Blog

9 October 1:07 pm

High Hopes Are Not Enough: A Note from Di Kelly

Di Kelly is an Associate Professor at University of Wollongong, researching employment and industrial relations, particularly with reference to the steel industry. This note was written by her in 1992 and was included in the first publication of Diving For Pearls.

At the beginning of 1982 over twenty-one thousand people were employed at the Port Kembla steelworks near Wollongong in NSW. Within eighteen months this number had fallen to under fourteen thousand, and that decline continued for a decade. Ten years later there were fewer than eight thousand at the same plant. Many more thousands of jobs in the firms which served the steelworks have also disappeared. And the lives of those thousands who lost their jobs or resigned before it was too late would never be the same. Yet the experience of Wollongong was not unique.

From the mid-1970s the world market for steel became ever more competitive. On the one hand products such as plastic and aluminium were competing with steel. On the other hand former customers in newly industrialising countries like Korea, Taiwan and Brazil were now competitors with the old steel producing countries in Europe, North America and Australia. In industrial regions throughout the world, there were crises of mass reductions in employment and in many there was very little in the way of alternative employment for the redundant male workers. So sang Billy Joel in his 1981 hit song about American steel towns and the closure of the giant Bethlehem steelworks (which he called Allentown).

So the experience of those in this play is not just some rare Australian occurrence, and the fears and problems of Den and Barbara are the same as those that existed in the old industrial cities in the USA, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. In Australia, like many countries in Europe, employees were not simply laid off. There was redundancy pay, or special severance pay for those who resigned voluntarily. Many of them rested their hope in the possibility that they could use their severance pay to start a small business, or gain new skills for new occupations.

So Christmas 1983 in the steel and coal towns of Australia was a strange time of fear and spending, when people in safe jobs crossed to the other side of the street to avoid those who might have lost or left their jobs; and those who no longer had jobs spent their money in the hope that jobs might miraculously appear. Then there were those who were not quite sure that they would still have a job by the following Christmas, nor what they would do if indeed they did lose their jobs. A lifetime working in a steel plant or a contract engineering firm does not make for portable skills. Many of the employees who resigned or were retrenched were unready and untrained for other sorts of work. Like Den who stays with his job for as long as he can in the hope that things might come good, they were often doomed to disappointment. But they stayed and hoped for better things, or tried to set up small businesses or trained for different jobs.

But the problem was that new occupations required new industries and investors were wary. Media stories of industrial cities almost always exaggerate the militancy of the workers, or tell tales of their conservative work habits. On the television news, stories of steel towns are almost always represented through pictures of chimneys, spouting what looks like plumes of smoke. The fact that those plumes are nothing more than steam would spoil a good story, and so the public image of steel towns remained flawed and the investors stayed away.

Many of the workers were migrants who had been coming to Australia since the 1940s in search of a better life. In the 1980s, they had to contend not only with increasingly inappropriate skills specific to old technology of heavy industry or steel production, but with the language and cultural differences found in a society which mostly pays only lip-service to multiculturalism.

It was worse for migrant women. Traditionally, industrial cities have woefully few jobs for women and in relatively recent cities like Wollongong, the situation was aggravated by the absence of other industries. Like Topsy, Wollongong had just grown from a small industrial centre, surrounded by a multiplicity of mining villages prior to World War II, to a burgeoning unplanned, under-resourced city in the 1960s and 1970s, its growth in population outpacing the social and economic infrastructure needed to support such a city. To be sure, women with few recognised skills could work in clothing factories, with draconian working conditions easily enforced because of the vast pool of unemployed women ready to replace those who questioned the rules, but there were only a few of even these undesirable sorts of jobs. There were office jobs too, but not many. So there were few jobs for women, but especially migrant women. Barbara’s desperate attempts to change her appearance and her vowels underline the even greater problems which would face migrant women who had to contend with language difficulties and prejudice, probably not in that order. In an international downturn in the market, those with least skills, and the least portable skills are the most vulnerable.

But life in the steel towns is one of contradictions, as we see in the play. Coal and steel sandwiched between superb beaches and miles of rainforest. Heavy industry is not pretty, but it is surprisingly limited in its impact on the environment. The worst pollution may come from the nearby metropolis. Within a mile or two of the engineering district, the new international resort can justifiably portray flawless images of sun, sea and sand. There is no dirt, no dust, no smell of industry.

It is not surprising then, that when the steel cities reeled from the shocks of workforce reductions, they looked to these features as possible alternatives to the making of steel and the hewing of coal. Gradually, over the years following the first major reductions, the local authorities, commercial organisations and trade unions cajoled and enticed new industries in the hope that never again would the town put all its economic reliance on a single industry.

Despite all the best efforts, however, recovery was not fast enough and there were never enough jobs to go around—particularly for those with fewest modern skills or vulnerable in other respects, such as older workers, younger workers, women, migrants, Aborigines—so many of whom wanted to work but for whom there were just no jobs. And then came the recession of the 1990s…

Diving for Pearls runs until 28 October.
Book now 

28 September 12:48 pm

A Note from Phil, Thursday 28 September

STARRY, STARRY STARS
When charged with task of writing the Griffin eNews, I’ve been told it is best to open with a pithy anecdote, elucidate the goings-on of the company with a meaningful backstage insight and then close with a joke and/or a photo of the day Elliott brought his dog Peri into the office.*

Although, sometimes, it is far better to just let the cavalcade of stars do the talking and Diving For Pearls has quite the constellation…

★★★★ –The Sydney Morning Herald
★★★★ – Time Out
★★★★ – Limelight Magazine
★★★★ – Daily Review

“This is a production not to miss—seriously recommended…” – Stage Noise
“Gherkin stains all over the concrete.” – Phil Spencer (Personal favourite line in the play)

You only have a few weeks left to catch this tremendous production—so book up or miss out!

THE FUTURE, THE YEAR 2018
In the fury of living in the present, you may not have yet cast your eyes over our upcoming 2018 Season. You can do that right here, right now. If you fancy.

A FRESH BATCH OF IDEAS
I’ve spent the last week performing my storytelling show Hooting & Howling at Melbourne Fringe and can attest first hand that the alternative, independent, DIY, new writing scene is alive and well south of the border. As are ironic calypso bands.

Here at Griffin, we’ll be programming a suite of new works in 2018 for Batch Festival—so, if you’re an artist reading this, you still have time to pitch your brainchildren. Submissions close Friday 6 October.

MARTIN LYSCIRATES PRIZE (COULDN’T THINK OF A PUN FOR THIS TITLE, SO LEFT IT PLAIN)
Last month we had the pleasure of reading a bag full of new play ideas for young people – there were a huge range of wild, unruly, heart-warming and hilarious scripts in the mix and as ever picking three was tough business. But it is with a great big smile that we announce Dan Giovannoni, Verity Laughton and Katie Pollock as the shortlisted writers for our inaugural Martin Lysicrates Prize. Our three finalists’ entries will receive a staged reading on Saturday 14 October at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. Cannot wait.

*AS PROMISED, HERE’S PERI…yeah
Cheers,
Phil

Phil Spencer
Artistic Associate

 


14 September 1:18 pm

A Note from Phil, 14 September

PEARLERS
When I am sloshing about the foyer chit-chatting to a fellow thespian (whose name I definitely knew…then forgot…then knew again…then, nah, it’s gone…), and he uses the phrase ‘Australian Classic,’ I go a little quiet and nod along and make my ‘yes, hmmm, yep, yeah, interesting, yeah’ face.

And although, like a good new Antipodean, I’ve flicked through my anthology of Australian plays, dabbled with Ray Lawler, glanced at Mona Brand, reeled at Katherine Susan Pritchard and sang out loud to/for myself with Dorothy Hewitt, I go a little coy because I have not actually seen a lot of these plays on the stage. (You know the stage, it’s the bit in front of the seats. The bit in front of the seats, where the actors do the talking and the play grips you by the heart.)

And so, in the foyer, last night, after Darren Yap’s mesmerising production of Diving for Pearls, I didn’t have to make my blagging face, I just stood there, beaming ear to ear at seeing, what was for me, a brand new world brought to life before my very eyes on that bit in front of the seats.

But don’t just take it from me—on Stage Noise, Diana Simmonds writes: This is a production not to miss — seriously recommended.



SUBS UPSIDE YOUR HEAD

We’ve programmed some really rather amazing shows in our 2018 season. The best way to ensure you’ll get tickets to all the shows you want (at the best price) is to subscribe. 


CHEERIO
It is with a big grin and a little lump in our throat that we raise a glass and bid a fond farewell to Griffin hero Damien Storer; for those who don’t know, Damien is the man behind the Griff bar who shouts ‘Right you lot, it’s closing time, get out, I want to go home now.’ You’ll be missed, Damo.

IT’S A YES FROM ME
Wow, you read all the way to the end. I didn’t mean it to be this long, but hey. As a treat for getting this far, I want to leave you with snippet from my life, from last weekend…

10.15am. Saturday. Flinders Street, Darlinghurst.



My wife and I sit in traffic, when a car of the young peoples pulls up alongside us at the traffic lights. The young female person driving and her passenger, who is also a young female person, affectionately snuggle and listen to (probably) FBi Radio. The couple are also sharing a packet of Tim Tams. They look blissful. 



We make eye contact with them, and my wife and I do our ‘good biscuit choice/bit jealous right now’ faces and flick a thumbs up. There is a pause, and then the young peoples wind down their window and without a word offer us a Tim Tam across the traffic. We take it. Of course.

This small interaction with a same sex couple, is one of the major reasons that we’ll be voting YES in our house. As you should too…Because love is love and Tim Tams are Tim Tams (apart from double coated Tim Tams which are all sorts of wrong).

Cheers
Phil

Phil Spencer
Studio Artist

12:52 pm

In Conversation with Katherine Thomson


First up, it was a great honour when Lee Lewis approached me about producing Diving for Pearls for Griffin, particularly so when the entire season was announced and I saw what fine company my play would be in.  I was particularly pleased that my good friend Darren Yap agreed to direct, no surprise to me that he has gathered such a terrific cast.   

I saw a run of the play for the first time in the rehearsal rooms last week, just before they were about to pack up and bump into the Stables, and was very humbled by the talent and commitment of cast, crew and Mr Yap. We’re in good hands.

When Darren and I got together earlier this year to talk about the play, it had been a few years since I’d heard the play read, and even longer since I’d seen it performed. I wondered if there were any holes in the dialogue or structure that could do with patching up, particularly as Currency is bringing out a new edition of the play.  

One warm morning in my backyard I read the play out loud — yes, playing all characters — to Darren (and Max Lambert and Roger Lock) — something I’ve often done with directors. Never to the actors though! This revealed some changes I needed to make, particularly for the character of Ron. As fate would have it, Jack Finsterer who plays Ron in this production also works in the corporate world as a consultant. Needless to say I nabbed him and he and I workshopped various changes over a series of phone calls; thanks to Jack for his support and time.

Revisiting this play is a rather loaded experience, stark reminders of personal and political impulses I had at the time of writing. By the late 80’s I’d written four plays, all commissioned and performed by various theatre companies and Max Lambert and I had just had a success at the STC with Darlinghurst Nights, an adaptation of Kenneth Slessor’s verse. I decided next up I wanted to write ‘a play of my own. ’

The personal impulses for writing are buried in the play and should stay there, but the political impulses might be of interest. Throughout my childhood I’d visited Wollongong often to visit relatives (and talk politics from an early age with my coal miner uncle, Kevin Timbs)  and then was fortunate to be hired by Des David for the inaugural season of Theatre South, Wollongong’s first professional theatre company. I stayed with the company for three years performing in a wide variety  of classics and contemporary plays. While there I wrote A Change in the Weather (a two hander for Faye Davis and myself about women at work in Wollongong) and also Tonight We Anchor in Twofold Bay which ended up at the Wharf thanks to James Waites coming to Bega to review it, and Richard Wherett for taking a punt.  

Then in the late 80’s as I tried to get away from barmaid and cleaning work to supplement my living, I became a researcher for an ABC documentary about Wollongong. Fortunately for me the director decided to go in a different direction to what I thought was important, I lost my job but I snaffled back my research and used the contacts I had in Wollongong to start developing my play.  

What had galvanized me was that shell-shock BHP had created with its threat to abandon its steelworks in Wollongong, with scant regard for the workforce it had set up there to serve its years of operation.   

I applied for and received a small grant from the Australia Council — such a great boost — and remember telling a dear friend that I was going to take time off any paid jobs to write a piece of theatre about micro-economic reform. He took in the news and replied, “Well all I can say is that I’ve always preferred a comedy myself.” We were in the Hawke-Keating years: some inspiring and overdue economic reform, which also opened the flood-gates for the selling off of state-owned assets.

As I began to write the play, BHP re-committed to Wollongong but over in Fremantle, the people of W.A lost its State Engineering Works (home of the stump jump plough) to privatisation. All was not lost, the land was cleaned up and they gained an apartment development with water views.

Of course, we know now that this was the beginning of the privatisation decades, and while some sell-offs of government assets have seemed timely and logical, it becomes increasingly obvious that bankers rather than citizenry are the beneficiaries.  There was a time when child-care was the province of local government, the profits if there were any were returned to council; when the concept ‘private prisons’ seemed an absurdity; when there was a structure called the  Commonwealth Employment Service which was tasked with finding jobs for people. Now the unemployed are put into the hands of private companies making their fortunes from this endeavour, over with which the unemployed increasingly seem to have scant redress.

So Diving for Pearls opened at the MTC in 1991, directed by Ros Horin who had shepherded the play through Playworks which had been set up by Ros in 1985 to develop women playwrights.  I had chosen Paul Thompson (then at AFTRS) as my dramaturg for the development, he also led me to Elvis Costello’s song Shipbuiding which is where I found the title.  

The relationship with Paul Thompson then continued into other plays commissioned by Robyn Nevin in her various Artistic Director positions, and indeed continues to this day as co-writers on a feature film project.   

Diving for Pearls has attracted wonderful directors, actors and audiences over the years.  It’s been a privilege to talk to students in schools and universities who are studying the play, I’m proud of having made those curriculum lists over the years.  Perhaps I should have sold some essays on the side.

I wish the play wasn’t still relevant, but it seems it is. I’ll finish off this blog with a quote I came across recently from The Conversation, ‘Victorian budget splash raises questions about privatisation’ by David Hayward (May 3 2017):

It is quite striking that in the case of Victoria – Australia’s most ardent privatiser over the last three decades – there is no evidence of user charges falling, or government spending abating. This is what you’d expect were the privatisers to deliver the promised efficiency gains. In the case of public transport we know that the state is now spending more today than was the case under inefficient public ownership.
The one difference is that these days the private owners of Victoria’s infrastructure tend to be overseas owned, and in the case of energy, increasingly from China. The metropolitan trains are run by a company from Hong Kong, the trams, one fifth of the metropolitan buses and the massive desalination plant by firms from France, and about 40% of prisons by an American corrections company. Profits from taxpayer payments are repatriated overseas in a nice little twist that sees privatisation down under contributing to globalisation on top.

Enjoy the show!

Diving for Pearls runs until 28 October. Book now

2 September 3:57 pm

Bruce Meagher’s speech, Griffin 2018 Season Launch

A transcript of the speech that Griffin Chair, Bruce Meagher, gave at the 2018 Season Launch.

As always at Griffin events I would like to acknowledge that we meet today on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and pay all our respects to elders past and present.

My name is Bruce Meagher, and I have the privilege to Chair the Griffin Board, on their behalf and that of the Griffin staff I say welcome to all of you who are the Griffin family, our creative teams on stage and off, colleagues from other companies and from the government and of course our donors and supporters.

We could not do what we do without you.

Lee will mention some of you in her speech but I wanted to call out our friends and fabulous supporters from the Australia Council, Create NSW and the City of Sydney. Government funding accounts for a bit less than 30% of our total resources and is critical in underpinning what we do.

Another group I want to highlight is our colleagues from the STC, Belvoir, Bell Shakespeare and Playwriting Australia.

I mentioned this last year and I am delighted to do so again. Following our difficulties arising from cuts to the Australia Council, the big three performing companies in particular stepped up with support both material and moral and we are extremely grateful for that.

Of course a huge thanks goes to the SBW Foundation who provide us with not one, but two roofs over our heads. They literally are the bedrock on which Griffin is built.

Finally, I want to thank my marvelous colleagues on the Board and of course our amazing staff led by the indomitable Karen and Lee. The Griffin staff perform miracles at least weekly and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Before I hand over to Lee I’d just like to make a couple of observations.

You have, no doubt, seen that over the weekend cars parked outside a performance of Holding the Man were attacked in what was probably a homophobic hate crime.

Holding the Man, of course, started at Griffin and is a play about love, struggle and compassion. It helped move the dial on Australian’s understanding of what it was to be gay and living with HIV/AIDS.

It’s clear that the audiences for the Lane Cove production heard and embraced those messages and that only a small minority in the community reacted with violence and hatred.

However, as we are already seeing in the debates about marriage equality or the place of Muslims and refugees or in the events that occurred in Charlottesville, there is an undercurrent of ugly intolerance that still exists in Australia and other ‘civilised’ nations.

At Griffin we seek to engage, entertain and delight our audiences, but we also believe that theatre is inherently political and must be a force for social change.

This year that was in evidence in Rice, which in a subtle way gave a voice to Australian women of Asian backgrounds who all to often go unheard.

Arguably less subtly in The Homosexuals or Faggots, amid the chaos and the comedy, there was a clear message for privileged, white, middle class gay men like me that, while it’s important to fight for marriage equality, when we win, as we will, we can’t declare victory and go skipping down the isle leaving the BGTI part of the acronym behind. Trans, intersex and other members of the rainbow coalition continue to face real discrimination and we must maintain the fight for their rights.

I won’t give any spoilers before Lee’s announcement of the 2018, but I can promise you that next year’s season will also tackle big issues and will continue to do so in ways that are powerful, outlandish, funny and poignant, often all at once.

So thanks again for being here, we really couldn’t do it without you. I know you all love Griffin; what’s not to love?

And now I’ll hand over to the woman who makes it all happen, I believe she’s the best Artistic Director in the country, Lee Lewis.

31 August 3:00 pm

A Note from Lee, 31 August

Sydney, we have liftoff! Our 2018 Season is well and truly launched. Five extraordinary new Australian plays will come to life at Griffin next year. This next generation of writing is fierce and funny and smart and angry and unashamedly theatrical. And it is all written for you by brave playwrights to provoke conversations about who we are as a nation and who we could be. Big questions, big characters, big possibilities…five big nights out. 

Have a look in our brochure — there are surprises, great ticket deals, awesome photos and way more information than I can give you in this newsletter, but it is going to make you want to subscribe!

Rice is currently playing to packed houses in Albury (hello to all the Hotties!) and next week Diving for Pearls will start to preview. I’ve had a sneak peek, of course, and it is heartbreakingly great writing from Katherine Thompson, coming from the country’s best actors. If you haven’t already got tickets, book them. It is the most important Australian play of the 20th century.

Have I mentioned that a subscription is a great Christmas present for your friends and families?

Love,
Lee

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

30 August 10:42 am

Pitch for Batch Festival

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Calling all playwrights, storytellers, poets, comedians, theatre-inventors, cabaret wranglers, musical-makers, drag kings/queens and performance-aficionados. If you have a project you think will delight audiences at our inaugural Batch Festival, then we want to hear from you! The artists.

What? Batch Festival is a festival. The clue is in the title.

When? 
The festival runs 9-28 April 2018

How it works? 
We’ll program 6-10 projects across three weeks. Runs may vary from five nights to one-off late night spots. As it’s a festival, there will be sharing of the theatre space, tight turn arounds and some production logistics to work through—but tell us what you want and if we love it, we’ll make it all work. 

What sort of work? 
We want to hear from a range of artists working in live performance. If you think your project could work well at the Stables, pitch it!

Submit your pitch here by 5pm Friday 6 October.

If you’d like to discuss your project before submitting, contact Associate Producer, Nicole La Bianca at nicole@griffintheatre.com.au

25 August 1:03 pm

Welcome to Griffin 2018

Why do you come to Griffin? Why do you climb that ridiculous hill in all weathers? Why do you frantically circle the block looking for parking? Why do you race to Nimrod Street after a long day at work? Why do you cluster around the door and scramble up those stairs to get your favourite seat? Why do you jam in so close to strangers and turn all your attention to that strangely shaped stage?

Because there is a magic inside new Australian plays. The magic of words pulled from our streets, of characters crafted from people we know, of stories that matter to us right now. The magic of Australian playwrights slips past all our defences, making us forget the hill, the parking debacle, the stairs, the weather, the long day, the long week, the long year. The magic of a play written just for us will inspire us, challenge us, comfort us, slap us, and laugh at us. The magic of a new play will make us see ourselves not only as we have been but as who we want to be.

And oh boy, don’t we need that magic these days. In a country and world and a time crying out for vision and values, we are looking to our artists to inspire us as our traditional leaders fail to. In the Griffin 2018 Season you will find the next generation of this country’s artistic voice. These plays have a magic in them, yes, but do not expect a kind magic, because these new playwrights are angry and smart and literate and inventive and funny and they are not satisfied with the status quo. So climb that hill, park that car and elbow your way up the stairs to get your favourite seat because it will be worth the effort. There are extraordinary plays for you in 2018. There will be magic in the Stables. A particularly Australian magic. That’s why we all come, isn’t it?

Love,
Lee

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

1:01 pm

Sneak peek #Griffin2018

Ahead of launching our full program for 2018 next week, here’s a little preview!

Following the success of The Literati, playwright Justin Fleming and Lee Lewis will reunite to bring you a glorious satire of polite society. Following on from Molière, The Misanthrope is reimagined in a female voice featuring Danielle Cormack in the title role.

“When I pitched the play to [director] Lee Lewis, she said – and quite rightly, I think – ‘I’m not sure I want to hear some middle-aged guy whining for five acts, I think we have enough of that out there already’,” Peter Evans, artistic director of Bell Shakespeare, says. ”I thought that was a marvellous response. Lee is right, it is tiring. She suggested we should swap the genders of the misanthrope and the lover. I think it’s a brilliant idea and Justin has really embraced it.” – Sydney Morning Herald

We’re delighted to be teaming up with Bell Shakespeare again, and this time we’re headed to Sydney Opera House!

Stay tuned as we’ll announce our full 2018 Season on Monday, when subscribers will be able to access discounted tickets to The Misanthrope before they go on sale to the general public.

24 August 4:03 pm

In Conversation with Sofya Gollan (Part Two)

This is the second of two articles written by theatremaker and 2016 Griffin Studio alum Sofya Gollan. Throughout this piece, Sofya situates Australia within the wider international Disability Arts community, and Griffin within the accessibility conversation—highlighting the, regretfully, true point that the Stables wouldn’t able to accommodate many of her friends and colleagues.

We are excited to announce that Griffin will now be providing a live-captioned performance for the hearing impaired for all Main Season shows. This past Tuesday marked the inaugural live-captioned performance at the Stables—of Michele Lee’s Rice. You can book for Diving for Pearls live-captioned performance on Tuesday 17 October 7pm here.

So what has Disability Art got to do with Griffin? I came into the Studio group with a play that I was doubtful was going to fly. Based on a true-life situation of a friend, the main character is DeafBlind and core themes deal with entrapment for all of its characters. I wasn’t sure it was going to be relevant to anyone outside the disability sector.

But a surprising thing for me happened over the year spending time with the other five playwrights in the studio and Lee and Ben, one of our tasks was to read the plays that came in for the Griffin Award. Engaging in the round table assessments of over a 100 plays to winnow down to the final choice (The Zen of Table Tennis), I came to the realization that a healthy theatre culture is one made up of many voices.

This experience made it possible for me to compare and judge if my story was already being told and as far as I could see, it was not. I gained confidence it had a place that was worth pursuing. It was also reassuring that it was not necessary to be dazzling with situation or character, but to tell the story that no one knows, and relevance would take care of itself.

Part of the support at the Griffin enabled me to go to London to work with an actress in her sixties, Jean St Clair, who is deaf, and very much in demand. There is no one like her in Australia, with her knowledge of theatre and depth of professional experience and deep ties to the deaf community. She was a perfect collaborator for the lead character who is DeafBlind.

The workshop was fruitful, as it illuminated that I would be presenting three different languages on stage throughout the play: Auslan (Australian Sign Language), Tactile Sign Language for the DeafBlind, and English. This process made clear to me that I would need to find elegant and simple ways of ensuring that all of it could be understood by the audience. It emphasized something I already knew: professional, deaf actors fluent in the languages would need to be cast in the roles.

These workshops coincided with the biennial Unlimited Festival held in SouthBank, a festival of international Disability Art showcasing theatre, visual arts, film, dance and music. It was an opportunity to place my developing work in the international context, after months embedded at Griffin where the focus is new Australian work.

Unlimited Festival was set up as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and is now an ongoing programme designed to embed work by disabled artists within the broader UK cultural sector, to shift perceptions of disabled people. It is a big fixture in the Disability Arts scene, so I was excited to be seeing the best of what was on offer. Like all festivals, I found the quality uneven, as many of the supported artists are early in their careers, experimenting and developing still. There were standouts, Suicide the Musical, Biscuit, The Fish Police. All presenting their unique thing like no other.

I had expected coming home to the Arts Activated Conference almost directly after would be a jarring comparison, but the segue into exploring what’s happening in the disability arts sector in Australia showed we have a critical mass of artists now producing extraordinary work captivating public enthusiasm. Our work and our artists most definitely rate against their international counterparts.

I’ve taken a broader view than just theatre, because much of what is created in the disability arts scene is multi-disciplinary, and there doesn’t seem to be that many playwrights with disability. Writing a play is labour when it comes down to it, all that rewriting until the inner narrative is distilled down to a theatre-ready piece. It’s not quite the fun and games as say, dancing.

I have wondered if I might see one of my works at the Stables, and I know I would be thrilled to see it play in its intimate, compact space. I have attended many plays over the years but coming back for Griffin Studio I viewed it with a different lens, to find it one of the most inaccessible theatres I have ever been in. No one with a mobility disability could get up the stairs. Perhaps one wheelchair user could fit in, if there was a lift. The Auslan interpreter would probably have to sit in someone’s lap, and the audio-description for the blind would be overheard by everyone.

I am half-joking of course. The theatre is slightly bigger than that. It would be wonderful to put on a play for Griffin, but knowing my peers would be barred from getting in or understanding due to lack of access, would be high hypocrisy on my part. Its not a lack of will or understanding that holds the Griffin back from implementing changes, but rather the doubly high cost of aligning the theatre’s heritage restrictions with the additional complexity of access infrastructure.

I am grateful to Griffin for its dedication to new work, new people, new ideas. My year at Griffin showed me we each hold our universes, and our task as playwrights is to simply unfold them, using all the best words we have.

The requirement of having to meet once a week at Griffin has been a valuable discipline in a time of children, work and enforced writing late at night. Every week was an hour and half of shooting the breeze on all things theatre and writing, in a space that was questioning, warm and companionable. The company of other writers was a rare, life-affirming treat.

Read Sofya’s first article for the Griffin blog here

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