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"Little oversights sting a bit every time"

Make a creative’s heart sing, writes Ang Collins. It's not that hard to do.

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Playwright oversight

Date: 8 Nov 2018

The other day, I was scrolling down my newsfeed on Facebook, and I came across a marketing image for Siren Theatre Company’s production of The Moors.

I instantly recognised the name of the play, because I’m a big fan of American playwright Jen Silverman. Her plays are daring, and her voice is unique, hilarious, and hyper-contemporary. I scanned the names of the creatives working on the production, and, though I was excited by the mix of Sydney’s independent theatre makers working on the play, I was instantly struck by the absence of Silverman’s name on the marketing image.

At that moment, a playwright friend and fellow Silverman fan sent me a screenshot of the same marketing image, expressing the same confusion at the lack of playwright credit.

Did the graphic designer forget?

The stage manager received a poster billing, so why was the playwright, the person responsible for the creation of the work, so glaringly absent?

That wasn’t the first time there’s been such a playwright oversight.

Independent outfit House of Sand staged a production of Alice Birch’s extraordinary play Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.

Earlier in the year at the Old 505, and as Kevin Jackson noted in his online theatre diary, the playwright’s name was lacking from the front of the program, and though it did appear once on the second page, there was no biography or information on Birch featured. I’m sure playwright biographies are omitted from independent programs all the time, especially if they’re a classic or international writer, and even though it’s not a hugely upsetting phenomena, I did think Jackson’s observation was pertinent.

These two formidable international playwrights probably aren’t aware of their lack of billing all the way down under, and maybe it’s not my issue to fuss over, but when I noticed these oversights, it did get me thinking about the nature of new international work in the Sydney theatre scene.

Independent companies operating in Sydney love new international work, because it’s often fantastic, often at the height of dramatic innovation, and securing an Australian premiere is a wonderful way of attracting audiences. In fact, Sydney’s love of new international work is one of the challenges facing Australian playwrights when it comes to stage time.

If fresh international plays are so beloved by indie outfits, then why are the international playwrights who crafted them omitted from poster billings and programs?

Working Australian playwrights, as far as I know, are never dissociated from their plays in our own country (unless it’s by choice). However, other forms of oversight sometimes occur that, when they begin to add up, understandably lead to a sense of being undervalued.

It’s all too often that playwrights find out they’ve been rejected from an award, grant or application by scrolling a newsfeed to find the winner has already been announced. In some cases, rejection letters are never sent, and that sense of anticipation that every writer feels when they send an application in eventually fades into disappointed nothing.

Earlier this year, a main stage company sent out mass rejection emails in several tiered groups for a particular residency, but they forgot to bcc the tiers, and as a result, every playwright who applied could see everyone on their ‘tier’ of rejection. It was an embarrassing oversight on the company’s part, and many rejected playwrights began ‘replying all’ with messages of disappointment in the company, feelings of being undervalued and having their privacy invaded, as well as offers to fellow playwrights to commiserate at certain bars in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Yes, these are oversights – minor errors on the various parts of creatives and companies who I’m sure meant no harm. Of course, playwrights both local and international are celebrated for their work by the very nature of being active in this industry. Playwrights are strong, and as a community we support each other formally and over a drink in the foyer. And I’m sure we’re far from the only group of creatives that suffer oversights for their work – think of stage managers, lighting designers, assistant directors, dramaturgs, composers, voice coaches.

Little oversights sting a bit every time, whereas respect and thanks for everyone’s equal hard work makes a creative’s heart sing.

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