OK. Let’s talk about new work.

There seems to be a bit of discussion around plays – new plays and old plays, adaptations, reinventions, notions of “Australian” work, “new Australian plays”, the issues of the development of plays, the question of new play production. Discussions about women playwrights and their representation in main stage theatre programs… there’s even discussions about classic plays – and the Australian canon…

Belvoir loves a forum… Tom Wright even popped up in a recent panel discussion as a part of Sydney Uni’s Verge Festival…. and now, instigated by the ever vigilent Kevin Jackson, NIDA has presented a forum and the blurb went like this:
“The changing landscape of new Australian writing for theatre as new forms and new technologies beckon, new writing for the stage is blossoming and booming, but where are the ‘spaces’ for new work to emerge? And are we heading in the right direction? The panel discusses great plays, grand changes, possible futures and the many voices of Australia.

Join Jane Bodie, playwright, Screen writer, theatre director and Head of Playwriting at NIDA (This Years Ashes, Music, A Single Act, Still, Fourplay) in discussion with Katherine Thompson (A Change in the Weather, A Sporting Chance, Darlinghurst Nights, Kingtide) Lachlan Philpott (Silent Disco, Bustown, Bison, Colder ) and Chris Mead (Artistic Director Playwriting Australia and theatre director) on the how and why of new work in Australia.

This forum will launch a season of new work at NIDA that will include the premiere of Rare Earth a new play by Ian Wilding, commissioned by NIDA. The season will culminate with the five Graduate Diploma in Playwriting students presenting their graduation pieces.”

The panel covered a lot of questions about “first successful creative acts,” “what it means to be an Australian writer,” “writing for home or writing for the international market,” “how plays are developed,” “the idea of the Australian voice – is there something that makes Australian plays unique to other international plays?” “the role of the director/dramaturg in play development,” “issues around writing and re-writing and Australia’s obsession with premieres,” “when is a play finished – especially in reference to Ray Lawler re-writing The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll for the upcoming Belvoir production.”

But most interestingly was the discussion around culture and Australian-ness. And there was a comment made that since the mid-90s Australia no longer has cultural cringe and that the identity has been sorted out “we are multicultural and therefore have many identities.”

There was also alot of discussion on what makes an Australian play Australian – is it location or subject matter? In the case of many Australian plays I have read, or heard about the place is sometimes neutral or even set in another country. For me, I settled my definition of an Australian play in 2009 when I had to ask myself if recent arrival from Scotland Phil Spencer could be included in Brand Spanking New (billed as a celebration of New Australian Writing) – and the answer I arrived at was this: if the play was written for Australian audiences, in Australia by someone who lives here – it is an Australian play.

The issue of Australian-ness of the Australian theatre scene is something I am particularly fascinated by – in particular the appointment of the Belvoir Literary manager (who though Aussie, had been working at The Bush in London)… or the Fresh Ink Manager of ATYP who had been at the British Council in Singapore before his recent appointment, or indeed Playwriting Australia’s top chick who hails from the UK as does the STC literary manager… ALOT of UK influence in the companies that are engaging with new Australian plays, and Australian writers. Jane Bodie, head of Playwriting at NIDA (also an ex-pat Brit – now identifies as an Australian playwright) admits when she arrived that she was quizzed on what the UK was doing as far as new writing went. I think this is interesting.

What is it about the UK that Australian playwrights and Australian theatre companies are so fascinated by?

Are we over the cultural cringe?

I love a forum. I do. I particularly like forums that dive in and say things. On this occasion the forum was tame. Perhaps that is because there was a lot of self-censorship by the writers – perhaps because they were on show at the National training institution, (a possible employer?) or perhaps because two of the most powerful and significant playwriting gatekeepers were in attendence – namely the lovely and ever generous and astute Chris Mead (AD of PWA) and Sam Strong AD of the Griffin (one of two theatre companies in OZ solely dedicated to the production of Australian plays).

I wonder what this forum would sound like if it was just playwrights. On their own turf. Probably something like 7-ON’s Seven Deadly Sins of Writing (as presented at the Playwrights Muster a few months back which you can check out here if you missed it.)