Jamie Maletz on Trusting Your Gut, Maestra Music and Why Her New Musical Needed a Valley of Death
One of the benefits of writing for 10glo Stories is discovering the unique, sometimes hidden and sometimes not-so-hidden, passions that drive musical theater artists.
Today is no exception as we connect with Jamie Maletz, a composer, lyricist and bookwriter whose most recent project is The Valley with composer Eric Fegan.
Read on for our full conversation.
When you went to undergrad at Amherst you designed your own major, Creative Writing and Composition. Were you thinking at the time that you wanted to specifically write for musical theater or was there a world in which you were going to write music in another genre?
I knew at the time that musical theater writing was my passion. I started writing and putting up productions of musicals when I was 18 years old, and that continued through my undergrad years at Amherst. Though I do also enjoy writing music for other genres! My style often falls very much in pop or alt/indie land (even when combined with theater).
You also received an MFA from the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU. What are some of the biggest lessons you learned there about writing for musical theater while there?
I learned so much in my time at GMTWP! And I grew a lot as a writer – I could talk at length about the lessons I learned. Though honestly one of the biggest things I learned was how to become a stronger collaborator and how to figure out when to take feedback and when to respectfully stand your ground on what’s right for the piece.
The program is very feedback-based, and you get so much feedback so frequently from so many people. So you have to sift through everything you’re being told from your respected peers and mentors (not to mention your own feelings and vision) and then figure out which changes need to be made.
It’s a good skill to develop in general, I think, because you’re always going to have a lot of people telling you how to change your work to make it better, and you need to know how to have an open mind, how to listen, but also when to have confidence that you have it right if the advice is not the best.
We noticed on your resume that you have interned at some theatrical producing and management offices. Has working behind the scenes given you any insight in how to launch a career as a musical theater writer?
The producing and management internships were so incredibly enlightening about how this industry works. I was soaking up all of the information like a sponge and taking notes like crazy, and I learned a lot about what I would need to do to self-produce and network and get my name out there.
The internship at Commercial Theater Institute was particularly wonderful because I got to sit in on the Commercial Theater Institute classes, and we (the interns) also got to learn from the producers who run the company. Before everything shut down due to Covid, I produced several concerts at 54 Below showcasing the works of myself and other emerging artists, which is something I’m very proud of.
And from my internship with Ken Davenport, I learned about how to put together an industry reading, which came in handy because at the time, I was self-producing my own industry reading for the first time!
You also work with Maestra Music, which was founded “to give support, visibility, and community to the women who make the music in the musical theater industry.” How has being a part of Maestra helped you in your own work and career?
Working with Maestra Music is something I am so incredibly passionate about, and it has truly changed my life. It is amazing to be part of such a wonderful community and doing such important work. The best part is that everything that Maestra does as an organization will help my overall work and career, because the organization exists to make things better for women trying to work in this industry.
I started working with Maestra after being moved by Georgia Stitt’s speech at the Lilly Awards in 2019. She talked about the statistics of women in Broadway pits, the number of female orchestrators and sound designers and contractors in the last decade, and it was all…staggering. And depressing how low the numbers were. (There’s also a timeline of female composers on Broadway on the Maestra website, and as a composer, it’s disheartening to look at.)
Ever since then, I have just been so proud to be a part of the organization, and so aware of the significance of everything we are doing. Not to mention, as the person moderating all the classes that Maestra runs, I have learned so much from the phenomenal women who have come to teach our virtual technical workshops! A side note to any female-identifying, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming music makers reading this: if you are not yet a member of Maestra, you should join!
Your musical The Valley is about a group of tourists who unintentionally embark on a road trip adventure in Iceland. This is such a specific setup. Did you have a previous interest in Iceland that sparked the idea for this story or was it something else?
Ironically, the basic inspiration for The Valley started with mythology from somewhere other than Iceland! I was really interested in the folklore surrounding Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, which is rumored to have a valley of immortality hidden on its slopes. It is also said to be home to a demonic mountain deity, the Dzö-nga (or “Kanchenjunga Demon”).
So that started the basic idea of an adventure trip gone wrong involving a monster and a valley of immortality (and for me, if you have a valley of immortality, you should also have a valley of death for maximum drama and potentially stumbling into the wrong valley by mistake).
Early on, we set the story in Iceland, which is the perfect place for a magical adventure because it’s such a beautiful, mystical place, and there is already so much supernatural folklore (there’s a statistic that I really want to be true that claims that 50% of Icelanders believe in hiddenfolk and elves and trolls).
So our story grew, changed, and developed from there, and we incorporated a lot of Icelandic culture and folklore and fun facts. I did a bunch of research and became mildly (Okay, moderately. Okay, incredibly) obsessed with Iceland, mapping out the routes our characters would take to make sure they were possible and putting the little guy on Google Maps Street View/Satellite to see what places looked like. I have never actually been to Iceland (I want to go so badly). My writing partner has. I’m not bitter about it. (I’m very bitter about it.)
Bonus question: According to your blog you’re a monster enthusiast. What’s your favorite monster and why?
Okay. This is a very unfair question because there are so many great ones, and they’re all fun or fascinating for different reasons, but if I must choose one, I’ll go with a bitchin’ sea monster: the Aspidochelone.
So basically, this monster is described as a GIANT turtle or whale, depending on who you talk to, and it floats near the surface of the water, and its back is so large and covered in crevices and valleys and even trees that it gets mistaken for an island. So unwitting sailors are like “oh, sweet, an island! Let’s dock!” And they pull up onto the monster, and as soon as they’re comfortable, whoosh it pulls the ship and all the people down into the depths of the sea, drowning them. And the moral of the story is, never trust mysterious islands, and sea monsters rock.
You can see more of Jamie’s work at 10glo.com/user/JamieMaletzMusicals/.
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