The role of the playwright

Friday, June 6, 2014
By: 
John Back

Playwriting Australia is the national organisation working with playwrights and theatre artists from all backgrounds and at all levels of their careers. Writers Victoria intern John spoke with Amanda and Alice about National Play Festival,

Tell us a little about Playwriting Australia. What kind of history does the organisation have?

Playwriting Australia works tirelessly to see more high quality Australian plays in production. We invest in the development and promotion of thrilling new work and nurture the career development of promising artists, delivering a critical mass of scripts to the sector. By the end of 2013, we had supported over 250 new works selected from more than 2000 script submissions, and employed over a thousand Australian theatre artists.

The organisation was established in 2006 as the new national organisation for script development, led by inaugural Artistic Director Chris Mead and Chair Michael Gow. Following the departure of Chris Mead in late 2012, Playwriting Australia appointed Tim Roseman to the role of Artistic Director. Tim has extensive experience as a director, producer and dramaturg of new plays in the UK so he brings the unique perspective of a writer-centric performing arts culture.

Over the past seven years we have created a range of programs that sought to achieve both access and excellence – achieving a balance between the demand of the industry for better product with the urgent need playwrights have to develop as genuine theatre artists.

Our most successful and vital program is the National Script Workshop, an unparallel opportunity for a playwright to collaborate with a director, dramaturg and ensemble of actors in developing their new work. We’ve also offered a range of travel grants, residencies, co-commissions, outreach strategies and international exchanges.

How does Playwriting Australia see the role of the playwright in Australia today?

Playwriting Australia’s vision is of a society where new Australian plays are consistently outstanding, more widely produced and embraced by audiences as central to Australian life.

In a recent interview with Crikey Daily Review, Artistic Director Tim Roseman argues that playwrights need to step up to the ‘cultural conversation’. “Playwrights need to become more involved in industry debates but also step up in and be involved in bigger conversations – it’s wonderful that Van Badham and Lally Katz have been on Q&A.”

This year’s National Play Festival is a way for us to have that conversation with artists – we’re daring playwrights to think boldly and speak louder. We want to create a future in which Australian playwrights are esteemed cultural beacons whose unique vision of the world inspires generations.

Tell us a little about National Play Festival.

The National Play Festival 2014 is Playwriting Australia’s annual flagship event, which travels to a new location each year. We use the Play Festival as a public gathering, showcasing some of the most exciting new plays and playwrights we’re working with each year. Most of the work presented in this year’s Play Festival has been commissioned, developed or supported by PWA. This is particularly exciting and rewarding as we get to see this work evolve over a year and then share it with an audience of theatre-lovers.

This year’s Play Festival puts female playwrights at the forefront with the four main showcase plays written by emerging and established playwrights:

  • Thieves by Kathryn Ash, an established playwright based in regional Queensland;
  • The epic Mortido by Angela Betzien, who recently won the Patrick White Fellowship;
  • Moths by Melbourne-based Michele Lee, exploring Asian-Australian identities; and
  • Samson an impressive debut by emerging writer Julia-Rose Lewis (NSW/QLD).

These plays all share a vast imagination, a fervent curiosity about what makes us human, and important questions about living here and now.

There’s also a few additional special events at the play Festival this year…. Andrew Bovell’s Keynote Speech; a trio of Indigenous musicians will share their first foray into writing for the stage in Songrites; Bell Shakespeare share one of their Minds Eye plays in development; and we have a group of visiting artists from Singapore who’ll present some exciting new work from Checkpoint Theatre. Plus there’s two free public talks featuring playwrights and actors called 'Free Speech'.

For the first time we’ve also invited playwrights to attend a Playwrights' Program running alongside the main Play Festival program. We wanted to give writers some opportunities to extend their craft with masterclasses led by some amazing playwrights and also to join us for an Open Space gathering to lead the agenda for the artform.

It’s a HUGE program… and there’s more detail and ticketing info on the National Play Festival website.

Playwriting Australia loves to support new and emerging theatre writers. How does it feel to be constantly interacting with fresh material?

It’s a huge part of why we exist and something we’re very passionate about. We passed this question on to our Artistic Associate Jane Bodie to answer:

*“Fantastic! I’m a playwright myself, as well as being a dramaturg – and working on other peoples plays, through a range of stages, watching them grow and have wonderful light bulb moments along the way, is incredibly inspiring and satisfying.

Fresh material is like fresh coffee, fresh bread, or even fresh blood! One of the writers in this year’s Play Festival is relatively new and emerging – it goes to show that young can also be wise, that fresh work can think big and reach far and wide, and feel significant and important – which is very exciting.”*

How can Victorian-based playwrights and writers get involved?

For those who can’t travel to Sydney for the event, we hope local playwrights will follow along on-line. We’ll be posting regular updates, artist interviews and transcripts to the PWA Blog.

We also love it when playwrights join in the national conversation via our social media – follow us on our Facebook page.

Is it too late to get involved?

Not at all. All those programs accept national submissions so we’d love for Victorian writers to submit an idea, a draft or a new collaboration.

They can also subscribe to our e-news so that they get all the updates on programs and opportunities for playwrights.

Your advice for someone thinking about writing for stage?

We passed this question to our Associate Artist, playwright Jane Bodie:

*“Read and see lots of plays first and foremost – even as an experienced playwright, I learn something every time I read a play, whether it’s good or bad, about how drama works and what plays do to audiences.

Write the story that you want to tell, then nobody else will have written it, or at least not in the way you choose to write it and then it will shine out as being authentic and hopefully urgent. Ask yourself whether what you are writing is a play (and not better served by another form – poetry, novel, film for example) and does it engage and embrace the theatrical form. Then ask what makes it a new play – what is it doing that has never been done before and therefore will capture something of the here and now.

Make sure your characters have wants and obstacles and that something about the form, shape and structure of the play, embraces the plays themes, or that it celebrates and holds up, or holds a light to what the play is about.”*

Artistic Director Tim Roseman also shared some hot tips on our website.

About Playwriting Australia

Based in Sydney, Playwriting Australia is a national playwriting organisation that seeks, develops and champions new Australian stories for the stage.

About John Back

John Back is a Program Intern (Theatre) at Writers Victoria. He is on Facebook and tweets at @mrjohnaback.