Getting started with creating a musical

steve harris

I have always been a musician, and have always been moved by music. Throughout my schooling and in the years beyond, I was involved in musical theatre as a musician.

At school, there were performances of Gilbert and Sullivan and other classics – it was a school that would tolerate nothing more modern than that. It suited the bassoon, which I learned throughout high school. And it gave me a taste of how music and drama could come together in ways that prompt an audience to use their collective imagination.

But it was more contemporary music that held my interest. My piano teacher knew nothing of rock or jazz. She had never heard of Elton John or Billy Joel or Queen – but these were artists of the time who featured the piano. And I wanted to get into that school!

So I started playing with bands and in musical theatre. I wrote jingles for TV and radio in Gippsland, and I recorded music with other musicians. When I became a mathematics teacher at Sale High School, I got involved in the school musical of that year.

But it was a feSchool Musical Theatre Scriptsw years later when one of my daughters was reaching the end of her primary school time that I decided I’d had enough of the annual concerts her school was fumbling its way through each year, and that it was time to gather a couple of like minded people and write something for the school. Little Stars was the product, and it was a hit with the audience at the time.


My aim was to create a show that was simple enough for primary school students to perform, whilst having enough appeal in its music to engage the kids. And I wanted to make sure that it would translate easily enough to at least junior secondary school. The songs needed to have some of the rock and roll flavour they were familiar with, but the melodies were kept within certain ranges that would be easy to perform.

battle of bands musical 031After the show was long over, I completed the task of documenting, scoring and finalising the manuscript, then contacted Maverick to see whether it would meet their standards for publication. I still recall clearly getting the email from Gail to say that it had been accepted – it was a great thrill, and inspired me to write two further shows – Battle of the Bands and Snap!

Since that time I have spread my musical wings and worked hard to build a reputation in new areas. I have had success selling music into film, TV and advertising, and continue to hone my skills as a composer, arranger, recording engineer and producer.

The High School Musical Shake ‘n’ Bake

High School Musical Shake 'n' Bake

Seven delicious writing ingredients to make your high school musical a sizzling success.


Leap up outta that writing chair and begin the writing process far away from the desk. Ease into the armchair and read as many high school musicals as you can get your mitts on. Watch show DVDs. Devour books on your subject. Go to the theatre. The movies. The gallery. Declare it all as a tax deduction! All this wonderful research will simmer away in the subconscious, and when it comes time to write, bubble up into a beautiful newborn baby: your high school musical spectacular.


Zero in on a unique world, focus on a central hero with a big goal or problem, and surround them with a colourful supporting cast. What gets into the way of their goal? Who’s your villain? Love interest? Comic sidekick? How does your hero resolve their goal or problem in a surprising way?

Write for the Talent

As you write, cast the characters based on the talents and strengths of your teenage stars. Their unique personalities will breathe life into the characters… and when it’s show time, they’ll light up the stage with the parts they were born to play.

Add a surprise cameo from a well-known member of the staffroom — from PE teachers to lunch ladies — and they’re guaranteed to bring the house down.

Fun & Character Parts

top school musicalsHigh schoolers will relish the chance to play wacky larger-than-life characters. Unleash your inner Ed Wood with a crazy cast of misfits – zombies, Vikings, pirates, cavemen, knights, damsels, superheroes, robots, gladiators, nerds, valley girls, jocks, redheads, hillbillies, rappers, vampires, werewolves, were-vamps, disco-dancers, kung fu fighters and Bollywood booty-shakers… and that’s just your opening number. You might like to read High School Spoofical and You’re History as examples…..

Comedy Comedy Comedy

Every scene should be chockfull of the funny. One-liners… eccentric characters… exaggeration… juxtaposition… visual comedy… silly wigs, make-up, costumes… and a healthy dose of parody. Pick on world leaders, pop stars, Hollywood retroactiveactors, retro celebs, TV shows and reality formats, YouTube videos, video games, topical news, and above all, include local in-jokes that make fun of your school, town and country (or even better, rival school, town and country!).

High school musicals are unique because they’re performed by teenagers, but watched and enjoyed by a broad demographic of audience members – from toddlers to adults. The best way to keep em entertained is with humour that works on a number of levels — visual comedy and slapstick for the younger kids, and sharper comedy and retro flair for the grown-ups.

Here’s a sketch from my theatre restaurant script RetroActive which worked for kids, teens and adults – an episode of Play School starring a morbid bunch of emos…

Audience Participation

Picking on the front row never fails to be a laugh riot. Grab the nearest student/parent/teacher/headmistress/nun from the audience and involve them in a scene. Dish out the embarrassment factor. Force them to dance. Act like a chicken. Sing an opera… as a chicken.

ThingaYoure-history-pic-1ble Thongs

Singable Songs! Forget Lloyd Webber – write simple punchy numbers with short and sharp catchphrases, uncomplicated lyrics and catchy choruses — perfect for a choir of kids.

Open with a showstopper that introduces us to the world of your story — a medieval forest, outer space, a teenager’s mind. Finish Act One with another showstopper to send your audience to the drinks stand on a high. End the whole shebang with either the theme song, or a medley… so toe-tapping that the audience can’t help clapping along and dancing all the way home.

Bloody Squirrels

one act play scripts

For someone so tall and attractive – I am approximately 17 metres and made entirely of puppies – I have always been unsure and fearful.  I worry.  I won’t bore you by listing the things I have worried about, been fearful or unsure of but, as you can imagine, growing up, it did make me like honey to the ladies…

By the time I was eight I was sure of only three things:  I knew how to string together words, I was funny and salt and vinegar crisps were man’s crowning achievement.  We’ll fast forward forty years or so to around 2010. I had had a few false starts, it’s fair to say.  I’d written some funny sketches that were performed at the Edinburgh Festival in the mid-1980’s, some short stories that were quite well regarded but, ultimately, just sat around the house, drinking all my wine and causing problems with the neighbours.  I had to throw them out.  Last I heard they were living on a canal boat in Amsterdam, knitting their own mung beans…  You see, this was part of the problem!  Concentration.  I was easily distracted and lead astray.  I’d write a killer first line and then I’d catch sight of a squirrel and four months would go by.  The other major problem was the people I was reading.  They were all great and I wanted to write just like them.  Regrettably, I wrote as bit too much like them and there wasn’t much of a market for a 4th or 5th rate Woody Allen/Flann O”Brien/Steinbeck, etc.  Almost everyone on my reading list looked at life from somewhere other than level ground and was, if not an out and out comic writer, at least aware of life’s stupidities.  Except Steinbeck who was a bit of a gloomy old Eeyore and needed to cheer the heck up!

I promised a fast forward and then skipped off into the undergrowth again.  In 2010 I was really bored one day.  So bored, in fact, that I decided to write a play.  I sat down and, without thinking at all, just wrote about fifteen minutes of dialogue.  I sent this to a playwright friend and he thought it was alright and suggested I turn it into a one-act play.  I did that the next day.  I called the play “Nothing” and it won the 2011 One Act Play competition at Noosa Arts Theatre and is published by the good people who own this blog.  I’d discovered the trick, at least the trick for me.  Write like me.  Have the confidence to write with your own voice and about the things that interest or are important to you.  “Nothing” is, essentially, based on my father’s death from cancer but that’s no reason to exclude jokes!  Once I’d found this voice of mine, I couldn’t shut the damn thing up.  At the time of writing I have written six one-act plays, six full length plays, a screenplay and much else besides.  My work has been performed all around Australia and bits of New Zealand and I’ve managed to pick up a couple more awards including one for “The Bench” also published by Maverick.  As you can imagine, there is no bloody living with me…

I’m aware that it is really easy to say “write like you” but who else are you going to write like?  Maybe some people discover that knack earlier than me – I really hope they do – but, for me, that’s the only way I can do it.  Figure out your story, listen to yourself and make sure your writing space is squirrel-proof.  How hard can it be??

Bananas – a Luddite’s Perspective

school musicals comedy

by Simon Denver

Being somewhat of a luddite, it was trepidation that I embarked upon my first “blog”. The word itself – had conjured up something that was either a bed fellow of gluttony or obesity… or at the very least, something very unsanitary. All fears were allayed when I discovered a blog was actually digital public diary.

So? The changing face of comedy. In my black and white pre-digital youth, everything was simple. A man slips on a banana skin and everyone would laugh. Eventually, after realising the only bruising was to his ego – the victim himself would laugh. But now…an event like this would galvanise the bureaucratic nightmare that protects us against ourselves.

At least three state, federal and local government committees would be set up. Each would conduct an in-depth enquiry. At least two independent enquiries would be set up. One by the Banana Grower’s Association and one by the Banana Retailer’s Association. The findings of both enquiries would then be redirected into seven feasibility studies, working under a joint steering committee. Its findings would eventually announce that society was ill-prepared for such and event, and measures should be implemented immediately to make sure this never happens again. These include:

1) Making it illegal to eat a banana within five metres of a pavement.

2) At the point of purchase for a banana, all buyers would have to also purchase a health and safety approved BDR (Banana Disposal Receptacle).

3) A policy of zero tolerance would be enforced for wayward or feral bananas (a sort of three slips and you’re out).

4) A new government department would find emergency shelter … and counselling – for any future discarded, disenfranchised, or at-risk banana skins.

5) Further enquiries should be set up to recognise banana skin hotspots with the community.

6) Clear and adequate signage warning of such dangers will be erected in all these hotspots.

7) The government would initiate an education campaign to make the populace aware of the problems caused by banana skins.

8) Counselling for the victim and the witnesses should be compulsory.

And as for the victims and the witnesses…

The victim, after endless counselling sessions, would sue everyone. He would then sue the witnesses for not rendering assistance, who in turn would sue the government for lack of counselling services. Both the witnesses and the victims would eventually sue the government for post traumatic shock syndrome.

But the bottom line here is – it’s still funny.

All humour depends on a victim. We laugh, usually, because it hasn’t happened to us. Humour is our safety valve, our touchstone – our yardstick. No matter how much society changes, or how much comedy styles change, our sense of humour will always be constant. It is with our humour we can tilt at windmills, face our fears, failings and foibles. It is with humour we forget we have a mortgage. It is with humour we try and make sense of our modern world. I hope I have caught this Zeitgeist for humour in some of my plays – especially the two one acters, That Scottish Play and Seven Deadly Sins.