Diary of a Playwright: Doug Williams tracks his thoughts as he prepares for his first professional production

By Douglas Williams

Douglas, the playwright of MOON CAVE, kept this diary of his writing adventures during the rehearsal. At this point, Doug had already been working on this play on his own and with Azuka for about a year and a half!

1/15/15

Here we go! Last night our stage manager, Lauren, sent out our rehearsal schedule for MOON CAVE. So official. I put the calendar up in my cubicle at work [I work fulltime in the office of a beer wholesaler] and made note of all the rehearsals I’d be able to attend — it’s a little more than half spread out over the entire three weeks. Most of the time I’ll be leaving straight from my day job and showing up halfway through. Hopefully traffic isn’t too much of an issue.

1/27/15

Just got back from Azuka where we read the most recent draft of the play We don’t start rehearsal until February 10th, but I’m really trying to get the play as close to finished as possible before we officially start. After hearing it again tonight, I am feeling great which is sort of unexpected. Usually when I leave readings I’m all depressed about how much work I have left to do. Instead I feel like we’re really close. Excited to get into rehearsals in a few weeks.

Reading MOON CAVE at an early rehearsal.

2/9/15

Tomorrow is our first rehearsal and whooooooa. My stomach is doing somersaults. I’m trying to anticipate what it’s going to be like working in a way that is completely new to me. Usually I’m in a room by myself working on a play. I can write something down and say “Okay that’s weird but I’ll worry about it later” but now it’s crunch-time. I hope I’m able to still get good writing done while attending rehearsals and working full time. Luckily Kevin [Glaccum] put together a kickass team to put this play together with me.

I haven’t done a ton of work on the play since our last ready. I sent everyone the rehearsal draft this morning. Took off work tomorrow so I can be there for the entire day.

Rehearsal Draft: 92 Pages

2/11/15

We’re officially off and running! Yesterday was our first rehearsal. We got a look at Colin [McIlvaine]’s set design (which was awesome), at Katherine [Fritz]’s costumes (which were equally as awesome) and started work on the play. I feel really lucky to start rehearsals having a director and actors who – because we’ve had more than one developmental reading — are already really familiar with the play. I know that’s a unique spot to be in as a playwright. There’s a shorthand already there and ideas about the play and performances are already pretty detailed.

After we wrapped for the day I sped home, cracked a beer and got to work cleaning up the places where I saw problems. After about two hours I had 35 new pages for today’s rehearsal – without even touching the ending. I pushed off meetings I had scheduled to film and edit a video for Orbiter 3 (not sure why I thought I would have time to do both in one day).

New Pages: 35

2/17/15

The cast is unbelievable! The more I’ve been able to sit in on rehearsals the more I understand that not everything, or even most things, need to be fixed with more writing. Questions that Taysha [Canales] and Kevin [Meehan] have with the text do not mean I have to go home and fix it. That’s just how we discover what the play is about. Still, I have been touching up things here and there. Mostly clarifying or just cutting things that have already been established.

We have these four dream-like scenes that occur in Richard’s head. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to have those come across. Kevin [Glaccum] thinks what might be best is to wait for a stumble through so I can see it in context, but on the whole the big lesson I’ve learned thus far is: LESS IS MORE. I need to step back and let everyone else do their job.

That being said — New Pages: 25

Rehearsing MOON CAVE: Kevin Meehan, Taysha Canales, and Kevin Glaccum.

2/18/15

I brought my laptop to work today so I can write during downtime. I have some pages to get ready for rehearsal tonight. 15 days to our first preview and we’re starting to freeze scenes. I haven’t been to rehearsal for a few days but Kevin called me last night to go over questions that have been coming up. Got some really great notes. Going to do my best to address them now so I can have the script updated for tonight.

New Pages: 20

2/19/15

Yesterday I was really struggling to churn out new pages. I showed up to rehearsal a little depressed and worried that I might not be able to get the play where it needs to be. Then we did a stumble through and I was blown away. Kevin and the actors have been doing so much great work. Seeing the play on its feet really was incredible. I feel totally energized. The first 50 to 60 pages of the play actually feel really tight – I don’t think I’ll be making huge changes to those scenes from here on out. But the last two scenes definitely need some focus. I’m starting to feel the pressure but maybe that’s a good thing.

New Pages: 0 – Took the night off!

2/21/15

It’s Saturday so I got to be at rehearsal the entire day. It worked out because we had our designer run today. In a way, our designers are the first audience we’ve had for the play. Their presence really seemed to electrify the actors and clarified the story in a lot of ways. When we finished the run, Nick Kourtides, our sound designer, got out his equipment to record some whispering that occurs throughout the play.

We needed dialogue that isn’t currently in the play so it wouldn’t give away things that happen later. So I went into my email and pulled up the first draft of FF, which was written over a year ago. We pulled a scene from the end and had Kevin [Meehan] read and record that.

Everything is really coming together, but I still have things I need to clean up (and also need to take a hard look at the ending). It’s funny reading my old entries where I was pretty sure the play was almost there after the reading we did on the 27th. I thought I knew exactly what this play was about before rehearsal, but seeing it over and over taught me a lot. Still a ways to go…

New Pages: 21

photo (2)2/25/15

All that’s left is the ending. I woke up early yesterday to sift through the notes I got last rehearsal. I emailed the new pages, and later spoke to Kevin and Sally about how they sounded in rehearsal (I couldn’t make it because of work). I drove the 45 minutes back to my apartment with the radio off so I could absorb all their thoughts. When I got home I talked to my girlfriend Martha about what I had come up with and sat down to write.
I’m at work now. In the next few hours I will be finishing the new pages and send them in before rehearsal starts today at 4 PM. I’ll get to rehearsal at 7 PM — hear them out loud, get notes, go home and repeat the process. I’m hoping that by the end of rehearsal tomorrow the entire play is pretty much frozen. Tech is this weekend and previews are a week away. Time to finish the damn thing.

New Pages: 12

2/27/15

That’s it. I just emailed over my last new pages for MOON CAVE. Tech starts tomorrow so, besides small line changes that might occur, the play is finished. Half of me is really relieved and the other half is a little uneasy. As long as you’re in the rewriting process you always have the safety net of “Well, I’ll get it to where it needs to be at some point.” Not anymore. Luckily we have an amazing team that is bringing this thing to life. Seriously, Kevin’s direction and the work Taysha and Kevin have been doing have made my life so much easier. They’re transforming my words into something so much better than could have anticipated. I can’t wait to the finished product.

New Pages: 5
Final Draft: 84 Pages

Originally Posted by Phindie: http://phindie.com/diary-of-a-playwright-doug-williams-tracks-his-thoughts-as-he-prepares-for-his-first-professional-production/

Twins & Things: A Quick Interview with Skin & Bone Playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger

Azuka is thrilled to be presenting Skin & Bone, the second installment in Jacqueline Goldfinger’s Southern Gothic Trilogy. As Azuka’s first-ever playwright-in-residence, Jackie developed Skin & Bone over two years with the company following Azuka’s premiere of the terrible girls, the first in the Southern Gothic Trilogy. Her play Slip/Shot received the Brown Martin Award and a Barrymore for Best New Play. As our playwright-in-residence, Jackie was obligated to answer some odd questions for us. Thanks Jackie!

Azuka: You grew up in Florida but now live in Philadelphia. Obviously these two places are very different, but what have you noticed that they have in common?

JG: Philadelphia actually has a very Southern vibe. It’s a cool city. It loves soul music and soul food. It’s not as crazy busy as NYC or other major northern cities, and not as uptight as New England. It feels like a Southern city in a northern geography.

Azuka:  Did your own relationship to your sisters influence your writing of Midge and Madge?

JG: I have two younger sisters. Midge and Madge aren’t based on my sisters but their relationship, the interdependence of sisters in an isolated place, definitely is. Not only were we geographically isolated, but our family was very politically and socially liberal in a very conservative part of the State, so there was this constant feeling of needing to have one another’s back.

Azuka: In earlier drafts, Midge and Madge were not written as twins. How did having your twins influence their characters? 

JG: During the development process I realized that the sisters needed a very special bond to keep the secret that they do – and with twins they are not only exceptionally close but they can emotionally, physically and spiritually mirror each other in interesting ways.

Azuka: Without giving anything away, the characters in this play are a bit extreme, but is there a certain character onstage that you relate to? Or pieces of yourself you see reflected in the characters?

JG: I wish I had Midge’s sass. I don’t. But it would be cool. I have definitely wanted to tell folks off and not done it where Midge has no problem saying whatever is on her mind. So that makes her an extremely fun character to write. Mostly, I write characters, not that I want to be, but that I understand. I don’t write hip-uptown-Abercrombie-and-Fitch characters who live in small boxes. I write characters who dare to live life, even when they don’t have much to live for, and you can see the legacy of their vast potholed journeys in how they move through the world.

Azuka: We’re so proud to have you as a playwright-in-residence here! What’s coming up for you?

JG: There’s going to be a reading of my new play for families, “Enter Bogart,” a 45-minute broad comedy, at White Pines Place on March 23 (http://www.whitepinesproductions.org/) and a reading of my brand new comedy for adults, “Trish Tinkler Gets Saved,” on April 7 at Theatre Exile (http://www.theatreexile.org).

Future History: An Interview with Playwright Philip Dawkins

By Sally Ollove, Azuka Dramaturg

Azuka was lucky enough to be able to bring Philip Dawkins to Philadelphia, but not until after FAILURE: A LOVE STORY had opened. One of the unique challenges of working on new plays in the new world is the tension between the proximity and distance afforded by the Internet. On the one hand, Philip was so accessible by email—questions could be asked and answered. And the answers were so visceral as to give an illusion that we were all old pals. On the other, he was more or less a disembodied figure sending words our way with no body or voice to ground him.

Which is all to say, that when I sat down to come up with some questions to send Philip for this interview, I wanted to send really “interesting” ones as a means of forming some tangible connection—which I can imagine might have been a little overwhelming to receive. Philip handled it all beautifully, though. Here’s a taste of what I mean when I say “visceral” responses:

AZUKA: FAILURE engages with one of Chicago’s most notorious historical incidents as well as one family’s memory of their own history. When do you most feel history present?

PHILIP DAWKINS: When do I feel history MOST present?  Hmmm. I mean,,, that’s kind of a … question.  I mean, we are history. As of the millisecond after I typed this word, it’s already history. But does that word become HISTORY with a capital everything?  Probably not. And that may be for the better. Often HISTORY is something recorded for the purpose of people looking at is as HISTORY, studying it, making it something to cram inside of a textbook in order to substantiate a specific perspective or agenda.  When, really, at the time it was happening, it was just … life.  I think I prefer history in lower case, history that’s not trying to prove anything, but just exists in the past because that’s when it happened. But we do drag history around with us, don’t we?  I think it’s interesting that “history” has become synonymous with “baggage.”

“Oh, me and her? We have history.”  Or

“I don’t hold it against him, that’s history.

When did “history” slip into the vernacular as something assumed to be a bad past, something we recognize from context as meaning: “Don’t ask, it was awful and melodramatic and we’re not talking about it, and I believe I’ll have another mimosa?”  I can’t ever remember someone saying with a big old smile on their face, “My ex husband and I have a long HISTORY!”

I think of the things that are often listed as belonging to history:  A history of violence, a History (meaning “having served time in prison), a History of depression, a history of diabetes.  We don’t so often hear: A history of compassion, a history of inclusion, a history of invitation, a history of bravery.  You know? Wouldn’t it be nice if we did?  Wouldn’t it be nice if the HISTORY we carried around with us like baggage was the kind of history we were eager to open up to everyone we met, instead of the kind of history we were anxious to keep in the past?

“Hi, I’m Philip, I have a history of story telling, a history of educating, and a history of artivism.  Nice to meet you.”

I think we should be living our present in such a way that makes us exuberantly proud of our future history.

AZUKA: As a playwright, there are probably bits and pieces of yourself and people you know in every character. Do any of the characters have certain character traits that you see in yourself?

PD: I’m John N.

Interestingly, my boyfriend, when he first read this play, looked up midway through it and said, “I’m John N.”  And a lot of people responding to this play have mentioned that they’re the John N. in their family.  I think John N. is familiar to a lot of people (myself included) because he’s an outsider. He’s the one who feels tangential to the fury and fuss of the world. But the world of FAILURE, his family doesn’t see him that way, they embrace him fully, they encourage his peculiarities. They love him. Part of the love story of FAILURE: A LOVE STORY is the love that each of the sisters has for their brother, and the quiet lengths each of them goes to protect and encourage him.

I think people are prone to feeling like outsiders, like the ones who never belong. Which is funny because if everyone in the world is standing outside the Popular Circle, then technically, we’re all standing in the Popular Circle.

But, I think there are aspects of myself in each of the sisters.

And don’t tell anybody, but I absolutely, one hundred percent can speak to animals.  Shhhh.

AZUKA: What are some of your favorite uses of the chorus in dramatic history (or contemporary plays)? Why? Were any particularly inspirational to you as you were working?

PD: You know I really dig on the use of chorus in Jean Anouilh’s ANTIGONE.  I dig on the Stage Manager in OUR TOWN, and I think it’s probably clear that I stood firmly on the shoulders of Thornton Wilder in order to reach the world of FAILURE.  I love the way Paula Vogel uses chorus in pretty much everything she’s ever written. Even when she doesn’t specifically designate a chorus, there’s a chorus. For instance, in THE OLDEST PROFESSION, what are each of those characters but individual thespises waiting to step out of the chorus and have their moment, waiting to perform…or to take a final bow?

With FAILURE, I left the designation of who says what in the chorus sections up to the production team because I always want performances of my plays to teach me something about the people putting them on.  I want to learn about other communities through a story about my own.  In another one of my plays, THE HOMOSEXUALS, I wrote about a specific group of folks in a specific stretch of ten years time, and having seen that play performed in other communities, I’ve felt like I’ve gotten all these amazing tutorials on what it’s like to live everywhere ELSE.  In plays about families, I want to see the fingerprints of the family putting it on.  I want to learn about this group of story-tellers almost as much as I want to learn about the story, so, I left the chorus somewhat open, and nondescript. I made the chorus more of a container to be filled with whatever you want. Water, pudding, frogs, teeth.  You fill it as you see fit. That’s what I think the best choruses do, they tell us about ourselves, by telling us someone else’s story.

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Philip Dawkins’ critically-acclaimed play The Homosexuals received a Joseph Jefferson Nomination for New Work after its world premiere with About Face Theatre in the summer of 2011, under the direction of Bonnie Metzgar.  Upcoming productions are slated for ManBites Dog Theater in North Carolina and New Conservatory Theatre Center in SF.  His play Failure: A Love Story premiered in 2012 under the direction of Seth Bockley at Victory Gardens Theatre, where Dawkins is an Ensemble Playwright.  Future productions of Failure: A Love Story are slated at Azuka Theatre in Philadelphia, Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington-Normal in summer, Marin Theatre Company, and many more.  His play Miss Marx or The Involuntary Side Effect of Living received a staged reading as part of Steppenwolf’s 2010 First Look Series.  Other credits:  Dead Letter Office (Dog and Pony Theatre); Yes to Everything! (Chicago, NY,CA, DC); Perfect (The Side Project); Ugly Baby (Chicago Opera Vanguard/Strawdog Theatre Company); A Still Life in Color (T.U.T.A. Company).  His plays for young folks have been performed all over the continent, and are published through Playscripts, Inc.  A graduate of Loyola University, Chicago, Philip is an Artistic Associate of About Face Theatre, an Ensemble Playwright at Victory Gardens, and a founding member of Chicago Opera Vanguard.  Philip teaches playwriting at Northwestern University and through the Victory Gardens ACCESS Program for writers with disabilities.  He also teaches Kung Fu to little Chicago kids through Rising Phoenix Kung Fu.  Hi-Yah!