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Government of New Brunswick

Mélanie Léger

Mélanie Léger crédit Emmanuel Albert
Mélanie Léger, photo Emmanuel Albert

Originally from Shediac, Mélanie Léger is a graduate of the Université de Moncton Drama Department (2005), holds a Master's degree in Theatre from the Université du Québec à Montréal, and completed L'Inis' regular television writing program in 2015. She writes for theater, television, and film, in addition to working as a researcher, director and actor. She is the screenwriter of the film Notre-Dame-de-Moncton, launched as the opening film at FICFA 2022. During her career, she has written more than a dozen stage plays, most recently Becca (a co-production of Théâtre Populaire d'Acadie and Theatre New Brunswick) in winter 2024. Her play Tsunami (produced by Théâtre L’Escaouette) will tour Quebec and Ottawa in 2024.

What drew you to the theatre?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where I was exposed to the arts and encouraged to develop my creativity. From an early age, I dreamed of being an artist, without really knowing what that meant! At school, however, I was a very shy child. When I arrived at Polyvalente Louis-J-Robichaud in Shediac, there was a very dynamic teacher, Diane Albert-Ouellette, who headed up the drama committee. A friend dragged me to the audition, and that is where it all began. This teacher also taught a drama course I took in Grade 11, and it was in this course that I wrote my first play, which this same teacher helped us stage, and we went on to present it successfully at the Festival de théâtre jeunesse en Acadie. It has been said that teachers change lives. If this theatre committee had not existed at the polyvalente, I do not think I would have had the same career path. Theatre has enabled me to find my place and blossom at school. That is why it is so important to expose young people to the theatre. It is by opening ourselves up to all kinds of experiences and opportunities that we develop as individuals. Theatre should be present in every primary and secondary school in the province.

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Tsunami by Mélanie Léger in a production of théâtre l’Escaouette, photos Mathieu Léger

What drew you to writing for film and theatre?

I have always had a passion for reading: novels, plays, poetry, essays… Perhaps it was my boundless admiration for writers that made me want to write as well. In any case, in the beginning it was not so much thought out as instinctive. Then I had opportunities to write for the theatre, for example, thanks to the Théâtre de L’Escaouette, which commissioned texts from me, or through the Théâtre Alacenne, a creative company I founded with my friend Anika Lirette and of which I was co-director until 2016. Cinema came a little later, but that is another story! Writing for film and theatre is also quite different.

What stimulates you most about your practice?

I would have to say the variety of projects I am lucky enough to work on. I discover all kinds of different worlds and I do not always have the same roles and responsibilities, so my way of doing things has to adapt to the needs of the projects. I do a lot of research and scriptwriting for documentary programs, which brings me into contact with subjects and people I never thought I would meet. For the play Becca, it was an honour to collaborate with Rebecca Schofield’s family, who were truly generous. For me, this kind of collaboration, and the way the show has been so well received throughout New Brunswick, demonstrates the need for us to bring our stories (stories from home, or stories that touch us) to the stage. In the theatre, I am always so in awe of the work of the director, and it is amazing to see how a text suddenly comes to life with the performers. The fruits of their labor, or of the teams I work with, make me want to keep trying to surpass myself.

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Tsunami by Mélanie Léger in a production of théâtre l’Escaouette, photos Mathieu Léger

What is the creative process like?

At the start, I have vague ideas—often a premise, a starting point, a character, a place, a theme—that will obsess me, but then I must write them down, and that’s when things get complicated! I feel I fumble for a long time until I find something like a rhythm or a character tone that will guide me. The creative process can be exceptionally long in my case, and having periods of distance, where I don’t touch the project or even think about it, helps me come back to it better. I’ve also worked on several occasions with writing commissions, in which case the constraints are always stimulating. Writing is always a restart, in the sense that, as I move forward, I feel while I am always questioning. Of course, I think you can gain experience, but (in my experience!) that does not make it any easier; on the contrary, it makes you more demanding of yourself.

What do you think is the impact of artists’ work on communities and the province as a whole?

Culture, the living arts, or any form of art that takes us out of our homes, out of a certain comfort zone, finding ourselves or recognizing ourselves in a work because of our language, our territory, our point of view on the world—all this is a large part of what creates a sense of community. New Brunswick is a rural province, with a low demographic weight compared to the rest of the country. So many factors seem to push us towards forms of physical or psychological isolation, with serious consequences. The job of artists is to act against this and, on the contrary, to be a source of togetherness, a space for reflection and social transformation. I am thinking right now of the play Becca (produced by Théâtre Populaire d’Acadie and Theatre New Brunswick) touring the province in February and March 2024. This incredibly special project—a bilingual text about a local heroine, Rebecca Schofield—reminds me how much people crave to have our stories told. Of course, I do not think we should limit ourselves—artists’ work transcends our provincial borders—but in my own work, I feel increasingly called to tell the story of the territory in which I live; there’s so much to explore in New Brunswick that I don’t know. It is my way of loving my community and the place where I’ve put down roots.

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Tsunami by Mélanie Léger in a production of théâtre l’Escaouette, photos Mathieu Léger

What advice would you give to anyone interested in taking up the theatre?

Do not hesitate to sign up for training here in the province! The drama department at the Université de Moncton is a terrific way to get to know the theatrical community, and to make encounters that are sure to have a lasting impact. The AAAPNB (Association Acadienne des Artistes Professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick) organizes numerous workshops and internships for professional artists, as well as resources for those who want to get started. The arts are often presented as professions where it’s difficult to “make a living”, and it’s true that in many cases, like mine, you must be enterprising and feel able to handle a certain amount of instability and criticism, for example, but theatre (and film) offers stimulating careers and there are some great opportunities in New Brunswick today. In film, for example, there often seems to be a shortage of local talent. There is plenty of room here to be creative and proudly bring to the stage stories that take us through all kinds of emotions.

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