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On Reading the 2019 Silver Gull Play Award

Recently I read all the plays entered for the 2019 Silver Gull Play Award, and this is what I discovered:

We’re interested in ….

We’re interested in other people, in the exploration of local and global issues, in our responsibilities in the world, and in the right to live our lives with dignity.

We’re fascinated by relationships: between lovers, friends, parents and children, colleagues and strangers. We’re social creatures who want to explore our interactions with each other but what really fascinates us is when these interactions go awry. There were plays about who we love and why we love them. There was sex, mainly in consenting relationships. There were plays about motherhood and its responsibilities, both before the birth of the child and right through to women’s relationships with their adult children. There were many stories of cruelty and tales of revenge.

We’re passionate about gender relations and how they impact our lives. There were plays about rape. There were plays about domestic violence. There was misogyny as well as misandry. Sadly, some plays advocated violent solutions to gender issues.

A recurring theme was power; who has it and how they use it. We’re angry about the abuse of power, particularly when it involves children. There were plays that excoriated the wealthy, and others that shone the spotlight on class differences and racism. There were plays that portrayed the plight of refugees, and others that told of the experiences of first and second generation migrants. There were plays about identity and political correctness, mental illness and physical disability, trauma, sanity and madness. There was a need in many plays to express powerlessness through anger; an unrelenting rage at the world. In a few plays there was not just a healthy distrust of authority but an unthinking dismissal of people with power. When incidental characters were (for example) judges, elected representatives, directors of organisations, teachers or lawyers they were also, in many cases, corrupt or at the very least self-centred and uncaring. Perhaps they were supposed to be Commedia Dell’arte-like characters, simple stereotypes, but they sat oddly in their naturalistic settings.

We’re grappling with the concept of art; the place of celebrities in our society; law and justice; racism; capitalism; democracy and its perceived ills and alternatives; bureaucracy and its frustrations; and reality in all its versions including a sense of dislocation from the present and discomfort about the future. A few plays mentioned the big issues of the environment and climate change. There were plays infused with a reverence for nature and sadness for what we are losing, and others despairing at our collective inaction. There was an awareness of the ongoing drought and the sad plight of farmers across many parts of Australia. There was very little about Indigenous issues.

Teodor_Axentowicz_-_Czytająca

Czytająca (Reading) by Teodor Axentowicz

We’re adventurous in our settings.

From our living rooms, to the troubles in Ireland, the sophistication of London’s literary milieu, and the challenges of West Papua, plays were set far and wide, in the past and present. Dystopian police states, apocalyptic futures and war zones were popular but so were escape rooms, capital cities, country towns and the whole sprawling breadth of Sydney from its western edges right to the harbour.

We’re using rich and poetic language.

We’re writing narratives based on ancient myths and medieval fairy tales, creating both magical and mad characters, as well as depicting ordinary people in all their guises. I read powerful stories of real lived experiences but also richly recreated fables probing zeitgeist issues. There were plays that explored our literary history ranging from lyrical odes to literary gods to simply quoting famous writers. There was a wide range of genres including naturalism, satire, black comedy, farce, paranoid fiction, monologue, verbatim theatre and metatheatre. There were many plays with filmic qualities, employing short scenes and action moving quickly through time and space. There was also, sadly, a lot of telling not showing. The result was that some plays relied on individual characters to deliver simplistic messages rather than the whole play coalescing into a multifaceted understanding of an idea.

We simultaneously have great confidence in, and total distrust of, the director.

Our plays are precious creations that we know we have to let go. They are a rich scaffold which, with a sensitive creative team, will become a unique story for the stage. But many scripts had overly specific character descriptions, suggesting a lack of faith in the process of discovering character through the play’s dialogue in the rehearsal room. And there were scripts with extremely complex stage directions, written in a commanding tone, as if this could force a director to safe-keep the vision of the playwright.  Other scripts had characters improvising text and action, within an otherwise tight structure, thus handing over the power of creating meaning to the director and actors. At the same time many scripts relied on such complicated staging that it would require several directors and a block buster film budget to produce the play.

We’re bold in our ideas but at the same time crave simplicity.

Perhaps this is an awareness of how complex our world is. We are trying to connect what is within our imaginations to what physically surrounds us. Drama is the perfect form to explore these complexities. I read plays that were moving, hopeful and empathetic and others that sadly had succumbed to cynicism. Shelley claimed that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. So too playwrights. In this legislating we may sometimes fall into despair. But, ultimately, to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is an act of courage, and an irreverent remaking of what we are told reality is.

And so I am in awe of anyone that attempts this task and is so generous as to share their created worlds with others.  Congratulations to all the playwrights who completed and submitted a play. It’s been a privilege and a wonderful learning experience to read your work. A Masterclass in playwriting!

I would like to thank…

our generous sponsor, The Buzz From Sydney, our four judges who read the shortlist, and all the playwrights. It’s a joy to be part of such a vibrant theatre scene.

Daniela Giorgi

 

A note on the judging process

Daniela read each of the plays as a “clean copy” and hence was unaware of the identity of the writer. She then chose a shortlist of five scripts, and these “clean copies” have been given to the panel of judges to determine a winner.

The shortlist for the 2019 Silver Gull Play Award will be announced on July 16th.

The winner will be announced in August.

More information about the award and subtlenuance can be found at www.subtlenuance.com

Reading for the 2018 Silver Gull Play Award

I recently read the 46 plays entered for the 2018 Silver Gull Play Award, and this is what I’ve learnt:

We’re interested in…….

A range of topics. We’re interested in the impact of technology, the nature of language, and the role of the artist. We’re exploring sex and romance, physical and mental illness, mortality and grief. We’re writing about inter-generational tensions, political repression, and responses to violence.

But most of all, we’re interested in …… the zeitgeist.

Now in our fourth year, more plays than ever explored what the Americans call ‘hot button’ issues. The most dominant of these were gender and ethnicity.

There were numerous wonderful plays that burnt with a desire for an inclusive society, and a few that barely disguised their bigotry and racism. (It’s symptomatic of our need to think both honestly and deeply about these issues that individuals with the best of intentions can slip into language that can only be unhelpful.)

Such is the intensity of the movement the conservatives disparagingly call ‘identity politics’ that some closely associated issues were rarely explored. Few plays were interested in global inequalities, the plight of refugees or even the indigenous experience. You don’t need a highly developed sense of irony to find this curious. And seldom mentioned was an issue that surely underpins all concerns about social justice – the environment.

In contrast to the focus on the political, only a handful of plays dug deep into philosophical, to explore elements of the human experience that might be described as existential. I make no value judgement about this, except to express my hope that plays dealing with gender and racial injustice will one day become no more than historical curiosities, quaint reminders of a time before the dignity of all peoples was recognised.

This may not happen anytime soon.

But I believe it will come sooner with the writing and the production of plays that strive for a just world, like so many I’ve had the privilege of reading in the last couple of months.

We’re passionate about diversity in casting

Regardless of the play’s subject matter, at least half of the scripts explicitly encouraged directors to cast so as to reflect the diversity of our society.

A Young Man Reading at Candlelight by Matthias Stom

We’re bold in our settings

We’re unafraid to set our stories anywhere and anytime. Reading these plays I’ve journeyed to tiny Pacific nations, the Balkans, Africa, China, the Americas (North, South and Central) and to cyberspace. I traveled back to Stalin’s Russia, 17th Century Hungary, early 20th Century China, and 18th Century France. And I’ve been invited to view Australia, our past, present, and future.

We’re keen on complicated staging and stage directions

Perhaps overly complicated.

The following observations have nothing to do with how the plays are judged, but I’ll indulge myself and suggest that sometimes less is more. A published play might provide a detailed description of the set because it’s a record of a production that has occurred. An unpublished play might benefit from encouraging the director to use her imagination. Similarly, some directors (and actors) might not welcome a Dramatis Personae that sums up each character’s personality. Let things be discovered in the dialogue.

Which leads to the text itself. There was an achingly beautiful use of language in the plays. But some texts suffered from a sloppiness in proofreading. A script is to actors what a score is to musicians. Our notation is punctuation. Use it. (I’m not suggesting punctuation needs to be conventional, but it should be purposeful.)

I’ll end this series of self-indulgent assertions with the observation they should be taken with a grain of salt. This is also true of the judgements involved in deciding the shortlist and the eventual winner of the award. To paraphrase Anais Nin: Do not write to gain the approval of others; our culture doesn’t need it, and neither do you.

It’s been a privilege

Each play has been an invitation to a different world. I’m grateful to have been given those invitations. What glorious places I’ve visited!

Congratulations to all the playwrights who completed and submitted a play. There are many forces that conspire against individual creation. I’m not one of those who think creation is an act of defiance, but it is an act of generosity, and such an act confronts a world that has set its heart against that particular virtue.

I would like to thank our generous sponsor, The Buzz From Sydney, our four judges who read the shortlist, and all the playwrights. It is an honour to be part of such a vibrant theatre scene.

Paul Gilchrist

 

A note on the judging process

Paul reads each of the plays as a “clean copy” and hence unaware of the identity of the writer. He then chooses a shortlist of five scripts, and these “clean copies” are given to the panel of judges to determine a winner.

The shortlist for the 2018 Silver Gull Play Award will be announced on July 24.

The winner will be announced on 13 August.

More information about the award and subtlenuance can be found at www.subtlenuance.com

Findings of the Experiment colloquially entitled “One Way Mirror”

Ostensibly, our latest production One Way Mirror was about a series of psychological experiments. However, the audience was also invited to view the production itself, and all theatre, as a type of experiment.

Laura: Theatre is experimental in that you learn things about the audience. Like a science.
Mike: You learn what works and doesn’t work on stage.
Laura: That. And how people are going to deal with certain stories, ideas, concepts…..

And later:

Laura: How do you really know about your society except by putting stuff out there?
Mike: You could read the papers. Listen to the radio/
Laura: Yeah, but what we actors do is a bit like a particle accelerator. Like they use in atomic physics. You take an inert lump of matter and you get a highly energetic group of particles and you fire them at the lump. And kapow! (pause) The inert lump of matter is the audience. We’re the highly energized particles. And in the collision, whatever happens, we’ve learnt something about the universe.

So, in producing One Way Mirror, what did we learn about the universe? What are the findings of our experiment?

1. Audiences want to talk history.                                                                                      They were fascinated that the play told tales of the America of the 1960’s. They wanted to talk about that period. There’s obviously a hunger for an Australian theatre that transcends national myth making.

2. Audiences want to talk social pressure.                                                                      The experiments featured in the play dealt with the pressure to conform to peers or to comply with authority, and these themes resonated strongly with audiences. They wanted to talk about these experiments; the historical accuracy of their presentation, their meaning for our understanding of human nature. And plenty of people wanted to talk about that phrase ‘human nature’. Is it a useful and meaningful expression? Or is it just an example of muddy thinking, convenient for excusing ourselves and manipulating others?

Alison Benstead Angus Evans & Ash Sakha medium

               Angus Evans, Ash Sakha and Alison Benstead

3. An ambitious script stimulates many people but bothers others.                        A few reviewers were a little put out that the play couldn’t be summed up in a sentence or were troubled that they were being invited to think. ‘No one comes to the theatre to think,” quips a character in the play, but her outrageous generalization is obviously not without foundation. Perhaps the danger for some critics is that they can become like spoilt rich kids, so used to receiving gifts that they begin to resent the ones needing to be unwrapped. Fortunately, many of us know that the unwrapping is often a key part of the fun.

4. Critics read each other before they publish.                                                                Of course, this isn’t true for all reviewers and I do lack hard evidence. But read all the reviews for this production (please do – they’re very positive!) and you’ll find an uncanny repetition of certain words and phrases. It’s a little disturbing to think critics won’t back their own judgement. But then, we did just produce a play that explored the pressures to conform, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

5. Some ideas are not yet in the zeitgeist.                                                                                I began this post by suggesting the idea that theatre could be considered not simply as an artifact to be judged but also as a tool to understand the world. This idea was explicit in the play but was not an idea generally picked up by audience members. Is it too artist-centric? I don’t think so. Of course, theatre will be judged. Questions like ‘Did this work on stage?’ will always be asked, and should be. But on another level, a theatrical experience is an opportunity to gauge your own response, and that of other audience members, to the vision of the world presented in the play. Is my vision similar to the playwright’s? Is my vision similar to that of other audience members? Answering these questions can be a valuable part of understanding the social world in which we live. (And, if the psychological experiments featured in the play are valid, then our ‘world’ is a lot more social in its nature than we sometimes assume!)

Mark Langham & Sheree Zelner Medium

                            Mark Langham and Sheree Zelner

6. Audiences enjoy unconventional uses of space.                                                      The Blood Moon Theatre is a valuable part of the Sydney scene and it’s a venue that lends itself to reconfiguration. In our case the use of an intimate traverse, which put the audience in the same space as the actors, was appreciated for its thematic relevance. Audience members often commented on how it made them feel part of an experiment (though they did not generally take the next step – into the idea suggested in point 5.)

7. Set and costume are unimportant.                                                                             What was the play’s setting? Were we in the university campuses of the 1960’s? Or were we in the Blood Moon Theatre in 2018 as a troupe of actors shared with us a tale? Of course, it was the second of these two, and so little effort was made with either costume or set to evoke a world fifty years gone. And audiences went with it. What mattered were the script and the performance. (A theatre culture where these two features can’t be considered sufficient is one in crisis.) Not that there weren’t costumes; actors wore clothes that barely differentiated them from the members of the public surrounding them. And there was a set: an audience watching the gift offered by the actors. That these features were so readily embraced gives me hope that the idea raised in point 5 will soon find popular expression. (And since I’ve already made one outrageous generalization about theatre culture in this paragraph, why not another? If theatre is to give its audience all it has the potential to offer then the perception that it is merely an artifact to be judged needs to be transcended. The division of artist and consumer needs to be downplayed and we need to appreciate we’re all in this together.)

8. Surrounding yourself with wonderful people is important.                                   Part of the joy of this project came from having such an amazing team. I want to thank Matthew Abotomey, Alison Benstead, Angus Evans, Sylvia Keays, Sonya Kerr, Mark Langham, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Ash Sakha, Sheree Zellner, Luke Holmes, Liam O’Keefe and Daniela Giorgi. I also want to thank our audiences. Theatre doesn’t work without them! I’m appreciative of everyone who comes through the door. They’re co-producers, not just because ticket sales pay the bills, but because theatre is a coming together, a sharing, a social thing.

Thank you.

Paul Gilchrist

 

One Way Mirror was produced at the Blood Moon Theatre 14 – 24 March, 2018.

For more information visit our website

2017 Silver Gull Award Winner Announced

We’re very pleased to announce the winner of the 2017 Silver Gull Play Award

Zoe Cooper, for her play For Unknown Reasons

Congratulations to Zoe, and to all the shortlisted writers!

Alison Rooke, Zoe Hogan, Zoe Cooper and Katie Pollock

 

We’d like to thank Helen Tonkin, who directed the excerpts of the readings on the night, and actors Tsu Shan Chambers, Tim de Sousa, Barry French, Isaro Kayitesi, Chantelle Jamieson and Peter Maple.
And thank you to Kerri Glasscock and the Old 505,
and to our very generous sponsor, The Buzz From Sydney.

It’s a joy to be part of such a vibrant theatre scene!

More information about the award and subtlenuance can be found at https://www.subtlenuance.com/silver-gull-play-award

Reading for the 2017 Silver Gull Play Award

I recently read the 30 plays entered for the 2017 Silver Gull Play Award, and this is what I’ve learnt:

We’re interested in…….

Local playwrights are interested in a huge range of political and philosophical ideas. We’re probing attitudes to identity, personhood and mortality. We’re passionately interested in equality and all that prevents its full realization. We’re writing plays about international relations and domestic violence, about the nature of art and the dangers of consumerism, about LGBTIQ rights and the experience of refugees. We are wide in our scope and bold in our vision.

We’re driven by compassion

We’re passionate about the experience of the marginalized, and though we imagine solutions, we’re willing to represent the injustices as they exist and acknowledge our own complicity.

We’re haunted by violence

A large number of plays dealt with violence. We’re interested in its causes and its effects. But we’re also interested in our interest in it; we’re desperately seeking to fathom our fascination with the brutal and the inhumane.

We speak to the dying

We’re interested in mortality: that ever fresh shock that despite our complacency, things will not continue as they have. We’re interested in physical and mental health, both how they affect the individuals who suffer and those who care for them.

Karoly_Ferenczy_22

“A beautiful book” by Károly Ferenczy

 

We’re experimenting

We’re writing wonderful plays in all genres. We’re setting plays both locally and overseas – and in the past, the present and the future.  We’re writing brilliant naturalism, but we’re also pushing against conventions. We’re playing with narrative form. We’re throwing down the gauntlet to directors and challenging them to stage the seemingly unstageable. This is exciting, as I believe the form must perpetually refresh itself, freeing itself from any slavish need to represent only what is to the exclusion of what might be.

Women are writing more plays

An obvious simplification – but in the first two years of the award only about a quarter of all entrants were female. This year it’s about half. It’s also worth noting that in each shortlist over the past three years there has been a majority of female writers.

We could be more prolific

Though the award is in its third year, there have been only a handful of writers who’ve entered more than once. I appreciate there may be many reasons for this (one, of course, might be an understandable response to rejection. My advice: don’t take competitions too seriously. Just take the money if you win.)

We encourage writers to write. Don’t sit on a play for five years. Don’t listen to those voices, both external and internal, telling you it’s not ready. The cultural cringe is alive and strong. Just look at the number of foreign plays programmed. Just look at the number of plays performed in accents other than the actors’ own. In this atmosphere, we must learn to back ourselves. Development and dramaturgy help, but they can’t replace confidence and exuberance. Don’t ask ‘Is my play good enough?’ Ask ‘Does it share what I so passionately want to share?’ I’m not suggesting there’s no effort involved. The effort is very real. It comes in learning the craft, but it also comes in the searing honesty needed to ask yourself ‘Is what I’m saying worth saying?’ Seek the truth within you, not the approval without.

It’s been a privilege

I’ve told this story before, but a few years back, at a literary award night, the artistic director of a mainstream company said that reading the submitted plays had been a “thankless task”. My experience couldn’t have been more different. (Sure, it is ‘thankless’ in that I don’t get paid, and – very occasionally – I do get the vibe of ‘who are you to judge my play?’ from a writer, one who’s entered their play in a competition.)

But it has been an extraordinary privilege to read the plays submitted. I know what it is to write a play and to offer it. The writing takes effort, concentration and large amounts of time. The offering takes a type of courage. But most of all it takes a generosity of spirit. With every play we write we say “This is how I see the world, both what has been and what could be. And this I want to share.”

I would like to thank our generous sponsor, The Buzz From Sydney, our five judges who read the shortlist, and all the playwrights. It is an honour to be part of such a vibrant theatre scene.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The winner of 2017 Silver Gull Play Award will be announced on August 28th.

The shortlisted plays can be found here

2017 Silver Gull Play Award Shortlist

The Silver Gull Play Award recognizes an outstanding play by a local writer that explores philosophical or political themes.

The award is sponsored by The Buzz From Sydney

It is administered by subtlenuance

The award is valued at $2000.

This year we received many inspiring plays that offered insight and encouraged action.

We’re proud to announce the shortlist:

The Bees Are All Dead by Kit Brookman
Dead Wen by Elias Jamieson Brown
For unknown reasons by Zoe Cooper
A Spy in the House of Love by Zoe Hogan
Human Activity by Katie Pollock
The Blackbird and the Whale by Alison Rooke

The winner will be announced on 28 August.

 

Photo Attribution:
By Glen Fergus (Own work, Moreton Bay, Australia) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

While we’re away

 

After 8 years and over 20 original productions, we announced late last year that we were closing shop for a while.

But though we’re not currently producing theatre, we still have a couple of pots on the boil.

Thanks to our generous sponsor, The Buzz From Sydney, we’re still administering The Silver Gull Play Award. The shortlist for the 2017 award will be announced mid-August.

Our outreach arm, blatant nuisance, is also operating our Raw Treats program. More about this opportunity for playwrights can be found here

kitten eating

PHOTO ATTRIBUTION: BY PUTAPUTAPUTA (OWN WORK) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (HTTP://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-SA/4.0)%5D, VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS