NATHANIEL standing behind her, grinning. After a moment, he takes up the last verse and she joins him.)

BOTH: I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day! I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning!

(They break off together, doubled over into laughter.)

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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Welcoming Cari Keebaugh to the role of Mrs. Hawking

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In our previous four production cycles of the Mrs. Hawking plays, our eponymous lead has been played by Frances Kimpel, the talented actor and artist who was one of the founding members of the Chameleon’s Dish Theatre. Frances is an old and dear friend of mine who I have worked with on many projects since our days in the Hold Thy Peace Shakespearean theater group at Brandeis University. My admiration for her as an actor is so much that she was one of the original inspirations for how the character of Mrs. Hawking looked and moved.

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

This summer, however, Frances, along with our beloved stage manager Eboracum Richter-Dahl, has moved across the country to Washington state, meaning they can no longer perform their previous roles. But sad as I am to lose the chance to work with such great friends and collaborators, the show must go on. Which means I had to search for another person who could perform this unique and challenging central role. It’s not a choice I could make lightly, as the whole productions rest on the charisma, believability, and fascination of this character. I had to find somebody right.

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It’s been my very good fortune that I had the chance to meet the very talented Cari Keebaugh and find she was interested in auditioning. She was introduced to me in person by Circe Rowan, who plays the role of Mary, but I actually first encountered her in The Post Meridian Radio Players’ The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted for performance by another Hawking collaborator Tegan Kehoe. Not only is that one of my all-time favorite stories, which helped inspire my love of Victorian literature and storytelling, but Cari performed the title dual roles. Her performance as a gender-flipped interpretation of the counterparts showcased her versatility and expression, as well as raised familiar issues of a woman being trapped by the conventions of her Victorian world.

As much as I’ll miss Frances, I’m really excited to work with Cari and see what she brings to the role. It’s going to be a transition for me in my vision of the character, but I think that’s a good thing. One of the brilliant features of theater is its potential for endless reinterpretations. If these stories are truly strong, they should welcome that variety. And if the character of Mrs. Hawking, possibly the proudest and most important creation of my life, can stand up to the interpretations of many actors, then I know I’ll have made something with true staying power.

So please join me in welcome Cari to Team Hawking! I can’t wait to see her bring our hero to life.

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Vivat Regina character arc previews – Mrs. Hawking

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As I’ve said, the best opportunity afford to us by telling the Mrs. Hawking story as a serial is the chance to show the characters develop. Here’s a glimpse into what journeys you can look forward to from our returning characters.

Our hero Mrs. Hawking makes a particular challenge in this department, one that her actor, Frances Kimpel, and I are excited to take on. It’s that the nature of her character means we must balance her resistance to change with a need for real forward movement. It’s part of who she is that she grows slowly, being too stuck in old resentments, but every story has to bring her growth in a way that is true to her character but also emerges genuinely from the circumstances.

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking

Vivat Regina begins after Mrs. Hawking has taken a very major step, implied by the end of the previous story— finally, she is letting another person into her work, her life, her world. Mary has proved her worthiness in her mistress’s eyes, and that has been enough to convince Mrs. Hawking to open herself up to not only a working relationship, but an actual close human relationship. Mary has become not only her assistant, but her real friend. For our closed-off, lone-wolf protagonist, that is huge, and represented real growth on her part.

But exposing her secrets and her true self to someone is scary, especially to someone like her. And when Mrs. Hawking feels scared or vulnerable, her reaction is to try and bring the situation at hand as much under her control as humanly possible— in this case, Mary’s progress as a fellow society avenger. She’s been willing to allow Mary to take part, to train her to effectively help in her superhero work, but true trust has yet to follow. Any mistake Mary makes may be natural since she’s just learning, but to Mrs. Hawking, any imperfection could bring upon discovery, failure, ruin. So she’s very hard on Mary, offering plenty of criticism but little praise, obsessed with the fear that relying on someone other than herself could wreck everything she’s built if that other person isn’t equal to the task.

2.3. "No, madam. What would you have done?"

2.3. “No, madam. What would you have done?”

A defining characteristic of Mrs. Hawking is her anger, one of her major motivating factors. Her rage at the way the world would trap her into a role that doesn’t fit her drives her to the extraordinary lengths demanded by her work. I think this is one of the most important and noteworthy features about her. It isn’t often that a female character gets to be consistently angry and control the room around them with their difficult behavior. Vivat Regina will show a lot of it come out in the way Mrs. Hawking deals with Mary as she struggles to learn the trade.

Mary and Nathaniel understand this about her, and to some degree accept it. But to have the people around her endlessly validate and make allowances for that kind of behavior neutralizes the conflict. It does not drive Mrs. Hawking to grow or change in any way, and it’s simply not believable that people would endlessly put up with her. So in the course of Vivat Regina, we will see Mrs. Hawking be challenged on these things— her difficulty getting along with others, her lack of trust, her ceaseless criticism, and the hard way her rage makes her behave. So we will see the lone wolf have to adapt to taking other people into consideration for the first time. And if she’s going to be a mentor and the leader of a team, well, she’s going to learn how to mentor and lead.

Striking the right balance of being true to her unique character, while still delivering believable growth before the audience, will be a difficult task. But that is what will make this narrative truly rich, and worth sticking around for more than one installment. You’ll have to come see the show to know how Frances and I manage it!

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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“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.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2017.

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Our heroes’ chosen family

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It takes a few stories to get there, but I want to make it clear that the relationship that is building between our three leads is one of chosen family. This is a concept that a lot of our audience finds very resonant, as the ability to choose to surround oneself with those people one loves gives many people a lot of strength. That’s the feeling I want to capture between Mary, Mrs. Hawking, and Nathaniel as their relationships form and grow.

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Frances Kimpel and Circe Rowan rehearse. “I shall be frank. I’ve no idea what to do with you.”

Family in the traditional sense is a contentious concept for these characters. Mary’s mother and father were too wrapped up in their own problems to pay much attention to her beyond expecting her to make herself useful. She tries not to hold it against them, but she they never made her feel like she mattered. For Mrs. Hawking, family is the chain that keeps her tied to her husband’s people, between whom there is a mutual disapproval and dislike. And her father, the only blood relation she ever knew, is probably the person she hated most in the world. Nathaniel is the only one among them with a positive relationship to his family, but because of it, it is important to him that he can extend the definition of that world to include all the people he cares for most.

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Jeremiah O’Sullivan reheasing Nathaniel. “Am I to understand you’ve been going out on these… ventures… for some time now?”

The idea that deep bonds could form between these sorts of people are not expected in this culture. A mistress and her servant, an aunt and her nephew by marriage, a wealthy gentleman and the house girl? Not people who are expected to grow close and come to love each other. But each of them finds themselves drawn to one another as their particular emotional needs and the extraordinary experiences they share make them the only possible people who could fill those roles to each other. They are, after all, becoming partners in a dangerous and secret enterprise. They can’t tell other people what they do. They can’t talk about it with anyone else. They’re in this alone together, and that can’t help but make ties. So we find ourselves observing a very unconventional sort of brother and sister doing their best to win the approval of a very complicated mother figure.

Make no mistake, I am not trying to cast Mrs. Hawking in a “maternal” light. It is pretty firmly established that is not part of who she is, and that a great part of her struggle in society is seeking the freedom to be able to cast that notion off. But she and Mary come to fill each other’s respective voids in that sense. Mary never had a strong female role model who cared for her and wanted to teach her to come into her own, while Mrs. Hawking never had a person for whom she wanted to protect or held shape into the next generation.

As for Nathaniel, he may have an okay relationship with his real dad, but the father figure who he connected to much more strongly was his uncle the Colonel. Their bond led him to want a connection with Mrs. Hawking as well, the person his uncle loved most in the world. And it’s important enough that he’s willing to work for it. The way he and Mary so desperately seek her esteem makes it clear the light that they see her in.

The last relationship is Mary and Nathaniel, perhaps the most unexpected of all for their time and place. As shared struggle creates connections, the work it takes to adapt to the new challenges of heroic life make a friendship grow, as well as the fact that they don’t have many people in their lives they can be frank about their feeling with. It almost makes me sad to think of when people will inevitably slash the characters as fandom is wont to do, because romance is importantly not part of this. Their connection comes from a mutual reliance and respect that does not require attraction or demand to be maintained, nor can it be broken even in times of strife. Your family is always your family, and they become the brother and sister that neither of them ever had.

Each leg of the triangle forms for its own reasons, but the connections make them a family. The people who love you the most, and are capable of hurting you most, with all the support and conflict that any family has.

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 7th as part of the 2016 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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Mrs. Hawking has no code name

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At its most basic, Mrs. Hawking is a superhero story— an extraordinary individual who uses their abilities to make the world a more just place. The clear influence that the character of Batman has had on the conception of our hero helped solidify that. So I’ve taken a lot of cues from the superhero genre to figure out how to tell these stories. But because of this square grounding in such an established form, one way in which we deviate from it stands out as particularly strange. Like many superheroes, Mrs. Hawking has a secret identity, that of reclusive society widow. She does not, however, have a name for her hero identity, a code name by which her heroic actions are known, of the likes of Batman for Bruce Wayne and Captain America for Steve Rogers. 

I supposed it might be regarded as an oversight on my part. Admittedly, in the very, very earliest imaginings she was a little more of a straight detective than a superhero, so even though that quickly changed, that may have been the reason why it never occurred to me to give her a code name. But by the time I noticed the problem, I’d already written two stories, and by that point, I really didn’t feel like it could be retrofitted. Making it tougher for me is that, while in-universe she really doesn’t feel like the name Victoria Hawking represents her, out-of-universe I chose it super-carefully specifically BECAUSE I felt like it suits her so well. What could I choose that would fit her better?

So, I have come to the conclusion that she doesn’t really have one. But it IS a strange omission for a story of this genre, so does that have any difficult consequences on the unfolding? Does that mean that the only people who are aware of her are the ones that know her real name? She does operate a great deal on the fact that she seems too outlandish to most people to actually exist, but we know from moments like her conversation with Sir Walter in the first story that occasionally she deals with people from behind the anonymity afforded by her stealth suit. So how would people who realize there is such a masked figure in existence, but didn’t know her personally, refer to her? 

I tend to subscribe to the theory that you can’t name yourself in this way. It usually feels more organic— and let’s face it, less absurd —when the hero’s code name is chosen by popular habit. So there’s probably something they call her just for the convenience of having some way to talk about her. This actually becomes necessary to have an answer for as I work on installment three, Base Instruments it occurred to me that Nathaniel’s wife Clara is very socially connected and well-informed when it comes to the goings on of London’s ladies, and may very well have heard of this secret agent that helps women who have nowhere else to turn. I haven’t precisely settled, but I tend to think that they don’t have a name that could be considered a “Batman” equivalent, nothing so formal and declarative. But there may be some sort of title along the lines of “the Dark Knight” for her, perhaps even something like “the lady’s champion of London,” a phrase which has yet to be mentioned in-universe, but one I made up as a way to explain just what it is Mrs. Hawking does. 

There is one superhero name that does immediately jump out at me. While Mrs. Hawking’s dissocation with her married name makes it unlikely– not to mention too obvious –that she would use something about it to represent herself, it does become the clear progenitor for the name of the Hawks, the team that Mary eventually puts together to carry on her work. When she assembles a team of talented operatives to expand the reach of their work for justice, it will be Mary’s own interpretation of Mrs. Hawking’s missions. So, though I don’t think they will be completely insensible of the irony, they will consider themselves to be named in her honor. And I think that’s a fun twist on the convention of the superhero name.

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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Meet Frances Kimpel, the physical embodiment of Mrs. Hawking

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I have had the privilege to know Frances Kimpel since our time at Brandeis University, where we met in a production of The Tempest put on by our old college theater troupe, Hold Thy Peace. Since then I’m glad to say we have become good friends, and over the years and the many plays we’ve worked on together I’ve had a front-row seat to the fabulous performances she’s delivered in that time. All this led me to the great privilege of having her be the one to embody my hero.

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Photo by Charlotte Oswald

Frances Kimpel is from Tacoma, Washington, with a degree from Brandeis University in History and French, as well as a masters in Medieval History from Durham University in Durham, UK. I have directed Frances many times, starting with our time in Hold Thy Peace, Brandeis’s resident Shakespeare troupe, including a turn as Hamlet. Once she even directed me, when she cast me as Cordelia and the Fool in her moody, contemplative, sepia-toned production of King Lear.

She’s always been a great source of inspiration to me. An incredibly talented actor, dancer, and all-around artist, her versatility on the stage is remarkable. With her blonde hair, green eyes, and trim figure, she can easily step into the personas of innocents and beauties, but just as easily does her physicality lend itself to startling androgyny, making all manner of roles, from intellectual men, to energetic children, to inhuman monsters, all within her grasp.

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Years ago, when I was first conceiving of the character of Victoria Hawking, I knew I wanted her to be a striking, dangerous figure, able to do amazing things, which to me naturally suggested someone who looked looked like Frances— a small, lean figure yet still with intense physical presence. As a friend of ours, once said, “She looks like the blade of a knife.” That combined with her incredible acting ability always made her the person I wanted to take on the character.

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Frances’s favorite roles tend one of two ways, the otherwordly, and the tragically philosophical. For her the first category includes the likes of Puck, Ariel, Caliban, and one of Macbeth’s witches. Of these roles Frances says, “I love portraying non-human characters, both because doing so often incorporates a lot of fun movement and also because I am perpetually fascinated by the border between the familiar and the unknown— between what is human and what is other.” Her talent for changing her physicality shines especially in these roles. On the other hand, some of her most memorable and moving performances were as Hamlet and Brutus, two of the most weighty and challenging roles in Shakespeare. She has always enjoyed “playing characters with complex inner lives— highly imaginative, philosophical, or idealistic characters, characters with great dreams or great delusions —and exploring how those imaginings are reconciled (or not) with a dissonant reality.”

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Frances as Brutus with Cassius as played by Eboracum Richter-Dahl
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Frances as Hamlet with Dave Hinterman as Horatio

So when approaching Mrs. Hawking, Frances brought a great deal of experience building complicated psychologies to inform her acting. I asked Frances how she saw her character and how she went about building her performance in the role. “I usually get to know characters by doing imaginative background work. I try to imagine what sorts of things they habitually think about, how the would react to various hypothetical situations, and moving through various spaces feels like for them. I then try to let these things inform my development of a unique voice, bearing, and set of mannerisms.” In this case she used not only Mrs. Hawking’s life with the Colonel, but who she was before then. “In order to actually portray this character it was important for me to root my understanding of her in something further back still: what was she like before her marriage? Why and how did the marriage— the great tragedy of her life —happen?”

Frances gave a lot of thought to how that informed the person she was stepping into. “As we see her now, her specialty is stealth: everything she does is painstakingly planned and concealed. Though she risks her life on a regular basis, she does so in a manner that— when it comes to the possibility of discovery —is cautious in the extreme, and whenever she slips up in this regard, she is profoundly disappointed in herself. But she was not always this way. Her younger self was much more reckless— much less painfully aware of the limitations within which she must operate —and also much less bitter. Developing an understanding of the metamorphosis that must have transpired is what really made the character ‘click’ for me, and forms the crux of what I brought to her mentally and emotionally. It also helped me to link the character to my own state of being— to provide some through-way for channeling my own natural energy (much more akin to her younger self, I would say) into the mature Mrs. Hawking of this play.”

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Frances’s particular abilities lend themselves especially well to creating our hero’s defining stage presence. “I would describe Mrs. Hawking’s physicality as like mine, but less fidgety and chaotic— more confined, deliberate, and— surprisingly —more delicate… she walks a delicate line— she carries a delicate operation —and that level of masterful precision and forethought shows in how she moves.

“Developing her voice, of course, was the most difficult thing for me, because I had to build the character voice on top of a foreign accent. I think I settled on a lower register than my natural one, with a kind of perpetual edge (whether of irritation or calculation or vigilance or threat— there’s usually something beneath whatever she’s saying) and a tendency to default into irony. This last, I think is because she sees the bulk of social interaction as a ridiculous but obligatory farce.”

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Finally, I asked Frances what she enjoyed about her character. “I love her ferocity, and the tension between the explosiveness of that ferocity and the level of control that has been imposed upon it. I very much enjoyed the process of perfecting her physicality. While I am accustomed to portraying danger in a more chaotic form, I have never played a character with quite her level of deadly precision… Her rage is meticulously contained and channeled into deliberate actions. It was also of course great to get to play a canonically asexual character— as opposed to playing a canonically sexual character with a secret head canon of asexuality, as I am sometimes wont to do. And I loved climbing the set.”

If you’re interested in seeing more of Frances, she’s got a number of other projects in the works. “I am currently preparing to direct The Chameleon’s Dish‘s upcoming performance of my original play, Annabel Lost, an experimental piece combining visual art and performance poetry with a montage of dramatic scenes.” The play will be performed at the Democracy Center in Cambridge, MA, on the evenings of March 22nd, March 29th, April 3rd, and April 5th. She’s also been published in the winter issue of Window Cat Press and in the upcoming publication Polychrome Ink. She will also be performing some of her poetry at Mass Poetry’s U35 Reading Series on May 26. In conjunction with Eboracum Richter-Dahl, Frances additionally craft a line of art objects and jewelry which can be found for sale at Revolutionary Concord at 34 Main Street in Concord, MA, or online on at her Etsy store.

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The drama of stiff upper lips

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

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One of the things we find so fascinating about Victorians is the behavioral code. Stemming from a morality promulgated by the royal family, people’ conduct was to be mild and polite, conservative and chaste, with a high level of emotional restraint. The fact that the characters involved are not accustomed to talking about their feelings means that there is drama in how they finds ways to relate to each other. There must be great meaning in the wordless actions, the silences, and the things they do manage to say. The blocking must speak volumes, and when they do speak frankly, it’s given that much more weight for how unusual it is.

As for our hero, “She’s so English,” as Elizabeth Hunter commented during the rehearsal process for the staged reading of Vivat Regina. Which is rather ironic, given how much contempt she has for English culture, but she has not been able to completely shrug off its influence. She functions very much by bottling up her feelings. It’s become a survival tactic for her to conceal the extent of her enormous rage. Also, excessive displays of emotion make her uncomfortable; she finds them somewhat unseemly, a sign of a lack of control. But though she believes this is part of what makes her strong, it also makes it difficult for her to trust and connect with the members of her team. There’s a reason she prefers to stay alone. This shows what a struggle it is for her to make a bond with Mary, and Mary’s efforts to break through this reservation make up the most important journey in the play.

Nathaniel is modeled after one breed of Englishman in particular, the cheerful, never-say-die type who believes a sunny disposition is the key to keeping calm and carrying on. This can be seen in the way he deals with Mrs. Hawking when she’s been especially difficult. This is an important note for Jonathan’s acting when he portrays Nathaniel in our production. It shows how hard he’s trying to pretend like everything is normal with his aunt to convince Mary to sign on. And it’s important to establish this behavior for him early, so that when he can no longer maintain the positive front, it makes a very clear point at just how thrown and at a loss he is.

Like most abusers, our antagonist Cedric Brockton co-opts existing cultural structures to serve his own ends. He makes use of the fact that his victims are conditioned to behave politely, place a lot of stock in public opinion, and despise themselves for the ways they do not meet proscribed social standards. It makes them susceptible to meeting his demands as a blackmailer. It is, of course, not a uniquely English thing to care about reputation, but the narrow standards of Victorian behavior gives him a lot of material to make use of. This affects the acting of portrayer Francis Hauert in how he must insinuate the crossing of boundaries, but so subtly that victims of it fall back on their polite habits in the absence of any other idea of how to react.

The major exception to this is Mary. She begins the play as an example typical of her sort; a maidservant in the presence of her betters is supposed to make herself as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. But Mary’s great strengths are her passionate moral compass and her drive to form meaningful connections with others. Once she is on her path, she knows their purpose is far bigger than the petty restrictions of arbitrary social rules. When she has to speak, to affirm her beliefs or reach out and connect, there is no stopping her. The intensity of her feelings comes bursting out of her in this play, overwhelming her old conditioning. Her great journey will be to push past the hangups of others and see that they form the team they have to be in order to do their best work.

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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“Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You” — scribbling on the ballerina client

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

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This early piece for Base Instruments is pretty much pure idea and very, very little refinement. It grew out of the fact that I want to have a ballerina for the client in this one, who can bring up ballet as a metaphor for exploring some of Mrs. Hawking's issues. Ballet dancers, particularly broken down ones, are a favorite subject of mine to write about. I really like using this conceit in the story, and I think I'm really on to something in this scene. I hope it's as subtle as I'm working for it to be.

The trouble is it was written without context, so definitely needs editing once I figure out what the mystery and plot is. For this I just threw in a few details as placeholders; I don't even know who "Alexei" is supposed to be, for example. But I can sort that out later. For now I just wanted to take a stab at the idea, and even in this rough form I think it's going to be a good one.

Your Vessel Has Not Betrayed You
by Phoebe Roberts

VICTORIA HAWKING, secret society avenger, early forties
ELENA ZAKHAROVA, prima ballerina of the Royal Ballet, late twenties

London, England, 1883
~~~

(ELENA ZAKHAROVA makes her way down the hall. Suddenly MRS. HAWKING springs out in her stealth suit. MISS ZAKHAROVA starts and sucks in a breath to scream, but MRS. HAWKING whips back her hood to show her face.)

MRS. HAWKING: Hush! It's me!

(With effort MISS ZAKHAROVA calms herself.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: God in Heaven! How– however do you do that?

MRS. HAWKING: A trick of the trade. I had to find you, and I did not wish to be seen.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What is it?

(She notices MRS. HAWKING's intense scrutiny.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Why do you look at me?

MRS. HAWKING: How long have they been like that?

MISS ZAKHAROVA: What?

MRS. HAWKING: Your ankles.

(MISS ZAKHAROVA stiffens.)

MRS. HAWKING: The laudanum concealed the extent of it when you visited me before. But I know those ginger steps to protect against the pain.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I am only– sore from rehearsal!

MRS. HAWKING: It is more than that. A prima ballerina lives on her ankles, and yours are crumbling beneath you. They will only grow worse with time.

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: You're on your on your way out, Miss Zakharova.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Please. You mustn't tell anyone.

MRS. HAWKING: This changes things.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: It changes nothing of this!

MRS. HAWKING: If your position is no longer secure, then you have reason to act against the hierarchy of the company.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I would never! The company is my life!

MRS. HAWKING: And that life is about to end.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: I have done nothing but the dance since I was a girl of six! I have sacrificed so much. All I had to my name was my career and Alexei, and now Alexei is dead. Can you not understand?

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: How could you? Your vessel has never betrayed you.

MRS. HAWKING: Miss Zakharova–

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Look at you! To be able to climb as you do like a cat in a tree! Might I be so impertinent as to ask madam's age?

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING: Forty-three.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Forty-three. I shall have fortune to walk so long. I would do murder for the clean lines of your legs.

MRS. HAWKING: Nonsense.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: Any dancer would.

(Pause.)

MISS ZAKHAROVA: The ballet is my one calling. And in perfecting it, I have ruined myself for it.

MRS. HAWKING: You concealed it.

MISS ZAKHAROVA: So that I might have it just a few moments longer! They will replace me in a breath. In my place, what would you have done?

MRS. HAWKING: That's the trouble. I might have done anything.

8/12/14

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