Dear Australia – 50 playwrights send postcards to the nation

Sometimes a person, or a nation, isn’t very good at expressing what’s at core. It’s why we have artists. An actor sacrifices a moment of their own life in order to give us a story of ours. A playwright scaffolds that sacrifice. The 50 stories of ‘Dear Australia’, a project of Playwriting Australia that livestreamed from 30 organisations between 2-5 July, express a moment in history when a pandemic changed everything. They tell of the cracks that opened up, and of the darkness and light revealed. They are, in turn, confronting and comforting. Together, they are a revelation and celebration of Australian voices. They deal with where our nation is and where it might need to go. I can’t think of another manifestation of theatre in Australia that has enjoyed such a remarkable coalition of forces working so whole-heartedly towards a common goal. How did we get there? To get an even 50 playwrights, we thought we’d ask 25 organisations from across Australia to each select two pla

Wringing Advantage from Virus Adversity

[This article was published in The Weekend Australian on Saturday 28 March 2020] Crises can change behaviour permanently, sometimes for the better. For example, the need to share work around during the Great Depression helped kill off the six-day working week, creating the ‘weekend’. Unexpectedly, we discovered something we liked, and kept it.  Sometimes there is light in the dark. Enforced social distancing over the coming months might also change some behaviours. We will have a different relationship with time, and some people will cope with that changed relationship better than others. Here are ten ways to make friends with time, and maybe lighten things a little. They won’t pay your bills, but they might help you wring some advantage from adversity, for you and for others, and maybe permanently. One. If you bought tickets to a live performance that’s been cancelled, consider donating to the artist or venue instead of asking for a refund. You’ll feel better. You’ll help e

Opinion Piece for The Courier-Mail: The arts can kick goals for Brissie.

( Published in The Courier-Mail , 10 October, 2019) The great Australian sport is criticising the Grand Final pre-match entertainment. OneRepublic was caught offside before the NRL match, after Dean Lewis missed the mark at the AFL. Daryl Braithwaite and Paul Kelly saved the days. Arts criticism is alive and well. On AFL Grand Final day, I played my own grand final. The whistle blew on my fifth and final Brisbane Festival. It’s been a privilege to be captain of the team, and to curate 3,000 performances and 30 world premieres from 7,000 artists. This year, we broke our box office record for the third year running, topping $4m. More than 1.2 million people turned up, many of them tourists.   But hey, arts and sport aren’t in competition. We can be passionate about both, and on the same day. In fact, people encounter the arts more than sport, mostly without knowing it. Every time you mouth the words to a song in a supermarket, or are attracted to an image on a billb

Farewell, Andrew McGahan

My friend Andrew McGahan, that great Australian novelist, passed away yesterday . Pancreatic cancer is persistent and February is the shortest month. I first met Andrew in 1991, just at the moment when Praise changed the shape of Australian fiction and became the book of a generation. I had taken up a job at Queensland Theatre Company, charged with finding ways to develop the state’s playwriting culture. For a young director at the beginning of his career, this was quite a task. I had never set foot in Queensland. Praise was my introduction and Andrew became my buddy. We hit it off immediately, hanging out, devouring beers, and talking about and exploring anything that took our interest. He was very happy to discover the theatre and even became a resident writer at the company. I commissioned him to write a play. Bait follows the story of Gordon Buchanan, the central character of Praise , just as he begins working in the absurd bowels of the Department of Social Security. If Pra

On Stan Lee and the Marvel of the Superhero

The paeans to Stan Lee at his passing this week make us more aware than ever of the power of superheroes. They are an American invention, up there with jazz and musicals. And the story of superheroes is the story of change in America. Superman, essentially the first, arrives in April 1938, towards the end of the Great Depression. He fights corrupt businessmen and politicians as a champion of o rdinary Americans. He’s a socialist people’s hero. He is also an immigrant from another world who is accepted and gives back. In his story is the DNA of the American ideal. Batman, arriving in 1939, is the opposite. He is human and urban while Superman is alien and regional. Superman is day and idealistic while Batman is night and revengeful. They are the Superego and the Id. This duality reflects America’s growing divide. Spider-Man is the first teenage superhero, and Marvel’s mascot. What a gift: a confused teenager, trying to balance crime fighting with passing calculus,

Strangers in Between

Last night, in Melbourne, I saw a new production of Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between . It’s a play I developed with Tommy at Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney back in 2004/05, before directing the premiere at Griffin in 2005. It was such a show of strength from Tommy that I quickly commissioned him to adapt Holding the Man , which we got on stage a bit over a year later. I hadn’t seen the play onstage since then, and perhaps because of that I was caught off-guard. Here  was a mature play, perfectly measured. Tommy was only 24 when he wrote it, but scene after scene displays a writer in clear command of comedy, character and, perhaps most impressively, of the contours of human emotion. It’s also, in the words of director Daniel Lammin, ‘a play whose heart is wholly good’. You can’t fake that. And it’s emboldened with that heart’s blood that the actors thrive. Wil King inhabits Shane, Guy Simon summons up two fantastically different characters with disarming ease, and Simon Burk

Brisbane Festival breaks records

Brisbane Festival wound up on Saturday night after 22 days.   There were 540 performances, 60 productions, around 20 venues, five world premiere commissions, 11 Australian premieres, and more than 1,400 artists from here and around the world, including those from 28 Queensland arts companies. Those artists, through their skill and insight, shared wonderfully different ways of living in and looking at the world. We broke lots of records: the biggest box office ever, the biggest crowds at our hub at Treasury Brisbane Arcadia ( mostly enjoying free shows), our largest ever Theatre Republic, the most number of performances. At Treasury Brisbane Arcadia alone, around 300,000 people engaged with the Festival – that’s an average of 15,000 people for every day it was open. Amazing. Saturday night's massive festival finale was Sunsuper Riverfire, Australia's longest fireworks display, drawing around 500,000 people to the edges of the winding Brisbane River and a great many mor