We are on track for a new national organisation to be operational in early 2021.

This follows the central recommendation of the independent REĂ Review – ‘that a new entity is formed incorporating agreed key functions of both Playwriting Australia and Australian Plays’.

Has the due diligence process been completed?

We have completed the essential due diligence phase and have reached a comprehensive understanding of each other’s organisation – our constitutions, governance, operations, resources, and cultures. This has allowed us to begin the practical, legal tasks associated with bringing the new organisation into being.

Do we know what the new entity looks like?

We have begun some high-level strategy work, drawing on the recommendations of the REA Review and on further conversations with playwrights and theatres. Very soon, we will begin the work of attracting a new Board, again based on the REA Review recommendations. Confirmation of the staffing and operational model, including recruitment for the new role of Executive Producer will follow soon after.

Over the next few weeks, will we will take soundings on all these things from the newly constituted National Advisory Panel.

What does the National Advisory Panel look like?

The establishment of a National Advisory Panel was a key recommendation of the REA 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.

A few months ago, we called for Expressions of Interest. We also directly sought out interest. The response was extraordinarily positive, so much so that we have expanded the Panel to 15 members. They are:

Elena Carapetis, playwright (SA).

Patricia Cornelius, playwright (VIC)

Isaac Drandic, director and dramaturg, Resident Dramaturg Queensland Theatre (QLD). 

Eamon Flack, director and playwright, Artistic Director Belvoir (NSW).

Declan Greene, playwright and director, Artistic Director Griffin Theatre Company (NSW).

Jamila Main, playwright and actor, Co-Chair Equity Diversity Committee, 2020 Carclew Fellow (SA).

Nathan Maynard, playwright (TAS).

Eva Grace Mullaley, director, Artistic Director Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company (WA).

Rosemary Myers, director, Artistic Director Windmill Theatre Company (SA).

Maddie Nixon, playwright, Youth & Education Producer La Boite Theatre Company (QLD)

Mark Pritchard, dramaturg and director, New Work Manager Malthouse Theatre, and Co-founder Centre for Dramaturgy and Curation (VIC)

Paige Rattray, director, Associate Director Sydney Theatre Company (NSW).

S. Shakthidaran, playwright, Artistic Director Kurinji, Artistic Lead Co-Curious, and Artistic Associate Belvoir (NSW)

Annette Shun Wah, Executive Producer Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (CAAP), and Artistic Director OzAsia Festival (SA/NSW) 

Alexis West, playwright and director, Resident Writer/Director State Theatre Company of South Australia (SA).

This Panel will meet four times a year, with positions cycling off every two years.

Is this new entity funded?

To an extent. Both Playwriting Australia and Australian Plays – along with almost 50 other organisations – will be in receipt of COVID-19-related ‘transition funding’ from the Australia Council for 2021. For all organisations in this category, this will be approximately 70% of current funding. The Australia Council intends these funds be directed towards the new organisation.

It’s also worth remembering that PWA has also been Catalyst-funded at $200,000 a year since 2017, ending this year. This has been directed entirely to the huge Ignition commissioning program and its iterations, with all funds going directly to playwrights and their collaborators. This disappears in 2021. So, all up, the new organisation will be operating in 2021 at around 50% of the current combined funding of Playwriting Australia and Australian Plays. So… stretched.

We are currently in encouraging talks with some state governments, and with donors.

It remains clear that this new organisation can only survive beyond 2021 if the Australia Council, along with state governments, makes a strategic investment response to this clear sector need. It’s a need acutely felt by both playwrights and the theatre companies that amplify their voices. It would be a purposeful and future-focused investment that, much more than most, would go directly to artists and also allow for a powerful leveraging into hefty further investment from producing companies, private sources and licensing.

It’s clear, present and unobstructed bang for buck.

So, remind us again, why is this new organisation important?

“All our old stories are crumbling and no new story has so far emerged to replace them.”

 (Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, 2018)

The world is in flux. It is moving from west to east, from north to south, from men to women and other genders, from white privilege to the just inclusion of Black communities and people of colour, from people without disability to people experiencing disability. And more. For some, we are in an Age of Bewilderment. For others, we are in an Age of Reckoning.

These shifts, which we believe to be inevitable and positive, are in conspicuous acceleration. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and widened old cracks and made new ones.

Theatre and the stories it voices have always played an important part in articulating and shaping change for good. We wish to be a principal instrument of transformation.

The Digital

One effect of the pandemic has been to fast-track, through necessity, the world’s use of digital tools. In arts and culture everywhere, we have seen artists, arts companies and venues experimenting. Out of this enforced innovation, good ideas have emerged. The good ideas, still being revealed, require development. We will harness these ideas to nourish playwriting practices, expanding conceptions of ‘stages’ and audiences.

The Climate

Soon, emboldened by a new trust in science, we will return with new urgency to the climate and ecological emergency. Around the world, before the pandemic, artists and organisations were already engaged. One of the world’s largest theatre companies, the National Theatre in London, has declared a climate emergency with a plan to be carbon neutral across all levels of operation, including how productions are developed, made and toured. Interestingly, this includes how plays are commissioned: “as part of our mission to tell resonant stories and to galvanise positive change, climate and ecological concerns will be reflected prominently in our programme”. Very similar trends are obvious around the world, including in Australia.

We wish to be at the forefront in developing ideas and practices around the growing field of Green Dramaturgy, at the moment largely absent in Australia, and drawing attention to how the playwright can and should be a critical part of the conversation.

Australia’s Place

Australia is well placed to lead on these seismic trends. We sit both east and south, with a unique cultural bridge to west and north. Our First Nations peoples are custodians of the world’s oldest continuing culture. Our climate and ecological situation is tellingly accentuated.

The world looks to Australia to help change the story, and even to make a new one. There is a global responsibility.

Australian actors and Australian directors have huge currency in international theatre culture. Most of these actors and all of the directors have emerged from the Australian theatre. Australian playwrights, charged by the new need for new stories, are next in line.

We wish to change the view.

What’s Certain

The Australian theatre faces a deeply uncertain few years. But these things are clear:

  • there is a swelling desire for new work (an existing trend boosted by the pandemic);
  • these distinctive times require fresh articulations of Australian stories, particularly from non-dominant voices;
  • and in the face of few resources there is a burning need for a national organisation that extends resources.

For the first time, a national body will travel with playwrights through the entire life cycle of a work – from the earliest moment of genesis, to development, to pathways to production, to publication, licensing and out into the world.

“The power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gaps where everything else has crumbled.”

(Paulo Coelho)

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