The state of writing for the Australian stage will be under the spotlight when the National Play Festival is held in Perth for the first time from today.
The event was cause for celebration despite the recent collapse of WA new-play specialist Deckchair Theatre, risk-averse stage budgets and the financial lure of writing for film and television, Playwriting Australia artistic director Tim Roseman said.
Held within the Perth International Arts Festival, the four-day event at the State Theatre Centre would present the best new Australian plays to show reports that new playwriting was dead were greatly exaggerated, Roseman said.
"The challenge is how do you make a sustainable career, how do you keep doing it when there are so few opportunities for playwrights," Roseman said. "There is a real challenge in developing your craft over a number of years."
The collapse of Deckchair in October left just one Australian company focused on new plays, Sydney's Griffin Theatre Company.
Roseman said playwriting was not fashionable in the Australian theatre scene dominated by ensemble-devised shows and director-led radical revamps of classics.
"They may be brilliant, here-and-now and visceral but they are no contribution to a cultural legacy," he said. "The stories that we tell of our generation by our generation are the cultural history that you write for Australia."
As Fringe World showed, there were many emerging playwrights but the challenge was to get more works on the nation's main stages.
Perth playwright Chris Isaacs is one of four local up-and-comers in the festival's Re-Gen WA workshops and performances.
He said it was a great opportunity to have his play Up in the Flood put in the hands of professional actors, dramaturges and directors.
"Plays are written to be performed and heard so getting the voices and feel for the rhythms and flow of the piece is most beneficial," he said.
Former Deckchair artistic director Chris Bendall will direct a retrospective of the Fremantle company's most acclaimed productions.
The State Government will also encourage more new WA plays using funds allocated to Deckchair.