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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?