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Reading for the 2018 Silver Gull Play Award

July 23, 2018

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


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