Devouring playwrights in SA

Some weeks ago now some of the CWTP crew went to Gorge 09.  In it’s fifth incarnation this time presented by Brink Productions and returning to the Space Theatre as a part of the Festival Centre’s inSpace program, it was great to see the format of the evening hadn’t changed too much over the past 12 years and was still in the very capable hands of originator Daisy Brown.  An interview with the guest writer, a dry reading of the ten-minute script by neutral actors, followed by two interpretations by two independent project companies containing some of Adelaide’s best BASS employed working actors.  With a few tweaks here and there over the years and now with less audience theatre sports style games Gorge v.09 was one of the slickest and tightest by far.

Gorge has become one of the very few constants of open theatre process exploration on the South Australian theatre / performance scene.  Allowing a “non-working-in-the-theatre-audience” the opportunity to ask the creatives about approaches to text and presenting the works in context is actually a great way to get people talking about the meaning and execution of a work no matter how small.  It’s also a great opportunity for small companies and collectives to strut their oeuvre with a new work before disappearing back into the arts funding mill, and the answering phones to find the best available seat.

This CWTP writer had the pleasure of seeing film writer Matthew McCormack’s piece about twin brothers, bathtubs, painting God and shopping.  Ably interpreted by The Imagen’s use of twin video screens and a shopping trolly and just as equally ably deconstructed by Unreasonable Adults use of tin cans, hand written signs and disembodied computer voices voicing the text. That there was still as much the same old debates around interpretations as this writer has witnessed in previous Gorge’s is testament to the human capacity to find meaning and other “forms of life” in black ink on white paper.

An award has to go to theatre stalwart Myk Mykyta who asked the Unreasonable Adults whether placing two piles of telephone books on the stage and playing the computer voiced soundtrack would have been any different to the blank canvas style of their presentation.  They beautifully replied saying quite definitely it would be different and did he want them to show him just how different?  We at CWTP love it how Myk gets involved.  Go tiger!

Traditional text-based theatre is still strong despite major shifts towards image based or cross art / mixed media works in recent decades.  Gorge with its strict rules of play still conjures up visions of the days of the playwright hunched alone over their steam-driven computer before director and actor is allowed to set eyes on the script.  As the development of new writing seems to have become far more collaborative in recent years with the writer, director and actors often in the same room together pouring over words and meanings over longer periods of time a line between writer and maker/collaborator begins to blur.  Again the strict rules of Gorge denies this part of the process in the rehearsal room but instead throws the notion of interpretation in front of the audience making this viewer feel they’d like to see a more fully realised interpretations of each work further down the track.

Seeing Gorge again has brought up other questions in this blogger concerning the development of theatre writers in this state.  For this blog we will concern ourselves with the writer and companies who credit a writer in their process and on publicity.  So…is the funding dollar going to new writing? Who is doing it? Do we have enough? and who are our State’s writers?  We decided to take a closer look.

Starting with …The Jill Blewett Award

Jill Blewett playwright’s award is worth $10,000 and in the words of Arts SA … “supports the creative development of a play by a South Australian emerging writer with the assistance of the State Theatre Company of South Australia. The play can be from a broad range of theatrical genres including musicals, works for children and youth and cross-artform collaborations.”  It is awarded every two years around Adelaide Festival time.

Here are some past winners

2008 “Merger – art, life and the other thing” by Duncan Graham

2006 “This Unchartered Hour” by Finegan Kruckemeyer

2004 “Beautiful Words” by Sean Riley

2002 “Small Faith” by Josh Tyler

2000 “Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?” by Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela

Currently the State Theatre Company negotiates terms and conditions of the creative development with the successful recipient and while State Theatre Company is a significant partner in the creative development of the play, it is apparently not bound to the play’s production.

In the past some of these pieces were developed by Brink, in the case of Kruckemeyer’s “This Unchartered Hour” and by Oddbodies, Sean Riley’s own company for his “Beautiful Words”.  Both these two works actually found an audience, saw the light of day and success in their respective productions.  Unfortunately State Theatre has not programmed Duncan Graham’s recent work “Merger” despite his success with another work “Ollie and The Minotaur” here and in Sydney.  We know that Duncan has another excellent piece, “Red Moon Rising” developed through a residency in Mt Gambier but for some strange reason Duncan has not been able to present work here in Adelaide since Ollie premiered here in 2008.

Whilst we are on the subject of departing South Australia, now native Tasmanian Finegan Kruckemeyer’s work is still seen in South Australia due to his participation in Slingsby’s creative team, we wait for their “Man Coverts Bird” to premiere at the Adelaide Festival.  Actually Finegan has no less than 11 World Premiere’s in the UK, USA and Australia of his works in 2010, which is quite a feat.  Well-done Finn.

Josh Tyler’s “Small Faith” to our knowledge was not performed in South Australia or anywhere.  Josh now lives and works interstate.  The 2000 winner “Who’s Afraid of the Working Class” was not actually produced in South Australia but by the Melbourne Workers Theatre sometime in 1998 or 1999 when the award had slightly different criteria to our memory (ie: the work had to be shown in SA – Reeves and Bovell however could be described as South Australian.).  It was an excellent piece of writing and has since been turned into the movie “Blessed”.

For more information on the Jill Blewett Award go to…

Playwriting Australia

Prior to the establishment of PlayWriting Australia, responsibility for script development at national level, besides individual theatre company commitments, fell primarily to two organisations: the Australian National Playwrights Centre (ANPC) and Playworks.

In 2006 the Australia Council for the Arts took the decision to consolidate its investment in script development in a single, new organisation and both the ANPC and Playworks were subsequently wound up.

Arts SA funds PlayWriting Australia $6900 per annum / on a triennial basis.  Since the new body has formed two SA based scripts have been produced in South Australia through the organisations various development mechanisms;

  • Maestro by Anna Goldsworthy (VIC) and Peter Goldsworthy (SA) Produced 2009 by State Theatre Company of South Australia
  • Helly’s Magic Cup by Rosalba Clemente (SA) Produced 2008 by Windmill Performing Arts

Neither were blockbusters or set the world on fire but for that small amount of investment (from Arts SA) and we assume a very large investment from the companies themselves, (given to them from Arts SA and the Australia Council) you could possibly argue that South Australian’s were getting bang for their buck.

Australia Script Centre

Recently the Australian Script Centre (ASC) was recommended for funding through Arts SA’s Industry Development Fund.  It aims to support Australian playwrights by increasing the accessibility of unpublished play scripts to theatre makers and educationalists, both nationally and overseas.  ASC currently holds plays by 27 South Australian playwrights.  It received $2625 in the last round

Carclew fellowship ($15,000)

Established in 1988, This rather particular but no less worthy fellowship is open to writers for young people working in the genres of fiction, drama, poetry or screenwriting. It has rarely been awarded to a playwright in this time to our knowledge.

Before we go on…

Let’s take a quick tally of how much Arts SA (not Carclew) solely puts towards new theatre writing each year before we include the companies and project groups efforts below.  $14525.  This may seem a reasonable amount to the untrained eye but in fact it is just over the Australian Writers Guild going rate for one commission.

Everybody Else – Recent Past

Since the demise of State Theatre’s development arm under the leadership of Rosalba Clemente, which produced Holy Day, another Andrew Bovell piece, a lot of nothing seems to have been developed properly.  To be fair though State Theatre Company under Adam Cook’s stewardship jumped into bed with Brink for Andrew Bovell’s “When The Rain Stops Falling” (2008 Adelaide Festival) and they also pulled out another Goldsworthy gem “Honk If You’re Jesus” for the 2006 Adelaide Festival.  Without significant investment from this major company these pieces could possibly not have come into being with such clarity.  We are not including Marty Dennis’ Lion Pig Lion or The Duck Shooter (another co-production with Brink) work as we are solely looking at SA based writers at this immediate juncture.

Everybody Else – Recent Future

A quick survey of 2010 offerings however it seems the onus on development has returned to the small to medium sector to pick up the slack.  Next year includes the aforementioned Slingsby production of a Kruckemeyer, Castro / Stone’s “ Superheroes” and another Kruckemeyer, “ Ruby Bruised” will be presented by The Misery Children and Vitalstatistix.  The inSpace development program has Caleb Lewis’ “ Rust and Bone” and another new Duncan Graham piece “ The War In Between” (let’s hope this one gets a full production in South Australia sometime in the near future).  We understand, possibly given their recent experiences, and given the current economic climate both State Theatre Company and Windmill have chosen not to feature an SA based writer next year.  Brink has not released their 2010 program yet.  We also haven’t included in this list any work that may be written through a group development process or that hasn’t so far credited a writer, such as Ladykillers new work “ Based On A True Story”.

Because a lot of our writers have moved interstate it could be argued that most of the ones mentioned above are not South Australian but we know deep down in their hearts they call South Australia home… well at least on Arts SA grant applications.  Furthermore does it really matter if they aren’t based in South Australia?  Technology has blurred the state borders to a point where playwrights write works all over the place no matter where they are based and quite often they are transient beings with at least two commissions and a part-time job on the go.  It seems our writers are getting far more exposure elsewhere and causing many ripples in their own way.  See the following link about Caleb Lewis and the recently announced Philip Parsons Award…

Finally we at CWTP think someone or some company (arts or non arts) needs to initiate an established playwrights award in SA.  This gesture could at least pave a pathway that may guarantee playwrights to keep returning and maintaining a presence in SA.  It could possibly ensure more SA based companies major, medium and / or small, maintain a new work in development every year.  What is for certain is that a full production of the winner of the Jill Blewett needs (re: is required) to be staged the following year it was awarded and the State Theatre Company should throw their subscribers aside just this once, and instead of timid gestures, be brave and be the first to commit and show leadership to ensuring the resources are available to fully stage the winning piece.  A winning playwright deserves to have their piece performed because leaving it on paper means it is actually only half-finished.


About weavesthyme

Weaves Thyme lives in Adelaide South Australia and therefore only thinks parochially (like most of the media based in South Australia)
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2 Responses to Devouring playwrights in SA

  1. Finegan Kruckemeyer says:

    Dear weavesthyme (whoever you may be), just wanted to say thanks very much for your above comments about my shows in 2010. It was lovely of you to mention. Cheers.

  2. David O'Brien says:

    This is one of the best pieces of analysis focusing on the state of the state arts wise I’ve read in well over 15 years. That I need to speak in such a time frame is a sad indictment not on those agitating – but on those with the capacity to turn that agitation for action into reality. I agree that the central issue is one of leadership, shown only occasionally and meekly in cases, over the last decade and a half. That a playwright such as Finn can have 11 world premiers and be barely noticed in the state that nurtured his artistic beginnings…work I’ve no doubt also enriched the culture of those far flung cities his works were seen, is a powerful indictment of SA cultural leaders, not to mention that expecting the vastly diminished second tier sector to pick up responsibility for developing new writing or collaborative creation is simply a bald slap in their face in respect of the insufficient resources to do so. We are doomed to buying TV frozen dinner style work from Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Israel, London, Paris, ect until the leadership required to ensure such cities can also buy in quantity and quality our own works is in place and doing the job. Will it happen? If history teaches us anything – 15 years, nothing done – no, so someone has to do something different and take a few heads with them in the process.

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