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Melis Aker.

Melis Aker Is Signature Theatre’s Inaugural LaunchPad Resident

The residency includes two $15,000 commissions, a full production, a theatregoing stipend, a writing retreat, mentorship, and more.

NEW YORK CITY: Signature Theatre has selected playwright Melis Aker to be the first participant in the company’s new LaunchPad residency, a new initiative aimed at supporting diverse early-career playwrights on their path to creating a body of work. The program is being supported by Pablo Salame and Nathalie Feraud-Salame, and financially backed by a bequest from the late Judith Champion.

Aker was chosen out 230 applicants and 500 plays submitted to the program. Recipients become a part of Signature’s Legacy playwrights cohort, which will give them the potential to have their work staged under the banner of Signature’s Legacy Productions. Aker is a writer, actor and musician from Turkey. Select acting credits include Love in Afghanistan (Arena Stage & Roundabout) and We Live in Cairo (NAMT, New World Stages), as well as TV parts on The Equalizer, The Blacklist: Redemption, and Seneca. Aker has given a StoryCorps and a TEDx talk, and currently teaches playwriting to grad students at the New School. She is currently developing a musical with Benjamin Scheuer and Jemima Williams based on the book Hundred Feet Tall. She holds an MFA from Columbia and a B.A. from Tufts.  

“Melis’s work is filled with vividly drawn characters and worlds that she knows well but that American audiences may not necessarily be as familiar with,” said Paige Evans, Signature’s artistic director, in a statement. “Melis asks crucial questions about what needs to be translated culturally for an audience and what doesn’t. That intersection of cultures, which runs through her body of work, was so compelling to us, and we’re thrilled to have Melis as our inaugural LaunchPad playwright.” 

Aker will receive a holistic artistic support, including two $15,000 commissions, a full production in the 99-seat Ford studio, a workshop production, healthcare benefits, developmental readings toward production, an annual theatregoing stipend, a writing retreat outside of NYC, a private workspace at Signature Theatre, and guided mentorship by a Spotlight or Premiere Signature resident playwright.

“There are two resources in particular that I believe young writers like myself yearn for: time to create work tethered to an informed process, and financial compensation for that time spent figuring out what your process even is, so that you can have a tangible outcome, and intentional impact,” said Aker in a statement. “I am deeply grateful to Signature Theatre for providing me with both, and for their robust, longstanding investment in my career as a writer…It is rare to experience an oeuvre in an economy and industry that promotes speed and brevity, so it is a proper gift to be supported by an artistic team who champions patience and provides both a microscopic and bird’s eye view into the journey of a creator. I am honored and humbled to be in conversation with Signature, and with the legacy of virtuosic theatre-makers they have held up along the way.”

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