Arts partnership ignites a spark for First Nations playwrights

Six young aspiring First Nations playwrights will soon take an important step towards realising their writing dreams thanks to a development program run jointly by Playlab Theatre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC).

The partnership between Playlab Theatre and QPAC, called Sparks, is a professional development program for emerging Queensland First Nations playwrights and provides real-world experience to take their ideas from development stage through to creative realisation.

Commencing on 12 July 2020 and coinciding with the traditional dates for NAIDOC Week (5-12 July), the program is part of QPAC’s First Nations Seedlingsinitiative and was piloted in collaboration with Playlab Theatre in 2019.

Taking place across 2020 and into 2021, due to COVID-19, the 12-month Sparks program will see the writers explore their initial concepts, undertake professional development sessions, and participate in interactive workshops and cultural conversations.

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch congratulated the six playwrights who will continue their creative journey.

The Palaszczuk Government’s investment in QPAC’s 2020 Sparks program will showcase First Nations artists, stories and cultures, Minister Enoch said.

“Now, more than ever, the stories of who we are and how we see the world are so incredibly important. I am so thrilled to see the next generation of storytellers connecting to the strength of culture in developing their craft.”

QPAC Chief Executive John Kotzas said the continuation of the Sparks partnership with Playlab Theatre would enable more stories from First Nations playwrights to be brought to the stage.

Our First Nations People have practiced song, dance, music and culture for over 60,000 years and QPAC recognises their crucial role in the state’s historical, creative and cultural landscapes, said Mr Kotzas.

“Our aim for the Sparks program is to create an opportunity for the next generation of storytellers to add their voices to this rich tradition.

Sparks is one of four strands within Seedlings, the cornerstone of our First Nations programming. It is an incubator that provides a creative and cultural space for artists to explore, seed new ideas and challenge forms of expression.

“To date the Seedlings program has engaged more than 100 local and national First Nations artists and creatives. We look forward to seeing the outcomes from the talented young minds of the 2020 Sparks cohort.”

Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Playlab Theatre Ian Lawson said the collaboration with QPAC on the Sparks program was a natural fit for the organisation.

Playlab is unique nationally as the only organisation that works with playwrights to develop new writing from the initial idea through to bringing the work to the stage and to publication.

“As an organisation we want to make First Nations work part of our everyday activities as we seek to challenge perspectives of Australian culture through new Australian theatre,” said Mr Lawson.

“As the oldest continuing culture on earth and a defining aspect of our national character, First Nations stories are vital to any conversation about our country’s values and socio-political reality.

“The introduction of the Sparks First Nations playwright program in 2019 is an important step in making this leap and partnering with the First Nations Programming Team at QPAC has also brought invaluable cultural learning for us as an organisation.

Sparks has joined Playlab Theatre’s existing pathway to develop work and take it to the stage, with several of the first Sparks intake continuing to work with us on their projects. Now in its second iteration, we are extremely excited about the group of artists about to enter the process, including our first regional playwright from Cairns.”

The 2020 Sparks program participants are:

  • Aurora Liddle-Christie, a Jamaican and First Nations Australian multi-disciplinary artist
  • Che Skeen, a Wakka Wakka/Birra Gubbi woman born on Jagera, Meanjin and an Indigenous creative
  • Lyric Hearn, a Gureng Gureng, Binthi Warra and Myilly woman currently studying a Cert IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention at TAFE QLD with aspirations to enrol in Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2021
  • Merindi Schrieber an experienced performer and producer whose artistic practice is grounded in a deep connection to her mother’s land, Kuku Yalanji (Mossman, NQ)
  • Phillippa Sandy a multi-racial woman of Mununjali, English and Greek heritage currently studying a Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in film and screen production at QUT
  • Raelee Lancaster, a writer, collaborator and creative producer who was raised on Awabakal land, and is of Wiradjuri, Biripi, and European descent.

Successful Sparks alumni include Emily Wells who was accepted into Playlab Theatre’s Alpha Processing program to develop her play into a final script, Aidan Rowlingson, who is continuing to develop his work as part of Moogahlin Arts playwriting workshops and Hannah Belanzsky, who was commissioned by Playlab Theatre alongside four other emerging female playwrights to write a new play that will be produced by Playlab Theatre. She has also toured a cabaret she wrote and directed at the Fringe World Festival in Perth and the Adelaide Fringe, where the work was awarded Best Cabaret at the Adelaide Fringe Weekly awards. She also presented a draft of Shadow in a Dress, developed through Sparks at La Boite HWY Festival.

The Sparks program will culminate in November 2021 with public outcomes including readings of play excerpts.

The Sparks program is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.

Peter J Snee

Peter is a British born creative, working in the live entertainment industry. He holds an honours degree in Performing Arts and has over 12 years combined work experience in producing, directing and managing artistic programs & events. Peter has traversed the UK, Europe and Australia pursuing his interest in theatre. He is inspired by great stories and passionately driven by pursuing opportunities to tell them.

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