Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Michael Melski being interviewed by The Fax at Neptune Theatre. (Video Still: Danielle Noble)

Neptune Theatre welcomes first ever artist-in-residence

Michael Melski develops his newest play at Halifax’s most renowned theatre.

Former University of King's College grad Michael Melski, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, has been named the first ever artist-in-residence at Halifax's Neptune Theatre.

Melski was invited to Neptune, the largest professional regional theatre in Atlantic Canada, last month to work on his new play, Eighteen, as part of Halifax Regional Municipality's Residency Initiative.

Melski says he has aspired to work at Neptune ever since his days at King's and Dalhousie, where he graduated with a degree in English and Theatre, even though the possibility seemed distant at the time.

"I'd written a few plays at [King's Theatrical Society] and the Dal Playwrights Cabaret, and you know, Neptune... seemed like it was on a very high mountain that I probably would never get to," Melski said in a recent interview.

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The Fax's Danielle Noble talks to Michael Melski about his upcoming production and his residency at the Neptune Theatre.

"I was writing kind of very dark, experimental stuff at the time, which I needed to do," he says.

After graduating in 1991, Melski went on to write, produce and direct a number of plays, films and television shows. His short film Serenade earned him the Best First-Time Director award at the Atlantic Film Festival in 2000. His play Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad was rated by the Toronto Star as one of the top ten plays of the year in 2004 and nominated for multiple theatre awards in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Last May, Neptune Theatre produced Melski's play The Fly Fisher's Companion, which was very well-received by audiences. Soon after, Melski was offered to become Neptune's first artist-in-residence.

"It feels like I managed to get in the door at the top of the mountain, which is a really good feeling," he says. "And there's a lot of support here, so it's great."

What is the artist-in-residence grant?

The grant for Melski's residency is part of the $15,000 Residency Initiative pilot program by the Halifax Regional Municipality. The initiative offers Halifax art organizations an opportunity to host and work with local artists, while HRM provides an honorarium to cover the associated costs.

As part of the program, Melski also leads writing and training classes for aspiring writers. The residency runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 26, in which time Melski will finish a first draft of Eighteen

The play depicts a retired Nova Scotian couple that stumbles upon the fountain of youth on a Florida golf course. The next morning, they wake up to find they're 18 years old again. Like most of Melski's work, the comedic story has a more profound message intended to provoke deeper thought from the audience.

"The play asks the question: what if you had a mulligan for your whole life?.... What if you had a do-over for everything? You could go back and make different choices," he says. "So it calls into question fate, destiny, love, power of choice; but told in a comedic way too, because, you know, they're 18 in a world where they're very unaccustomed."

Amy Melmock, the general manager of Neptune, is thrilled to welcome a writer of Melski's caliber to the theatre.

"He's someone who's recognized in the artistic community as being a great up-and-coming artist not only in the playwriting world but also in film," Melmock says. " So we're very pleased to be associated with Michael in that sense."

Hitting close to home

Though his production Eighteen may make people reconsider their life choices, Melski seems content with the path his life has taken. Though he has worked in larger markets like Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles, he feels that it's important for artists to stay true to their roots. While Halifax isn't a major entertainment hub, it still needs representation in film and theatre to keep those cultures alive.

"I feel like if everybody moved to the centres, the incredible wealth of talent and stories in the regions would go away," Melski says. "I'm lucky enough, and I've paid my dues, that I get to work at home and have a support system and a venue.

"I have people that want to make things with me and give me money to do them. I'm really having the best of all possible worlds right now."

This story originally aired on the news show, The Fax, at 7:30 p.m. on Eastlink on Nov.14. The news show is produced by journalism students in the television workshop class at the University of King's College.

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