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Revamped playwright contest launched
Sally Burton. Picture: Robert Duncan/The West Australian.

One of Australia's most lucrative playwriting prizes has been extensively revamped after concerns last year that writers were not measuring up to the judges' expectations.

The $30,000 Richard Burton Award for Playwriting was launched in 2010 by the Welsh-born actor's widow Sally Burton and the Black Swan State Theatre Company.

Caleb Lewis' Clinchfield won the inaugural award that year, with Hellie Turner's The Time of Texas Wall the runner-up. However, the prize was withheld in 2011 when none of the more than 100 entries from around Australia could be identified as a deserving recipient.

Now in its third year, the prize carries new conditions, effectively turning it into a formalised commissioning process for Black Swan. Instead of accepting unproduced scripts, the award is open to plays by Australian writers that have had a public season by a professional or co-operative company anywhere in the world over the past three years.

A judging panel, yet to be appointed, will come up with a shortlist of six writers on the strength of these works and ask them to submit a treatment for a proposed new play.

Two writers will each be awarded a $15,000 commission to write their plays, which Black Swan will have the first exclusive right to produce.

Mrs Burton said she and Black Swan had been guided by the WA Writers Guild and awards such as the Belvior Street Theatre's Philip Parsons Award in coming up with the revised format.

"It was exciting to receive so many scripts last year but disappointing to not find something of the same calibre as the previous year," Mrs Burton said.

"Richard was passionate about good writing and believed in developing new talent. I am looking forward to this new award format and the calibre of work it will produce."

Black Swan artistic director Kate Cherry said the new format was intended to be an incentive and encouragement for playwrights across Australia.

In Sydney, the Griffin Theatre Company yesterday revealed the shortlist for its $10,000 prize for unproduced and unpublished plays: Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography by Declan Greene; All Over by Kit Brookman; Savages by Patricia Cornelius; This is Where We Live by Vivienne Walshe; Scowl by Angus Cerini and Lavender Bay by Alana Valentine.

The Griffin Prize winner will be announced on June 12.

·Stephen Bevis was a judge at the first two Richard Burton Awards. <div class="endnote">

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