Erin Thomas Playwright Fund recipient Michael Lill shares his experiences at the National Play Festival
For this year’s Play Festival in Sydney, we invited regional playwrights to Sydney to experience the plays, masterclasses and special events, with their travel costs covered by the Erin Thomas Playwrights Fund.
The newly established Erin Thomas Playwright Fund has been created to support emerging playwrights from regional or remote areas to attend opportunities or events that would help them develop their careers. Applications are open year-round for travel support – read more about the fund here: pwa.org.au/erin-thomas-playwright-fund
As one of the recipients of the Erin Thomas grant I cannot effectively convey the enormity of my gratitude and appreciation. The funds provided allowed me the chance to experience the National Play Festival in all of its diversity, richness and immense humanity. I was privileged to witness seven new works, an inspiring and empowering Keynote Address delivered by Andrew Bovell, two public addresses and three developmental classes and talks via the wonderful Playwright’s Program. It was a jam-packed four days and four days that have challenged, motivated and propelled me on my playwriting journey.
Whatever little time I had in between the variety of playreadings, talks and classes, I spent writing. I wrote in between bites of breakfast, I wrote sitting in the Carriageworks foyer and I wrote at 3 a.m on Saturday because ideas that had been percolating needed to be transferred on to the page. I was inspired and one of the main reasons I felt this way was because the Play Festival brought out some of the very best qualities typical of artists- empowerment that comes out of shared and validated experiences, collaboration that links directly to empathy, storytelling that reminds us and reinforces the absolute importance of cultural understanding and respect of tradition.
There were so many highlights: Andrew Bovell’s passionate address that resonated in so many ways; the dynamic readings of original works that were as distinct thematically as they were stylistically and structurally; Joanna Murray-Smith’s insightful workshop that triggered my Saturday morning writing frenzy and the ‘Play: Relay’ where five playwrights generously gave of their time, experience and wisdom. Special mention must be made of ‘Songrites’ which for me embodied the boldness and bravery that playwriting insists upon. Three talented musicians flexed their considerable playwriting abilities in three uniquely told stories each of which required courage in their telling. This for me is what Theatre and the Arts is all about. Raw humanity.
The Playwrights’ Open Space offered over sixty playwrights an opportunity to share their ideas and visions within an informal setting that promoted conversation. This program gave me an opportunity to talk to others about why playwriting is so important on so many levels. Writing is so often a solitary process. When it’s working there are few things more exciting. When it’s not it can be a very lonely experience full of doubt and anxiety. Amongst many other positives, the Playwrights’ Open Space reminded me that I wasn’t alone and that what I have to say as a writer is not only valid but important.
To be able to hear from acclaimed actors on a range of topics was another highlight. The ‘In Their Words’ session allowed the audience to hear the actors speak about their formative theatrical experiences as well as the dynamics involved in the creative and rehearsal process. It reinforced how theatre is its own organism; shifting, evolving, dismantling, building.
The Erin Thomas Fund gave me the chance to meet and talk with other playwrights and theatre practitioners. I had conversations with playwrights living in regional Victoria, from Canberra and from Sydney. I talked with others about the role that playwriting can have within the Secondary school system. I had a thirty minute discussion with Richard, a young playwright about the roles and responsibilities of Directors in terms of new work. These types of conversations were such an invaluable bi-product of the Festival’s Programs. They have also provided me with ongoing networking and collaborative opportunities.
My motivation for applying for the Erin Thomas Playwrights Fund was being shortlisted for the 2013 Patrick White Award. As a result of the National Play Festival I have come away with a strong sense (and increased confidence) of what works well in my play. More importantly however is my motivation and intention to work on those aspects of my play that are not working as well as I want. I will now re-work this play and deliver a new draft that addresses its deficiencies.
I have a renewed energy and confidence in my writing. I have learnt the vital importance of time in the creative process. This includes workshopping my work and undertaking readings in order to identify what works and what can work better. I will dedicate my next play to Erin Thomas.
I am classified as an “emerging” writer and whilst there are countless playwrights with far more experience and credits than myself, I believe that all writers have one fundamental thing in common: they are all human beings with stories to tell.
I extend my deep gratitude to the Erin Thomas family. I would never have had this opportunity without your immense generosity. Thank you also to Tim Roseman, Amanda Macri, Playwriting Australia, Somersault Theatre, the staff at Carriageworks and the Seymour Centre and to all of the playwrights, actors, directors, designers and dramaturgs for your immense skill, courage and decency.