Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Hooray, but ...

We couldn't help noticing that PlayWritingAustralia has just announced an initiative to support new playwrights (‘playwrights who have not yet been professionally produced’), as well as the encouragement for Tasmanian playwrights only to apply for the Winter Season development this year. We applaud both initiatives but want to note for the record that the funding for the first initiative would seem to come from the funding that Arts NSW made available to PWA in place of the lost $30,000 prize money that should have been awarded to a mid or senior level playwright in the recent Premier's Awards.

It's great that the Minister made a replacement $30,000 available.

It's great that she asked the punch-above-its-weight PWA to administer it.

It's great to support emerging and regional playwrights (and sorry, Tasmanians, if we're making assumptions here ...).

But, Minister, where do you think playwrights go when they've emerged?

Can we put forward a parallel? When one starts work in the public service one begins at entry level. One serves one's time, takes advantage of training schemes and mentorships and all the possible support options available to further one's practice until - voila! - a a pretty talented and knowledgeable bureaucrat emerges. At this point the bureaucrat nails a good job and begins to make a difference to his/her society. Some even reach a position of significant decision-making. No one suggests, either explicitly or implicitly that, once trained, they should make way for others and instead...get a job as a teacher, or a cleaner or something/anything to pay the bills and work at their 'real job' in between. It'd be a real waste, surely?

What writers do is necessary, and even essential. As the excellent British playwright, David Edgar, has said: "Storytelling is central to our being as humans. Without it we would be constrained within the dungeon of our own direct experience. We would find it hard to plan - to imagine a series of actions and their consequences. And we couldn't empathize, with the good or the bad...By enabling us to imagine what it is like to see the world through other eyes (including the eyes of the violent and the murderous) drama develops capacities without which we cannot live together in societies at all."

At the moment (and there are always exceptions when someone is running hot with both work and profile for a few years) a writer with more than five (should we make it ten or fifteen?) years of experience cannot make the kind of living even a base grade, newby clerk would make in the public service.

Thank you for being concerned about the arts, and artists but ... Don't start what you can't continue. Support all levels of playwriting, or none at all.

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