When we set up this interview last August, I hadn't fully grasped just what exactly they had done. It was so amazing we had them come BACK in November to make sure we got them all on the cover for the Spring Issue. These 6 high school seniors and juniors wrote an amazing musical, with all original content and music. Then they cast it, built the sets, directed it, performed in it, and sold out every single show. Read how they did it and where they are now below.
By: Maria Corr
In the 2014-2015 school year, six Central Bucks High School South students wrote, edited, cast, produced, and starred in an original musical based on the Where’s Waldo? children’s book series. Nick Goodyear, Billy Ambrose, Ben McLaughlin, Maria Corr, Casey DeMas, and Sal Azzara sat down with ITM to talk about their inspirations, involvements, and challenges in writing Where’s Waldo?: the Musical.
It all started back when Nick Goodyear and Billy Ambrose were in middle school. Growing up, Billy says, the two boys always worked on “small projects—writing comedy sketches, filming YouTube videos—just to make each other laugh and have fun.” In the eighth grade, they wrote a sketch based off of the Where’s Waldo? children’s book series. (Although looking back, Billy says, “it wasn’t very good!”)
Fast-forward about two years, and Nick and Billy, along with the help of their friends Andrew Cohen and Ben McLaughlin, established an independent student-organized theater group, Anything But Ordinary Productions (ABO). Together, they performed a musical parody of the Harry Potter series titled A Very Potter Musical (AVPM). Billy recalls that, “after [AVPM] was a success, everyone involved started asking what ABO was going to do the next year.” Nick suggested, “’Why not pick back up with Where’s Waldo??’”
“Thus began the late night Panera Bread sessions.” Nick, Billy, and Ben immediately started planning out the writing process for Where’s Waldo?: the Musical. The three boys would set goals and deadlines for themselves, as they knew that these deadlines would “push [them] to work hard and take writing seriously,” says Nick. By mid-November, the boys finished the first draft of Act I, and brought on Casey DeMas and Maria Corr to help edit and brainstorm, which is where Billy says, “the project snowballed.”
In late November of 2014, local students who were involved in and saw AVPM began inquiring about plans and progress for a show for that upcoming summer. Ben suggested that they hold an open read-through for Act I to see if everyone would be interested in staging Waldo in the summer of 2015. Over Thanksgiving break, interested students and supportive friends met up at Nicole Telesco’s, an ABO member who starred in AVPM and ended up being the production director of Waldo, for the Act I read-through. Ben recalls that, at the end of reading Act I, “we basically got a standing ovation. Until that moment, no one really knew what to expect, but the read-through was such a huge success [that] I knew we had something good coming on.” Maria says that, “the read-through was especially helpful for [her] as an editor, since it was a way to get direct feedback on the show. It was great to have people give us some new perspectives and ideas to make the scenes clearer, characters stronger, and plot lines more interesting.”
Seeing how successful the read-through for the first half of the show was, Nick, Billy, Ben, Casey, and Maria decided to make Waldo a serious top priority in all of their lives—they spent time together every day working on the script: brainstorming; writing; erasing; rewriting; editing; etc. Meanwhile, Nick and Ben worked with Sal Azzara, another current CB South student, on writing music for the show. Sal, who “had a hand in writing the instrumental music and directing the band,” mentions that they “took inspiration from many other shows that [they] had performed in as actors/pit orchestra musicians.” The three are credited with writing all of the music in the show; Waldo consists of 15 original songs, with lyrics and melodies all written by Nick, Ben, and Sal.
When sitting down with ITM, each of the co-writers openly admitted to different struggles they experienced during the 7 months of writing Waldo. When asked to name a few, Maria joked that, “there were a lot.” Nick and Sal opened up about the difficulties of writing a completely original score of music for the show; Nick mentioned his frustration when he “wrote this one song countless times and kept scrapping it.” He felt as though he “didn’t know where to go with it,” and therefore, struggled immensely to find the right tone for the song. He eventually found his inspiration at a read-through, when someone suggested titling the song “Where’s Waldo? (And Where Am I?).” Nick said the idea for the title made it so that the “next time [he] sat down to rewrite the song, it was written in about 20 minutes.” Similarly, Sal “immediately” recalled rewriting another song, “Code Blue.” He and Nick “had many ideas for the song to begin with, but none of them seemed to work.” After rewriting the song five times, “[they] finally agreed on the sound and mood [they] wanted for it.” Nick said that he “never liked to settle for something he didn’t like,” which he admits “may have frustrated [him] even more.” But Sal said it was just that kind of determination and work ethic that led to the “incredible end result.” Ben and Billy reflected on the enormous challenge of completely rewriting the second act of the show just weeks before auditions were to be held. None of the writers liked the direction the show was going in towards the end, so after long debates and numerous arguments, they decided to simply start over. Billy remembered “going through the whole act, scene-by-scene, [highlighting] and just [hitting] delete.” Ben said the “subtle changes about each character made throughout Act II completely changed the whole show and made it way better.” Throughout all of the brainstorming, writing, and rewriting, however, Maria and Casey said that, sometimes, the biggest challenge of all was working together. Casey said that with six rather stubborn, stressed-out high school students working together on a creative project, “tensions would get super high because there were so many ideas and emotions and opinions” floating around. Maria added that, “at some points, [she] felt like [she] was doing more work to mediate arguments than [she] was to work on the script.” Nick admitted that he “made some people mad along the way, but all in the name of quality.” At the end of the day, the six were equally passionate about the project, and managed to work together to make the show the best it could possibly be.
Seven months, three outlines, and eight drafts later, the final script of Where’s Waldo?: the Musical was completed on Thursday, March 5, 2015. As the acting and musical directors, Ben and Nick contacted people “from the CB high schools, some recent graduates, and people from AVPM” to audition for the show. Ben noted how quickly “word spread, and through the span of a week, different students and members of ABO Productions [read] scenes from the show and [sang] songs” to audition. Nick described how “fantastic” every audition was, and how all of the “directors were left with [their] jaws on the floor, wondering how in the world [they] were going to cast the show.” Billy, Maria, and Casey, along with nearly 35 other local students, were cast in the show (Billy, as Waldo himself!).
After three months of rehearsals, Waldo was performed for the public at the Plumsteadville Fire Hall. Every show was sold out, with more than 300 seats filled each night. By closing night, word had spread throughout the community to the point where people had to be turned away at the door, as there was not even room left in the Fire Hall for audience members to stand and watch.
Being just juniors and seniors in high school at the time of writing Waldo, all six co-writers mentioned how their plans for the future were influenced and changed as a result of their involvement in Where’s Waldo?: the Musical. Billy always knew how much he enjoyed writing scripts, but says that Waldo helped to “reaffirm that [he] wants to and can do [it] for the rest of [his] life, and find success in doing it.” For Nick, Waldo taught him the different between “a hobby and a potential career path,” as it proved to him that “music is what [he is] best at and most passionate about.” Sal credits his involvement in Waldo with teaching him “the meaning of ‘dedication.’ Working on a musical showed [him] how to balance” the different, and often hectic, aspects of his life, as well as “how to push past all hardships to focus on what is most important.” Casey said she learned to “accept that other ideas are sometimes better than your own,” proving that collaboration, while necessary, is often a humbling experience, “full of self-reflection.” Ben’s experience “helped [him] realize his true love for acting,” and motivated him to continue his theater career during his college years. Maria’s involvement in Waldo “completely opened [her] eyes to [her] true passion for writing and editing,” which inspired her to become the Editor-In-Chief for Inspiring Teens Magazine!
Overall, the six agree that there is one major reason they were able to accomplish such a huge goal: trust. Billy says “if [he] didn’t wholeheartedly trust [his five co-workers], [he] wouldn’t have been able to do it.” Casey added that she, too, “wouldn’t have ever done it” without the help of her close friends to motivate and inspire her. Sal says that, while writing a musical was “super-duper difficult, it was not impossible, thanks to the help of [his] friends.” Nick’s biggest advice to give anyone else is to “know yourself, and know your coworkers.” Ben also commented on how “working with friends made the whole experience so much more fun and exciting,” and Maria says that “trusting [her] three best friends with their crazy idea, and choosing to get involved in Waldo, was the most worthwhile thing [she has] ever done.”
For Nick, Billy, Ben, Maria, Casey, and Sal, Where’s Waldo?: the Musical was one of the most incredible experiences of their lives. During the months of production, they were all tested as writers, musicians, creative thinkers, and friends. Through countless Panera Bread meetings, late-night writing sessions, and constant collaboration, however, it is clear that they were able to build some of their strongest friendships and discover interests and talents that were once untapped. In their search for Waldo, they found themselves, and they challenge everyone else to do the same; take on long-term projects, and learn to trust and find inspiration in friends—it may lead to something completely unexpected, and immensely rewarding.