Strasburg High School music teacher Joel Ross is a real-life example to his students who may be thinking of musical theater or writing as a career.
Ross has written original scripts, created the musical scores for, and directed the last three Strasburg High School musicals.
This year the students will perform his play “The Assassination of Jessamine Sinclair,” which takes a look at the divisive nature of elections – even in small towns.
“It is set in the middle of a mayoral election in a small town. There are several candidates,” Ross said.
He said he has been creating music for most of his life, beginning when he was 5 years old, and he has always enjoyed making up stories. Writing allows him to do both.
“Once I knew I’d be teaching a musical theater class, I started getting ideas and writing them down, and the more I wrote, the more I realized I’d be able to complete it. After the first show went well, I decided to keep writing shows,” Ross said. “I think I keep getting better.”
Ross wrote the script and score for last year’s production – “Winston Lacroix is Dead.” His first Strasburg High School musical production for the high school was “Murder in our Town.”
His idea on that first attempt was to have the musical theater class he teaches collaborate on the writing. But, writing collaboratively takes a longer time — time they did not have. So he completed the work and found he liked it.
He continued writing on his own but his students, when they get the script, are very much involved. They often offer suggestions that add to the script and develop their characters in ways Ross did not think of.
This is the second musical Randi Ball, 17, a junior at Strasburg High School, has appeared in. She said the process is interesting.
“You create the character. There are so many things in there that were not in the original story,” she said.
Randi plays the female lead character Jessamine Sinclair in the upcoming musical.
This is Eliana Miller’s first time working with Ross on a musical.
“Most teachers will tell you studying and working in musical theater is rare and unattainable but seeing Mr. Ross creating all this shows it is attainable,” the 15-year-old Strasburg High School freshman said.
Ross writes and arranges music for a semi-professional acapella group that he sings in and directs called Good Company. He also writes and arranges music for the Strasburg High School orchestra.
“I’d love to get some of my orchestra music published, and I’d love to see other high schools perform my musicals. Beyond that, I’m really very happy with exactly what I’m doing. I mean, I wouldn’t turn down a Broadway contract but I’m very happy where I am,” Ross joked.
Ross likes writing a murder mystery.
“If you know it’s a murder mystery, there is an immediate draw. You are curious about what happens and how,” Ross said.
He has already written next years production for his musical theater class. It’s called “Ten Little Monkeys.” It uses the wording of the children’s rhyme throughout the production, set to a darker musical score.
Ross promises, like all of his plays, it will be kid-friendly for families who would like to attend.