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Meet The Writers: John Woods

In our "Meet The Writers" series, we're learning more about the participants of the CMTWC Writers Workshop. The Vancouver Writers Workshop meets every two weeks where, under the guidance of Daniel Maté, writers learn and practice the craft of composition and lyric-writing.

What was your introduction to the theatre?

My folks took me to small, local, kid-oriented theatre shows when I was a youngster in Winnipeg. Sometimes the family would go see larger productions of musical theatre shows at Rainbow Stage. Also my dad would sing Gilbert & Sullivan and Andrew Lloyd Weber songs around the house all the time just for no goddamn reason. All. The. Time. And he didn't remember half the lyrics so he'd scat them Sinatra - style. "...what then to do about Jesus of Nazareth?" became "...scoobidy doo-wap dee doobity doo-wap" etc..

When was the moment you decided to write for the theatre?

Despite this, I entered into a songwriting career - first with rock bands and eventually with a raunchy cabaret comedy act called The Wet Spots. We took our musical influences from Cole Porter and Tin Pan Alley - witty lyricism mixed with explicit sexual subject matter. We were a natural fit for working alongside burlesque troupes. A local troupe had been branching out into musical theatre parodies, for example: Greece The Musical, which retold the Persephone myth using music from Grease. At that time the troupe was writing song parodies a la Weird Al. We started working with them on a burlesque backstage musical with an original plot and original songs. (We were later informed that the plot wasn't actually terribly original.)

I had been writing songs with an aim to get a laugh for many years at that point, but for this show I actually wound up writing a song that made people cry. It even made me cry, and I cry perhaps once a decade. I knew I wanted more of this business, and I knew that there was no room for a song like that in The Wet Spots. So instead my collaborator and I dug into the burlesque musical - we've been developing it for 8 years and counting. That's how it started.

Whose work do you admire and why?

I have utterly lowbrow tastes when it comes to musical theatre. I like all the obvious, pop-influenced stuff. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Reefer Madness The Musical. Avenue Q. I haven't yet seen Book of Mormon but I've enjoyed most of Parker & Stone's songwriting collaborations with their various South Park properties. Eric Idle and Neil Innes are some damn fine comedy songwriters. Jack Black and Kyle Gass have written some extraordinarily clever comedy songs over the years - many of which also drove the plots of their TV show episodes. I hope one day they actually put together a proper full-length rock opera parody.

I've always loved 'tasteless' humour and 'illegitimate' performance forms like drag, burlesque, pro wrestling, punk rock, heavy metal etc. (My take is that they are modern clowning forms.) And I love shows that bring the provocative elements of these forms to an audience that might not be quite ready for them yet. I love the provocateurs who actually have the goods to make their provocations succeed.

How do you like to write? What is your process? Where do you find inspiration?

I like the idea of writing and I like when the process is rolling. But the starting is hard. So I make commitments to projects, and then I have to deliver. I sit down and try thing after thing until something works. Then it usually stops working and I throw it out and start over. If I'm really lucky and I get part of something that I know is worth keeping, then I can obsessively edit it in my mind until it's done. My family and my employers are getting maybe 60% of my usual presence and attention during this editing phase. It never turns off. It's like something caught between my teeth until the song sounds exactly right.

But getting from the blank page to that part of something worth keeping? Getting that heaven-sent idea? The best ones always seem to arrive when it's 4am or I'm in a traffic jam. Maybe I should keep one of those bedside table notebooks or a dictaphone handy in the passenger seat but that feels desperate. I'd rather just sit down with the guitar and the mike and Logic. I only have certain hours that I'm open for business for those first fragments to come find me. I put in so much overtime during the editing process that I feel o