Diary of a Playwright, part 2: Doug Williams sees MOON CAVE take the stage

Over the past two years playwright Douglas Williams’ work has been seen in the Fringe Festival (Holly’s Dead Soldiers, Safe Space) and the SoLow Fest (Solstice, Four’s the Floor). Now as he prepares for his first professional production, MOON CAVE, at Azuka Theatre, he has partnered with Phindie to share the playwright’s perspective as a new play is developed, rehearsed, and produced. Read Part 1 of Doug’s diary here.

Scene from MOON CAVE.

Scene from MOON CAVE. Photo by Joanna Austin/ AustinArt.org.

2/28/15

Last night I changed two lines at the end of the play so I showed up to the first day of tech this morning to go over them with Kevin and Taysha. The set looks incredible. It’s pretty insane seeing everything come together. Even at this early stage, all aspects of the design are completely on point.

We started at the top of the show and worked our way through. I just kind of sat there and watched. I have come to find that a playwright is pretty useless during tech. I was there for about two hours and then ducked out to go to the Pig Iron showing.

3/2/15

Kevin Glaccum called me yesterday morning to go over some of sound design ideas. The whispering (which we recorded with Kevin Meehan a few weeks back) is working but we’re going to use it more sparingly than indicated in the script, which feels like the right choice.

Nick needs more dialogue to record. I was hoping to get it done yesterday afternoon and possibly stop by tech around dinner time, but didn’t get around to it. I think we’re recording it at the top of rehearsal tomorrow so I’ll have to write it today.

First preview is in two days.

MOON CAVE seen from the production booth.

MOON CAVE seen from the production booth.

3/3/15

I forgot today was my birthday until Martha reminded me this morning. MOON CAVE is pretty much the only thing on my radar at the moment. The show is selling pretty well but I’m hoping to get a small group of friends and collaborators to come to each of the previews. I’m not planning on making huge changes but hearing their thoughts before we open would definitely benefit the play.

Last night I emailed Kevin the whispering dialogue. Today at rehearsal we’re going to record that, finish tech and then run it twice. I’ll be coming from work so I think I’m gonna get to see the end of the first run and then the complete second run. Having been away from it (apart from the first few hours of tech the other day) I feel pretty anxious to see what it looks like.

First preview tomorrow! I’m gonna puke!

3/5/15

Our first preview audience was great! They laughed a lot. Didn’t realize how funny the top of the show is. That laughter fades as the play goes on and moves to a darker place, which feels right. Today we had a crazy snow storm but decided not to cancel our preview.

The house was light (as expected) but the play is really starting to come together. The last scene is still getting tweaked both in terms of tech and dialogue. I wrote three new pages to clean up the final moments of the play. Taysha and Kevin got them yesterday and we integrated them into the play today. Those are the last changes I’ll be making.

Final preview tomorrow, we open on Saturday!

3/6/15

Biggest house yet tonight but they were QUIET! Real quiet. They all seemed very responsive at the end but not all that many laughs. Not that it’s the funniest play in the world but they have me feeling a little uneasy going into opening tomorrow. It’s out of my hands though! The play is finished and Kevin and Taysha are straight up killing it.

Photo by Joanna Austin/AustinArt.org

MOON CAVE starred Kevin Meehan and Taysha Canales. Photo by Joanna Austin/AustinArt.org

3/7/15

We’re open! So proud of all the work we put into this play. The house was packed and the energy was out of control. They laughed at all the right places and gave the actors a huge ovation at the end. The response I got after the show was great. They all kind of have to tell me they liked it since it was opening night, but the details I got from people about what they received from the play — how it made them feel, what parts moved them — made me really happy. I was running on fumes but we all went out to Monk’s for the after-after-party. Don’t know what time I got home, but I went to sleep relieved and happy that it all went so well.

3/9/15

Came into work today bleary eyed and exhausted from this crazy weekend. Looking back, I’m thankful for what an incredible experience this has been. We’ve been getting great reviews (from everyone not named Toby — though her response was pretty much what I expected) and just found out that we’re Barrymore Recommended. It’s nice the response has been good, but honestly I would be just as proud of this show if the response had been different.

It’s so hard to see the play when you’re in the middle of it. New pages are being tweaked and revised and rehearsed as everything comes together. Then tech adds an entire new layer on top of that. Then the audience and their response starts to shape it even more. I have always imagined seeing the finished play on opening night being the ultimate payoff for a playwright. You’ve done the work and here’s the product. But actually there are payoffs that are just as rewarding throughout the entire process. Finishing a new draft. Hearing your words out loud for the first time. Having someone in your cast ask you a question that completely opens your eyes to a new idea. A note your director gives that articulates exactly what you’re trying to say.

At times I wondered why the hell I was doing this to myself. Putting my work through this process and then presenting it to an audience made me feel a lot more vulnerable than I was anticipating. But I also learned that you don’t really know anything about your play until it goes through production. Until you sit with it and hear it over and over everyday. The process can be scary and painful but when it’s done you know it’s worth it.

More Philadelphia playwrights deserve the opportunity to see their work fully realized. The more we can cultivate productions from local playwrights, the better our writing will be. With a theatre community as unique, diverse, and vibrant as the one that thrives in this city, it’s exciting to see us move towards embracing the writing that is happening here. But we can do more! Let’s produce more world premieres this coming season than we did last season! And then in 2017 we’ll produce even more! Together we can make Philadelphia a hub for new plays — together we can introduce the world to work and ideas that are uniquely Philadelphian.

MOON CAVE runs March 4-22, 2015; [Off Broad Street Theatre, 1636 Sansom Street] azukatheatre.org.

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About the author

Douglas Williams

Douglas Williams is the Playwright-in-Residence at Azuka Theatre in Philadelphia, where his play Moon Cave will be produced during the 2014-2015 season. Moon Cave was developed at the 2014 PlayPenn New Play Conference. Other plays include The Death and Life of Uncle Gene, Now I Am A Wrecking Ball and Shitheads, which was a finalist for the Lark's 2014 Playwrights' Week and a semifinalist at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Playwrights Conference. Williams co-wrote the 2013 Philadelphia Fringe Festival play Holly’s Dead Soldiers and is currently working on another collaborative project for the 2014 Fringe Festival with playwrights Emily Acker, Emma Goidel, and director Maura Krause. Williams is a member of the The Foundry, a lab for early-career playwrights led by Michael Hollinger, Jacqueline Goldfinger and Quinn D. Eli. He is a graduate of Temple University.