Sydney Theatre Company (STC) announced multi-disciplinary artist of Thai-Australian descent Anchuli Felicia King (Golden Shield, Slaughterhouse) as its latest Patrick White Playwrights Fellow, taking the reins from current fellow Nakkiah Lui. The $25,000 tenure is awarded annually to an established playwright in recognition of excellence.
Announcing the appointment, STC’s artistic director Kip Williams noted: “In this time of uncertainty, it is so important to look to the future of our art form and support the next generation of theatre makers.”
King agrees. “The fact they are still awarding the fellowship this year, and that I was chosen, is incredibly humbling and feels all the more invaluable to me,” she says. “I know so many people in our industry right now who are experiencing just an incredible amount of uncertainty and instability. So to get this, it’s actually a real, creative lifeline for me.”
Given the vagaries of the creative industries in general, on top of the current instability, the ability to focus squarely on playwrighting is remarkable. “With the financial buffer of the fellowship, I don’t have to worry as much about taking piecemeal work in order to just subsist. I can focus on getting back to playwriting, which is something that I’ve been doing less and less of in this weird moment.”
I’m using it to get new voices through the door and develop younger writers
The support of institutions like STC has huge ramifications for the industry as a whole, King argues. “It’s not only responsible for producing some of the most astonishing productions of the past decade, but is also a pipeline, and that pipeline allows the theatre industry to keep subsisting and circulating. If that pipeline suddenly stops, the industry stops, and they have the foresight to know that they have to keep their development programmes running.”
It’s not just about producing shows, she says. It’s also about developing artists who go on to produce those shows. And crisis can be the mother of invention.
“For a long time, as an industry we were quite defensive about digitisation and the possibility of doing things remotely. Because it seemed like our artform was so contingent on live and being in a space together, that if you take that element away, it seems to somehow threaten or pollute it. But actually, I think out of necessity theatre companies have started to realise that it can be a really useful tool for audience outreach and engagement, and it actually will get people through the door.”
Digital forays have brought the global theatre community closer together, she suggests. “Theatre industries all around the world are going through the same issue right now, which means that they can collaborate and share resources about how to do things online, which has been heartening to see. I hope that that sense of global community, that we can be far apart but find ways to stay connected, continues after this.”
King’s priority, as the new fellow, is to amplify writers of colour. “I’ve been given this immense privilege in a time of immense insecurity for a lot of people. So I’m using it to get new voices through the door and develop younger writers developing stories that are under-told or historically erased, so that we come out of this with a more inclusive, equitable and diverse Australian theatre landscape. Now’s the time to do it, because we have so much time to develop and discover new work while we’re not staging it.”