Yesterday, amid the heat of Sydney’s summer, the Sydney wharfs were buzzing with people. Lachlan Philpott (fabulous and celebrated writer and leader of ATYP’s Fresh Ink program) addressed a throng of young actors on the eve of their opening night of Tell it Like it Isn’t… ATYP classes were being picked up by supportive parents. Sydney Dance Cafe was hosting the usual lithe bodies and one on one conversations. The water. The heat. I was setting up Playwriting Australia’s banner with the lovely General Manager Elizabeth in preparation of the launch of the 2011 Play Festival season. My phone was buzzing with texts from friends and colleagues wanting to tee-up coffee dates and industry chats…

While waiting I got chatting to lots of people – Chris Page (Lighting Designer, good looker and good bloke), Teegan Lee (All round super-champ LD and SM), Amy Hardingham (ex head of Outback Theatre, ATYP director and now recent mum), Tahli Corin (writer and actor and general lovely person), Hassal from Poetry in Action, Luke Kerridge (Shopfront Artistic Associate) and the NIDA playwright Grads Jess Bellamy and Chris Summers – and I even shock the hand of Mr Stephen Sewell. And it is affirming and exciting to be a part of such an interesting and vivacious theatre community… Before long, writers of all backgrounds, experience, styles and sensibilities were standing sipping mineral water in a room overlooking the water.

It is probably one of the most solitary acts – writing. And the strange thing about theatre writing is that it is intensely personal, private and solitary and then swings into the extreme of collaborative, social and very public. Other writers are asked to perhaps make a showing at a book launch or perhaps an inaugural speech… but theatre writers must swing between private and public constantly. Some are a little more reluctant to be in the spotlight. Others love a spotlight and a photo in a publication – there are all types, all temperaments- and all playwrights of all personalities negotiate this task differently and there is no “right way” to be. Joanna Murray Smith and Stephen Sewell both gave opening addresses – both powerful , personal and different in tone and delivery… they spoke of diversity and opportunity, of doubt and discovery and were at times both fierce and tender.

The National Play Festival allows time and space for writers to come out of their “dark lonely place” as Rhys Muldoon put it… and to hear their work… give focus to their work. It is a time of showcase and celebration, of work and rigor and refreshment. Where form and ideas and national/personal concerns are aired, questioned and presented. Due to the huge interest in playwriting – even more has been added to the festival: Fine Draft (4 plays to be workshopped), Must Sees (Scripts ready to go), And a range of readings to facilitate a range of new writers/writings.

I for one, can’t wait. Bring on March!

More Info on the festival: http://www.nationalplayfestival.org.au/2011/?cat=3

More info on Playwriting Australia: www.pwa.org.au

Fine Draft
Playwriting is for artisans and this part of the Play Festival allows for chisels and anvils, sutures and scalpels, gimlets and handsaws. These plays are four very fine drafts, plays of real and rare distinction, that each receives 10 days of workshopping prior to presentation at the Festival with the finest actors, directors and dramaturgs. Though presented with minimal staging they are shown in their entirety and, no matter how basic the staging, the sheer force of their argument and emotion, ideas and characters, charm and fury is like theatrical rocket fuel. Drink up the very best of these fine drafts.

By Van Badham
See this on: Friday, Wednesday

Van is the writer of more than 40 internationally produced plays for stage, music theatre and radio and she has just signed a three-book deal with Pan Macmillan.

“Diplomat: I think I’m here to work out why I’m here. Who’s the source? Who’s peddling fake documents and why does anyone believe them?”

The Diplomat, the Spy, the CIA, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Byron, Dick Cheney (a 10 foot lizard) and 32 other characters defend and patrol, confuse and concuss the US, the middle east and the rest of the world in a boiling vortex of subterfuge, paranoia, incompetence and international intrigue. This wild and furious play gets its teeth into the intelligence that lead to the war in Iraq and it asks some tough questions about politics, peace and accountability. It’s stylish, surreal, funny and alarming in equal measure and much cooler and crazier than the film with Naomi Watts in it.
Wednesday 16 March, 4pm, Friday 18 March, 7pm

The Damned
By Reg Cribb

See this on: Saturday, Thursday

Reg’s plays, which include The Return, Last Cab to Darwin, Gulpilil and Ruby’s Last Dollar, have been performed nationally and internationally. He has won the Patrick White award, the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award, the WA Premier’s Literary Award twice and was nominated for an AFI award for his screenplay for Last Train to Freo.

“Narelle: Do you ever think about fuckin ’em up . . . those people?”

Narelle and Louise are teenagers from regional WA. They take drugs, move in together, pledge sisterhood and stop going to school. Louise meets Eliza and brings her home like a lost pup. They band together, destroy stuff and have a whale of a time. Cracks appear in the crack haze, however, and the sisters gang up on the outsider. Their crime is violent and vicious and confounding. Based on a real story, The Damned is chilling, unflinching and very stark drama indeed.
Thursday 17 March, 7pm, Saturday 19 March, 4pm

Rust and Bone
By Caleb Lewis
See this on: Saturday, Thursday
(adopted from stories by Craig Davidson)

Caleb is an award winning playwright who studied playwriting at Flinders University Drama Centre and is best known for his plays Nailed, Death in Bowengabbie and Man, Love and the Monkey Boy.

“Ben: Feel something break below the hip. A wave of pain roars up my spine exploding in my skull. Open my mouth to scream and water rushes in.”

Three men, each a ball of tightly coiled fury, tell their gory stories. One is a fighter, too old and broken to win, but who nevertheless continues to step into the ring and cop another beating, maybe because he deserves it. Another loves dogs, and loves fighting them to the death. The final man is a killer whale trainer whose daily aqua-acrobatic show goes horribly, horribly wrong. This is a brutal world of broken gods and sinuous monsters, regrets, denial, big dreams and hard-boiled drama.
Thursday 17 March, 4pm. Saturday 19 March, 7pm

The Real World

By Melissa Reeves
See this on: Friday, Wednesday

Melissa is a multi-award winning playwright best known for The Spook, Furious Mattress and Who’s Afraid of the Working Class.

“Frank: I believe in no god and I don’t need one. I don’t know why we’re here and I don’t care. Nor do I believe in genius. It’s all luck, nous and hard work. I don’t believe in love or friendship. I have confided in people and they have betrayed me. I believe in neither left nor right. Everyone is corruptible. Why did I give you the money? I had the idea and I had the money. Simple as that.”

Rachel is imprisoned in a tower. Her Dad, Frank, is a toweringly rich businessman and he’s given her everything, including a private menagerie, mostly of monkeys, plus he’s locked her in the tower. He now wants her married off and pays four short blokes, an ex-cop, an ex-jockey, an ex- TV host and an ex-footy player all previously publicly shamed to give it a go. They work together, then they don’t, and somewhere in the middle is Rachel, Money, ambition, stupidity, deep sadness and animal cruelty collide in this bittersweet cautionary tale.

Wednesday 16 March , 7pm, Friday 18 March, 4pm