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In August 2012, Playwriting Australia’s Artistic Director Chris Mead was invited to speak at the 9th Women Playwrights International Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Chris and a number of Australian women playwrights attended the event and they share their experiences and stories in a special two-part series for the PWA blog.

We all know the power of theatre, and the conference theme, the Democratic Stage was apt. As an emerging playwright from a non-metro city (Canberra), I felt like a grade 6 moving to the big school – there is so much out there that I don’t know about the industry, both in Australia and overseas.

In Egypt, where theatre is telling the stories of revolution that journalism failed to tell; In India, where theatre teaches people that it’s okay to have a daughter, in the ten countries across the world participating in an international theatre project built around the shocking fact that domestic violence kills more women worldwide than cancer.

Attending WPIC opened my eyes up to the world—particularly women playwrights. I’m very proud to be part of the community, and proud to have been there as an Australian. I’m looking forward to reuniting at the next conference in Capetown in three years’ time.

– Emma Gibson

I have a confession. Over the six days of the Women Playwright’s International Conference I developed a gnawing insecurity. I felt intimidated by incredibly powerful and articulate women, women from Africa, from Palestine, from India, from Eastern Europe.  I met women whose knowledge of history, of art, of language was awe-inspiring. I confess that I felt parochial. I was humbled. I was put in my place, no, I put myself in my relatively privileged place. Importantly, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to be living in a country that does actually venerate its writers. Many of these women have had to fight, gloves off to earn their place as playwrights in their societies.

For me, the highlight of the conference was without doubt the keynote speech by the charismatic Nidal Al Achkar, founder and director of Al Madina Theatre, Beirut. The story of her theatre, her people, her country is one of great struggle.  Despite this Achkar exudes enormous humour, confidence, strength and resilience.  Throughout the conference I continued to encounter women who make theatre in countries where there is no government funding, where there is in fact great hostility directed at their activities, hostility that sometimes turns violent. Their brave stories left me reeling.

I’d like to thank the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund for supporting my attendance at this vital gathering of women from across the world.

– Angela Betzien

 The Women Playwrights International Conference must be one of the best-kept secrets in theatre. How else does such a stellar group of women meet every 3 years to share ideas, rants and dreams, without more ado? I expected to spend 6 days with some women who were passionate about writing for the stage. It turned out to be much more – women who were determined to change their world with theatre – and overwhelmingly, through telling the stories of women.

In the oddly perfect city of Stockholm, day after day we learned about each other’s worlds – from being a young female artist in Afghanistan to trying to write colourblind in post-apartheid South Africa to turning eyewitness accounts from the Arab Spring into a storytelling forum travelling across Egypt.

The best part of attending the conference was not hearing my play read or making contacts (whatever that really means) – it was leaving with a sense of being part of an international community of women who write and create and will never stop doing just that.

– Zoe Hogan

 

How gratifying it was to receive the email, sitting in the bedroom of a country hotel (I am there in Hawkesdale to co-devise a production of The Golden Fleece with a rural school) – Congratulations you are going to Stockholm.

My play Black Box 149 is presented in part on the stage of the East Wing- and has a one off showing with rehearsals beforehand. Karin Hauptmann is the Swedish director and moderator from Dramalabbet (a co-partner of the conference with Riksteatern). The cast is Nidhal Fares who has been five years in Sweden and who worked for twenty-five years in the National Theatre of Iraq and Ale Ottenby “a struggling actor”, as he describes himself. The challenge is how the play will read with their dual Arabic/ English text. It is fantastic. The discussion with the enthusiastic audience is about how the play was written, the research and the response of audiences in Australia. It is gratifying when a political play with two male actors is accepted into a conference dominated by women centric issues – one of the beautiful contradictions of this conference and place.

– Rosemary Johns 

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