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Reading for the 2017 Silver Gull Play Award

August 15, 2017

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.


“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


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