Monday, 19 April 2010

Playwrights are the homeless of the arts

There was an interesting discussion on today's ABC Radio National's The Book Show about the judges' decision that none of the (approximately 25) entered plays deserved the $30,000 NSW Premier's Literary Award for 2010. Listen online or download here. Michael Gurr's passion on the subject was great. Go Michael!

The info on the Arts NSW website says that the unawarded $30,000 will go to supporting 'new playwrights'. Given that these kinds of prizes are usually won by established and/or mid-career writers (yes, it’s a gross generalisation), this reallocation represents a noteworthy shift of emphasis.

Why is this country so hopeless when it comes to supporting its established artists?


the.bestiola. said...

I admired Matt Cameron's words on the subject:
‘ A disheartening day for Australian playwrights with not one play deemed worthy of this year’s award. I hasten to add this is not about my own work but the bigger picture. Prizes in the arts always risk being akin to comparing sunsets – that is, somewhat impossible. And yet they do remind us of the value of celebrating at least one sunset a year. I thought I saw some rather glorious ones...’
I completely agree that the money is going to be directed away from the usually eligible recipients, and into a different generation of playwrighting. Education is important - I am a young writer myself - but I feel this dismissal of established and deserving playwrights is very wrong.

7-ON said...

Yes, 'the.bestiola', Matt Cameron's words are apt. This debate is not about any individual work, but the bigger picture, and acknowledging achievement--which is not the same as eduction or 'development'. All are important, as is support for writers at all stages of their careers.

Augusta said...

The false economy of only focussing on emerging or developing artists is that they seldom have a long term example to aspire to. We need both emerging and established- as the emerging hopefully develops INTO established- and then what? It is misguided to suggest that once a playwright has established they have it easy- they don't. We need examples of established artists who have gone the distance- who have adapted and responded to changing circumstance so that when the 5 years of "emerging" status finishes, we don't lose all these well supported new voices to the world of corporate banking or writing real estate copy.

7-ON said...

Hi Gus,

Can you imagine what's happened to the play award happening to the novel? or even the non-fiction award? But I guess this debate sparked by the judges' decision highlights some significant problems facing playwrights. Not the least of which is how to develop and sustain a career. Most writers I know are pretty versatile and happy to turn their hands to a range of writing. Many are entrepreneurial. Nevertheless, we need to find more ways to support the whole ecology of writing for performance. New, emerging, established and well-established writers. Writers of mainstream narrative drama, writers at the experimental end of the spectrum and everyone in between. Perhaps we need flexible, quick response, open initiatives that are artist-led and don't involve layers of gate-keepers and bureaucracy? Perhaps we need more productions and less 'development'? Perhaps we need something else--or more likely somethings else plural? If it does nothing else, let's hope the NSW judges' omission sparks plenty of debate, and let's hope that debate leads to change.

On another matter, but a related one, we learnt that the OzCo together with Belvoir Street is sponsoring a forum to discuss the situation facing women directors. Fine and good, but what about women playwrights? I seem to recall that last year's outrage was about the paucity of female directors AND writers in publicly funded subscription seasons. But yet again playwrights have been dropped from the agenda.

kit said...

Hi all,
for those interested in further discussion on the subject, please feel free to visit.

A gathering of the playwriting and theatre community to celebrate our own is being planned on the evening of the announcement of the Premier's Awards. It would be great to have as many playwrights as possible there to celebrate our community and assert the importance of playwriting in Australia's theatrical and literary landscape. Visit the above link for more details. Hope to see you all there!

7-ON said...

Thanks Kit. I think quite a few 7-ONers will be there on Monday to commiserate and celebrate. And those that can't be there in body, will most certainly be there in spirit.