In 2015, the playwriting and production team behind independent company subtlenuance, Daniela Giorgi and Paul Gilchrist, conceived The Silver Gull Play Award in collaboration with online media outlet The Buzz From Sydney.
Their mission was to nurture fellow playwrights in NSW, looking for works that addressed political and philosophical issues much like their own work. The work had to be fresh, not produced or shortlisted elsewhere and not be an adaptation of another work.
Since its inception, many of the shortlisted plays have gone on to enjoy a full production at various independent theatres in Sydney and interstate, demonstrating the value of this award to the Australian theatrical scene.
A few of these writers are established, most are emerging, but the majority have not been able to secure a production of their work, especially by the major companies, which is why the Silver Gull is a critical initiative. It gives artists a voice and provides both mainstage and independent companies with the opportunity to access quality local material that has been assessed by their peers.
The annual awards night, where excerpts from each of the finalists are presented as a rehearsed script-in-hand performance before a live audience, has provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the shortlisted plays and give theatre producers and companies a taste of these new works.
In late 2019, subtlenuance decided to handover the baton and discussed this with New Theatre’s Artistic Associate Helen Tonkin, who had been involved as judge and director with the Silver Gull since the beginning.
I had always admired the passion and dedication of the Silver Gull team and the work they produced so was thrilled at the possibility of New Theatre being involved. Helen and I then met with The Buzz to explore ways in which New Theatre could expand the reach and scope of the Silver Gull. An exciting alliance was forged, with The Buzz agreeing to continue their sponsorship by providing a total prize pool of $5000, and the project was enthusiastically endorsed by New Theatre’s Management Committee.
New Theatre has always championed new Australian work and it is one of the reasons I was drawn to join the theatre, as I’ve always been passionate about new work.
The idea of seeing the germ of an idea evolve into an engaging, challenging and provocative experience never ceases to enthral. I love the new and dynamic Australian work that is produced by companies like Griffin and Belvoir but the commissioning, development and production of full-length productions such as these has usually been beyond the modest funds of New Theatre.
However, over the years we have found ways of supporting new work through commissioning scripts for our short play festivals Women Power and Culture, Brand Spanking New and Art is a Weapon and this year we were thrilled to announce the commissioning of an adaptation by Sara Lusty-Cavallari of Animal Farm (due to open last month before being cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation – but watch this space).
Where possible we program new Australian content as part of our contribution to the Sydney Fringe Festival.
New Theatre is a perfect fit for The Silver Gull Play Award and we look forward to taking it to the next level.
In its new home there will be a few changes including the brief for the kind of work we are encouraging, namely: An outstanding play that aligns with New Theatre’s commitment to producing ‘Plays With a Purpose’. We’re looking for plays that support our ethos, provoke thought and discussion about the human condition, reflect on contemporary society, and engage with the challenges that concern us all.
We are using our resources to make what is naturally a subjective decision as objective as possible. We already have a team of experienced play assessors in place at the New. This means that all entries will first be assessed by at least two people.
From these, a long list of 10 will be drawn up and proceed through a second assessment process, before a final short-list of five is selected. These five finalists will be read and assessed by an independent judging panel comprised of theatre professionals drawn from both outside and inside New Theatre. All entries will be judged anonymously with the identity of playwrights revealed only after the final decision has been made.
It is difficult for local playwrights to get their work noticed by mainstage companies and this may well get worse when the lockdown ends and theatres struggle to recoup their losses.
There may be a temptation to ignore new work as too risky financially. Independent theatre has always dealt with financial constraints and over its 88 years, New Theatre has found itself at the brink several times.
We may find, post COVID-19, that independent theatre will become even more important in its role of nurturing talent and giving opportunities for artists to break into the mainstream.
After this time of enforced introspection there may be a thirst for local stories, local perspectives and debate. It will be interesting to see what material emerges from the competition this year but we are sure the Australian theatre sector will be eager to embrace it.
We are waiting with anticipation to see what playwrights have in store for The Silver Gull Play Award 2020.
For more information, visit this link.
– Louise Fischer, Artistic Director, New Theatre