Interview: Jamie Maletz And Eric Fegan of THE VALLEY

Up and coming musical theater writers Fegan and Maletz are staying focused and staying sane.

By: Dec. 04, 2020
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Interview: Jamie Maletz And Eric Fegan of THE VALLEY Jamie Maletz and Eric Fegan are biding their time, but they aren't just sitting still while doing it. The musical theater songwriting duo are among the many artists who were on a fast track when the show business shutdown happened, with shows that had just been performed, and bookings in the upcoming days and weeks. Since their ride was put on pause, the colleagues have spent the right amount of time focusing on the current state of life, and planning their return to the industry when it is allowed. On the front burner is regaining the momentum for their original musical THE VALLEY, which has been playing club rooms in concert format. Fascinated by the premise of their show, I reached out to Eric and Jamie to find out how they work together, what their downtime has yielded, and what a musical about Icleand looks like.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its entirey.

Jamie Maletz and Eric Fegan, welcome to Broadway World and thank you for chatting with us today.

Thanks so much for having us!

Ok, so let's get the business out of the way: what's your billing? When people talk about you like they do Kander & Ebb and Ahrens & Flaherty, what do they say?

We're Fegan & Maletz.

In February, you shared some songs from your new musical THE VALLEY with audiences at The Duplex. And Jamie, you had some music sung at 54 Below in the SHE WILL ROCK YOU show. A month later the city was locked down. Just how badly was your momentum stopped by the quarantine?

Interview: Jamie Maletz And Eric Fegan of THE VALLEY Like a lot of people, we had some exciting things in the works that were canceled due to the quarantine. The Valley had a big in-concert presentation set to happen in April at The Green Room 42 with an all-Broadway cast, and Jamie had her first-ever concert showcasing her as a composer/lyricist set to happen at the end of March (also at The Green Room 42), which Eric was set to music direct. It was hard because in a way we were just getting started, and we had these two great steps in the right direction, and then they were gone. We'd be lying if we said our momentum wasn't slowed down, but we haven't given up. We've done a lot of virtual collaborations & performances to keep the ball rolling.

Have you been able to put some movement back under your projects, as these months have passed?

Interview: Jamie Maletz And Eric Fegan of THE VALLEY What I would honestly say is that we've used this time for reflection more than anything else. If you spend all your time being driven, focusing on the hustle, striving for forward momentum as you reach for a goal that you think will always be there, and then all of Broadway shuts down, how can you not stop and think? And ask what you really want for yourself and the things you write? Of course, we're still strategizing about how to get our work out there and doing what we can even now to create some movement. But a big part of that has been asking ourselves what "getting our work out there" can look like, and maybe thinking more outside the box.

The Valley seems to be the big one for you, at this moment in time. Put a picture in my head of what the journey has been like, up to this point.

We met as classmates in The Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU Tisch. We became friends and were paired as thesis partners, which meant that we spent half of the program writing a musical together. That's the origin story of The Valley! We wrote it piece by piece at school. It would get critiqued by our advisors, and we would edit and re-work it as we went along. Grad school culminated for us with a 29-hour reading of the show, presented to all the students and faculty in the program, as well as a few select guests. After graduating in May 2019, we took the feedback from the program and did a big rewrite, and then in September 2019, we self-produced another 29-hour reading. This time, we invited many people we knew and respected in the industry who we were hoping to introduce to our work. And it went really well -- we were so pleased by how people responded to the show! The reading left us feeling incredibly hopeful for The Valley's future because we had people interested in coming on board as potential producers and teammates. We strategized next steps with our growing team and settled on doing an in-concert performance with an all-Broadway cast. The venue was secured, the cast was booked, and the concert was announced for April 20th, but as you know, that's where our journey hit the Covid detour.

While show business is still shut down, what kind of prep work are you able to do in order to be ready to jump back in, when the time comes?

Well, for one thing, we've done everything we can to keep creating and putting our work out there. And since we've been stuck at home, mostly that's been happening in the form of virtual collaborations. Jamie taught herself how to use Final Cut Pro so that we could make virtual performance videos, and we've managed to put together quite a few in this "downtime"! It's been a nice way to stay connected to the community, keep working with performers, and build up a bit of a "portfolio". When things are "back in action", we have a whole playlist of great quality videos that show what we can do. (You can check it out HERE if you're interested.)

I'm obsessed with Iceland - what would you like to tell us about The Valley to entice but not spoil anything for future audiences of the play?

You are not alone. We are also obsessed with Iceland. One of us has 83 pages of relevant notes about Iceland saved on her computer. And those are just the relevant notes. I think the best way to entice would-be in foreshadow-y fun fact form because the musical shares fun facts about Iceland as you go along. So, Fun Fact #1: It's a road trip adventure musical, so you'll get introduced to lots of cool Icelandic locations like Reykjavík, Vík, Baula Mountain, the Westfjords, and a few places that are less expected and more mysterious. Fun Fact #2: It's an ensemble cast. Four tourists, two Icelandic guides, and lots of secrets. And Fun Fact #3: Did you know that over 50% of Icelanders believe in hiddenfolk and elves and trolls? Weird, right? Just a fun fact.

The Valley is not your only focus together - tell me about the New Work City Choir that you work on together.

As we neared the end of our time at NYU, we were sad at the prospect of not collaborating with student performers anymore. So we gathered the contact information of all the senior undergrads in musical theater performance who were interested (since they were also graduating and sad to be losing their collaborative outlet), and we started a choir that would learn & perform new works of musical theater. Pre-Covid, we met as often as scheduling allowed. The choir would learn new works (sometimes pieces by us, sometimes other new works we knew and liked), and on a few occasions, we were able to record living room performances. Of course, now with the pandemic and it not being safe to gather, the choir has not been able to meet for quite a while and is temporarily on hiatus. We hope we can reactivate it as soon as it's safe to come together again.

Apart from your collaborations, Jamie, you are active with Maestra, including writing their Women Who Wow series. Are there many music organizations designed to support and promote women artists?

I wouldn't say there are many, but there are some. Obviously, Maestra is incredibly close to my heart, since I work for them and am so passionate about the work that they do, and they're so active in the ways that they are making positive change. I also happily work for Ring of Keys, which promotes the hiring of musical theatre professionals who self-identify as queer women or transgender or gender non-conforming artists. And through the work I've done with Maestra, I've learned about other musical and theatrical organizations that help women+ artists: Hear Her Song, which supports new songs by women, the Broadway Women's Alliance, Disney's Women of Broadway, the Local 802 musician's union has a committee called Women of 802 (with goals to promote networking, foster support, and increase gender parity), and of course, there's The Lilly Awards, which celebrate women in theatre, and volunteering there is how I got introduced to Maestra. So much great work is done by these organizations -- and so much change is needed, so honestly, we need them all, all the support we can get for each of them, and more.

Eric, so much of your work is focused on your interests in music; is there room left in your year to nurture your interest in science?

I honestly don't spend much time anymore specifically working on math or science, but so much of that mindset has manifested itself in my music work. I feel like a lot of my composition process revolves around finding and exploring the musical patterns. It sounds clinical, but it really isn't, because the numbers and math come alive when translated into music. In addition, my science background has helped me a good deal with audio editing and score formatting since that's all done on computers now. Of course, every now and then I will spend time diving into some area of math or science that isn't music-related, and I am not done with it forever. I definitely see more of it in my future.

There was an extremely well-produced quarantine video of "Here in Iceland" from The Valley that was released over the summer. What brought that about, and what was the takeaway for you both?

Thank you so much! Making that video was basically our response to our April 20th performance being canceled. We figured that if we couldn't have our big exciting concert, the least we could do would be to come together with the cast and do a virtual performance of the opening number. And fun fact (because The Valley loves fun facts), that video was the reason Jamie started teaching herself how to use Final Cut Pro. We had a lot of fun with the backgrounds - the plus side of a virtual performance is that we got to give our performers scene changes and "backdrops" of real Icelandic scenery! We storyboarded the whole video with our director, Will Nunziata, who had signed on to direct the concert and has stayed involved with us and the project throughout this whole quarantine even though everything's been canceled and we have no idea what the future holds for the show. He's the loveliest person. As for takeaways from the video...we were thrilled with how the video came out, and it was so much fun to work with the performers, musicians, and each other putting it together. Though, can we level with you? And be 100% honest? We know most people are tired of watching virtual readings and song videos. We totally, completely get that. The screen fatigue is so tangible, if our lives were a script, it would be a personified character at this point. That being said, when you put all your heart and soul into putting something together and you think it's great, and it has a large cast of exciting and talented people, and you hope it gets seen and shared widely, it can be a bit of a bummer when it's not. That may sound whiny, but we're actually just trying to be transparent. We talked about momentum earlier. And we do sometimes have our moments of "if we do something this extra, and it goes mostly unnoticed, is there anything we can do that can bring momentum?" And when we do, we let ourselves have the moment, and we're there for each other as collaborators. Will usually gives us an impassioned pep talk. And then we keep trying. We decided to be extra again a few months later when we made a video of a standalone song we wrote about quarantine snacking. It also didn't get very many views, but it stars Jason SweetTooth Williams as an evil cookie, so we refuse to feel anything but triumph. (If you'd like to watch: So probably the real takeaway is, as artists we work really hard, and often it doesn't get us very far. And it's so easy to get discouraged. But we're trained as writers to find ways to bounce back and keep trying. So we're not giving up.

The decision to become collaborators is always a personal one - put a picture in my head of choosing one another to bring each other's art into the light.

So as we mentioned, we were paired as thesis partners at school. And we loved working together. We just really get each other and we're a great team, as well as being really good friends. We worked together so seamlessly and had such a good experience being writing partners at NYU, and we both have so much respect for each other and are so pleased with the work we do together. I don't think there was ever a question that we would continue writing together once we were done with school. We of course want to continue pursuing our path with The Valley, and we have other exciting ideas of things we're planning to write together as well.

Eric, as a musician, have you found that playing any specific genre of music, or any particular pieces of music, calms you during moments of stress, the like of which we have all felt in 2020?

It isn't even about a specific genre. Just taking the time to play or listen to any music is a massive stress reliever. I might play through some of the music I'm working on writing. I might listen to a favorite rock album or Broadway cast recording. I might revisit a classical piece that I enjoyed playing when I was younger. It's really about putting myself in a mindset. Because it isn't just about stress. I also use music to build myself up when I need a little extra confidence or find clarity when I'm in a mental fog. It's those ties between music and emotion that drew me to musical theater specifically because musical theater is all about linking music and emotion. And that's why it's especially devastating that theater has been harder to produce during this pandemic, arguably when we need it most. It has been reassuring to see all the ways that us theater-makers have kept the spirit of theater-going virtually. And part of that is the writing we're doing now that we'll be able to produce fully once that is again possible.

Jamie, as a book writer with twelve full-length musicals under her belt, have you found any kind of common source of inspiration in the stories you are most drawn to tell?

I will always, always, always get excited by mythology and folklore. Especially old, weird, lesser-known stuff, and especially anything involving monsters, magic, and mayhem. Often, my ideas will start with a character or characters (because my stories are very character-driven) and a basic idea of the circumstance or journey I want for them. And then I'll seek out cool mythology or folklore that could pair with it. I have gone down many an internet wormhole just reading about various odd mythologies that could work with my "starter ideas".

So what is the next leg in the journey of THE VALLEY?

Your guess is as good as ours! We're hoping to publish/license it if we can because we would love to get it out there in the world and easily available to schools and theaters. Honestly, we really want to share it with people in whatever ways we can find, so we're open to what comes our way.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, I am really looking forward to seeing The Valley when it's up and on its feet. Have a wonderful holiday sprint into 2021.

Thank you so much - and right back atcha!

Visit the Jamie Maletz Website HERE.

Visit the Eric Fegan Website HERE.