Darlinghurst Theatre Company has championed the voices of Australian artists for almost 30 years now, and you-know-what wasn’t going to stop that. Sure, their doors may be temporarily closed, but they were also one of the first stages in the city to embrace the new normal, opening up their restaurant for a series of intimate cabaret gigs earlier this year.
Now they’re using the temporary time-out to help signal boost the voice of an exciting array of new and boundary-pushing local playwrights as part of their open submission Next in Line program, which was announced last year. The Great Indoors looked to derail things, but the City of Sydney stepped in with a cultural grant that means seven writers working across six new plays will get to tap into the Darlo’s network of actors, directors and dramaturgs, plus their recently appointed head of new writing, Leila Enright.
Dylan Van Den Berg, a Palawa writer and actor living on Ngunnawal land and with family connections to north-eastern Tasmania, scooped the 2020 Griffin Award for new Australian playwriting for his Gothic revenge drama Way Back When. Now he can work on its exploration of colonial wounds and the path to healing further thanks to Next in Line. Actor Jordyn Fulcher, currently participating in Sydney Theatre Company’s emerging writers group, will work-up Cat Piss, examining the righteous anger of women fighting against a society that has claimed ownership of their bodies.
Phoebe Grainer and Wendy Mocke’s Jelbu Meri explores the lived experiences of both an Aboriginal and a Papua New Guinean woman who grew up in Australia. Saman Shad, editor of SBS Voices, will work on Nas’s Marriage Agency, a riotous family comedy about arranged marriage. South African-Australian Kirsty Marillier’s The Zap, which took home the 2020 Max Afford Award, imagines our very near future, intersectional feminism and fake news. And Zimbabwean-Australian Moreblessing Maturure’s fabulously titled No Pink Dicks discusses intercultural relationships from a Black, female perspective.
When Amylia Harris was elevated to become Darlo’s co-artistic director alongside and Glenn Terry, she told us that despite the financial stress, one of the silver linings of lockdown was the space to think. “We spend our entire time in theatre being underfunded,” she said. “We don’t have enough staff, not enough resources. We’re never afforded the time to plan, and planning is such a gift. So really, this is an opportunity. Rather than having a lot of razzmatazz ideas, rolling them out and seeing how they go, this way I can think about them properly, plan them out and select the ones that are really going to work.”
Checking back in with her recently, she adds: “It’s essential to invest in new voices and to be listening to the voices of this moment as well... we’ve got an extraordinary line-up of people who have a story they need to share.”
Next in Line offers a real opportunity to get each work to exactly where it needs to be, she says: “Development of work in Australia is often rushed. And so we want to take a moment to really give it some time, give it the energy, and allow them the space they’re asking for. We’ve got amazing artists and their plays are extraordinary. And they deserve the space and the air to breathe and grow.”
We can’t wait to see all six plays someday soon. In the meantime, read about new theatre to see here.