Port teen wins lead role in Degrassi's next generation

Port teen wins lead role in Degrassi’s next generation:[Final Edition]
Joan Scapillato. Tribune. Welland, Ont.: Oct 4, 2001. pg. B.11

PORT COLBORNE – Eight years ago, when she was bitten by the acting bug, Melissa McIntyre could not have imagined where it would take her.

This past summer the 15-year-old Port Colborne resident won a lead role in the Epitome Pictures television production of `Degrassi:The Next Generation’, to be aired on CTV.

“It’s so overwhelming, beyond words,” she says. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”

Melissa, who has been singing since she was very young, was drawn to the stage because of her vocal talent.

When she was seven, at her mother’s suggestion, she auditioned for a role in `Job and the Snake’, a P.M.Productions in Stevensville. Not only did the youngster get a part, she also discovered she could act.

“I felt comfortable performing.”

Following her debut, Melissa gained roles in `Ebineezer Scrooge’ and `The Wizard of Oz’, both Fort Erie’s Gypsy Theatre productions.

She played in `The Children’s Hour’ at Shaw Festival Theatre and, when she was 11, in `The Secret Garden’, a Garden City production. Her appearance in this play resulted in a breakthrough in the budding young actor’s career. So impressed was the director, Dianne Nyland Proctor, that she invited her agent to come and see the girl perform.

“He liked me,” Melissa says. “He invited me to come to Toronto. He asked me to sign on.”

Since contracting with `The Talent House’ in all three areas of the agency – TV and Movies; Commercials; Theatre – Melissa has done voice-overs for three `Red Wall’ cartoons, a `Furby’ commercial and `The Sci-Squad Cadet’, a TVO educational series.

In June she was called to audition for Degrassi, a sequel to the original series that ended a decade ago. After trying out for three parts she landed the role of Ashley Kerwin, the girl with the perfect personality who attracts the most popular boys, the girl other girls are jealous of but want to be like.

Although the girl’s character is laid out for her, in order to make it real Melissa must step out of her own personality, and act and react as Ashley would.

“I’m not Melissa, I’m Ashley, this is what happened, this is why I feel this way, when things aren’t right, we have to go back, rethink, create a mood and atmosphere. The thing they say is `keep in mind, it’s not you, it’s your character’.”

Although she’s been studying voice for the past six years, Melissa has mastered the art of acting without a lesson. What she knows she learned from experience.

Like the difference between live performances and filmed ones, for instance. On stage the actor projects her voice; before the camera speech is muted. On stage, if the actor makes a mistake, she keeps on going; on film they shoot till it’s right.

“I prefer the stage,” she says.”It’s a whole different feeling, more pressure.”

There are 11 leads in this production, young actors who, despite being “thrown together”, all get along and are having fun. The chemistry is right. Three former cast members join the new generation of Degrassi students – `Spike’ and `Snake’, now all grown up, and `Mr. Raditch’, a teacher who is now principal. Shooting for this season’s series began in July and ends in October.

While in production the cast rehearses on Friday, shoots on Monday, and works on scripts and homework in between. During this period Melissa and her mother have rented an apartment where they stay throughout the week.

Through an arrangement with her teachers and a friend, the grade 10 Port High student receives and returns her assignments on the weekend. A tutor on the set provides assistance when needed. Melissa has no trouble handling this workload.

“I do well in school. If I didn’t I don’t know how I’d be able to do this.”

But it’s not all work for these teen TV stars. Last week they made a guest appearance on the Mike Bullard Show. This week there’s a preview screening celebration attended by the cast, their parents, sponsors and CTV executive.

Although thrilled to be part of this exciting experience, Melissa remains the unassuming, small-town girl she’s always been. She loves coming home to her friends and family, all of them happy for her and so supportive. Although she doesn’t know what her future holds, she does know what she wants to be doing in it.

“I want to continue acting. I want to be a singer. I want it all.”


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