Posted 6 July 2020

Playwriting Australia announces $370,000 in commissions and support

Playwriting Australia (PWA) today announced more than $370,000 in commissions and assistance that will go directly to playwrights and their collaborators.

The announcement comes after the remarkable success of PWA’s huge Dear Australia event. Sunday 5 July saw the final episode of the project, in which 50 playwrights were commissioned to write postcards to Dear Australia exploring where our nation is and where it might go. The monologues, recorded by 50 actors mostly in their own homes, were streamed by many organisations across Australia, including Arts Centre Melbourne, Sydney Opera House, and Queensland Performing Arts Centre between 2-5 July. More than 30 organisations took part.

Dear Australia will remain available for viewing on PWA’s YouTube channel. The works are published by Australian Plays and are available on their website

Today, the results of six further programs and prizes were announced, involving more than 40 playwrights.

Dear Australia was a major expression of playwriting and deep national collaboration, but it mustn’t stop there,” said David Berthold, Interim Executive Chair of Playwriting Australia.

“Our theatres are, at best, needing to operate like skeletons or, at worst, staring at insolvency. The best thing PWA can do right now to is help ensure that there is a rich, diverse array of outstanding new works available when these theatres are once again able to open to audiences.

“That’s why today we’ve made such a substantial investment directly in playwrights and their closest collaborators. In recent years some of the greatest successes of the Australian theatre have been new plays by Australian playwrights and that momentum mustn’t be lost.”

Berthold said that PWA’s work over the last three months especially has provided a unique snapshot of the national playwriting landscape. “It’s been an amazing helicopter view and deep dive. Dear Australia elevated many incredible new voices, and more than 300 further submissions were made across our other programs. It’s clear to me that there is a jaw-dropping wealth of work being written in voices that are fresh and resolute.”

Berthold also signalled that progress on a new national entity has been heartening. “PWA and Australian Plays have been working assiduously towards this goal, with the enthusiastic help of many. It’s super clear that a national body is crucial, and the new shapes we’ve been exploring are very encouraging.”

The Ignition program will make seven major commissions worth $25,000 each, with significant additional investment in ongoing creative development from partnering theatre companies. Ignition aims to enhance the ambition and diversity of Australian playwriting in partnership with producing companies, by investing in landmark works.

The seven works and collaborations are:

Big Name, No Blankets by Ursula Yovich and Anyupa Napangarti Butcher, with Sammy Butcher and Kumanjayi Butcher, is a work with live music telling the story of the iconic, much-loved Warumpi Band. Creative development is with Ilbijerri Theatre Company.

The Market by Elena Carapetis is a large-scale immersive experience, part concert, part ritual and part food safari, based on the true histories of the stall owners of Adelaide Central Markets. Creative development is with State Theatre Company South Australia.

Black Summer by Campion Decent builds on Decent’s 2003 verbatim play Embers and examines how the public conversation around large scale bushfires has grown from a matter of regional concern to an issue of national and global significance. Creative development is with HotHouse Theatre.

The Coconut Children by Vivian Pham is a stage adaptation of Pham’s debut novel of the same name, a teenage love story set in the vertigo of 1990’s Cabramatta. Creative development is with Belvoir.

Going Home by Kirli Saunders is a story told in two parts, across two timelines and two First Nations lands in the regional communities of the south coast of NSW. Creative development is with Merrigong Theatre Company.

I Am Always With You by Emele Ugavule tells the story of three cousins who we meet on the 99th day of mourning for the passing of their Bubu (grandmother) and discover the creatures of Fijian spiritual and aqua life. Creative development is with Monkey Baa Theatre Company.

Mudskipper by Walter Waia and John Harvey is a play that traverses love, loss and longing for home, when a man collapses and begins to speak threads of his forbidden language Kala Lagaw Ya from Saibai Island in the Torres Strait. Creative development is with Queensland Theatre.

The First Nations Retreat, one of PWA’s most successful ongoing programs, will this year see ten First Nations playwrights supported by five dramaturgs over two separate 15-day virtual ‘retreat’ periods in July and August.

The ten playwrights are Gary Hamaguchi (WA), developing a play set in the confined space of a pearl lugger ship in Broome; Barbara Hostalek (WA), developing Mates, which explores toxic masculinity in a family, and First Aid, a play that grapples with themes of betrayal, compassion, fatigue and psychosis; Andrea James (NSW), developing The Black Woman of Gippsland, based on historical events, archival material and oral testimonies from James’s Gunaikurnai family links; Colin Kinchela (NSW), developing a First Nations Queer story; Nathan Maynard (TAS), developing 37, a play focusing on Adam Goodes and the place of racism in Australian footy ethos and mateship; Ellen Van Neerven (QLD), developing a made-for-digital work about bullying in schools; Steven Oliver (QLD), developing From Silence, the second work in a planned series of five plays that began with From Darkness; James Taylor (WA), developing Wheat St., a satirical tragedy set around a pop-up bar in the heart of Perth’s Yagan Square; Yvette Walker (QLD), developing The Bunny Club, set in 1967 Brisbane and inspired by an old photo of an Aboriginal Playboy Bunny; and Alexis West (SA), developing House Arrest, a family thriller set in the world of gaming.

The $30,000 Max Afford Playwrights Award, offered by Perpetual in association with PWA, is an initiative of the late Thelma May Afford, whose will established a fund to offer a prize in memory of her husband. The biennial award was created “to promote interest in Australian drama and to encourage the writing of plays in Australia, to help and give incentive to young writers of plays.” For this award, young playwrights are between the ages of 18 and 40.

The winner of the 2020 Max Afford Playwrights Award is Kirsty Marillier (VIC) for her play THE ZAP, a high intensity, schoolgirl, coming-of-age play set in Helix, a town feeling the brunt of an impending bushfire disaster. THE ZAP is a feminist, genre-bending work exploring the complexity of gender within marginalised groups.

Two playwrights were highly commended for the Award – Dylan Van Den Berg for Way Back When and Laura Lethlean for Pillow Fight.

The Erin Thomas Playwright Fund commemorates playwright Erin Thomas’ optimism, her creative talent and furthers her generous contribution to the arts by helping emerging regional writers to pursue their dreams. This year, six emerging playwrights from regional or remote areas will be supported to work with a dramaturg or director on the beginnings of a new work. The six playwrights are Belinda Bradley (TAS), Adam Deusien (NSW), Alysha Herrmann (SA), Anna Loren (QLD), Artemis Munoz (VIC) and Megan Twycross (VIC).

Rapid Fire, this year specifically for writers of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, will see nine playwrights involved in separate one-day workshops of their new plays, involving a team of artists of the playwright’s choice. The nine playwrights are Nicholas Brown (NSW) with Sex Magik; Bernadette Fam (NSW) with The Love Song Of…; Kirsty Marillier (NSW) with The Zap; Moreblessing Maturure (NSW) with No Pink Dicks; Vivian Nguyen (VIC) with Thin Threads; Vernon Pua (NSW) with Burung Kakak; Jordan Shea (NSW) with The Grocer; Merlynn Tong (QLD) with Golden Blood; and Yen Yang (NSW) with A Practical Guide to Self-Defence.

Duologue will support eight new work developments for mid-career and established playwrights working with a collaborator of their choice. The eight duos are Donna Abela and Alex Galeazzi on Abela’s new work Risdale, a one-woman verbatim theatre piece based on Trish Ridsdale’s account of being related to the country’s most notorious paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale; Mary Rachel Brown and Iain Sinclair on two works, Super Griever and Swap; David Finnigan and earth scientist Dr Will Steffen on You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep History, and You’re Safe Til 2024: Deep Futures; Christopher Harley and Tamara Searle on a large-scale, magic-realism piece exploring climate change; Tee O’Neill and Karen Berger on the redevelopment of a work based on O’Neill’s experiences teaching English as a second language to asylum seekers in Ireland; Mark Rogers and Sanja Simić on three new works – Naked and Screaming (interrogating the efficacy of Australia’s family law system), No, No, No (a monologue that tracks a male, middle-aged novelist’s day at a writer’s festival) and another work based on Simić’s experience of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s and her coming to Australia); Lewis Treston and Alastair Clark to develop a new play on the ontology of queer desire in contemporary Australia; Katy Warner and Lyall Brooks on the development of two plays that will complete the trilogy Warner began with A Prudent Man.

Assessors for these programs and prizes were Wayne Blair, Leticia Cáceres, Elena Carapetis, Patricia Cornelius, John Harvey, Margaret Harvey, Anchuli Felicia King, Kitan Petkovski, Rhoda Roberts, Steve Rogers, Shari Sebbens and Darren Yap. No assessors were involved in programs in which they were an applicant.

For inquiries contact David Berthold, Interim Executive Chair

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