Local resident Thomas Edward West has been working in theatre for more than 35 years as a playwright, librettist, director, teacher and arts administrator. He’s had work produced Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway and in regional theatre and universities. His directing credits span the same areas.
He’s also the co-author (with Vincent Sardi) of the coffee table book “Off The Wall At Sardi’s”— a collection of the famous caricatures that tells the stories behind them. (“I did a presentation and signing at [words] a while back,” noted West.)
And now West is sharing his expertise — at an affordable price — by offering two new classes in Playwriting and Writing Musicals at 1978 Maplewood Arts Center.
PLAYWRITING starts on May 18 and runs for five weeks. The class covers: turning an idea into a play; characterization; plot and conflict; formatting, stage directions and settings; dialogue; and collaboration with directors and actors. Each week members are encouraged and invited to present work in progress. Classes will also include analysis of a classic play.
WRITING MUSICALS starts on May 20 and runs for five weeks. The class will cover: turning an idea into a musical: original or adaptation; structuring book, music and lyrics; songwriting structure; dialogue, lyrics and characterization; and collaboration with directors, choreographers, actors and musicians. Each week members are encouraged and invited to present work in progress. Classes will also include analysis of a classic musical.
We asked West a few questions about playwriting and musicals and he provided us with some enlightening — and entertaining — answers:
Village Green: What’s your favorite play/musical you’ve created and had produced?
Tom West: It’s hard to pick a favorite “child” but my favorite experience writing a musical was a touring show about Shakespeare that I co-wrote with Robert Waldman. Bob is the composer of the current New York revival of The Robber Bridegroom. Bob and his Bridegroom co-author, Alfred Uhry, were protegees of the legendary Frank Loesser, who wrote Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and so many more classic musicals. When we sat down to work together, Bob said to me, “I’m going to walk you through what Frank Loesser taught us about writing musicals. He wanted us to pass it along.” To help close the circle, Loesser’s daughter Emily acted in the first workshop of our show.
VG: What’s the number one mistake that budding playwrights make?
TW: Most playwrights fall for the advice, “Write what you know,” which is a good exercise but can lead to a small-scale play that only one’s family might care about. I like to tell playwrights, “Write the wildest thing you can imagine, or write about the thing that excites you most, but always write the play that you think you can’t write.”
VG: Is everyone trying to create the next Hamilton and how do you deal with that?
TW: Anyone who tries to create the next Hamilton won’t create the next Hamilton. Most musicals that enjoy Hamilton‘s kind of success sound like ridiculous ideas. A hip-hop musical about WHO? Alexander Hamilton? Ridiculous. A musical version of Romeo and Juliet with street gangs fighting each other with switchblades? Ridiculous. A quasi-operatic musical about a vengeance-obsessed barber who turns his murder victims into meat pies? Who would want to see that? The surest way to fail is to imitate something that is one-of-a-kind.
PLAYWRITING and WRITING MUSICALS are open to all ages and levels of experience, beginners to professionals. The cost for each class is $35.00 per class or $150.00 for all five weeks. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thomasedwardwest.com. Classes will meet at 1978 Maplewood Arts Center, 1978 Springfield Avenue in Maplewood.