11 July, 2022
Thirteen new Australian plays from a mix of emerging and established writers have been celebrated today with the announcement of the $60,000 Shane & Cathryn Brennan Prize for Playwriting.
The awarded works range from coming-of-age tales of heartbreak and identity to contemporary explorations of workplace culture, colonial trauma, love and death, reminding us that playwrights continue to stand at the forefront of shaping and challenging our cultural identity.
Winning the stage category, Mary Anne Butler’s emotional and evocative drama Wittenoom follows a dying mother, Dot, and her daughter, Pearl, who’ve moved to the remote mining town now synonymous with blue asbestos.
Butler, a multi-award-winning playwright whose accolades include the Victorian Prize for Literature and an AWGIE Award, reflected on winning the Prize, saying, 'I am utterly honoured and humbled that Wittenoom has received this prize, and would like to acknowledge and thank Shane and Cathryn Brennan for their continued championing of Australian writers and writing, particularly new writing. I want to thank the Australian Writers’ Guild for their continued advocacy and growing initiatives for playwrights, and also thank the judges for recognising Wittenoom as worthy of this prize. I would also like to thank Red Stitch Theatre company, Susie Dee, Caroline Lee, Emily Goddard and Ian Moorhead for support in the script’s development.'
'A work of fiction, Wittenoom seeks to imagine the lives of those who lived and worked in the blue asbestos mining town of Wittenoom, in WA’s remote Pilbara. Originally inspired by the Midnight Oil song ‘Blue Sky Mine’, it is dedicated to the 2,000-plus miners and residents who have since died from, and the many more who still suffer from, blue asbestos-related diseases acquired as a result of going about their own lives and livelihoods in the 'Shangri La' of Wittenoom’s heyday, unaware of the ticking time-bomb which floated all around them,' said Butler.
The judges awarded two scripts runners-up in the Stage category: Kirsty Marillier’s The Zap, a high school comedy about rumour and legacy, intersectional feminism and fake news, and Dylan Van Den Berg’s Way Back When, a haunting retelling of the colonisation of Tasmania through the lens of a gothic revenge drama.
In the Theatre For Young Audience category, John Armstrong’s winning play Ali in Zombieland is a delightfully dark comedy that features Ali, an anxious perfectionist in her final year of school, and the wise-cracking zombie girl who escapes her graphic novel. One of Australia’s leading writers for young audiences both on stage and screen, Armstrong wrote Ali In Zombieland following his daughter’s experiences in her final year at school and credits her contribution to the project as crucial to helping understand the lived experience of anxiety.
'I wanted to raise the issue of mental health for young people but do it in a way that was entertaining and engaging. So even though Ali in Zombieland contains some serious messages, I made the play part rom-com, part gothic horror, part teen comedy, and took the audience inside the mind of someone struggling with anxiety and depression,' said Armstrong.
'It’s fantastic to win the Shane & Cathryn Brennan Prize - not only for the prize money but for the impetus it will give to getting the play programmed. Unlike writing novels, writing for stage or screen is never an end in itself; a play needs to be performed to come to life and reach an audience. I’m hoping that the Prize will help Ali in Zombieland find its audience so it can contribute to the conversation around teenage mental health.'
Mari Lourey’s Dirt Cloud, a tale of a 12-year-old girl who wants to be an astronaut but is caught between her parents’ pasts, and Mary Rachel Brown’s Rosieville, about the bond between a homing pigeon with no sense of direction and a young girl facing her first heartbreak, were runners-up in the Theatre for Young Audience category.
The Shane & Cathryn Brennan Prize was launched in 2021 to celebrate and reward outstanding achievements in new Australian playwriting. It is made possible by the generous and ongoing philanthropy of Shane and Cathryn Brennan and with the support of Australian Plays Transform.
'Australian playwrights have faced years of hardship through underfunding and COVID-19 theatre closures; yet despite this, they have continued to produce outstanding works, telling stories of who we are as individuals and as a nation,' said AWG President Shane Brennan.
'Cathryn and I are delighted to celebrate and reward the achievements of Mary Anne and John, as well as the eleven longlisted writers, through the awarding of the Prize. With the development of Pathways for Playwrights and through our partnership with Australian Plays Transform, more opportunities for commissioning and development will be open for our playwrights. We look forward to seeing these new Australian works on our stages soon.'
THE WINNING PROJECTS
Wittenoom by Mary Anne Butler [Stage]
A mother and her daughter move to a remote mining town where joyous life and looming death dance side-by-side in the blue asbestos dust.
Ali in Zombieland by John Armstrong [Theatre for Young Audience]
As anxious perfectionist Ali (17) struggles with Year 12, a wise-cracking zombie girl escapes from her graphic novel, threatening to devour her brain and derail her life.
Eleven projects across two categories have been longlisted for the Prize, featuring established, multi-award-winning playwrights and exciting new voices, including last year’s David Williamson Prize winner and a participant in AWG’s recent First Break program. Each of the longlisted projects is available to be viewed on AWG’s prestigious Pathways Showcase in the newly formed Playwrights section.
THEATRE FOR YOUNG AUDIENCE
ABOUT THE SHANE & CATHRYN BRENNAN PRIZE FOR PLAYWRITING
Launched in December 2021, the Shane & Cathryn Brennan Prize was developed to discover and celebrate the best new scripts among Australian playwrights. Thanks to the generous and ongoing philanthropy of Shane and Cathryn Brennan, the $60,000 prize will see the winning playwrights in two categories (Stage and Theatre for Young Audience) take home $10,000 each, while longlisted writers in both categories will share in $40,000.
The Prize is supported by Australian Plays Transform, Australia’s national play development, publication and licensing organisation. The collection will be available to read for free for the month of August on the APT website.
ABOUT PATHWAYS FOR PLAYWRIGHTS
The AWG Pathways Program was developed to provide a channel for great projects from AWG members to reach industry professionals looking for high-quality new scripts.
Since its inception in 2010, Pathways has enabled industry professionals to access synopses of these selected scripts on the AWG website and then seek contact with the writer of a script that has piqued their interest.
Pathways has been highly successful in forging relationships between members who want to see their scripts produced, and industry professionals who want to access great projects and writers.
The newly launched Pathways for Playwrights showcases exciting, unproduced new scripts from some of Australia’s best playwrights.
ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN WRITERS’ GUILD
The Australian Writers’ Guild is the professional association for Australian screen and stage writers principally in film, television, theatre, radio and digital media and has protected and promoted their creative and professional interests for 60 years.
The Guild’s vision is to see stage and screen writers thrive as a dynamic and integral part of Australian storytelling: shaping, reflecting and enhancing the Australian cultural voice in all its diversity.
The Guild fights to improve professional standards, conditions and remuneration for Australian stage and screen writers, to pursue a thriving industry environment, and to protect and advance the creative rights of our members.