Wednesday, 3 July 2013
2013 Patrick White Playwrights’ Fellowship
At the Sydney Writers Festival in May, I received the great honour of being named the Patrick White Playwriting Fellow by the Sydney Theatre Company.
In all the various 7-On triumphs of the past couple of months, I haven’t written about it. So: in brief, the STC bestows a Play Award – won this year by Anna Barnes for minusonesister – and a Fellowship, which rewards an established writer. In its third year, the previous winners are Raimondo Cortese and Patricia Cornelius. The prize includes money and now, a commission for a new play.
Being the first Sydney-based Fellow, I’m keen to take advantage of my proximity to the STC. Could there be a more beautiful place to work? The company has been extraordinarily welcoming and generous, and I’ve spent the past week writing on the premises: it’s incredible how much you can get done without laundry to peg up or weeds to uproot, those old faithful procrastinatory measures. I left on Friday afternoon with a new draft!
Below is my published response on the night of the Award Ceremony:
When I got the news about the Fellowship, the part that excited me most was the invitation to be around the building. I was surprised by my own reaction: what’s so special about being around a building?
In the 1980s, residencies for playwrights were not uncommon. I was in-residence at Shopfront Theatre when I was 18, and at Newcastle’s 2-til-5 Youth Theatre a couple of years later. I can’t think of anything more beneficial for a playwright than this access to a company. You learn what it takes to make theatre – collaboration, problem-solving, respect. You see a lot of plays. You read scripts, write for particular actors, watch how directors direct. You feel like a valid part of the process.
And for the company, having a playwright around affects how they think about a script. Writing is the one job in the theatre that involves creating something out of thin air. This shouldn’t be taken for granted.
I miss the days of playwrights-in-residence, and particularly regret the loss of so many regional and community theatre companies – which were not only the training-ground for most of our preëminent playwrights, but also served their audiences: with work that was too risky for bigger companies to take on; with world premieres of new Australian plays.
I hope that the STC will allow me to treat this year as a residency. I’m still learning my craft – always – and that happens by being in the building.
Thank you, Patrick White. Thank you, Sydney Theatre Company. And I would like to acknowledge my peers – the passionate, gifted, dedicated living Australian playwrights who are my community.