For Amy, the protagonist of the new webseries 59 Days in New York, you keep a musical video diary. But something similar can be said of May-Elise Martinsen, the writer, composer, and star of 59 Days in New York. Having recently moved to the city with musical theatre dreams of her own, May-Elise created the webseries to help keep her occupied while waiting to start the NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Program. Four episodes in, and 59 Days has now taken on a life of its own.
In the interview below, May-Elise shares about the process making episodes for the series, talks golden age musicals, and discusses things that inspire her:
Me: Tell us a little about your background. What got you started writing musical pieces?
May-Elise Martinsen: During high school, I loved singing the standards of the “golden age” musical theatre repertoire, and I spent lots of time meditating on the merits of musical theatre movies like Show Boat and South Pacific. But it wasn’t until I returned to Norway the summer after my first year of college that I started thinking of writing my own show. That summer, I spent the days working at a local nursing home. In the off hours, however, I didn’t have much to do besides enjoy scenic walks and more scenic walks. I didn’t know many people in Oslo, and the few friends and relatives I did have in the city were enjoying vacation elsewhere.
It was the first time in years that I hadn’t had deadlines and homework to keep me occupied. That freedom prompted me to pick up a hobby I hadn’t touched since I was ten - writing songs. When I returned to Wellesley that fall, I brought a few of my new songs to a composer seminar. To my surprise and pleasure, the main reaction to the music was: this sounds as though it belongs in a musical.
The more I started exploring musical theatre writing, the more it felt like the right path for me - and the perfect way to combine my writing and performing interests.
Me: How has your Wellesley experience influenced your journey into musical theatre?
May-Elise: A small liberal arts school, Wellesley is not the traditional place to study music or develop a relationship with musical theatre. There were four music majors in my year, and the department strongly favored theory over performance and classical repertoire over any “popular” material (yes, musical theatre qualifies as “pop.”)
Still, when I told the faculty in my sophomore year that I wanted to write a full-length musical about Scandinavian medieval queen, Margrete I, for my senior thesis, I couldn’t have imagined a more supportive environment. Even though I had little composition experience, the faculty helped me arrange my own study abroad program in Norway and develop my Margrete musical compositions through several independent study classes. I ended up exploring one moment of Margrete’s life through three different storytelling mediums in a part research-part composition senior thesis. It was a great opportunity to develop musical theatre in a broader sense, and I feel grateful the faculty allowed me so much license to design an education that fit my goals.