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Playwrights converge for theatre hothouse

Jul 21, 2015
Playwright Phillip Kavanagh talks about what inspired his play Deluge. Photo: Enzo Amato

Playwright Phillip Kavanagh talks about what inspired his play Deluge. Photo: Enzo Amato

This week’s National Play Festival in Adelaide will give the city a “huge injection” of energy, ideas and theatre culture, says writer Andrew Bovell.

Playwrights from across Australia will converge for the three-day event, which opens tomorrow at the Festival Centre and includes artist talks, panel discussions, master-classes and a showcase of new works by emerging playwrights.

Adelaide-based Bovell, who garnered much media attention with his rousing keynote speech at last year’s festival, will take part in a panel discussion on Friday hosted by State Theatre Company CEO Rob Brookman exploring what makes this city vibrant artistically. It will also ask the question: where next?

Andrew-Bovell-playwright

Andrew Bovell.

“I think the work we create here is as diverse as in other cities, and over recent years I’ve seen a stronger and stronger independent sector develop in Adelaide,” says Bovell, whose plays include Speaking in Tongues, the stage adaptation of The Secret River and When the Rain Stops Falling.

“I think the success of the Fringe is partly responsible for that.”

Bovell said the Fringe and the Adelaide Festival brought a diverse range of national and international theatre to the city, creating discussion, building audiences and influencing local theatre-makers. The challenge, however, was to maintain that intensity over the rest of the year.

“[That means] making a coherent and persuasive argument to government that they need to support the development of arts across the 12 months, not just focus on festivals.

“The second part is the development of audience expectation that they will see good art the rest of the year and not just during the festivals.”

Bovell said that while the State Government seemed keen to support the arts, planned changes in federal funding were creating uncertainty, especially for small and medium-sized independent theatre companies and individual artists.

He is a strong advocate for smaller theatre companies, which he says are particularly vibrant in Adelaide and provide a career pathway for many artists who go on to work with larger companies or overseas.

“What we fear the impact [of federal funding changes] will be is that it will be harder for the small to medium sector to survive.

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“They are the hothouse of training … if they don’t exist, there’s no pathway.”

Bovell, who will also lead a master-class at the National Play Festival, says the current young generation of playwrights are making exciting work. He highlights actress Elena Carapetis’s recent debut play The Good Son as an example of a great Adelaide production by a home-grown talent.

Renato Musolino and Eugenia Fragos in Elena Carapatis's The Good Son.

Renato Musolino and Eugenia Fragos in Elena Carapetis’s The Good Son.

Excerpts from works-in-progress by Carapatis and fellow emerging South Australian writers Ben Brooker, Sophia Simmons and Emily Steel will be read during a session titled Homegrown at the festival.

New plays will also be presented by writers Phillip Kavanagh (Deluge), Ben Ellis (Keith), Michele Lee (Rice), Maxine Mellor (The Silver Alps), Albert Belz (Astroman), Luke Mullins and Lachlan Philpott (Lake Disappointment).

Tim Roseman, artistic director of Playwriting Australia, which presents the festival, promises the program includes some of the most “exhilarating, electrifying and thought-provoking new plays” audiences are likely to see in a long time.

Bovell believes audiences crave new works by Australian writers. And while several years ago he thought theatre-makers seemed more interested in reinventing the classics than creating their own drama, he believes the tide has now turned.

“The work that we create, the stories we tell about the world we live in and the way we live that life need to sit at the centre of our theatre practice … new Australia voices, new Australian works and drawing on the Australian canon.”

The National Play Festival will open tomorrow evening with a keynote address by playwright Joanna Murray-Smith (Songs for Nobodies, The Female of the Species, Pennsylvania Avenue, Love Child), who will share some of the wisdom she has gained during 30 years in theatre.

The full National Play Festival program can be viewed online, along with interviews with several of the participating emerging playwrights.

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