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Reading for the 2016 Silver Gull Play Award

I recently read the 30 plays entered for the 2016 Silver Gull Play Award, and this is what I’ve learnt:

We’re interested in…….

Local playwrights are interested in a whole range of political and philosophical ideas. We’re writing plays about sexuality, in both its most positive and negative expressions. We’re probing attitudes to identity, personhood and mortality. We’re passionately interested in social equality and all that prevents its full realization. We’re concerned about the environment and our seemingly increasingly violent world.

We’re haunted by violence

Yes, a very large number of plays dealt with violence, its causes and its effects. Many of these plays were about gender-related violence (and number of these involved women being violent to men.)

We’re keen on characters with huge back histories

A surprising number of the plays were of the type ‘and so we finally meet again….’



A Young Man Reading at Candlelight by Matthias Stom

We’re into experimentation

We’re writing wonderful plays in all genres. There were plenty of very funny sit-coms. There were powerful straight dramas. There were intriguing absurdist and expressionist experiments. There were tight one-character pieces and gloriously expansive multi-character epics. We’re setting plays both locally and overseas – and in the past, the present and the future.  Very, very few of the plays could be dismissed as merely didactic. We’re choosing issues suited to the multi-voiced aspect of theatre.

Women are too busy to write plays

Ok, that’s too simple, but of the 30 plays submitted only 9 were written by women. (Writers weren’t asked to specify their gender, so I’m basing these numbers on entrants’ first names.) If this statistic is accurate, it troubles me – though it is an improvement on last year’s percentage of female writers (25%).  Are the terms “philosophical” and “political” too patriarchal? It’s been suggested to me that the very concept of a competition encourages men and discourages women. I don’t feel I’m in a position to support such a generalization. We hope to increase participation by female writers in the 2017 award and welcome suggestions as to how this might be achieved.

Choosing a shortlist was somewhat arbitrary

OK, I knew that from the start. No-one writes a play to please me. No-one else’s values – aesthetic, political and philosophical – will match mine. Not that I’m some sort of exception; no-one’s values entirely match anyone else’s. And that’s a good thing. A play is a playwright’s particular gift to the world. It’s an expression of individuality; the world seen from a position unavailable to anyone else.

“But hang on,” you might say, “Don’t good plays follow a set of rules?”


If you find that answer dissatisfying, remember we’re running a competition promoting political and philosophical work. A little rattling of the cage might be expected.

I said ‘somewhat arbitrary’, not ‘entirely arbitrary’.

There were precise criteria, carefully and meticulously worked out over 51 years: I chose plays that pleased me. I can’t pretend anything else. I read all 30 plays as clean copies, knowing nothing about their authors or histories. I chose the ones that spoke to me, the ones I thought would most encourage an audience to consider how our world might be made more just and more joyous. My judgement would not be shared by everyone who read all the plays – indeed, probably not by anyone. Such is the nature of all judgement, in every award, in every review. But I’m pretty sure we don’t write to be judged, but to share.

It was a privilege

A few years back, at a literary award night, I heard the artistic director of a mainstream company say that reading the submitted plays had been a “thankless task”. Perhaps he was making a comment on the quality of the writing. Perhaps he was referring to negativity from writers who weren’t nominated. Whichever it was, my experience couldn’t have been more different.

‘Who are they to run a literary award?’ (Who, indeed?) But if the question’s been asked, it’s been swamped by support for the project, and by the overwhelming generosity of our sponsor The Buzz From Sydney.

I want to emphasise, that far from being ‘thankless’, I’ve found it 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 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 2016 Silver Gull Play Award will be announced on August 22nd.

The shortlisted plays

More information about subtlenuance.

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 exciting entries; inspiring plays that offered insight and encouraged action.


We’re proud to announce the shortlist:

People Will Think You Don’t Love Me by Joanna Erskine

A matter of life and death by John AD Fraser

The Ink Trail by Louis Klee

This, This Is Mine by Duncan Ragg

I sat and waited but you were gone too long by Olivia Satchell

The winner will be announced on 22 August.


Seeking a director


The Play

In 2009 subtlenuance produced Catherine at Avignon by Paul Gilchrist.

It was a risk; new Australian work set in the most unlikely of places – medieval France. To say we were nervous before opening is an understatement. But thanks to a wonderful team, the play was magnificently received:

“…. a triumph of narrative construction. Like Stoppard, Gilchrist is great with words, and amply demonstrates it in scene after scene of highly amusing and erudite verbal sparring.… a superb and very playful rendition of modernist theatre; the audience is treated to a subtle, and subtly informed, inquiry into theatre itself – as art, as entertainment, as philosophical meditation. …. I was very impressed with the ambition of this piece. I urge theatre buffs in Sydney to have a look at Catherine at Avignon.”  Media Culture

Catherine at Avignon …is a thought-provoking, uplifting performance that leaves the audience hopeful for a better world. Paul Gilchrist’s script is clever and engaging”   Aussie Theatre

“Amidst the sin and sarcasm are startling moments of poetry, and the contrast maintains the energy of the show…. It’s a complex story, where lofty themes of spirituality, politics and sexuality are presented alongside vulgarity and swearing. The vibrant interaction between the players brings excitement and energy to the intimate room, and the innovative way the scenes blend into each other works well… The idea of a story set in the middle ages might not appeal to everyone, but in the telling of it this story is very modern. It’s not so much about piety and saints as it is about authority, celebrity and the way we interact with the spiritual. Sounds complicated, and it is, but what Catherine at Avignon does is akin to soaring”  The Brag

“Gilchrist’s newest work Catherine at Avignon is a thought-provoking piece on the importance of truth and purity of spirit in a world gone mad. ….. Inquiring and at times wickedly funny…..Both poetic and whimsical, Gilchrist seamlessly weaves olde English and 21st century language to jolt us between yesterday and today at will. The problems and the turmoil of the 14th century are clearly still relevant to today’s crazy world.”  Alternative Media

And here’s the marketing blurb we used:

Set in fourteenth century France, and inspired by actual events, Catherine at Avignon is the story of an extraordinary personality. Branded a no one by her society, Catherine fearlessly took on kings and queens. Avignon was to be her greatest challenge.

subtlenuance logo no words

The Company

subtlenuance is dedicated solely to the production of original work. Since our inception in 2008 we have produced 20 new works, in Sydney, interstate and overseas, to much critical acclaim.

“a distinctive, important, independent voice in Australian theatre” Australian Stage Online

“subtlenuance is one of Sydney’s most vital, active, prolific and innovative small production companies”  Crikey

“subtlenuance is a company who has rightly earned its place in independent theatre in creating works that will always satisfy” Theatre Unzipped

“one of Sydney’s most enduring and entertaining theatre companies” Sydney Arts Guide

Check out our website here

subtlenuance is a Sydney based company.


The Director

subtlenuance is looking to revisit Catherine at Avignon again in 2017 – and we are seeking a director.

You might be the right person if:

  • The above information about the play interests you.
  • You’re familiar with our work (helpful, but not crucial)
  • We’re familiar with your work (crucial, though you’re probably thinking ‘How would I know if you’re familiar with my work?’ Don’t worry. We see a lot of theatre!)
  • You’re an experienced director.

It’s early days for this project. We’re looking to start a conversation with a possible director, not appoint someone for a set production.

Interested directors should send their CV to our producer Daniela Giorgi at

If we think you might be a good fit we’ll send you the script, and if it speaks to you, we’ll organize a meeting.

The Silver Gull Play Award

subtlenuance is proud to announce that entries for the 2016 Silver Gull Play Award are now open.

This award will recognise an outstanding play by a local writer that explores philosophical or political themes.

This is the second year of this annual award. In 2015 the award was presented to Melissa Lee Speyer for TickTickBoom.

The aim of The Silver Gull Play Award is to encourage interest in theatre that both offers insight and encourages action.

The award is sponsored by The Buzz from Sydney. (website)

It is administered by subtlenuance. (website)

In 2016 the award will be valued at $2,000.


Philosophical? Political?

Both these words resist simple definition – which is part of what makes them so ripe for theatrical treatment.

It’s impossible for us to tell you exactly what we want.

We want to be surprised.

To be shown new worlds.

But we’ll offer this as a starting point:

A philosophical play consciously invites us to consider how (our) thoughts make the world.

A political play consciously invites us to consider how (our) actions make the world.

Neither assume the world is unchangeable.

To be eligible for The Silver Gull Play Award plays:

  1. Must explore themes that are political and/or philosophical. (Please see the earlier note)
  2. Must be at least 60 minutes in length.
  3. Must be unpublished and unproduced.
  4. Must be unencumbered by agreements for future production or publication.
  5. Must be the original work of the playwright.
  6. Must be written by a playwright who resides in NSW.
  7. Must be written by a playwright over the age of 18 years as of April 29, 2016.
  8. Must not have won, or been shortlisted for, another Australian playwriting competition as of time of entry.
  9. Must not be a re-writing of a work from one format to another (e.g. a radio play adapted as stage play).

In sending us your play you assure us that you have read the eligibility criteria for The Silver Gull Play Award. You declare your eligibility under the criteria listed. You guarantee you are the sole copyright holder of all material used.

Entry terms and conditions:

a) Playwrights may submit only one play for consideration.

b) The decision of the judging panel is final and no correspondence will be entered into. The judges reserve the right to decide any questions of eligibility, to publish a shortlist and not to make an Award.

c) The winner of the Award will be announced in August 2016.

d) subtlenuance does not commit to programming or producing the winning play. The playwright retains the rights to their play.

e) The 2016 Award will be valued at $2,000.

f) The work must be submitted electronically via email.

Your entry should do the following: (Entries that do not fulfill these requirements will be deemed ineligible)

  1. Include the following personal information in the body of your email: Name, Residential address, Phone number, Play Title, and Number of pages in the script.
  2. Attach to your email an electronic copy of the script as a pdf. Please label the pdf file with the title of your play. Do not include your name anywhere on the script. Please number the pages.
  3. Attach to your email a detailed synopsis (of approximately 350 words) as a pdf. Please ensure the title of your play is at the top of this page (and not your name). Please label this file with “title of your play_synopsis”. In the synopsis you must include a section which outlines why you believe your play fulfils the requirements of being an exploration of philosophical and/or political themes.

Please do not print your name anywhere on the script or synopsis. Entries are judged anonymously and your name should appear only in the body of your email.

Email your entry to by midnight April 29, 2016.

Queries should be directed to the above address.

Timetable of dates for The Silver Gull Play Award

18 November 2015 entries open

29 April 2016 entries close

July 2016 shortlist announced

August 2016 winner announced

Photo Attribution:
By Glen Fergus (Own work, Moreton Bay, Australia) [CC-BY-SA-2.5
(, via Wikimedia Commons

The 2015 Silver Gull Play Award Shortlist

We are very excited to announce the shortlisted plays for the inaugural Silver Gull Play Award.

The award recognises an outstanding play by a local writer that explores philosophical or political themes.

The award is sponsored by The Buzz From Sydney


The shortlisted plays for 2015 are:

Between the Streetlight and the Moon by Melita Rowston

Furthest West by Michael Collins

The Block Universe (Or So It Goes) by Sam O’Sullivan

The Last Executioner by Mark Swivel

TickTickBoom by Melissa Lee Speyer

In 2015 the award is valued at $2,000.

The winner will be announced on July 9.

Writer’s bios

Melita Rowston

Writer/director/performer. A graduate of VCA (Painting), NIDA (Directing) and UTS (Creative Writing), Melita’s plays include Bread & Butter (ASYLUM) ’15, Canyonlands (subtlenuance) ‘14, The Crash (MayDay Festival) ’13, Crushed, (New Theatre) ’12, The Diver (S&S prize winner) ’08, Sugarbomb, (TRS) ’04, Solitude in Blue, (Griffin) ’02, Swing Girl, (Griffin) ’01, Night Reflections, (NIDA), ‘00. Melita was a resident playwright at Griffin Theatre Company in 2005/06 and shortlisted for The Griffin Award in 2007. Melita’s performances include: Six Degrees of Ned Kelly, (Sydney & Melbourne Fringe) ’15, Hey! Yeah! It’s Molly’s Travelling Worm Show! (Malthouse Theatre) ’13.

Michael Collins

Michael is from Perth and moved to Sydney last year to complete an MFA in Writing for Performance at NIDA. Writing of Michael’s has been featured in Voiceworks (most recent issue #100), dotdotdash, sitelines and vibewire, and has won things from the Fellowship of Australian Writer’s (Vic) and His Majesty’s Theatre Trust. He has had plays produced independently in Western Australia, Adelaide, Sydney, and, through a bit of luck, the Philippines.

Sam O’Sullivan

Since graduating NIDA, Sam has worked extensively as an actor in both independent and professional theatre with the likes of Toby Schmitz, Anthony Skuse, Jane Bodie, Belvoir St. Theatre, MopHead Productions, ATYP, pantsguys, The Rock Surfers, Griffin Independent, The Darlinghurst Theatre Company and the Just for Laughs Comedy Gala. In 2012, he was nominated for a Sydney Theatre Award for Best Actor in an Independent Production for his performance in Punk Rock.  As a writer, Sam’s credits include the short plays Gods and Zombies, which appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe and Simpleton, which was turned into a film and presented at the Cannes Short Film Corner. The Block Universe (Or So It Goes) is his first full-length play.

Mark Swivel

Mark is a writer and lawyer. His last work Water Falling Down premiered at Queensland Theatre Company in Brisbane in 2011 and played at B Street Theatre in the USA in 2012. His first play Struth went on at Griffin Theatre Company in 1990. Mark also performs occasionally. He took Jeremy Boutsakis Thought Leader to the Edinburgh Festival in 2007 and has a new show How Deep Is Your Love? currently doing the rounds. Back in the 90s Mark did plays and shows at the Stables and Belvoir Street after doing the NIDA Playwrights Studio.

Melissa Lee Speyer

Melissa completed NIDA’s playwriting degree in 2011. Writing credits: Decay and Machine, both devised with Eclective Productions (Old 505 Theatre); project 84 devised with Epiphany Now with support from PWA Lab; and And Now To Bed for subtlenuance (Kings Cross Hotel). In 2015 she is a Rock Surfers Associate Artist.

For more information about subtlenuance

Photo credit : Glen Fergus via Wikimedia Commons

Theatre makers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world

The shortlist for the 2015 Silver Gull Play Award will be announced on 23rd June.

Below is a transcript of the speech given by our artistic director Paul Gilchrist at the launch of the award last November:

“Thank you to The Buzz from Sydney for inviting us all to this evening at the beautiful Museum of Contemporary Art. And congratulations to the Buzz on their new look website.

The Buzz is a Sydney institution; an arts website that captures the essence of this city; vibrant and positive.

Thank you to the Buzz for sponsoring the inaugural Silver Gull Play Award; Sydney’s newest literary prize.

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

Philosophical? Political?

Both these words resist simple definition – which is part of what makes them so ripe for theatrical treatment.

It’s impossible for us to tell you exactly what we want.

We want to be surprised.

To be shown new worlds.

But we’ll offer this as a starting point:

philosophical play consciously invites us to consider how our thoughts make the world.

political play consciously invites us to consider how our actions make the world.

Neither assume the world is unchangeable.

Which might help explain our choice of name.

Why the Silver Gull?

Firstly, the name is playful, and so it’s a pleasing subversion of the concept of prestige.

Secondly, the silver gull is a creature we all know for its extraordinary unity of contrary characteristics:

who better to squawk?

who better to fly?

It seemed an apt symbol of the political and the philosophical.

The theatre makers we admire – and there are many of them in the room tonight (thank you for coming) – are like the Buzz From Sydney. They are vibrant and positive.

The theatre makers we admire are not filling a CV,

they are not building a career.

they are making a culture.

A culture that is richer, and more humane.

To appropriate a quote from Shelley:

Theatre makers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

What we put on stage,

the stories we choose to tell,

how we respond to each other’s work,

and what we say in day to day conversation,

all matter.

They are where we share Truth,

offer hope,

and build strength

to re-imagine the world.

It’s with this vision in mind,

and with the extraordinary generosity of the Buzz from Sydney,

we launch the inaugural Silver Gull Play Award.

We look forward to reading some beautiful plays.

And to watching them change the world.”

Paul Gilchrist

For more information about subtlenuance and the Silver Gull Play Award please visit our website

And check out The Buzz From Sydney

Photo Attribution:
By Glen Fergus (Own work, Moreton Bay, Australia) [CC-BY-SA-2.5
(, via Wikimedia Commons

Policies for a new work company?

subtlenuance produces only original work. This has both joys and challenges.

When audiences come to a premiere work, they have little knowledge of what’s about to unfold. This is very exciting, but it’s also very different from seeing a recognized classic.

Kit Bennett in 'Joan, Again'.  Photo by Katy Green-Loughrey

Kit Bennett in ‘Joan, Again’
Photo by Katy Green-Loughrey

Produce Hamlet and you can be pretty sure the audience is familiar with the play. Even a work that’s an Australian premiere (rather than a world premiere) is in a similar situation. An audience may not know the new John Patrick Shanley play, but they can Google it, and anyway there’s the strong sense that someone somewhere has given the play their approval.

As a new work company, here are a couple of policies we’re considering.

We have no intention of diminishing the invigorating shock of the unexpected, but we also want the work we produce to be as accessible as possible to audiences.

  1. Though not yet published, the script will be available to read, before and after the production. Simply email us and ask for it. (Remembering, of course, that new work often changes in the rehearsal process; the script a week from first preview might be different from the script after first preview. And also remembering that the usual copyright conditions and performance rights will apply.)
  2. If you’ve seen the show once, then you can come again for free as many times as you like. (Of course, this would be dependent on us having available seats.)
  3. A certain number of giveaway double passes will be available to anyone willing to write a 200 word response to the play. We wouldn’t be asking you to evaluate or review the play, but rather tell us what it made you think about and feel. These responses would be published on our blog.

By implementing these policies, we hope to make new work an even more exciting and stimulating experience.

We’d love to hear your feedback!

Use the contact form or email

Check out more about the company on our website