Updated: May 15, 2020
It’s been a happenstance of timing but during the pandemic, I have been spending most of my time on an isolated share farm in the southern hills of Adelaide (Hippy stuff. The 70s. Long story. Another time). We don’t have a big screen here, so no TV, which, sadly for one’s being across the zeitgeist, suits me just fine. Evenings are spent reading, reading, bottling and otherwise preserving the last of summer’s fruit and veg with a big open fire in the corner and a blue kettle (Thank you Carol C!) on the slow combustion hob. Days, yes, at this very small screen, but also digging and walking and cleaning up rubbish and making small bits of order in the plenitude and chaos of nature. All those things. It’s been a reminder of a quieter life that is paradoxically welcome. And I’m so aware that it could be, and is elsewhere, a lot, lot, lot worse. So. No complaints re the industry stuff below. Everything’s relative. Just observations.
Anything professional in this un-professional time? I participated in a Webinar run by Simon Millcock, the CEO of the Legatus Group, a body that links a number of South Australian regional councils, about the completion of my Legatus-sponsored report on and database for the creative industries in those regions . My findings regarding the state of play for the creative ecology of those living and working in the scattered hubs of those vast and beautiful regions are basically that there is actually a lot of creative activity but that it is hobbled in effectiveness due to spasmodic, short-term funding models, that virtuous circles of creative entrepreneurship are desirable and possible but that no one ever gives them the time to really cook. Also, that the elephant in the room of our $111.7 billion (!) national arts industry is that funders are averse to taking on the fact that business models in the arts are different to those in other industries and hence (surprise!) require different mechanisms of support. ‘A little, often and for years at a time’ could be the summation. And lastly, that you can’t talk about ‘the creative industries’ without also talking about the sticky problem of ‘value’ given that ‘value’ – economic, socio-cultural and individual – is actually The Point.
I handed in the report at the beginning of April. The database is being followed up to address privacy concerns and the report awaits presentation to the Legatus board, but both should be available in June this year. The other speaker for the Webinar was the ex-Mighty Kingdom Games producer, teacher and entrepreneur Dan Thorsland, currently working for Flinders University. Dan’s an inspirational guide to his industry overall, which is thriving in these times, given it does not depend on location, just skills and a thirsty global market. The Games industry is reassurance that there are green shoots in this difficult period, which may be scant comfort to those of us who depend on the nuance of the directly physical, but it does offer a pathway for newcomers to the wider craft of writing for performance and/or representation.
I think all of us in the theatre industry over these past couple of months have been having to come to terms with what is effectively the decimation of our livelihood, our industry and our craft and art. It’s part outrageous fortune (the disease) and part the accumulation of persistent and intentional injury (funding and policy decisions over the last decade +). Alison Croggon’s incisively brilliant article says it much better than I can, tracing the policy pathway to our current dilemma, which is basically that most people in our industry can no longer plan for an individual or collective future. Playwrights around Australia are also having to look at how our support organizations may survive, let alone thrive, with the proposed merger of Playwriting Australia and the treasured australianplays.org (which incidentally safeguards the canon of our work). Those of you who have the mental and emotional available right now to take up the fight are urged to pitch for membership of the board of the new organisation and thus contribute to its health, status and balance. And those of you who are from a culturally diverse background (and holla to the demographic, traditionally neglected) and/or have highly established networks with a/some theatre companies who might be persuaded to support your ideas should consider submitting to the PWA's proposed 2020 season. Probably the theatre company ADs will have their own ideas and will propose a commission for a company-selected playwright to fulfil them. But there’s a bit of a window there if you are focused and determined.
For the majority of playwrights in Australia, especially those living outside the Eastern seaboard, who don’t fit the above categories – well, unless you win one of the two or three playwriting prizes available nationally you can probably kiss goodbye to your stage career for another year. However, you could consider writing for today’s equivalent of radio. There’s an AWG-sponsored Writing Competition with Audible that can be accessed at . Or you might have a go at smartening up your screenwriting chops. Am I talking ‘Go back to school’? Possibly, though these days that comes with a hefty debt attached. Or emigrate. Except you can’t, of course.