Saturday, 29 September 2001

Aussie plays in USA, Sept 29, 2001

Article: Aussie plays in USA, Sept 29, 2001
Writer: Kate Herbert

Australian artists are still gasping to have their work recognised abroad. in the theatre world, it was impossible to be taken seriously as an actor during much of the  last century unless you travelled, studied and were employed in London or New York.

Although we have overcome the worst of the ‘cultural cringe’, Australians still think that an actor or a playwright is not a success until they make a name in the US or UK.

We have movie actors succeeding in Hollywood but it still a struggle for our playwrights to get a gig overseas.

In San Francisco recently, I discovered that not even people in the theatre know a single Australian play. Ask yourself how many Aussie playwrights’ you know.

The Australian National Playwrights’ Centre, (ANPC) is trying to redress this. This week, the Artistic Director, May-Brit Ackerholt, Sydney, announced six play scripts to be sent to New York.

The plays are: Nick Enright’s A Man with Five Children, Stephen Sewell’s The secret Life of Salvador Dali, Duong Le Quy’s Meat Party which was seen at Playbox in 2000, Catherine Ryan’s Gravity and John Upton’s Men of Honour.

One will be selected as winner of The New Dramatists Exchange award.

Sadly for this black duck, my own play, Hit and Run, was in the long-short list of ten and was knocked off the short-short list. Ho hum.

Each year, a lucky Australian playwright spends three glorious theatre-drenched  weeks with New Dramatists on 44th Street near Time Square. As part of the Exchange program,  a New Dramatists US playwright participates in the workshop program at the Australian National Playwrights’ Conference in Canberra.

 I think we get the better deal - Canberra or the Big Apple? No comparison.

The prize includes an airfare, accommodation and the playwright is treated to nights at the theatre on Broadway. Some shows may have closed due to the recent events, but New York is still a smorgasbord of live theatre.

 Says Ms Ackerholt, “The winning play gets presented in a rehearsed reading to an audience of theatre people, and a play in development ( by the same playwright)  is extensively workshopped with American directors and actors before it, too, is presented to an audience.“

Playwrights submit their best play. It must be no more than 8 years old and can be previously published or produced.

 Playwrights  must have had at least one play produced and have a thorough  knowledge of Australian theatre. The winner's body of work and ability to represent the theatre industry play a significant part in the judging process.

It may seem odd to some that established playwrights such as Enright and Sewell are in a New Dramatists category, but the criteria focus on new plays rather than emerging writers.

Very few of our plays have made it over the Pacific. In January 2002, Hannie Rayson’s award-winning play, Life After George, will open on the West End in London and may travel to Broadway.

HIlary Bell’s play, Wolf Lullaby,  and Timothy Daly’s play, Kafka Dances, were produced in the USA.

Of the  eight winners since 1993, four were Melbourne writers: Sam Sejavka’sAll Flesh Is Glass (‘93), Matt Cameron’s Mr. Melancholy (‘95),  Daniel Keene’s Because You’re Mine (‘96) and Peta Murray’s Salt which was seen this year at Playbox.

The New York readings are not fully-fledged productions but, at the very least, our new Australian works are being seen in the theatre capital of the USA and our two countries are exchanging cultural capital.

By Kate Herbert

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