What is it about our funding bodies and media that they ignore the role of theatre and playwrights? Every other culturally expressive country in the world recognises the power of writing for live performance. From the amphitheatre at Epidaurus to upstairs at the Royal Court in London. Playwrights are at the coal face. We take big ideas, social commentary, changing mores, historical narratives and predictions and we chisel them down until they have a directly personal punch for strangers connecting with one another in a shared space.
Those ideas aren’t worth anything if they don’t reach into the hearts of the receiver – they remain interesting facts, easy to lose sight of. The human narrative, the visceral emotional tug – this is what brings ideas into the realm of psychological change and even action. It’s rarely the academic or the opinion writer, the proslytiser or politican who makes this happen. It’s the playwright, when they’re on their game.
They set alight the fuse of collaborators across artistic platforms – actors, designers, directors – and ultimately the audience. And whether or not their few representative organisations— like Australian Plays or Playwriting Australia – are funded or not, playwrights will continue to affect, define and record what and who we are as Australians.
You can deny it – in favour of big ticket major events or overly bureaucratised arts administrations – or you can celebrate it. And you will be assessed on the basis of your wisdom. And you will be judged for it. We are very, very watchful as to whether or not you are doing your job. Whether your are saboutaging or enabling the glorious and undervalued chorus of Australian writers reaching into communities across the country with the story of us. Us. You. Australia.
In the last few weeks, Playwriting Australia – which runs the most significant new writing festival and development programs in the country— has had its funding withdrawn. Australian Plays, which represents Australian playwrights when rights to their plays are sought by organisations around Australia and sometimes beyond — has been denied continued organisational funding from the Australia Council.
If Playwriting Australia and Australian Plays are effectively demolished – what is the Australia Council saying about the future of theatre in Australia?
These tiny operations, with a few full time staff havelong punched above their weight. When you walk into these offices, you cannot believe the faith these people have in our voices, their willingness to promote the cause of theatre-writers, story-tellers, against the huge, huge odds of a form that is persistently under-funded — and under-appreciated by all but the audiences. They fight on for us, despite what must be daily crippling threats to their morale.
Australian Plays has over 1,400 subscribers and the demand is growing, not shrinking. On its digital platform are 2,474 plays by 1,005 playwrights. Nearly every week I get an email along the lines of “How do you feel about the Rowdy Ranchers doing a production of The Female of the Species in Zeehan for 40 people at $15 a head?”
This administration is too small fry for most agents. Australian Plays support the earnings of playwrights and the dreams of small theatre makers to invigorate our towns and cities with the Australian imagination. Often they are bringing our work to towns overlooked by the mainstage companies or too small for the touring companies.
Australia Council, please take note. If these operations, able to run on a dime compared to the huge mainstream arts companies, who have a huge impact on the dissemination of writers’ voices across the land and ultimately on our cultural national identity – if these operations are effectively demolished – what are you saying about the future of theatre in Australia?
You should be tripling their income, celebrating the remarkable work they do for peanuts and the frankly moving dedication with which a few passionate, poorly paid individuals struggle to keep the world of play-making afloat. Make a real difference. Correct a wrong. Mine the wealth of the Australia’s playwrights – one of the great, unrecognised, cultural wealth-bulding exports of this country.
Playwrights are the interface between the intellectual and the emotional, the ivory tower and the shared space, the world of reality and the world of dreams.
Go to England and see what they do with and for their writers for the stage and the frequency with which the media turn to playwrights for comments on social and cultural issues. Go to the U.S and see the festivals, the workshop programs, the awards and scholarships available.
Here, nothing says “cultural backwater” more than the lack of joy and exhilaration from the funding bodies towards theatre. Our work is as good or better than that of the theatre hubs of the world. But the vision of our funding bodies is not. It’s you who hold us back.
Playwrights ARE the interface between the intellectual and the emotional, the ivory tower and the shared space, the world of reality and the world of dreams, the past and the future. We’re right there. Support us.