When the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced last month, there was one thing that no one expected… there was no shortlist for the Play Awards category.

Was no play worth even nomination? Surely this was a clerical error- had the envelope bearer had lost the nomination envelope in a taxi on the way to the announcement? Had there been a cut and paste error on the website?

Nope. No clerical error. A major philosophical one though- a major political one.

Instead $30K has been offered up, not as an award celebrating excellence- but has been transposed into a grant “to support professional development opportunities for new playwrights in 2011.”

No clerical error. But a major political error.

Development? Development? Sorry… What? No shortlist, but a grant for Development?

Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I was stunned. Were you stunned? I know Currency Press was stunned. http://www.currency.com.au/resources/1/NSW%20Premier%27s%20missing%20Play%20Award.pdf
James Waites was stunned. http://jameswaites.ilatech.org/?p=5422
Seven of Australia’s most celebrated and remarkable playwrights were stunned:
I am stunned.

Utterly! I think of it and I am absolutely befuddled. This would NEVER happen to a novellist. Why is this happening to the playwrights?

In a press release, Premier Keneally said that the NSW Premier Literary Awards ‘Perpetuate a cultural legacy in our state; a legacy of ideas, imagination and history.’ It has sent a message that plays aren’t literature. Also it was claimed that the judges weren’t able to see the productions- and therefore couldn’t judge. Plays are literature too. They are a marker and perpetuator of culture. I don’t understand.

Many of the new Australian plays I saw last year have also been published (pushing the point a little harder that plays ARE literature) or will be by Currency Press- they include:
Poor Boy by Matt Cameron and Tim Finn, Pig Iron People by John Doyle, Realism by Paul Galloway, Concussion by Ross Mueller, Savage River by Steve Rodgers and Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah by Alana Valentine. Excellent plays- why aren’t they included?

What happens to an artform when excellence is replaced with a development grant? Does that say, in a very loud way, that development is more important than publishing or production? Is it also saying to our established writers “You still have a LOOOOOO-OOOONG way to go, do back to your laptop, do some workshops coz yer just aint there yet”? What does this mean?

What this means is that the support for Australian plays and playwrights has been GROSSLY underestimated. The community of writers has been underestimated. A collective of writers who refer to themselves as “Write Club” two Sundays ago got together at the Stables theatre for an impromptu night of readings to raise money to help Lachlan Philpott attend a reading in the UK… I received in my inbox this letter:
Dear Folks, One and All,
Hoping all’s well.
This is an invitation to what I hope will be a fun evening in aid of a worthy cause (one of our own).
To wit: A Benefit Night to help get fellow playwright, Lachlan Philpott to London to
be part of the production of his play, Bison, at The Oral House in late May. Another way of saying this might be – ‘Don’t Sell Your Car, Lachlan, We’ll Help!”
A number of us are each inviting their nearest and dearest and other generally interesting persons to come along to an evening in which Lachlan will arrange a reading of Bison, there will be an interval in which persons consume food and drink and rave-on-John-Donne about theatre to each other, after which the extroverts among us read/perform/whatever short, and hopefully entertaining pieces of their old work/ new work/ work-in-progress (and yes, I will be doing the birth scene from The Mourning After AGAIN but since none of you are from South Australia, I am unconcerned.)
And we laff or moan and groan before we wander out into the night.
And each person brings a bottle of something (plonk or non-plonk, depends on what you fancy) and $10.00 to go into the kitty for young Mr Philpott’s fare to London.
Pizza will be provided.
And if we raise more than the airfare we will park the money in Griffin’s account and use it for the next needy adventurer.
TIME: 6.00 p.m – ? 8 p.m (party animals can move on to a pub at this point)
VENUE: GRIFFIN THEATRE (Thank you, Griffin!).
If you would rsvp and bring as many of your own address list as possible, that would be pleasing, but if you are TOO LAZY TO DO THAT, we’d still love to see you on the night.


And it was a hoot of a night- the community was out in force to get behind Lachlan and to raise money. How many times to playwrights have to be this resourceful? How often do we lose our playwrights to other countries. Ben Ellis, Van Badham, Tommy Murphy, Suzie Miller… why? Because they are often ignored. Often disregarded or overlooked in favour of American Classic plays, the hottest script out of the UK. To be a playwright in Australia is a tough fight. Its a long haul. There are precious few opportunities to have your work produced (but you can have endless developments and residencies). This HAS to change. This is RIDICULOUS! Playwrights are our historians, our cultural barometers, our social conscious. We need them. We need to reward them. We need to give them a reason to stay. A reason to write. A mechanism to help us see ourselves, understand where and who we are in time and space. Playwrights are my rock stars- they are inspirational, brave and sexy. Why is it that our leaders don’t get it?

Well- guess what Kristina Keneally. Playwrights aren’t passive folk. They are not taking this lying down. Guess what? They are holding their own ceremony… and here is the email I received this evening:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Next Monday an Australian playwright will NOT be awarded the $30,000 NSW Premier’s Literary award for best play, because in 2010 there will be no award given – apparently they weren’t good enough this year…really???

Premier Kristina Keneally said the awards were established to, ‘Perpetuate a cultural legacy in our state; a legacy of ideas, imagination and history.’ But what legacy is perpetuated when work that has been created is not given the recognition it deserves? And were these qualities of imagination and ideas not present in any of the plays that premiered in 2009?

In response to this decision, we are hosting a celebration of our own, without the fancy finger food or free drinks but with excellent guest speakers including Executive Director of Currency House and co-founder of Currency Press, Katharine Brisbane, and John McCallum, past NSW Literary Award judge, Sydney theatre critic, senior lecturer in theatre and performance at the University of NSW and writer of ‘Belonging: Australian Playwriting in the 20th Century’ who are just as bemused and frustrated by the situation as we are!

If you can, it would be wonderful if you were able to make it along, because as much as it is an evening about playwrights, it is also a chance for us to gather together as a vibrant and visible community of theatre makers and show that these kind of decisions do not go unnoticed!

Please go to http://www.joannaerskine.com/cluster for all of the information about the evening, to RSVP and to show your support of Australian Playwrights.

This is an open invitation, so feel free to pass it on to your friends and colleagues who might be interested in joining us, and apologies for any cross posting.

I hope to see you there!

Tahli Corin

I’ll be there. This is too important to miss. I suggest if you are a person of taste- you will be there too!