Unlike the recent debacle with the NSW Premier’s Literary award, there was absolutely no problem for a shortlist to be generated by The Griffin Theatre Company.

A beautiful list of writers and some fascinating plays- a grand mix of established and developing writers- an exquisite cross section:

Elise Hearst The Sea Project
Nathaniel Moncrieff Sleepyhead
Caleb Lewis Clinchfield
Lally Katz Return To Earth
Aiden Fennessy Brutopia
Ross Mueller A Beautiful Gesture
Vanessa Bates Porn Cake
Kit Brookman Close
Tom Holloway Faces Look Ugly
Reg Cribb Damned
Alana Valentine The Sugar House
Raimondo Cortese The Dream Life of Butterflies

I generally don’t like competitions- I think they make people feel like there is some sort of relative value in what they are doing. The fact is, we need all writers, in all shapes and forms and styles and formats… all are valuable… I believe in shortlists. I believe in paying writers. But I don’t believe in awards that say “this writer/script above all else is the best.” So I love the idea of shortlists… they are more useful to me as a director, producer and reader of scripts… gives me a heads up and a point of reference…

AND the great thing about Griffin’s award is this: that the play that wins gets a reading infront of all who turn up… so we can at least hear the play, instead of forever wondering what the play was like. Some, not all awarded plays get productions. I remember feeling strangely disappointed and furious when Timothy Daly told me last year that his Patrick White award-winning play “Man in the Attic” got a premiere in FRANCE but not in AUSTRALIA- where it was written and awarded! Amazing. Stupid. And to me, I am very suspicious of Awards for awards sake- and awards that seem like lip service to writers. Writers want money, sure… but they also want productions. Anyway, rant over… I just wanted to say I think Griffin holding a reading is a valuable thing. Really valuable.

Last night was the opening of Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County – pulitzer Prize winning/tony award winning production which is enjoying a season at the STC. (With a cast of Australians waiting in the wings hoping for a sickness to befall an American perhaps?). I didn’t go to that opening… I decided to reserve the night for the Griffin Award… to listen to what is happening right now in the mind of the new artistic Director Sam Strong- where his taste (along with the distinguished panel of judges) lies and also to perhaps chat with playwrights… Almost everyone else was at August: Osage County.

For me the Griffin Award is a pretty important one. Luckily for the Griffin, their sponsor of the award, PKF (Chartered Accountants & Business Advisers), has an understanding of the value of living culture, and is willing to put some muscle behind their belief. $10,000 is a substantial amount for a writer in this country- and this Award is important- not only for the development of plays, but for the writers themselves, who can buy themselves time or space to write, or to relax after having written an award winning play. It’s fantastic, and I wish everyone who ever felt dissatisfied with or inspired by an Australian play donated $50 to the Griffin- I bet we’d see the results in no time… playwrights need money. Despite popular belief they don’t live off praise and sunshine.

I wish the timing of the award for this year was not on the same night as such a major opening night. I wish Cate, Andrew, Tom, Ralph and all the artistic directors in the city could have been there for the announcement and the reading. I wish that all the reviewers and the judges and the journalists and the literary managers and the key representatives supporting writers and the funding bodies could have been there… in support of Australian playwriting. In support of new plays. In support of doing the thankless and often difficult job of reporting and reflecting on our current history.
Of shaping our culture.

And this may seem a bit strange for me to say, but I think actions speak loudly. If you love theatre- attend it. If you are a writer and want to support new writing in this country, attend new plays. I am absolutely hopeful that one day, artistic directors will get behind the plays they award – be actively engaged with the playwrights who are here. Give them a reason to turn up. Be willing to spare 2 hours to have a play read to them by exquisite actors.

For me, last night was wonderful. I got to see Gillian Jones and Lotte St Clare on stage together. I witnessed the elegant hilarity of Genivieve Hegney and the brilliant characterisations of Damon Herriman, Anthony Phelan and the sturdy masculinity of Andy Rodoreda all give of themselves and their time and imagination to bring the play to life. What a gift… brilliant! Fine Australian actors, all who have worked with the best directors and companies our country has to offer.

I wish that one day, the industry as a whole, would put the playwrights first. And that even if the circus came to town, or if Elvis did a come back tour- that the people who are the taste-makers and cultural leaders decided that it would be inconceivable to overlook our local artistic hero’s.

But perhaps there is the problem of “oh well, its local, i’ll catch it later” or “I’m not and it’s not going anywhere soon- it can wait.” I don’t reckon. I reckon if you don’t use it (engage, care, invest, support) now, you’ll lose it. And that’s why, despite the fact am up to my eyeballs in plays at the moment (I nearly have a shortlist for Brand Spanking New!) that I say- thank you to those who care enough to turn up. I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

The Media Release:


Griffin Theatre Company tonight announced that writer, director and dramaturg Aidan Fennessy is the winner of the 2010 Griffin Award for his play Brutopia.

The Griffin Award is an annual $10,000 prize offered for an outstanding new Australian play or performance text. Now in its 13th year, the Griffin Award celebrates the bright future of Australian drama. More than 130 entries were received this year from across the country.

The announcement was made in Griffin’s newly renovated SBW Stables Theatre by the Award’s sponsors PKF Chartered Accountants & Business Advisers, who have sponsored the prestigious prize for the past five years. Following the announcement, a professional cast of Griffin artists presented a reading of Brutopia, led by Griffin’s Artistic Director Sam Strong.

Aidan Fennessy is an award-winning writer, director and dramaturg and is currently an Associate Director for the Melbourne Theatre Company. Fennessy’s play Brutopia traces the diffuse interactions within a city, of six disparate characters over the course of a single day that lead to a horrific crime.
It drills down into the everyday dislocation of the atomised life of a big city.

Griffin Theatre’s Artistic Director Sam Strong said, “Brutopia is a beautifully crafted portrait of urban alienation. The play was a unanimous winner of the Griffin Award amongst an unusually strong field. The judges admired Aidan’s delicate drawing of complex characters, his formally innovative use of a choral structure, and his deft interweaving of apparently disconnected lives into a powerful finale.”

As the winner of the 2010 Griffin Award, Fennessy is in good company. Previous recipients of the prize include Lachlan Philpott, Brendan Cowell, Deborah Oswald, Noelle Janacsewska and Ian Wilding.

Aidan Fennessy’s plays have been produced by Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre Company, Griffin, Playbox, HotHouse Theatre and White Whale Theatre amongst others. His play Chilling and Killing My Annabel Lee, produced by Griffin in 1998, and won the Wal Cherry Award and was short-listed for the Premier’s Literary Awards. His Melbourne International Comedy Festival collaboration, The Trade, won the prestigious 2002 Barry Award. Aidan’s directing credits include Matt Cameron’s Ruby Moon (MTC), Max Gillies and Guy Rundle’s Godzone (MTC), Alan Ayckbourne’s Things We Do For Love (MTC), Ross Mueller’s The Glory (HotHouse), David Mamet’s Oleanna (HotHouse), Robert Reid’s A Mile in Her Shadow (Store Room Theatre Workshop), Ross Mueller’s A Pilot Version of Something To Die For (Store Room Theatre Workshop) and Peter Houghton’s Commercial Farce (Malthouse) amongst others. Aidan was a founding member of Chameleon Theatre, a member of the Artistic Directorate for HotHouse Theatre and Artistic Director of the Store Room Theatre Workshop.