An inside look at the National Play Festival

Dramaturgy in Australia is rarely afforded enough space and time. How can we possibly develop a national ‘canon’ of new Australian work if writing is rushed to the stage? The answer: we can’t.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in a National Play Festival rehearsal room, participating in the script development of Michele Lee’s ambitious and timely work Moths. I’ve experienced first-hand Playwriting Australia’s commitment to providing Australian writers with director, dramaturg and actors to discuss and workshop their new writing.

Every day, I’ve seen Michele return with a new draft of the work, having implemented discussions or conversations that took place the previous day. There’s no right or wrong within this process, just a shared commitment by all in the room to make the work more muscular through an exploration of its ideas and form.

The development process allows the writer to explore the possibilities and boundaries of her work in a safe environment, un-pressured by an impending professional presentation of the work. From tomorrow, the four plays being developed will be presented to the public at Carriageworks. This is a bare-bones presentation, technically simple (it wont be a light and sounds show) but rich in the performance of the words. At the end of the day, it always starts with the words.

I’m sure Playwriting Australia (PWA) would love to have a bigger budget to invest more resources into more plays at the Festival and more National Script workshops across the year. And quite frankly, it’s embarrassing that our national development and advocacy body for new Australian playwriting is so under-funded by government bodies. The small amounts they receive are not at all commensurate with PWA's ambitions to support more writers.

Nonetheless, PWA is triumphing over funding constraints to put their money where their mouth is. And the National Play Festival is a strong sign of commitment to working toward a national canon in this country.

The National Play Festival plays 12 - 15 June

**The opinions in this piece are entirely my own and may not reflect the views held by any organisations I am associated with. - Dino