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The first piece I'm posting is an old one, since what I actually wrote today is spoilery for Mrs. Hawking part V. This is kind of a "deleted scene" from Gilded Cages— not literally so, but a depiction of an event that canonically happened in the course of that story, even though it didn't feature in the actual script.

I actually really like it. I think it does a really good job demonstrating the progression of Victoria and Reginald's relationship when they were young— their becoming friends, and more on his part, while still maintaining that undercurrent that something is wrong. There's a part of me that kinda wants to include it in the full script. But by the strictest rules of correct drama, you have to be so economical that you can't include anything that's not essential information. In the case of this scene, while it has some nice development, I don't think I can honestly say it tells us anything we don't already know. That Victoria is unhappy at home, that Reginald is troubled by the direction of his career, that he's starting to fall for her, that his impulse is to try and rescue her rather than let her act for herself, and that their lack of clear communication is putting them on a collision course. It's good stuff, but probably already clear from what I've already got in there. And the runtime is long enough as it is.

I did have lovely actors Cari Keebaugh and Jeremiah O'Sullivan do an informal recording of it. It was very quick and thrown together, but I enjoy doing them as they're small ways to realize pieces that will likely never be performed onstage.

Day #1 - Now Where You’re Standing )
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Historically the writing of subtext has been a challenge for me. Partially it was just struggling with the techniques of it— how you embed meaning without actually referring to it in words —and partially it came from the fear that even if I did manage to include it, the audience would miss it. I often failed in the direction of overwriting it for fear that it was too subtle, and not having any effect on the story at all.

In recent years, thanks to focusing on it with serious practice, I think I have improved. My tastes run much more lately to subtler storytelling, so I've tried to take that route with the things I write. I'm pleased to say I think my most recent major piece, Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages, is the most layered narrative I've ever put together. It depends in large part on people who are on different wavelengths not realizing they're talking at cross purposes, who don't fully understand the implications of their actions, and who don't have the words or concepts to express themselves with complete accuracy. The fact that I managed to pull that off wouldn't have been possible if I hadn't grown in my ability to suggest things are happening that no party onstage is actually explicitly referring to.

Photo by Steve Karpf


The downside, though, is that very thing subtext made me afraid of all along: the audience missing it. Mostly I believe people grasped the ideas I was trying to go for in the piece— that Reginald's well-meaning overtures coexist with the fact that he doesn't understand consent or that he's behaving in a patriarchal manner. That young Victoria doesn't realize that she's acting out of white privilege, and Malaika doesn't see the dangers that creates for her in their relationship. But every now and then I've heard from somebody who didn't pick up on those things, and as a consequence they didn't follow aspects of the narrative. I've had a surprising number of people ask me, "Why was Mrs. Hawking so miserable with her husband when he was so nice?" I mean, I think it's partially that we have a problematic cultural tendency to pressure women into giving men a chance because they're "nice"— but also I think because we kept a lot of the harmful aspects of Reginald's behavior subtext as opposed to stating them explicitly, I think people missed it.

The story doesn't quite work, honestly, without the subtextual aspects. It doesn't make its point without them. But it's still a richer, more sophisticated piece to have these ideas woven in subtly, even at the cost of some of the audience missing them. I guess, if they're detectable by some and missed by others, that probably means I can finally be confident that I've done subtext right.
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Script released on Mrshawking.com!

"Script release: Mrs. Hawking part IV: Gilded Cages"

Team Hawking is pleased and proud to say that we have accomplished our performances at Arisia 2018— including part III: Base Instruments and the world premiere of part IV: Gilded Cages! We’ve been told it was our strongest program yet, which has been an incredible honor, and is so gratifying to all the hard work every member of the team put in.

Photo by Steve Karpf
Photo by Steve Karpf


Now that our new show has debuted, I’m releasing the script here on the website. I am deeply proud of this piece— it may indeed be the best in the series to date —and I think it not only plays well but is also interesting to read. The layers of meaning in many of the scenes are to this point unprecedented in this story, bring us to a new level of complexity. I think that even to those who have seen the show, reading at one’s own speed will allow some of the layers to be understood in greater depth.

Read the rest of the entry on Mrshawking.com!
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Blargh. This scene, which immediately follows Day #25 - "Act Tonight", is not working. The idea behind it is that Mrs. Hawking has come to sympathize, even identify, with this client Mrs. Khan (soon to be Mrs. Chaudhary) in the course of helping her, plus is in a self-reflective and melancholy mood due to thinking about the past. These are supposed to combine to make her more open and forthcoming than she usually is. However, the overwhelming consensus at the reading was that she was WAY TOO open and forthcoming to be in character, and after hearing that I agree. I need to find a way to get the information across here while pulling massively back to keep Mrs. Hawking believable, but I haven't undertaken that editing operation yet.

Blargh. I have five more of these to do and I think I'm out of Gilded Cages scenes I can post without excessive spoilers.

Day #26 - How Did You Come to Do This? )
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As I said, I'm very close to running out of Gilded Cages scenes that are not excessively spoilery to post. But I've got writing for my game job to do this week, and of course I've got to actually edit the play for real. So I don't want to worry about writing new stuff for 31P31D right this second. So I'm just slamming down what remaining scene pieces I've got. For these last couple, the arcs may not be totally complete, but I'm just going to break them at the shifts that caused me to chunk them apart in the writing process in the first place.

Again, these scenes from the case need to be fixed up for logic and flow, but here's how they stood in draft one. Also, again, Mrs. Khan will be Mrs. Chaudhary to more accurate reflect the character's background.

Day #25 - Act Tonight )
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I am almost out of postable scenes from Gilded Cages. This might be the last one. Even though there were thirty-nine separate scene pieces, some of them were more "connective tissue" between moments, and others were pieces I don't want to show yet for fear of spoiling the ending. So I've only only a couple remaining, and I'm probably going to have to write a few more new things just to round out the thirty-one days.

I'm showing some of the early scenes of the case of Gilded Cages, which definitely need some clarifying work. It starts in medias res, and deciding exactly what bit of information should be parceled on when needs some fixing. Also, I need to make it super clear that the issue discussed here between the women is "men suck and marriage is awful" rather than anything like, say, the client's religion or other things. With Mrs. Hawking, the issue is ALWAYS "men suck and marriage is awful," but I don't want any confusion on that point. 😁

Also, I'm changing Mrs. Khan's name to Mrs. Chaudhary, on the advice of several readers.

Day #24 - The Gang Case )
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Just a tiny bit of scene immediately following Day #20 - Learning the Hard Way", after Elizabeth delivers a bite of a reality sandwich to Priyanka and Victoria. This is important for all that it is short. It reveals Victoria's decent intentions, but her inability to understand just how much more Priyanka is risking and stands to lose if their scheme fails. As for Priyanka, we see a little of the weight of her responsibility, and how she is manipulated by Victoria's blind confidence, not to mention the invocation of a mother she felt like she never knew as well as she wanted to. The hugeness of her need— to save her neighbors, to know and be worthy of her mother —is established very strongly, I believe, in these small moments.

Day #21 - Very Proud of You )
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This scene follows immediately after Day #19 - "Rebellious Young Girls" as Elizabeth comes in. Though the true delineation of the "scene pieces" as I call them are when a new character enters or exits and changes the dynamic of what's going on, each one encapsulates a tiny arc that is begun and concluded with that change. I think every scene ought to have an arc, and the scene pieces within it a smaller one within that, which add up to the overall arc of the scene. I'll admit, my scene transitions are determined by practical means— I switch them only when the time of the interaction or the location changes —but it maintains a sense of domino-like progress throughout the entire play.

Day #20 - Learning the Hard Way )
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A bit from the flashbacks of Gilded Cages. This scene builds upon a connection that is established in Day #15 - A Small Alliance.

A theme that was suggested to incorporate by Mara Elissa Palma and Naomi Ibatsitas, two lovely theater artists who consulted on the development of this plot line, was the concept of power differentials making it so that mothers of color often have to take jobs caring for white women's children to provide an income for their families, but at the expense of being present for their own kids. I thought that was very powerful and here is the greatest presence that idea manifests in Gilded Cages. I want to display the effects, even if it's not directly named here.

It's important that this series of events is what wakes up Priyanka (I know I will have to rename because that's a Hindu name rather than a Muslim one— I looked up "Bengali names" in my research, not "Muslim Bengali names" like I should have.) to the reality of the injustice of British occupation. Up to this point, she has been too young and too preoccupied with the struggles of daily living to fully recognize how unfair and impossible colonial presence is. But the events of this story is what really opens her eyes, and she is a different person, now bent not only on relief of suffering but on justice, thenceforth.

Day #19 - Rebellious Young Girls )
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Governor Gareth Stanton— Mrs. Hawking's father —is a bit of a bugaboo in our story. We know she hates him, and in her opinion he was an awful man. We finally get to meet him in part 4, and see where this rage toward him came from.

Day #17 - Best Solution )
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This is a small section, but it pushes Mary's story along a little. The two major concepts in this story are the consequences of history and the lack thereof, and communication versus silence. This is tied into how Mary is struggling against her lack of history and the inclination to silence of the people around her, but is having trouble pushing through. And since she's trying to talk about something difficult that she knows Mrs. H doesn't want to hear, it's hard for her to find the strength to make her voice heard.

Day #16 - Something Important to Tell You )
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I've been at GenCon this week, promoting on our release of Susurrus: Season of Tides for my job at Evil Overlord Games. So I've been behind on releases scenes. But here's another from Gilded Cages while I endeavor to catch up.

As a side note, I recently realized that Priyanka is a Hindu extracted name, not one an Indian Muslim would be likely to have. So I'm going to have to change it for accuracy's sake, but I haven't decided what to go with yet.

Day #15 - A Small Alliance )
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This was one of the scenes I felt was most successful in all of part 4 during the first reading. It directly builds off of Day #1 - "Stakeout Date" and immediately follows Day #11 - "Showing Up" One of my big resolutions for every piece in the series is that each of my three leads— Mary, Mrs. Hawking, and Nathaniel — get a meaningful personal issue to deal with. It's okay and indeed expected for who takes center stage to shift, like how part 1 is mostly Mary's journey and part 3 primarily features Nathaniel's, but they all need an arc every play whether it's the story's most important arc or not.

In part 4, I was concerned that Mrs. Hawking's is so big that it might completely force out the other two. So I made particular effort to clarify what Mary and Nathaniel's journeys were in my head in very specific terms so I could focus on them. Mary in particular is all about taking steps of a journey that spans the entire series— going from ignored and agency-free nobody to a full-fledged hero in her own right. So each play is her navigating a step along that way. In Base Instruments, she decided she didn't want to be a clone of Mrs. Hawking, with nothing else but the work in her life. Now in Gilded Cages she's dealing with people prospect of what that's going to look like. She knows she wants "more," but what does "more" mean?

She struggles because before coming to Mrs. Hawking, she had no meaningful history, nothing that she did or was that mattered. She has very little to build upon, like any important relationships or ties. It's all being formed from scratch for her. This gives her a good struggle for this story, because part 4 is ALL ABOUT history. Her lack of it does just as much to shape her as Mrs. Hawking's abundance.

The other thing was, at the first reading, this particular scene was read by Charlotte as Mary and Matt as Arthur, and their performance knocked it out of the park. Matt in particular has done so much to shape the character of Arthur in my mind with his excellent portrayals, and hearing it in Arthur's actual voice with all the meaning he brought to it was such a thrill.

Also, the last line is total fan service. BUT I LOVE IT.

Day #13 - Making Room )
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This is, to me, one of the most important scenes in Mrs. Hawking part 4. Drama has to move fast, so every moment has to pull double or triple duty if possible, advancing the plot and teaching you as much about the characters as you can pack in there. I knew I could only fit four scenes in the past, and I had to establish everything you needed to know about Reginald Hawking— who he was, what he wanted, how he came to marry Victoria, and what all was wrong with it. That's a lot to pack in, especially since I basically had to have him meet her in one scene, fall for her in a second, and BE DAMN IN LOVE WITH HER in a third. That's all I got to make you believe it.

This is the second of those scenes. It needs cleaning up, but I think I'm on to something here. A goal of mine in all their interactions is to make them simultaneously endearing and understandable AS WELL as kind of fucked up if you think too hard about it. I want you sympathizing with Reginald, even as you think the whole thing is wrong. A tricky thing. I think it's in the neighborhood.

Day #12 - Vivat Victoria )
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This is just a short little bit from Gilded Cages, but it's cute enough I want to post it. Mary's relationship with Arthur is the catalyst for her personal journey in this one, about how she chooses to navigate her connection with him being a question of her priorities, intentions, and plans. This bit is barely a scene, but I like the various attitudes in it, and there's some lines that are both funny and illustrate the relationships between the characters. Part 4 is more about the relationships than anything else, with a greater focus on it than any of the previous four plays, so I want to have every moment tell you more about these people.

Day #11 - Showing Up )
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This scene piece comes immediately after Day #2 - "The One" in Mrs. Hawking part 4: Gilded Cages. It might be a little bit too much of "connective tissue" scene to be worth posting, but it takes us into Nathaniel's major issue for this play, his discovery that the Colonel turned down a knighthood— and that he'll never know why his uncle did it.

A small random observation. You'll notice at the bottom of this scene is a mention of Nathaniel's father. Though we've never actually featured Ambrose Hawking, it occurs to me that he's been mentioned in every single play in the series at least once, even the ten-minute companion piece. In part 1: Mrs. Hawking, our hero mentions "visiting his brother in the south country." In part 2: Vivat Regina, she tells Nathaniel, "All the men in the family have that look. Your uncle, your father, and you." In part 3: Base Instruments, Justin brushes off Clara's comment on his black sheep status with "We can't all be Father's favorite." In the ten-minute, Like a Loss, Reginald puts off a visit from Ambrose, and worries that his brother will teach his dislike of Mrs. Hawking to his two young boys.

I think he is the single most mentioned character who has never actually made an appearance— since the Colonel has now appeared in both part 4, and in the ten-minute companion piece Like a Loss. I've always wanted to do something with him, though I don't know if he'll ever be able to appear. He tends to mostly come off like a bit of an ass in his mentions, but in my head he's a bit more complicated, and it would be nice to get to portray him and his relationship to the rest of the family.

Here, Nathaniel communicates with him off-screen, and it actually would likely be an interesting conversation to hear. But sadly there is no place for it in the Gilded Cages script. Maybe for fun I'll bang it out and see what it looked like, but it would be just for an academic exercise.

Day #10 - Letter From the Queen )
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The very first piece of flashback to 1859 in Gilded Cages. This is where you first meet Priyanka and Elizabeth, as well as see what Victoria was like when she was nineteen years old. It comes just before "Day #9 - Spot Test." As I mentioned, I got feedback that I needed to change how the majorities treat Priyanka in order to better represent what her life is like, and I haven't made those edits yet. But here's the early version, as it was at the first read through.

Day #9 - In the Governor's House )
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A scene from the flashbacks of Gilded Cages. This moment was designed both to deliver some expository information about the state of affairs at the time, and to demonstrate where Mrs. Hawking's deductive skills originated. I like it because it establishes certain relationships as well as the provides that information. Priyanka's role in the scene needs some tweaking, as I've been advised to make everyone except Victoria treat her more like she's not a person to establish the difficulty of her position more. But the basic idea is there.

Day #7 - Spot Test )
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Another scene from the first draft of Gilded Cages. This scene sets up Nathaniel's journey in the play, his discovering of the Colonel's turning down a knighthood and struggling with the fact that he'll never know why. Originally I was going to set this piece in 1885, pushing it a little farther into the future, but I looked at my timeline and realize that since the Colonel died in 1879, I should go with a year earlier to get that five-year milestone. I kind of wish it could occur a little later-- a historical event I'm planning on including in part 6 happens in 1888, so I'm trying to spread out the time jumps between episodes --but I think this shift was necessary.

The scene I posted for day #2 - "The One" is the next step of this story thread.

Day #4 - Five Years is Enough Time to Learn )
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I'm not totally posting these scenes from Mrs. Hawking part 4 in the order they were written. Sometimes that results in the connective tissue bits that don't have a scene arc to them. I also don't necessarily want to throw out the huge plot points, though I have drafted moments like that for 31P31D in the past. I'm not sure yet, I haven't decided. So I'm going to choose day by day what to show here.

But one thing I wanted to have in part 4 is a focus on character interaction. We've spent the three previous installments building these relationships into something you care about. It's time to pay that off a little, and just spend time letting the characters be themselves and interact. I hope this scene is interesting to audiences because they've become invested.

Day #2 - The One )

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