Update from Playwriting Australia and Australian Plays

Posted on March 31st 2020

Since the release of the REĂ Review, Australian Plays and Playwriting Australia have been in regular conversation and broader consultation about next steps. 

Both organisations wholeheartedly believe that the central recommendation of the Review – ‘that a new entity is formed incorporating agreed key functions of both Playwriting Australia and Australian Plays’ – represents the best possible future. 

We are aiming to combine the best of our two homes and to add something new, too. This new home for Australian plays will, we hope, and for the first time, walk side-by-side with playwrights throughout the life cycle of their plays. From the earliest discovery, through to development and towards production, then onto publication, promotion and licensing. Advocacy will be stronger, as will our relationships with the producing companies, and the education and community sectors. We hope to increase our national scope even further. Strength will come from critical mass. 

What are we doing right now?

Essentially, we’re in the due diligence phase. This means that we are reaching a very detailed understanding of each other’s organisation–our constitutions, governance, operations, resources, right down to  how much money we spend on internet providers. It’s necessary, first-steps work. This is so that we can enter a marriage with eyes wide open. 

We have discovered that, despite our very different histories and ways of operating, we have a great deal in common, perhaps even more than was first obvious. That’s buoyed us. 

We’ve also been taking more soundings, connecting with playwrights and key sector organisations. We recently had a very constructive meeting with the Playwrights’ Committee of the Australian Writers’ Guild. This is all ongoing work, making sure that we establish the best possible foundations.  

Do we know what the new entity looks like?

Not yet. We don’t yet have a Board, or any staff, or a strategic plan, or anything like that. But we are looking closely at the REA Review recommendations that make suggestions about these things and starting to test them. This is our next slice of work–work that will need to be both assiduous and speedy – and work that will be done in close consultation with many.  

Part of that consultation will be the establishment of a diverse National Advisory Panel. This was a key recommendation of the Review:

Recommendation 10. That a diverse National Advisory Panel of six playwrights drawn from across the sector, four representatives from the major producing companies, and two representatives from the small to medium and independent sectors be formed to help guide the new organisations strategic focus.

If we get this new entity up, this voluntary panel will eventually work closely with the new board and staff to help set longer term agendas. The REA Review recommends that it meet four times a year, with positions cycling off every two years in a staggered fashion. Companies would fund the attendance of their own members, and playwrights would be afforded assistance as required to attend meetings in person (when we can do that!).    

We thought it’d be really useful to form that panel now, rather than wait, to help the Australian Plays and Playwriting Australia teams to best shape the foundations of the new entity. The Panel should clearly embrace cultural, gender and geographical diversity. That’s really important. In helping us to select this panel, we welcome expressions of interest. If you feel you can contribute, then put your hand up. Details out soon…

Is this new entity funded?

No. Both Playwriting Australia and Australian Plays are now in their final year of their four-year funding, and so both will deliver their 2020 programs. However, neither have Australia Council grants going into 2021, and the new entity (which doesn’t yet exist) doesn’t either. It’s clear to us that this new entity can only be born if the Australia Council makes a strategic response to a clearly dire situation for playwrights and for the theatre companies that amplify their voices. 

So the stakes are high. We want to assure you that we have made very strong representations to the decision-makers, through all kinds of channels, and have also appreciated those who have advocated powerfully on behalf of this bold idea. Want to write a letter? Go for it. The simple fact is that the idea will not be realised without significant federal investment.  

How has COVID-19 changed things?

The production licensing part of Australian Plays has taken a hit of course. Producers in the professional, education and community sectors are developing digital solutions to the postponement or cancellation of live performances. The Australian Plays team is busy providing guidance and advice whilst maintaining an eagle eye on the rights and income of playwrights. 

But Playwriting Australia is not reliant on box office, and so is very keen to roll out its COVID-revised 2020 program very soon, especially since most of our funds go directly into freelance artists’ pockets. 

Thinking ahead to a post-virus world, we can only imagine that theatre companies – those that survive – will be focused on getting productions in front of audiences again and will have a reduced capacity for play development. Quite probably, they will also have less appetite for ‘risky’ new work. We’re also acutely aware that there will be hard losses coming out of the upcoming Australia Council’s announcements of the next round of four-year funding. Our feeling is that in this diminished environment, this new national entity will be more in demand, and be more consequential, than it seemed even three months ago. Our national culture will crave the new stories and the new voices of these times – just when there are fewer organisations able to identify and nurture them.  

We have been so heartened by the wonderful support expressed by so many. It’s clear that there is a common goal: the best possible environment for the nurturing and positioning of exceptional playwriting that reflects, refracts and refreshes the society in which we live. 

We hand-on-heart promise to work diligently to make the most of this moment for the good of all.

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