A flurry of text messages had been flying around. “Did you hear some playwrights have decided to hold their own night on Monday? Are you going?” “Are you going to the playwright’s thing?” “How do I RSVP?” In the past few weeks, I had been casually thumbing through newspapers at cafes when waiting for my coffee, to see if and when and how the topic of the absence of a play shortlist for the 2010 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards had been noted. Not really… one article from Bryce Hallet: and this one from Marc McEvoy
No response from Kristina…

Every self respecting new Australian work enthusiast/ literary manager/ playwright/ director had been keeping their eye firmly on Joanna Erskine’s Cluster blog … as the responses from around Australia and the world from Australian playwrights voiced their outrage, disappointment and vehmence towards the decision- and swelled the support for Australian playwrights.

The previous Monday at Belvoir St Theatre, I had been wrestling with a spinach pastizzi during a break in the WOMEN DIRECTORS ACTION PLANNING FORUM when Tahli asked me if I was free on the 17th. I wasn’t. I was scheduled for the Symphony-(the one night I hold sacred in my schedule- my dates with the SSO- where I can relax and enjoy myself without strings (so to speak) or expectations). But nothing is immovable. And especially this- THIS topic, which I spend most my waking hours puzzling over, planning for, fighting for, thinking about… This thing- which is so deeply rooted in who I am can not and must not be ignored.

Last Monday I arrived early. James Waites and I had anticipated the cluster of playwrights (my preferred collective noun) and had hoped to avoid the crush by positioning ourselves early amid the elegant lounge chairs of the Macquarie Hotel first floor bar. By the time I had arrived, a cluster of playwrights had already congregated- no less those who had organised this event- and whom all I had commissioned/worked with on either Stories from the 428 or Brand Spanking New- Joanna Erksine, Rebecca Clarke, Kit Brookman, Tahli Corin, Tamara Asmar, Rick Viede- set up on chaise lounge with a bucket of chilled Champagne and grins all round.

Downstairs multi-award winning, soon-off-to-London for a reading of his play Bison- Lachlan Philpott sat with friend and beverage, Kate Mulvany arrived, Matt Edgerton triple threat actor/director/writer arrived. Caleb Lewis in tie and shirt. when I looked up from my conversation with one writer, I realised- the room was full of the great minds of my generation- and the best of Australian Contemporary Performance writing.

Recently in a post by 5th Wall, he refers to playwrights as a “rivalry of playwrights”…
The truth of the matter is that Australian playwrights I have worked with/for are generally very happy to band together, especially with a common cause. As someone who is in the position of reading nearly 200 plays/pitches/submissions a year from playwrights (often for colleagiate framed multi-playwright projects) I am well aware of the paranoia, competition and the nature of playwrights… playwrights (like all artists) at their worst (usually due to a lack of love/production) are vindictive, nasty, abusive, irrational, statistical machines who churn out lists of their accolades as proof of their legitimisation and their neglect by an industry that doesn’t care and doesn’t understand. But that is not the natural state of a playwright.

In my experience the natural state of a playwright is that of curiosity… of observation. They beleive in ideas. They talk about love. They talk about the hidden, difficult corners or our minds and hearts. Despite economic sense and career path ease, they are stubborn and idealistic enought to push on through with theatre (which is not the most lucrative of the writerly forms- the only writerly form which is less lucrative than theatre is possibly blogging… and sometimes (often) I question blogging’s legitimacy as a writerly form). They are brave and all have a sense of humour and humanity. And ALOT of time by themselves infront of computers, staring at the glowing screen wondering if what they have written is any good, or will it ever be finished?

And I love them… as a group… and as individuals. Sometimes playwrights are badly behaved- but that is the exception not the rule.

And they are a very good looking bunch of people. This is easy to forget as they are often not the topic of newspaper articals- they often aren’t publicized- and they spend alot of their time alone writing- but our playwrights are clever, funny and they have something to say.

As guest speakers three of the industry’s most respected champions of Australian Playwrights spoke. First the elegant and inspiring Katharine Brisbane- one of my all time favourite thinkers and doers- one of Australia’s most inspiring cultural leaders who gave us perspective on the history of the literary awards, the problems that have evolved and debated over the years- she told us of a famous literary bun fight which was sparked up over a dinner debate and at the centre of it all she spoke of the need to be vigilant and active. She encourage the room full of writers, directors, critics, actors and punters – to keep up the conversation. Secondly, everyone’s favourite bearded champion of Australian writing- John McCallum- Academic, reviewer and author of “Belonging: Australian Playwrighting in the 20th Century” who thanked the playwrights for their plays. He gave warm, enthusiastic encouragement. He reminded us to keep literate and articulate about writing for the stage- who reminded us that “playwrights have alot of friends and some of us are critics.” And thirdly, Leland Kean- the only Artistic Director who was in the room- who in a scruffy flanny and baseball cap read passionately an eloquent call to arms for all Australian Playwrights- and said that it wasn’t good enough how Australian playwrights are treated. It was a rousing and forceful speech that caught in my throat. I choked back tears several times as I felt his frustration, my frustration, and the frustration of all who have worked hard, who have actively contributed and risked, who have worked with honour and integrity- all to be ignored- or worse- offered an opportunity to apply for a development grant.

The major thing I noted were the absences- who wasn’t there. The Artistic directors, the artistic associates, the literary managers, the CEOs. I saw who wasn’t there. You know who you are. And I am fairly disappointed in those who didn’t feel like moving their prior engagements this ONCE for something as vital and important as a show of support and solidarity to those who are the source of text based theatre- the writers.

One of the first to arrive- and one of the last to leave- I am honoured to say I was there- and I am here silently supporting all those who are playwrights and yet to be playwrights: all those who dream big, work hard, fight, write, say the unsayable, confess their fear and their anger, embrace their vulnerability. I was there. I am here.