Well, today was the day. The day in which men, women, writers, directors, young, old, in-between and keen theatre-goers converged on Belvoir Street Theatre for the annual Philip Parsons Memorial Lecture and announcement of the Young Playwrights Award.

I title this post ‘Part 1′, as I did find today rather overwhelming in terms of the huge ground covered and I’m not sure what, if anything productive or progressive, I got out of it. (The lecture I mean) Certainly there were many interesting ideas discussed and I am glad the lecture took place, although it seemed to serve only as a starting point for some serious leg work to right some of the wrongs that exist. Of course there were never going to be any magic answers, but it seems as if every time we speak about this issue the issue gets exponentially bigger. In short, I’d like to give myself a little more thinking time on this one, and will post tomorrow. As it turns out, the Award in itself provided much food for thought.

Those in the ‘industry’ (a term which we found out today Alison Croggon is not so fond of!) and who read this blog will know of the wider issues surrounding today’s announcement because of Caleb Lewis’ withdrawal from the shortlist. His reasons are outlined in his open letter here. For those who were not in attendance today, let me paint you a picture…

After welcoming everyone to the theatre, Company B’s Artistic Director Neil Armfield introduced Nick Parsons, a playwright himself, to the lecturn to introduce the Award. Nick is the son of Dr Philip Parsons and Katherine Brisbane, and spoke warmly about the great legacy his parents have given the Australian theatre scene, and the humility of his father about any kind of accolade.

Neil then returned to the stage to announce the winner. First of all he congratulated the shortlist, and interestingly enough Caleb Lewis was among these. I don’t quite know what I expected, but for some reason I thought Caleb’s name would be dropped because he himself so publicly asked to be ‘removed’ from it. I didn’t know how deep the issue ran with Neil and his company – did Caleb’s withdrawal anger, annoy, flabbergast or frustrate them? Obviously not, I thought, as he was still congratulated highly for this Award, which has been the catalyst for great like plays Ruben Guthrie and The Seed.

Neil then went on the explain the clincher – for the first time in the history of the Award, there would be two winners. The successful playwrights were Tahli Corin and, Caleb Lewis. There was silence after this. Armfield even had to start the applause. Knowing everything we all knew, this was the last thing on our minds.

To Company B and Armfield’s credit, they are not letting Lewis get away with his plan. His proposed play. Armfield explained, is too good to let go. Why deny Australian theatre of a potentially important work? Lewis, as his letter explained, has been on Palm Island and is ‘uncontactable.’ That is, he isn’t returning calls right now. Whether he likes it or not, Company B is offering him his deserved commission. Caleb has some hard thinking to do.

There are many speculations around the announcement, that began in the theatre foyer straight after we vacated the theatre. Perhaps the timing seemed too coincidental, given that the selection panel decided the winners just before receiving Lewis’ letter. Some who I spoke to wondered whether the decision was made after receiving it. Other punters, as soon as we found out it was going to two writers, said loudly “I bet it’s a man and a woman.” And the theories go on.

What do I think? I think the decision is a good one, clever and progressive. Armfield and his team have successfully steered clear of any animosity which, let’s be honest, we were all expecting. After Lewis’ letter was made public, we definitely would have ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ if it had been a sole male or female win. If we weren’t thinking it already, Lewis reinforced it in our minds. I know many out there will see it as a token gesture. Sure, I could also be cynical, but I really do feel that the best decision was made today, and this makes me feel positive about the future of Australian writers, men and women.

And even though in my books ‘merit’ is now a dirty word (wait for Part 2), as Armfield explained, both writers were selected not only because of their produced plays but the potential projects they had to propose after being shortlisted. If we’ve learnt anything from the outspoken before us (Lee Lewis and Colin Moody, anyone?) we know that our ‘industry’ does embrace those who at times fight against it, and I am sure Caleb Lewis will have a play on at Company B in the  near future.

I’m interested in what everyone else thinks – was the right decision made today? Do you think Caleb will rethink his decision or follow through with his initial intentions?

Whatever he decides, he is to be hugely congratulated, as well as Tahli Corin. I have said before that I really do believe the Philip Parsons Young Playwrights Award is possibly the most important award we have, as not only does it reward a job well done, but also offers financial and creative assistance for the future.  From the sound of the proposed plays by these two writers, there should be two fabulous new plays on our stages in the next few years.

Happy writing,

Jo