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"playwrights are each other’s greatest asset"

Lachlan Philpott shares his vision for the future of Australian stage writing with Audrey Journal.

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Category: Conversation
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Lachlan Philpott to lead Playwriting Australia

Date: 5 Jul 2018

“I’m very interested in shifting PWA’s focus so while we will continue to develop plays the principal focus will be on supporting, nurturing and empowering playwrights.

That means PWA will work to bring the playwriting community on board in a much more meaningful way, including them in all of our processes from start to finish, and making sure they are consulted meaningfully on decisions we make.

It’s a subtle shift in the way Playwriting Australia will work but it’s also quite significant. Rather than trying to simply market plays, we will build strategies to build the profile of playwrights and the wider cultural role they can play as well.

We want to begin a more finessed conversation about the importance of new Australian work and new Australian art in our wider culture.

Lots of artists, myself included, have been talking about how different it is to create a play from scratch and how important that is for an evolving culture to do this, as opposed to doing work that exists already. But this is a large conversation about what we want Australian culture to be and how we work to make it happen.

Because I’m just starting in this role, I want to really get to know the staff and the board and work with them and the wider playwrights’ community to create the best strategic direction for the company for the next ten years. And of course this means consolidating our already strong relationships with theatre companies, directors, dramaturgs and the public as well.

One of the first things I want to do is to set up a group of writers I will consult with closely on all strategic decisions.

Secondly, I want to bring a range of writers into the development room. For a long time there has been a lot of assumptions around the way plays get developed. What’s happened is that we have never really acknowledged that playwrights are each other’s greatest asset. Having other playwrights in the development process is something I think is really essential to the development of plays.

As a sector we need to refine tools to measure the impact of new work on the community it was made for.

So, I’m really interested in Playwriting Australia leading the way in finding ways to document the impact a play is having. For example, if you make a work that is for the Queer community or a work for a regional community, then you find ways of documenting and sharing the positive impact of that work on its particular community.

At this time in our society we are all really craving community and connectedness and that’s where I think theatre can play a really important role.  That’s not to take away from work going on in major theatre companies but it’s also about recognising that theatre has a role to play in smaller communities and in different contexts.

I want to continue the work Playwriting Australia has been doing to nurture new voices. Programs like Lotus, the Asian-Australian Playwriting Project with CAAP, or Outposts for emerging writers in the Albury-Wodonga region, or some of the Indigenous programs, such as Songrites and Muru Salon, have an impact which is not measurable by the number of people in the audience clapping. It’s about the impact it has on individuals and communities.

As the new AD, I also want to look at questions around sustainability for playwrights and improve conditions. I know from my own experience and from talking to other writers, that it is impossible to sustain a living as a playwright in Australia.

We have to look at making pathways for writers to be able to sustain a life as a playwright. It is unrealistic to think everyone will have a play on the main stage because there are not enough slots but we not only have to rally in favour of Australian work, we have to shift our perceptions of what success is.

I also believe that it’s about Playwriting Australia employing playwrights in a whole range of positions when there is an opportunity to do so. It’s also about finding other pathways for playwrights to create work that goes on to be produced.

I think we need to look at the whole process around building and developing audiences and work harder to allowing work to find its audience, as well. There is always more work to be done in those areas and it will continue to be a focus at Playwriting Australia.

Finally, due to financial constraints, there is often not enough opportunity for work to be developed before it goes before an audience. That is something that really needs to be looked at and it needs to become part of the wider conversation. How can we continue development through rehearsals and into the production?  I know PWA will continue to play a significant role  in supporting best practice models for developing new work but in order to do this we must always try new ideas and new ways of working.”

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