MENTION THE WORDS “Wild West,” and most people are likely to conjure similar imagery. The genre is filled with stories of pitiless villains, distressed damsels, and honorable heroes who arrive on the scene at the last minute to save the day.

Jared Goudsmit’s play Derailed takes those stereotypes and turns them upside down. In his story, the bandit is emotionally conflicted by his actions, the damsel in question is far from helpless, and the deputy on duty is more concerned with preserving his reputation than deflecting real danger. The script earned Goudsmit, a member of Thespian Troupe 748 at Kirkwood High School, a Thespian Playworks slot at the 2018 International Thespian Festival. It was published in Dramatics magazine’s December 2018 print issue.

Also an actor and filmmaker, Goudsmit’s eight short films have been entered into 49 festivals, and he won best high school student short film at the 2018 Kansas City FilmFest International. In a recent interview, Goudsmit shared his thoughts on balancing his creative interests, questioning the status quo, and the inherent rewards of “putting yourself out there.”

Jared Goudsmit at the 2018 International Thespian Festival.

Jared Goudsmit at the 2018 International Thespian Festival. Photo by Corey Rourke.

How and when did you first become interested in playwriting?
JARED GOUDSMIT: Derailed is the first play I’ve written, but I’ve loved writing stories for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I made comic books about a superhero cardboard box — just fun, dumb stuff. I wrote the scripts for all the films I’ve directed out of necessity! And I wrote Derailed because my high school put on a performance of student-written one-acts. So I’ve written for a long time, but it’s never been a defining hobby.

What was your particular inspiration for Derailed? 
JG: I liked the idea of a quintessential villain complaining about his job like a normal person, and nothing felt more traditionally villainous than the outlaw who ties women to railroad tracks. It only made sense to me that a nervous-wreck Bandit would need a sarcastic victim for a counterpart. And I knew from the start that — spoiler alert, I guess — the supposed victim had to gun everyone down and leave on the train at the end of the play. That just felt right to me.

I hope that audiences come out of the play with a little less respect for the idea of “following the code” for its own sake. Question the norms! I liked the Wild West caricatures. People immediately recognized what “type” each person was supposed to be and already saw the rules of their world as ridiculous. Maybe we can relate to when the Bandit becomes more self-aware, when he realizes that he’s been part of a black-and-white, good-guy-and-bad-guy system he doesn’t like or believe in.

People have called it a feminist piece. That’s absolutely an element, but I hope it’s more of an overarching, status quo-questioning play, where the questioner happens to be female.

Derailed was also presented as part of the Young Playwrights Festival in Los Angeles, in addition to last summer’s International Thespian Festival. What did you learn in these festivals?
JG: There are so many little rewrites I made at YPF — and at ITF and at my high school, for that matter — that I can hardly remember them all. A lot of stuff just wasn’t as funny staged as I thought it was on paper or got muddled in blocking. But the biggest thing I learned was to give moments time. I expected I’d have to cut, cut, cut the play down, but every edit seemed to involve adding things. The size of the Deputy character must’ve quadrupled, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Often, I’d take for granted that the audience would understand some detail or think that a moment had played out enough and was getting stale. But although you don’t ever want to hit the audience over the head with something, it’s good to take a moment and let things sink in. As I kept hearing, the silence is just as important as the dialogue.

Do you find that your acting and filmmaking experiences make you a better playwright and vice versa?
JG: Yes, yes, yes. Being an actor makes a world of difference. I’m able to look at my lines as if I’d been assigned to memorize them, as if I had to come up with my own subtext for every word. When a line is difficult to learn, it’s usually the result of bad dialogue. If your train of thought would naturally connect two sentences, it’s easier to learn which line comes after another. Read your dialogue to yourself. Perform to yourself. It helps! As for filmmaking, it helps as long as you remember that films and plays are different. Films have to move really, really fast and rely heavily on visuals, not words. In live theatre, you can and should take your time. Watching someone perform and interpret and react live is naturally a million times more stimulating than watching a story that’s prerecorded on a screen.

Do you have plans to continue writing once you graduate from high school? 
JG: I have plans to write now! The Playworks program has made a world of difference. It’s shifted all my priorities. My advice for young writer folks is: Just go for it. Allow yourself to go for it. You enjoy writing, so write stuff, and share it with people, and improve it. Only doing it again and again will get you anywhere in terms of quality. And as for the “putting yourself out there” part, you’ve just got to do it, as painful as it can be. Google “high school playwriting competitions” and see where it takes you. Tons of people will say no — they say no to me, at least — but you’ll develop a thick skin fast. And above all else, you’ll be enjoying yourself.

Are you interested in playwriting? The deadline to submit your original play for consideration in the 2019 Thespian Playworks program, sponsored by Samuel French, is January 15. You can view detailed guidelines online.

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