I am heading to see Queensland Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night this week. I am sure Shakespeare himself would be surprised himself at the longevity of his enduring and well – loved plays. Art has a way of doing that, so it’s important that we nurture our own talented playwrights so that long into the future our society and its changes will still be reflected in their work.
The Queensland Premier’s Drama Awards
Three Playwrights are vying for the Queensland Premier’s Drama Awards 2018 – 19. This award has proved to be a wonderful stepping stone for writers with previous winners including- Michelle Lee for her very successful play – Rice and Daniel Evans for Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. This year Hannah Belanszky, David Megarrity and Anna Yen have been chosen from a field of ninety- two entries with the winner to receive a mainstage production of their play in Queensland Theatre’s 2019 season. This wonderful initiative has the Queensland Government working hand in hand with Queensland Theatre to encourage a new generation of writers to tell their unique stories.
Hannah Belanszky is an actor, writer and theatre maker based in Kelvin Grove in Brisbane. Hannah was the Young Playwright – In- Residence at Playlab in 2017, mentored by Katherine Marquet (Dead Devils of Cockle Creek). Her entry- A Cup of Tea is set in a rural Australian town by a river, where Joan, a young twenty-something , is visiting her Indigenous father- Mick for the first time. Pale skinned and raised by her non – Indigenous mother, Joan knows little of her Indigenous heritage. Mick is fighting his own demons and has developed an obsession with drinking tea since giving up alcohol. Joan finds refuge in Pattie, Mick’s high school sweetheart, who talks of birds…. the wind ….and the ‘Old People’. As a big storm brews, Joan becomes increasingly drawn to the river and begins to hear birds calling her name. A Cup of Tea is a story of self discovery and belonging. It explores how a connection with your heritage can be much more than skin deep.
David Megarrity is a writer, composer, musician and performer from Alderley. His performance inventions include Backseat Drivers and Show (Queensland Theatre) and Ukelele Mekulele (La Boîte)
His entry The Holidays introduces us to Oliver Holiday and his Mum and Dad who are suddenly on their way to his Grandfather’s beachside cottage. However, as more clouds loom, it’s clear that the Holidays, instead of getting away from it all, have taken rather a lot with them.
This visual theatre piece combines live performers, projection, participation and music to explore the experience of dementia as experienced by one family. Told through the eyes of a young person, this play focusses on the connections between son, father and grandfather.
Anna Yen is a theatre maker, performer and writer from West End. She wrote, co-created and performed in Chinese Take Away for Stage X and toured its film adaptation to Asia, Europe and the USA. She was also writer/ performer for The Serpent’s Table.
Her entry Slow Boat is an epic tale of five men- indentured workers- winding their way from poverty and war in rural China, to first Nauru, then through terrifying times in underground mines in Central Australia, building boats for General MacArthur in Bulimba, and ultimately to an unknown future. Anna’s work combines physical theatre, song , dance , circus, improvised Cantonese opera, music and martial arts to tell this story of resilience and mateship which demonstrates the power of art to help us through tough times.
The Impact of the Awards
Queensland Theatre has gone from strength to strength under the leadership of Queensland Artistic Director Sam Strong who said, “ There was intense competition around the 2018- 2019 award and the chosen finalists reflect a breadth of style, experience and content. What unites all three finalists is the vividness and authenticity of the characters and journeys they want to share with an audience.”
Since 2002 this award has developed 28 new Australian plays, employed over 200 actors, writers and directors and has fostered more than 33,500 people to engage with new theatre works. Fostering more talent in the arts sector is a win for us all and I for one would not want to be on the judging panel with these strong offerings. Currently the three finalists are working hard on creative development prior to judging and the winner will be announced in July this year. The second year will involve further development for the winning play followed by the world premiere in 2019.
Each of these extraordinary plays brings the experience and knowledge of a new generation of playwrights to the fore and we can learn much from their reflections on contemporary culture. These awards encourage new works by modern voices and can only help develop the standing of creative artists in our society as well as encourage employment for a range of artists. I have loved watching new works like Rice and these programs may help produce our next David Williamson or Joanna Murray – Smith. I think the next generation of theatre-goers are in good hands with the young up and coming talent being showcased and nurtured through this program.