JARED GOUDSMIT AND MAX REINERT — classmates and fellow Thespians in Troupe 748 at Missouri’s Kirkwood High School — were both solo authors before they decided to partner. Goudsmit has long penned short stories, and his first play, Derailed, was staged as part of the 2018 Thespian Playworks program. Reinert started composing songs as a child.

Though neither had written a traditional musical, this fact failed to deter their ambition for their new project. Justifiably so, as their first collaboration, Wrath of the PTA, earned the two a trip to the 2019 International Thespian Festival, where they had audiences laughing and cheering at their Thespian Musicalworks reading.

Jared Goudsmit captures behind-the-scenes footage of the Thespian Musicalworks program at ITF 2019.

Jared Goudsmit captures behind-the-scenes footage of the Thespian Musicalworks program at ITF 2019. Photo by Susan Doremus.

Wrath of the PTA is a song-filled comedy about five members of a dysfunctional elementary school parent board. Beth, the chair, rules her committee with an iron fist. But her two-faced vice-chair, Jean-Marie, stands ready to stab her in the back the first chance she gets. That opportunity arises when an oily businessman unexpectedly throws his hat into the election ring just as Beth seems poised to lock in a sixth term, throwing everyone’s world into chaos.

Both Goudsmit and Reinert see writing in their futures. Goudsmit is now a freshman at Tulane University, double majoring in theatre and political science. “I’m still writing,” he said. “Our school’s Performing Arts Society is staging a comedy of mine this spring, and I’m just getting started on a new libretto. The journey continues, man.”

Reinert, a high school senior, is finalizing his post-graduation plans. “I’m still making my college choice right now, but wherever I go, my plan is to pursue songwriting and music production,” he said. “I’m currently working on a solo project to release on streaming services, hopefully by this summer.”

What inspired you to write Wrath of the PTA?
JARED GOUDSMIT: Honestly? We just wanted to sit down and make something. Our school was chosen for the Missouri Musicalworks program this past year, so that was already on my radar. I was totally comfortable writing the book and was ready to try lyrics for the first time, but I knew absolutely nothing about composing. I barged into the dressing room during tech week of our fall play, found Max, and — very aggressively, now that I think of it — yelled, “Hey! You! We should write a musical!”

MAX REINERT: The beginning of a wonderful partnership!

JG: We wrote a really moody song, without any idea what the context would be, thinking we might make a gripping drama or something. I wanted to write about rivalry, but we didn’t have any concept beyond that. I don’t know what made things click, but I suddenly jumped up and yelled, “PTA moms!” And Max said, “PTA moms!” And we were set.

MR: After that, we started this back-and-forth communication: Jared telling me what kind of song he wanted, me crunching one out and sending an audio file back. We ended up keeping the moody song, “The Storm,” where Jean-Marie controls Beth like a puppet.

I would try to write in whatever tone the scene required, although I’m sure I subconsciously incorporated my own tastes into the music. Overall, my style centers around ’70s rhythm-section funk, and for this project, I drew a little inspiration from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. Our top priority was to make something we were happy with, something that would make us laugh. We thought, “If we think it’s funny, the audience will think it’s funny.”

Max Reinert, director Brian Curl, and Jared Goudsmit in rehearsal at the 2019 ITF.
Max Reinert, director Brian Curl, and Jared Goudsmit in rehearsal at 2019 ITF. Photo by Susan Doremus.

You did a considerable amount of rewriting and editing from your participation in the Missouri Thespian State Conference to the conclusion of the staged reading at ITF. What were the biggest changes you made to the script and score?
JG: There were a ton of changes. Missouri Musicalworks requests a standalone opening number to an original musical, six minutes tops, while ITF wants full 20-minute shows, so we had a lot of world-building to do.

We had to keep the conflict simple for the Missouri version, so Beth and Jean-Marie were fighting over the type of cookie they’d prepare for the bake sale instead of the election. There wasn’t enough time in the number to give Margaret [the quick-witted secretary] and Rhonda [Jean-Marie’s loyal toady and treasurer] in-text personality traits, and the tyrannical committee chair, Beth, was originally written to be pretty likable! Looking back on it now, it’s wild how much the show has grown.

MR: Adding music was, to be honest, a nightmare. I was sick with a stomach bug right after our Missouri ThesCon weekend, which was only a couple of days before ITF’s January 15 deadline. But Jared encouraged me to write five more songs within a couple of nights.

JG: We had already written three of them for Missouri; we’d basically just mashed them into one big Frankenstein of an opening number. Still, we had six character arcs and five new musical numbers to make. Max sounded like he was on the verge of death over the phone, but he cranked them out anyway. That’s commitment.

MR: There was a character named Gretchen that we cut entirely, and our big villain, Jean-Marie, was originally named Nancy-Grace. At the time, we didn’t know there was an actual celebrity named Nancy Grace. I promise, we have no issues with the real Nancy Grace.

Max, this was your first time participating in the Next Generation Works program. When did you become interested in songwriting? And Jared, what was it like shifting from Thespian Playworks to Musicalworks?
MR: I’ve been messing around with the arts since I was a kid, but I really homed in on songwriting my freshman year. Normally, I don’t write songs for musical theatre; it’s honestly never been an interest in the past. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to collaborate when Jared offered.

Working intensively with a collaborator — and later a group — was really valuable. It’s the first time I worked this closely with somebody, and it’s created both an awesome product and an awesome relationship. It’s cool to figure out how you can play off each other’s strengths, especially when you bring an idea to a group of performers. I liken my partnership with Jared to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting duo. Jared’s probably John. He’s got the glasses. And the nose.

JG: To me, Thespian Playworks is about messing with your text and seeing where it takes you: watching actors and a director interpret your instructions, examining every detail, receiving feedback from your dramaturg, rewriting, and handing the actors a new script the next morning. I must have gone back and forth on the phrase “desperado business” in Derailed for about three or four days.

Musicalworks is a fundamentally different animal. Instead of a straight play like Derailed, which mainly consists of two characters having a chat in the desert, Wrath of the PTA has near-constant blocking, solos, harmonies, multiple patter songs, and even a short interlude for dance. All that assembled in one week? It’s glorious chaos.

There’s no time to mess with text at Thespian Musicalworks, at least not more than a line here and a word there. I knew the draft I wrote in mid-June was almost exactly what we’d be putting up in Nebraska, and it allowed me to turn my attention to the production itself. We even organized an extra rehearsal near the end of the week where I became the interim director and Max the music director. It’s vital experience. A good architect knows to design their blueprint thoughtfully to make the engineer’s job easier, and the same can be said of writers and directors. You’re easier to work with when you’ve tried on different hats.

Kara Fish, Morgen Gardner, and Drew Bates in the staged reading of Wrath of the PTA at the 2019 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Corey Rourke.

How did the act of documenting the experience in your Dramatics vlog add to your takeaways from the event?
JG: ITF week is jam-packed. The days are long, and it’s easy to forget all you’ve learned. Sifting through the footage and hearing our day-to-day takeaways reminded me how much we’d really gained from the program. This program is really underrated. I hope someone who’s into playwriting watches our vlog and realizes it’s worth their time to apply. And, of course, it’s awesome to have a keepsake of the week.

MR: Yeah, I love to go back and watch all the good times we had at the festival. Getting to know the cast and getting new perspectives from our directors. Pretty rad, man.

What advice would you give other Thespians interested in writing?
JG: Don’t be afraid to be bad! I’ve made a habit of submitting something to as many competitions as I can, even when I’m almost certain I’ll lose — provided it’s free to apply. This works especially well with film festivals; you can send a piece of your work to dozens of festivals in a day without spending a dime.

Receiving a handful of rejection letters on a regular basis is a sign you’re doing it right. It takes the shame out of failure, which alleviates a lot of pressure around writing something new. Above all else, just keep churning stuff out. Soon enough, you’ll be looking back on your past work, shocked at how far you’ve come.

MR: Be influenced by the stuff around you. There are plenty of musicals that play the same couple of chords in the same progressions, just with different lyrics smacked on top. Find something you like from some crazy-different place, and throw it in. Make your work stand out among others. Add your own twist.

Learn more about the Thespian Musicalworks program on the International Thespian Festival website.

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    ITF Goes Home

    ITF Goes Home

    ITF returns to IU bigger and better than ever

    Feb 03, 2020

    Making a Musical - Episode 7

    Making a Musical - Episode 7

    Journey’s end

    Dec 18, 2019

    Five Questions with Gabi Garcia

    Five Questions with Gabi Garcia

    Thespian playwright explores the world through many lenses

    Oct 28, 2019