There’s a widespread view that not much happens during the summer … culturally speaking … in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital city. Wrong! I’ve just returned from a couple of days spent primarily on the south bank precinct of the Brisbane River. This is home to QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre), the Queensland Museum, the State Library, and the fabulous GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) where currently we’re all catching up with Andy Warhol in a super exhibition. And just up the road is Queensland Theatre Company‘s home at 78 Montague Road. By the gently flowing brown waters, the south bank is rocking.
Drilling down into the happenings, right now the inaugural Playwriting Australia’s National Play Festival is being hosted in Queensland. What’s this? Well, it’s the official gathering place for new theatre-writing in Australia. Once upon a time this national event was called the ANPC (Australian National Playwrights’ Conference) and I recall being involved as a young Aussie actor and dramaturg at the 1974 gathering at the University of Newcastle, NSW. That particular conference opened my eyes to the wonderful people and the energies involved in creating great playwrighting. Amongst a whole lot of internationals and Aussies that year, I met the fabulously over the top Dorothy Hewett, the marvellously crumpled Bob Ellis, and the gentle genius Martin Esslin (with whom I shared lots of stories and an ice-cream one hot Saturday afternoon), but that’s another story, and for another time.
That year I felt out of my depth I must confess … a bit of a ring-in amongst people who seemed to know so much more than I did, and who seemed to have a focus which I lacked; I have never forgotten their passion. The 70s were a time when a lot of people were mulling over what it meant to be an Australian theatre artist, although we certainly didn’t use the word ‘artist’ in these considerations; I mean, that theatre-loving intellectual Gough may have been PM, but artists … heck!
And flash forward 34 years, and there I was Wednesday afternoon not on a uni campus but in the home of the state theatre company at a couple of staged readings of 2 of 8 new works being worked and showcased from February 10-23 as part of the National Play Festival activities. I saw The Man With the September Face by Kylie Trounson and Helley’s Magic Cup by Rosalba Clemente, two entirely different embryonic theatre works. There is something so pure about play-readings. Someone once said the pictures are better on radio, and I have to say that theatre productions are often better at a reading … at least in the heads of the audience. I don’t know whether or not these plays … or the others which will be presented over the next few days … will ever make it to the stage, but it reminds me that theatre can be just as potent with the old bare boards and a passion (what you get at a reading) as it is in a fully staged production. All part of the process, just as the gathering of kindred spirits is vital to the good health of the theatre. But I hope these two plays make it to the stage or the screen.
And then a couple of hours later, it was off to the State Library by the river to hear Minister for the Arts Rod Welford announce the finalists for the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, one of the more prestigious national literary prizes on offer, for indeed, it does offer the finalists the chance to develop their work and for the winner, to get a full production … the pot at the end of the long rainbow of effort.
I love being a Brisbane girl. It’s a fine time to be at home.