It is not often that one gets to relive the summer camp experience, yet that’s precisely what audience members get if they catch a showing of award-winning playwright Gregory Moss’ MFA ’08 “Billy Witch.” The play, which has been running for two weeks at the Astoria Performing Arts Center in New York, was written for a dramatic writing class that Moss took as a graduate student. Wanting to explore the topic of adolescence, Moss said he chose a summer camp as the play’s setting because it is a “mythical American place” that has always intrigued him and described the dramatic piece as a “fast and furious comedy.”
The first half of “Billy Witch” was completed by Moss as he was finishing his graduate studies in 2008. Studying under then Professor of English Paula Vogel, whom he met before coming to Brown, Moss credited graduate school for allowing him to “be the writer I actually am.”
Moss said he drew on personal experiences as well as literary works such as Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” while writing “Billy Witch.” The play, which premiered at the APAC on Nov. 1, was also picked up last spring when it was performed by Studio 42 in Manhattan. Acknowledging the challenges associated with its production, Moss said he is excited the play “is getting as much of a life on stage as it has.”
The 13-member cast of “Billy Witch” made it an ambitious undertaking for Erik Pearson, director of productions, who was first introduced to the play by a friend. Pearson, who also directed the play last spring, was struck by its “fantastic theatrical imagination.” Though the first showing was a great success, Pearson said the production is entirely different this time around with a new cast, set and lighting designer. Pearson said he “built upon the successes of the first time” and pushed the envelope further, particularly when it came to costumes.
The production company also faced several challenges in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Pearson said, which forced the crew to cancel several rehearsals and grapple with gas shortages. Fortunately they were able to make up for lost time and ended up using branches that were knocked down by Sandy for the play’s set design, Pearson said.
He added that he worked closely with Moss prior to the play’s first production and had found the collaboration to be immensely beneficial. Pearson, who finds the director-playwright relationship to be very important, said he was struck by Moss’ “theatrical vocabulary,” not to mention his unique take on the subject of the play itself.
Pearson said the production has been a tremendous success thus far and managed to elicit several great laughs from the audience, which seemed to have been quite affected by its story.
“So few of these stories succeed in truthfully expressing what that moment of becoming an adult from a child is, and Greg does this with great humor,” Pearson said. “Billy Witch” will run in the APAC until Nov. 17.