I went to the National Play Festival in Sydney, facilitated by Playwriting Australia (PWA)- five days of play readings, masterclasses and industry discussions. Are we any wiser? Are we any stronger? Are we any better equipped as writers to meet the challenge of telling Australian stories with truth and vigour and integrity? What are the PWA takeaways?
There have been some box takeaways. And now that I’m home in sunny (ie. wet, cyclone-impacted) Cairns, I’m unpacking my conference ‘swag bag’ to make sure the ideas and lessons are remembered.
First of all, it needs to be said that planning creating and facilitating a national festival for theatre practitioners is an enormous, almost ridiculous, undertaking. I have near single-handedly created several regional theatre conferences for JUTE with delegates from all over Australia—playwrights, directors, producers, funding bodies—with play readings, discussion panels, masterclasses workshops and industry workshops. It is hard to do. It is nerve-wracking. It is a rubbish nightmare, mostly. The look of exhaustion on the faces of all the Playwriting Australia staff at the end of the conference said it all.
So it is with this in mind that I hesitate to be critical. It was a fine conference. It was generously laid out, finely tuned, culturally sensitive, and spot on with opening up the floor to new ideas and thinking. I do feel the need to say though how disappointing it is that a national play festival is not better attended by those with the greatest power in Australian theatre production. It would seem that only those who felt they have something to gain (financially or creatively) from the conference were making the commitment to be there the entire time. There were only a few scattered delegates from large companies, and I think they were there only for a brief time to observe the work that pertained to their neck of the woods. Precious few of the big nuts attended the Industry Program sessions in which vital insights were offered and discussions around theatre trending topics were taken head on. As always it is the individual artists and the small-to-medium companies who are left doing the heavy lifting.
For myself, what did I hope to gain?
- Ideas. Simple. Re-evaluating the old ideas that still furnish the world of contemporary theatre-making. Being party to the unpacking of complex new ideas as well.
- Trends and protocols. There were a few of these to consider, and I intend to devote a post for each of the salient ones put under the microscope. It was vehement. It was a slaughterhouse at times. It was worth the blood spilt. Always is.
- Relationships. I managed to renew friendships with so many theatre-makers. I was astonished at how many of them I knew from many years gone by, and how they had developed their practice. Not least of all was a renewed friendship with PWA itself. The big win for me is gathering creative capital and momentum in my practice by conversations with these sorts of people.
- And stories. So many stories. I saw 11 play readings and two full productions in five days. There’s nothing better than a good yarn. And isn’t this why we do what we do?
I plan to spend a bit of time creating some posts that cover the important takeaways for me. This is the national conversation, folks. About as “national” as Australia gets in terms of playwriting and theatre-making conversation. I realise not everyone can be there. But having been granted money by my local and state government to attend, I think it’s only good that I spend some time disseminating some of what I’ve learnt or been asked to consider.
My trip to Sydney to attend this event was largely supported by Cairns Regional Council and Queensland Government RADF program. The Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Cairns Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. It was also sponsored in part by JUTE Theatre Company.