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And for those who weren’t there today at Belvoir Street to see the announcement of the Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award for 2009- you missed an interesting day…and an interesting announcement. (attached below is the press release from Belvoir….)

I think it important to note a parallel historical note here about plays that have been joint winners- 1955 there were two plays which won the Award given by the Playwrights Advisory Board- Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and Oriel Gray’s The Torrents. A man and a woman receive awards- and one play is studied widely in schools- and one is not… infact I have never heard of The Torrents. and I wonder why that is: and very happy to accept the retort: “Well, really Augusta, you aren’t very well read.”

And today both a woman and a man won the award: Tahli Corin and Caleb Lewis.

” Caleb Lewis?!??! But didn’t he withdraw?” I hear you ask…

“Well… yes,” I slowly respond… “Neil Armfield says he was “determined not to accept Caleb’s withdrawal from the competition” and they would keep the money ïn trust until Caleb “comes ’round” and that Armfield ended off by saying the ball is in Caleb’s court.”

I can only think a few things about this-
1. The ball may be in Caleb’s court- but he has has put down his racket and decided not to play- the game is over.

2. It seemed to be delivered in a tone which suggested that Caleb didn’t completely understand the grandness of his own gesture- that this is an important award and that he should know better than to refuse such a “serious commission.” Armfield went on to list the success stories of the previous recipients… The Seed, Ruben Guthrie et al… a hard sell really listing why this award is so important- which for me amplifies Caleb’s considered and articulate withdrawal.

3. Cynical I know, but what result could there be that woudl not justify Caleb’s withdrawal but a political decision to neutralize the publicity in this award (and the controversy Company B has experienced since September). This is the King Solomon act of the playwrighting stalemate… and thus- I am swayed more in favour of Caleb’s statement that the topic of debate DID politicize the award- and even if it didn’t mean to because gee there’s a lot of evidence that it did!

Surprisingly in the media release and in the speech today- no one mentioned the name of Caleb’s play that he won the award for- but his letter got quite a few mentions!

Corin’s play “Bumming with Jane”- which I absolutely loved (and reviewed for–collide–b-sharp-1769.html ) is of course mentioned.

The message I received loud and clear today- though I am sure subliminally at times is this: programming and awards and all decisions relating to the priviledging of one piece of art over another comes down to taste NOT merit. And it really depends on who’s sense of taste.

If we had all paid attention to Stephen Dunne’s SMH review (which advertises his “taste” disguised as a sense of “Merit”) – Corin’s Bumming with Jane would not have got a look in-
But this is about taste- subjectivity and about connection to work… as Nick Parsons in his opening address described Currency Press’ humble matrix for chosing which work was to be published- “it had to be more than “liked” by those at the table… at least one person needed to feel passionately connected to the work.” This anecdote is about taste… and to say that anyone programmes on merit is (I have decided as of today) a misnomer. They program on that which is personal and unmatrix-able… they programme on their gender, belief, ethnicity, social context, history, world view- and all the random and idosyncratic elements which culminates in the uniqueness of an artistic perspective.

Sometimes it is hard to talk about what you love and why you love it- and why you feel connected to it. There are always (and should be) disagreements about art. I support opposing views whole heartedly- hence why I approve all views on this site- even when I think they missed what I was saying or I thoroughly disagree… because the conversation is the most important thing.

To talk about the issues in theatre is important- but I do believe that today we had to stop talking just as the topic was getting interesting. I believe that this topic deserved a whole day at least, not just 2 hours… this is a big discussion- and needs more attention and more conversation.

I would like to acknowledge all the plays and playwrights that were nominated for the Philip Parsons award this year- Tamara Asmar: you are a wonderful writer and I loved Belle’s Line it was funny and beautifully warm and something I really needed to see and I am not ashamed to say I cried when I sat in the audience at The Old Fitz last year. Nick Coyle you are a very fun and interesting writer and we need your humour and distinct style and I am really glad I saw Hammerhead (is Dead) at The Stables earlier this year. Van Badham you are sassy and sharp and make no apologies for who you are and what you think- Poster Girl was a hoot! Caleb Lewis is a brave and courageous soul and to me a beautifully poetic writer. Tahli Corin is a bright-eyed tireless writer and producer who takes the slings and arrows in her stride with huge grace.

All these playwrights are unique and fascinating- and in my mind equally important to the theatre landscape- and we need you all for what you ask us to think and talk and write about- for the choices you ask us to make for the subjects you raise in debate in your plays and outside your plays….

And for that- I am very grateful. Keep being who you are, fight for what you love and believe in and congratulations – those hours spent dreaming, writing, doubting, redrafting, refining, interrogating and investigating and pursuing ARE worth it.

Media Release from Belvoir Street:

Company B Belvoir is pleased to announce that the 2009 Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award has been given jointly to Tahli Corin and Caleb Lewis. The decision was announced on Sunday 6 December at the Belvoir St Theatre, to an audience assembled to listen to, and participate in, a panel discussion about opportunities for women in the theatre industry within Australia. The winners will receive $5000 each to work on a script to first draft stage, as well as artistic and creative support from Company B Belvoir to develop their commissioned work.

Speaking at the Belvoir St Theatre on Sunday, Neil Armfield said, ‘We are very much looking forward to working with Tahli and Caleb. It is an exciting process to watch works grow from their early beginnings into fully-developed scripts, and to nurture the work of young writers.

‘Tahli Corin first came to Company B Belvoir as the writer of Bumming with Jane which was one of the highlights of the 2008 B Sharp season. She has subsequently had work developed by Sydney Theatre Company and has completed a commission for the NIDA Open Program.’

The decision was reached by the selection panel prior to Caleb’s decision to withdraw his entry to the competition, on 24 November. He has been uncontactable since his announcing his withdrawal.

Neil said, ‘We were impressed by Caleb’s pitch this year, and hope that he will reconsider his decision to withdraw so we can offer him artistic and dramaturgical support to develop his work. In the meantime, we will keep his commission in trust.’

The Philip Parsons Award is given each year to a playwright whose work demonstrates an original and compelling theatrical voice, and the competition attracts the highest calibre of artists each year. The award has a strong tradition of supporting new Australian writing and the work produced through the Award has a remarkable track record. Kate Mulvany’s The Seed premiered at B Sharp in 2007, moved to the Company B mainstage in 2008 and toured nationally in 2009. Brendan Cowell’s Ruben Guthrie premiered at B Sharp in 2008 and a new production was staged as part of Company B’s season in 2009. Tommy Murphy’s commission Gwen in Purgatory will premiere in Company B Belvoir’s 2010 season, directed by Neil Armfield. There are high hopes for Khoa Do, the 2008 winner, whose play To 100 Years of Happiness is still in development.

The Philip Parsons Young Playwright of the Year Award is part of the annual Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture, which this year addressed the issue of women in theatre. Rachel Healy (Director of Performing Arts, Sydney Opera House) introduced a lively discussion which was moderated by Monica Attard (ABC journalist) and included Alison Croggon (theatre notes blogger and critic), Shannon Murphy (emerging theatre director), Marion Potts (Associate Artistic Director, Bell Shakespeare) and Gil Appleton (who has had a long career in broadcasting and the arts) on the panel.
****A transcript or audio recording of the panel discussion will be made available in early 2010. Details of how to access these will be made available via the Company B Belvoir website (****