14 September 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?


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.

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

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?


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

21 August 4:05 pm

A Note from Lee, 17 August

Marriage equality and the postal vote. If Griffin was a person, they would vote yes…oh wait…Griffin is people…a lot of people…a small number of people here in the office, and a lot of people receiving this email and coming to our shows each night. And it would be awesome if all of these people who love the art and artists on the Griffin stage could vote yes.

Make sure you register to vote, or update your details by Thursday 24 August. You can do that here

The same sex marriage survey forms will be mailed out on Tuesday 12 September.

You are STRONGLY ENCOURAGED to return forms by Friday 27 October.

The ABS will not accept your vote if it arrives with them after 6pm on Tuesday 7 November.

If you want to do more go to:

More dates. You have until August 26th to see Rice. Our first-ever captioned performance is on August 22nd. We are launching our 2018 season on August 28th. You have 130 days until Christmas. Get cracking people. There’s a lot to do before then, including making Australia a place where everyone has the right to marry the person they love. I know there’s a lot more on the list to make this country fairer but let’s take care of this now.

With love from the whole Griffin team,
and Lee

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director

11 August 12:02 pm

In Conversation with Sofya Gollan (Part One)

In this blog series, theatre maker Sofya Gollan offers an insightful commentary on the Disability Arts community and her experience as a 2016 Griffin Studio Artist.

Disability Arts: it is a sector of the art world that takes on Disability as its theme. It represents work that explores the conceptual ideas and physical realities of what it is like to be disabled, or concepts relating to the word ‘disabled.’

My relationship with the Disability Arts sector has never been straightforward even though I have identified as having a disability (as a professional creator) for many years now, being deaf, while also being an actor, playwright, screenwriter and filmmaker. I used to say, “I am a deaf actor, deaf writer, deaf filmmaker,” but now I don’t see the necessity to link what I am to what I do. It isn’t the identity I have to cleave to in order to create my work. Disability is one strand that weaves into the other identities of mother, mediocre cook, book reader, filmmaker, seamstress, VR and science enthusiast, and with sneaky appreciation, cats taking down toddlers on the interwebs.

The cultural context when I started out was if you had a disability and wanted a serious career in the arts it was essential to prove it would not impact on the work (or collaboration) and was irrelevant. The common opinion was if you had a disability, artistic practice was seen as a therapeutic activity that alleviated the frustrations and limitations of a small and diminished life. Not a career or a calling to express a unique viewpoint or opinion of the world. It was expected that you not mention it, not let it impact on your collaborations with others, but rather insist: “Look what I made in spite of, I am just like you”.

I understood you were allowed to have every point of view except that of Disability as a valuable and essential contribution to the arts culture. Depicting a life lived with disability was not a world-view that was sought out, cultivated, or more importantly, bought. So I made work that did not directly allude to disability, even though being deaf I identify as disabled because it has prevented me many times from participating fully in society and the opportunities that are contained therein.

But now, ironically, on a professional level, identifying with the Disability Arts movement in recent years has been the re-ignition of my career.

It’s often possible to have a disability (as an artist) and not be part of the Disability Arts scene. But it’s nearly impossible to create art without the disability shaping and informing the work. Disability Art, with its unique perspective has the potential to startle and poke the audience into seeing the world not only differently, but with awe and wonder, as all good art does.

For many it might be a surprising concept that in art, disability is to be celebrated as a new addition to the culture especially when created by those with an insider view i.e. people with disability or lived experience. In 2007, British artist Yinka Shonibare (a Turner Prize Nominee) stated the now famous quote: “Disability Arts can be seen as the last remaining avant-guarde movement”; much like feminism, LBTQ, and indigenous movements once were. Avant-garde is an admittedly over-used term, that is often taken up to describe work by young (energetic) people who believe they are reinventing the world one distressed-white-room at a time. But its simple and original meaning is: ‘the advance guard of people or works that are experimental, radical, unorthodox with respect to culture, art and society.’ I believe artists with disability are occupying that space, living and depicting their lives and experiences. They provide a fresh unique perspective on the fragility of bodies, boundaries and inclusion. Or often, exclusion.

12:02 pm

Lee Lewis in response to Kevin Jackson critique

This blog post is written is response to this critique on Kevin Jackson Theatre Diary

Dear Kevin,

Traditionally artists stay silent in the face of published criticism. However the media landscape is changing rapidly and significantly, and in this age of disinformation and fake news there is an increasing need for fact checking. Normally I’d pick up the phone and call you to organise a coffee and a chat about some of the misconceived notions you have about programming at Griffin, and in the past I have enjoyed our discussions about the challenges of selection and production of new Australian plays. 

Today though, I am worried that my more personal approach might, in the past, have contributed to the impression of the silence and silencing of artists and artistic directors in this country. I find myself in an age and a country where it is necessary to analyse my ‘traditional’ responses in an effort to understand whether they are ‘right’ or lazy, or the product of an institutional structure created to support the cultural status quo, or the product of an inherently patriarchal, white dominant education system within the British empire, or the product of the nuns impressing on me that good girls are quiet. I am also worried that a lack of response posted publicly will add to a spread of cynicism about our funding structures, the likes of which exposed the arts to damage of the Brandis debacle. 

So. A response. Posted for the record on your website. If you choose not to post it as is your right as a moderator, I’ll also post it on the Griffin blog. I will attempt to limit my conversation to what I will term paragraph five of your blog post, beginning (ironically from my point of view) with the word ‘Certainly’.  I will not engage in any response to your critiques of the play or the performances. We have a long history of acknowledging our different tastes in writing, production and performance styles, and I will always support your right to your opinion of my work. 

“Certainly, then, in the present political environment of our Performing Arts industry this play ticks many of the boxes that will take it into serious consideration for actual production from Main Stream companies.”

To be clear, there are no boxes to tick. Neither the Australia Council for the Arts nor Create NSW put any restrictions on our programming decisions. As a company we create our own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure and acquit our success at achieving the goals of the company. Our acquittals are publicly available in our Annual General Report which is on our website. Our main KPI is to produce three new Australian works every year. That is it. There are no restrictions on that. I have enormous freedom as an Artistic Director to distribute the company resources to meet that KPI.

There are goals within this company that publicly state that we are committed to creating productions which reflect the diversity of the city and country in which we are privileged to work. We create our own KPIs to track our strategies and successes in meeting those goals. None of those KPIs necessarily impact on the straightforward mission of the company to produce at least three new works every year. Note that even while absorbing the Brandis cuts we are producing three new works and one revival this year, and that over the next three years the Girgensohn Foundation is supporting the fifth play in our season.

The goals of the company to reflect the diversity of our population reflect the values of the people working in the company, and I would say the values of many people working in the arts in Australia today. Often we do not reach those goals in our programming. More often than not in the history of this company, the seasons are dominated with plays written by men; the plays are written by white playwrights; and the stories told are dominated by white male protagonists. Historically, educationally and institutionally, the scales are still tipped in favour of the white male playwright and the white male hero, even at Griffin. I don’t deny the excellence of the plays programmed even as I admit the absences their presence perpetuates. 

Every time there is a lack of gender equity in the season, the production or the story, I feel it personally. Every time there is an all white cast onstage, I feel it as a failure keenly. I believe every play is an opportunity to move the Australian cultural identity towards a new normal that includes every citizen in our storytelling traditions. Those are my own values, which are publicly known, and were known at the time I was hired to lead this company. Yes I try to separate my values from the company goals because it is not ‘my company’ but a company belonging to the audience of Sydney and Australia. But of course my values influence the conversations within the company and thus the formation of the goals. They are connected. Inevitably. But to be clear, those values are in no way boxes to be ticked by playwrights desiring production at Griffin. There are no boxes. And for you to perpetuate that language or that myth is incorrect, irresponsible and damaging. 

“A writer of the female sex (tick) from a minority Asian culture (tick), with two roles for women (tick) that will demand cultural diversity in casting (tick) dealing with contemporary issues (tick).”

Let’s leave aside your glib tone that ripples with colours of condescending, patronising and offensive. Let’s instead celebrate all those qualities about this play. Unfortunately Rice is still extraordinary for these reasons. I hope within my lifetime these qualities will become unremarkable. Rice was not programmed for any of these reasons. It was programmed because it is an excellent piece of writing from an emerging playwright that reflects the people and politics of our time. It was programmed because I believed it would speak to our audiences in ways and words they needed to hear. And the reactions from most of our audiences are ratifying that instinct. This is a critically and financially successful production of a new Australian play from a playwright who I believe will be one of the most significant voices in the transformation of the cultural identity of this nation. But the success or not of this production does not fall within the framework of this conversation. Again your opinion is your own.

I am not the only person in the artistic community that has this faith in the potential of this play and this playwright. Michele Lee’s potential as a playwright was identified years ago. She has had a number of plays in development at different companies. Playwriting Australia developed this work. Rice won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2016-17 and received further development at Queensland Theatre. There has been the freedom in these processes for her as the playwright to experiment with how to tell the story in the way she wanted. Which brings me to your third sentence:

“Plus, the offer by the writer that the two actors, who play Nisha and Yvette will, also, play an extra four characters each, of various sex and ages, thus ensuring that the Producing companies, need only employ two actors – a budgetary consideration of often irresistible attraction (tick) to get one’s work produced by the Professional Company in Australia.”

Yes, importantly, the playing of multiple roles was an offer by the playwright. This was not a directorial idea, or a producer intervention. Griffin is a playwrights’ theatre and as such we strive to present the first productions of plays as imagined by the playwright. Michele Lee’s reasons for asking two actors to play multiple roles included, but are not limited to, an acknowledgement that there is not, in this country, much opportunity for the transformational performances by diverse women. As such, she has genuine interest in exploring the boundaries and possibilities of this challenge in her play. It was my duty as first director of the work to give her the opportunity to see her ideas in front of an audience. 

“(A strategic gesture by Ms Lee?)”

If it was, it was a dangerous strategy. The two-hander is an exceptionally difficult form of storytelling. The first one I worked on was Caryl Churchill’s A Number, which was possibly the most perfect meeting of form and content I have ever had the privilege to direct. It also made me very wary of the pressures of that formal choice. In fact, seeing that a play is a two-hander sets off all sorts of resistances in me. Michele Lee’s work convinced me that the two-hander is ultimately the right form for the telling of this story. There is a philosophical offer inside the form that recognises that power is one person feeling entitled to value themselves above another, and that racism is built and deconstructed between two people. These thoughts are not overt but they are being tested by the play. Again, the success or not of the production in realising these philosophical enquiries is not important right now.

I would note that the only other two-handers we have produced in my time as Artistic Director here at Griffin were Aidan Fennessy’s The House On The Lake, and Declan Greene’s 8 Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography. Prior to that, under Sam Strong’s leadership, I directed Van Badham’s The Bull, The Moon and The Coronet of Stars in 2013. So, in no way could it be said that we look to produce two-handers. Indeed the entire theatre community is aware of the need to keep the numbers of actors onstage as high as possible. Last year Griffin had an average of 5 in cast size. This year, in absorbing the Brandis cuts we have dropped to an average of 4. Next year we will be up to an average of 4.6, again with no two-handers. We do have some physical limitations at Griffin. The eight in the dressing room for Gloria did rely on certain graciousness from the acting company in sharing a tiny space. But I digress.

“In this case the Producing companies, the Arts Funded Queensland Company and the Griffin Company (of NSW origin) need only pay one actor each for this three month rehearsal/performance season (tick tick).” 

This seems like a good opportunity to correct the false impression that co-producing saves companies money. The cost of safely and responsibly supporting a play and its team across companies and states outweighs any ‘savings’ you are implying. One of the reasons companies invest in the extra work and cost of a co-production is the genuine desire to share a story across geographic boundaries. I believe that this benefits both the playwrights and the audiences of different cities. In the quest for a national conversation, co-production is one of the creative tools the arts community has to bring audiences together around a contemporary narrative. The costs are large and that often stops more co-productions from happening, but the benefits to this country are significant in the long term. No company co-produces to save money. Cue laughter from every general manager across the country.

That was my best attempt to contain the anger your paragraph provoked. I hope I have dealt with the parts of your statements reasonably and factually. What I have yet to address is the despair provoked at the sum of the parts of that paragraph. That you would attack the programming of a play for the very qualities which represent the ambitions of the theatre community to be inclusive and representative of the audience it works to serve is devastating. The suggestion that all the work, intuition, craft and creative energy over the years it has taken to bring this work to the stage was expended cynically in the pursuit of political correctness is deeply offensive. At a time when our values as a nation are under attack, this play is programmed with an eye to the best version of the future of this country. That is not a box, it is a belief that our artists will lead us when our politicians fail to.

Lee Lewis

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