Featured Playwright — Natalie Meisner

Playwrights Guild of Canada
8 min readMay 1, 2024

Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Natalie Meisner, a playwright and poet who was born and raised on the Mi’kma’ki / South Shore of Nova Scotia and began her work in the indie theatre and spoken word poetry scenes of Halifax. After studying literature and theatre at Kings/ Dalhousie, she trained as an actor at the National Theatre School then headed west coast for a MFA in Creative Writing at UBC, and Ph.D at the University of Calgary. She has seven full length books in various genres to her name and was Calgary/ Mohkinstsis’ 5th Poet Laureate. She is a wife, a mom to two great boys, and a full professor of creative writing at Mount Royal University where she loves helping other writers find their voice.

Her Books include It Begins In Salt, Speed Dating For Sperm Donors, BADDIE ONE SHOE, Legislating Love: The Everett Klippert Story, My Mommy, My Mama, My Brother & Me, Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family, Growing Up Salty

Tell us how you got your start writing plays.

I grew up in a fishing family on the South Shore of Nova Scotia quite far from urban centres with theatre, art and culture. While I did not have any prepared inroads to traditional theatre, what I did have was a very colorful family of natural storytellers. Could they ever spin a yarn on the wharf! Also my mother had me very young and I went to all of the jobs that she worked to make ends meet with her… and also started working various jobs, myself at the age of 12. Getting to meet so many different kinds of people from so many walks of life, and to feel that our own survival (and thriving!) was a kind of epic story might be what gave me my start. Also, I give huge thanks to the inspiring librarians and teachers of literature (especially the late Miss Gloria Hanief) who saw a hunger in me and fed it with books. Why this aptitude for story turned toward live theatre, I think is because from the first moment I got to spend time with theatre people, and ever since they have proven to some of the least judgmental, wisest, funniest, creative and loyal groups of people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. As a young gay/lesbian lgbtiqa+ person from a small town, they embraced me from the first moment. Theatre folk became my second chosen family and I move heaven and earth to collaborate with them.

You have described your work as combining “survivor comedy with hopepunk in the service of social change”. Can you tell us what that means to you?

Yes! I love the theatre for how it does not flinch from the hard edges, and the gritty stuff of life. It can take audiences places that other forms do not dare. Film has more tech tools, it can win hearts and minds with zoom shots and close ups. In theatre we often go to be together and experience/ encounter the most dire gordian knots facing us as humans. BUT we want to do more than just replicate tragedy, however as it then becomes further entrenched. I believe that by allowing space for laughter, we create community and make the circumstances of great social change possible. HOPEPUNK is a term coined by novelist Alexandra Rowland, who noted on one of the social medias… that “Hopepunk is the opposite of grimdark” pass it on and this stuck with me. What it means to me is that while we must acknowledge all of the systemic and interlocking challenges facing us at this moment…(climate, neocolonialism, savage capitalism, racism, sexism, etc.) we must not give in to grief, because that absolves us of the responsibility to do something.

You won the Carol Bolt Award at the 2023 Tom Hendry Awards for Legislating Love: The Everett Klippert Story, based on the true story of the Calgary bus driver instrumental in decriminalizing homosexuality. Can you tell us about the process of writing that play, and why you felt that it was an important story to share?

Mr. Everett Klippert stood out to me when I first learned of his story as the last person to be tried, convicted, and jailed for homosexuality in Canada. He was jailed before the historic announcement by Prime Minister Trudeau Sr. that there was “no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”; and subsequent decriminalization of homosexuality. He was a beloved bus driver on the downtown route in Calgary and took care to point out local attractions and to brighten the day of his passengers. Riders frequently report letting an earlier bus pass them so they could ride with him. He played on the family baseball team and was everyone’s favorite uncle. What set him apart for me was his continual love for humanity in the face of the way he was treated. Along with the Calgary Gay History project, and SAGE theatre, we were the first to be given access to his letter and diaries. So much gratitude to the Klippert family for entrusting us with these precious documents. There, as well as in the court records we met a kind, gentle, big hearted man who kept on trying to open doors and enlighten his captors. While many hid their homosexuality to avoid violence, job loss and family estrangement but when Mr. Klippert was questioned by police he told the truth about his love for men. In this way he paved the way for so many of us to love out in the open without shame. Also, during his ten years of unjust confinement he passed the time by reading Goethe, writing letters to his beloved Sister and Aunt who were his champions, and writing limericks! For real! LIMERICKS. This won my heart. Since then my interest has grown in writing plays that illuminate / weave themselves around real and historical events.

As well as plays, you’ve also written works of poetry, non-fiction, and prose. How do you decide what format you will use to tell a story?

I never know until after I have the first draft… and even then. As an example, my play BOOM BABY (that won the Canadian National and the Alberta Playwriting Award) first came to me in a dream. I saw the streams and tributaries of the Athabasca River, which is the watershed for North America (and also situated in and around our largest oil deposits) overlapped with an ultrasound of a baby in the womb and all of the arteries and capillaries that nourish them. I sat down and slammed out a poem on this topic. That poem haunted me until I wrote a play… so they both still exist. My book Double Pregnant: Two Lesbians Make a Family is a humorous but close to the bone non-fiction account of my wife and I’s journey as we went looking for our “Mr. Right” to be a known donor and help us start a family. I had the impulse, as a dramatist to amp up the drama (I mean there was enough already, but still!) but I resisted this, as I believe non-fiction is a sacred handshake you make with the reader to have fidelity and tell the truth as closely as you can. I later scratched that creative itch by writing SPEED DATING FOR SPERM DONORS which is based on a couple “kind of like us” so I was able to take creative and dramatic liberties honestly.

As a professional writer and educator, do you have any advice to offer those considering making writing their career?

Along with helping writers hone their craft, it is imperative to preserve their passion for their own work. So many people will try and tell us to take an easier path, do something else. This, in my view, is a crime. What will happen, if you are a creator… is that you will wake up to the fact later in life. Your art will find you and the circumstances of life might not be as rich for you to foster it later on. I acknowledge that the lack of funding for arts in culture in our country at this time (unlike in many other nations) makes this life challenging. But right now with the shifts in the future of work, there is really no career path that is a sure thing. I tell writers to look for ways to keep writing and also to look for all of the other ways your skill as a writer can help pay your bills. We may not live from the proceeds of poetry or play royalties, but as writers we are also great content creators and story tellers for companies or organizations, community developers, coaches, librarians, educators, virtual reality and user experience writers, public speakers, lawyers, songwriters, social workers, entrepreneurs, changemakers and creative caregivers, to name naming a few vocations that many of the talented folx that I’ve had the pleasure of working with on their writing journey.

What are you working on next?

A play called SUBHUMAN that is based on true events. It is inspired by the story of the WRENS, a group of Navy women who were stationed at a top-secret submarine listening station in my hometown, Shelburne Nova Scotia. They were some of the most highly trained in the country, who undertook the important work of listening for and protecting the eastern seaboard for submarines. Despite their loyalty and integrity, they were followed, interrogated, and harassed. Their careers were shattered and their lives upended at the hands of their own government, just for being gay. Despite the grim history I want to celebrate the humour and resilence of these strong women. It is a kind of history play set in the present, that looks at how they put their lives back together.

Do you have any favourite Canadian plays and/or which artists are currently inspiring you?

Absolutely! Daniel MacIvor and Carmen Aguirre have always been personal playwriting heros for their bravery in content and unique connection to audiences. Catherine Banks’ authentic east coast characters take my breath away. Yvette Nolan’s whole body of work, and her continual ongoing contribution to Indigenous theatre, George F. Walker’s brilliant dark comedy. The generative & beautiful humor of JD Derbyshire… I could go on and on. I am lucky to have the chance to teach Canadian Drama at MRU as well as to write, so I have lots of favs. I am also inspired by the up and coming playwrights and theatre makers that I’ve had the chance to work with such as Monica Gate, Camille Pavlenko, and Cosmo Chrisofferson. Finally there are the dramaturge/directors such as the amazing Pamela Halstead and the wonderful Jason Mehmel who challenge me to do my best work.

Keep up with Natalie through her website, https://nataliemeisner.com/

Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.



Playwrights Guild of Canada

Established in 1972, PGC is a registered national arts service association committed to advancing the creative rights and interests of Canadian playwrights.