This afternoon I received an open letter to Company B from Caleb Lewis, one of the Shortlisted writers for the 2009 Phillip Parson’s Award, who has decided to withdraw from the competition.

I have posted the letter below.

I believe that this must have been a difficult letter to write and to send, as Lewis is, as many are, a living breathing playwright whom I am sure, wishes to be programmed on one of Sydney’s illustrious stages. The tenuous balance between the politcs of theatre and the programming of art is something I think all artists are mindful of. In fact, it is hard to feel that programming is fair and transparent when programming comes down to personal taste.
What I admire most about this debate is how the intergrity of an artist is truly measured in the risks she/he takes in voicing what she believes and what she/he knows in her heart is the right thing to do.

Is that not what so many plays through out history ask us to remember?

To thine own self be true….

And how often is it that we bite our tongues, we close our eyes, we turn our backs only later to say “I let that go, when I should have and could have said that I really believe…” As with anyone who has weighed in on the debate (annonymously or otherwise) the fear of being blacklisted is ever present.


If we have a healthy and sustainable theatre community- we should talk, we should fearlessly talk about what works , what doesn’t, what concerns we have, what dreams and wishes we have for our industry and our artistic future. We should not be afraid of the repercussions- for what good is a victory is you are not proud of how you fought the battle? And the key is to fight the good fight with compassion, clarity and respect for your opponent.

I understand and respect Lewis’ decision… this discussion is important. Playwriting is important. This award is important. The shortlisted writers deserve their recognition as great voices in our contemporary theatre landscape and we need them… equally … of all genders… of all backgrounds… for “the play’s the thing.”

I’ll be there to hear this panel discussion and curious to hear how this letter is handled on the day. Caleb’s Letter:

An open letter to Company B,

I am writing to inform you of my withdrawal from this year’s Phillip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award shortlist.
I feel that recent events have now overshadowed the award, politicising the announcement of a winner to such a degree that I no longer have faith in the panel’s ability to award the prize without bias.
Along with many in our industry I was dismayed at Company B’s announcement of its 2010 season and the absence of female writers and directors – especially given the amazing female creative talent we have on offer in this country.
Now Company B has chosen the announcement of the Philip Parsons award as a chance to address this situation with a panel discussion entitled (somewhat myopically) “Where are the women?” While this discussion is long overdue and I commend them for having it I believe the debate is too important, deserving of its own separate forum, and should not have been connected to the announcement of this year’s young playwright’s award. By announcing the award directly after this panel discussion Company B has radically politicised the event and risks undermining the entire argument by ensuring that none of the young shortlisted writers will ever know if the award is being given on merit or as part of some wider polarising political statement. In the context of the announcement coming directly after the talk I would have to ask myself:
If I win am I winning because I am a man and part of the status quo?
If I lose am I losing because I am a man and part of the status quo?
Same goes for the other shortlistees.
Having reached this conclusion, I feel I should withdraw. To be frank I am also uneasy that three of the judges on this year’s panel are themselves men directing shows in next year’s divisive season – as well as a Belvoir St staffer being on the shortlist. Both of these are policies that need to be considered. There appears to be a conflict of interests. This is my third time shortlisted for the award (2006, 2008 & 2009). I will not be entering the competition again.
To the other shortlisted writers, I congratulate all of you. It is unfortunate that the awarding of this accolade – one of few in the country for playwrights – has this year been overshadowed.
Lastly I will not be able to attend the award announcement as I am away on Palm Island working with young indigenous kids until December 9. After that time my phone and email will be back on. For those who do attend the panel discussion I urge you, speak up. This year’s season launches across Sydney and Melbourne prove beyond a doubt that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Let’s try to fix it.

With respect,
Caleb Lewis