Playwriting Class – Writing A Musical

What's It Like To Write A Musical?

Want an inside peek into writing a musical? I have written a musical every year for the past 20 years. These are family musicals written for kids age 5-14 to perform. Five of these musicals are published and performed all over the world. Four more are nearly ready to be published. One is waiting for a rewrite. I most recently wrote a musical with 7 students in my playwriting class. We weren’t sure how far our collaboration would take us, but we are about to put it on as our main May musical this May 11-12th. Get tickets.

Garden Players Playwriting Class

Playwriting Class Members with Mentor Betina Hershey

This isn’t the first time I’ve led a playwriting class, but it is the first time I decided we would write our May musical, which has 60 cast members, sets, costumes, props, and a long rehearsal schedule, in collaboration with 7 playwriting students. It was quite a big undertaking, but together, we rose to the challenge and had a lot of fun doing it, too. We met for an hour each Wednesdays from October through February, extending to two hours for the last couple of read-throughs. We worked in person and on a shared google doc. All of us are excited to see it on the stage.  It will be performed this May 10th and 11th. Get tickets.

To get a sneak peek inside the minds of 5 young playwrights, watch the YouTube video below where I chatted with student playwrights involved in this collaboration. We discussed our process, the excitements, the difficulties, and our hopes for the audience’s experience. We even came up with a new idea to add in, even though the show is only a few weeks away. Rewrites and last minute additions or cuts are common when we develop new musicals or plays. Enjoy!


Collaborating adds the fun of community to writing. Get at least two minds together, and there will be some interesting twists. Getting feedback on what works and what doesn’t really helps. After bandying about ideas, writing, adding ideas to a shared script, it can be difficult to know what parts were written by who in the end. We know where certain ideas were sparked, and who started developing them, so we all feel ownership.


I’ve found that if you I don’t know the plot, it’s best not to start writing yet. Sure, it can be fun to write some scene ideas, some monologues, some character ideas, but if I want my writing to have a chance of being in the script, first I want to really understand the plot, the kinds of character developments that will create interest, and the theme. For homework our playwriting students and I each wrote down a plot idea with exposition, a conflict, rising action, a climax, falling action, and then the resolution. Then we read them to each other, talked about these plots, and eventually took a vote. The plot with hikers, trash, creatures who get magical powers was the one chosen, so we started to work fleshing out the details.


Developing specific characters can ignite our imaginations. Figure out what they want, what they fear, what big change they may experience, where they live, who their friends and family are, and what kinds of personality quirks they have. In our collaboration each writer wrote at least one character monologue based on the wants and fears. These monologues really helped give the flavor of our shared writing style.

Writer Benny playing the character he created, Morgan - a corporate spy.

Scene Break-down

After we had a general plot and some specific character ideas, we needed a more in-depth scene break-down. This was a puzzle with the pieces being rearranged many times until we felt the flow made sense. The scene break-down gave us a clear idea of where we were going and how we would get there. 

Scene orders can be a lot of fun to play with. What if we move this section before this vitally important part? What if we split this in two or combine these three? Our scene order kept on changing right up until a week before we handed out the scripts and beyond. Even as recently as this week we inserted a couple of small scenes for characters that we realized needed more development. That is all part of the fun!

Putting It Together

Writing the dialogue for scenes can really flow out easily after the characters and scene-breakdowns are agreed upon. The first draft may flow out very quickly. Rewrites will be required. One of the challenges was figuring out how to blend the tones of the scenes for similar characters written by different people. We had to double check that the characters continued to appear throughout the musical, and that there were no contradictions in their personalities. I spent a lot of time combing through the script, double checking character names and which lines they had.

Our blue cast in rehearsal for the title song Creature Mountain.

The Songs

After the scenes are written is the best time to write songs. We had already written in possible song locations with a suggested title and a few lines of possible lyrics. I then met in collaboration with Sunny Knable, and also in collaboration with Melinda Faylor, writing songs quickly since we had a clear idea of what they should convey.

Wrap Up

For auditions we grabbed a verse and chorus of a few songs, and lines or monologues from various important characters. With my assistant directors and pianist, we cast two casts of this show. Two of our writers are also student assistants, there in the classroom as we rehearse the various groups, jumping in to help with line adjustments and more. We’ve been in rehearsals since February, with 5 of our writers also performing the show, 3 of which get to perform parts that had been their ideas to begin with. 

The show will be May 11th and 12th, 2024 and we hope to see you there! Get tickets.

(The show logo for Creature Mountain & The Slime Corporation was created by one of our student playwrights, Seriana Russo, who will be attending Art and Design HS next year for Digital Art with a focus on Animation.)

– Betina Hershey Leads Garden Players Classes, Teaches Private Lessons And Audition Preparation, Writes Musicals That Have Been Published And Performed In Over 65 Countries Around The World, And Has Performed In Musicals And Bands Worldwide. Her Students Go On To Attend La Guardia H.S., Frank Sinatra, Talent Unlimited, Professional Performing Arts School, And More.

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