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Current recipients: The R E Ross Trust Playwrights' Script Development Awards

The 2013 winners of The R E Ross Trust Playwrights’ Script Development Awards are Didem Caia, Trudy Hellier, Mari Lourey and Tobias Manderson-Galvin. Merrilee Moss also received a commendation.

Judges' report

Judges: Declan Greene, Mary Lou Jelbart, Anne McInerney

A total of 29 plays were submitted for consideration for the 2013 R E Ross Trust Playwrights’ Script Development Awards. These ranged from short works aimed at young children to ambitious long plays stretching the theatrical form, representing an enormous variety of genres: thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, horror, domestic drama and comedy. Submissions included elements of dance, song and poetry, as well as various visual forms from fundamental drawing techniques to the incorporation of new technology.  

The panel was pleased to note that the number of entries has rebounded from last year’s sparser field.

In all, four winning scripts and one highly commended script were chosen.

Vile by Didem Caia is a tale of oppression, abuse, love and loyalty that is timely, surprising, challenging and artfully handled. After an electrifying and disorienting opening scene – somewhere between fantasy and horrible violent reality – there is a slow drip-feed release of information that is always intriguing. The dialogue is whip-smart, economical, surprising and fittingly brutal, showing great potential for further development.

This play has been selected to participate in Playwriting Australia’s 2014 National Script Workshop, in a partnership between The R E Ross Trust Playwrights’ Script Development Awards and Playwriting Australia.

Didem Caia began performing at a young age but her interest in performance writing culminated during her undergraduate years. She participated in the Snatches student festivalthree years running with her play A couple’s game and the monologues Exit God and Here for it. In 2012, Didem wrote Feet last for the NIDA Griffin 24-hour play generator and had an extract from Vile presented at La Mama. This year Didem will take part in the inaugural Grace Marion Wilson Playwrights’ Fellowship in order to expand her most recent play script In bloom. Didem holds a NIDA Postgraduate Diploma in Playwriting, a Diploma in Theatre Arts from Victoria University and a Bachelor of Creative Writing (Screenwriting) from RMIT University. 

Dirt songs by Mari Lourey is an ambitious work, dealing with a number of major contemporary issues: the gross mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, the exploitation of Australia’s natural resources, and the devastating consequences of both. It shows great theatrical sophistication and is bursting with rich imagery, rendering the dark forces of human nature, spirituality and the cosmos in exquisite detail. The characters would seem hewn from this fantastical landscape but are underpinned bya sharply observed realism, in dialogue that is both poetic and harshly true. This is a startling work of genuine promise and excitement.

Mari Lourey is a playwright, producer and performer who came to theatre from a music background. She previously won the RE Ross Trust award for Bare witness.After a sold-out 2010 season at fortyfivedownstairs, Bare witness toured regional Australia with Performing Lines in 2012. As well as having written several award-winning plays – among them Dirty angels and The bridge – Mari has led major artistic projects including The Big Issue’s Homeless not artless project. She also works as a dramaturg, runs writing workshops and is co-facilitator ofIlbijerri Theatre Company’s Black Writers Lab. She holds a Master of Writing for Performance from VCA and the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing Diploma.

The unknown man on Somerton Beach by Tobias Manderson-Galvin is a spirited, surreal and occasionally bizarre exploration of post-war Australian society, with a famous unsolved mystery as the instigating incident. Using the voices of both an ‘unknown man’ washed up on an Adelaide beach and of two film noir federal agents assigned to investigate the case, the play skilfully weaves a multi-faceted, mind-bending pastiche of theatrical and cinematic forms. This is intriguing chaos, still wanting in cohesion, but it’s the starting point for a fascinating piece of theatre.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin is a playwright, poet and performance-maker, best known as co-founder and creative director of MKA: Theatre of New Writing. His play The economist attracted international media attention and had sold-out seasons in Melbourne, Brisbane and Edinburgh. The unknown man on Somerton Beach was first commissioned by Traverse Theatre (Scotland) and developed during a Master of Writing for Performance at the University of Melbourne. Tobias is currently working on a new full-length play Ascension, a bio-play of King Charles II, and a number of other stage works. 

Just perfect by Trudy Hellier is inspired by real-life events surrounding the murder of a Melbourne businessman with a secret life as a swinger. It examines the tragic effects on those left behind. The solo performer takes the audience into her confidence as the performance becomes not only a confessional but a conspiracy between them as she creates a set – literally in front of their eyes. The writing has a very precise, beautiful level of detail that, combined with the self-imposed limitations of the chalk-drawn set and the sound of reportage forcing itself into the audience’s consciousness, allows tragedy to loom right from the start and build its power slowly, step by step.

Trudy Hellier is an actor, playwright and screenwriter whose plays Blind faith and Trapped have been produced extensively and have also been nominated for Greenroom Awards. The furies (co-written with Elise McCredie) premiered off Broadway in 2006. Trudy’s films have earned many accolades in addition to receiving funding from Screen Australia and Film Victoria. Break and enter won an AFI Award, and a best short film award from the Film Critics Circle of Australia, while the long-format short film Trapped screened internationally and won the St Kilda Film Festival Audience Award. Trudy also has two feature films currently in development.  Her television series Tenderhooks was recently acquired by the British company that produced The hours and Life on Mars, and she co-wrote four episodes of Lowdown,the AWGIE Award-winning ABC TV series.

The panel would also like to highly commend Oriel by Merrilee Moss, a complex interweaving of the lives of two female Australian playwrights who face some of the same problems despite being separated by half a century. The awarded sum is to be used specifically for the purpose of working with dramaturg Kim Durban on the underlying dramatic intention of the play and how well its structure serves that aim. 

Merrilee Moss has had eight plays produced including If looks could kill, Over the hill (which toured Australia and was translated into Mandarin), Sez who?! – a children’s play about land rights, Empty suitcases, The slippery slope and most recently the dance-drama Tango femme (as part of the Midsumma Festival). She won an AWGIE Award in 2010 for her play Night breakfast. Moss also writes novels – her crime spoof Fedora walks was translated into German. Her books for young adults include the adventure series Hot pursuit and the gay-themed Thriller & me. Moss is currently undertaking a PhD in performance writing at Monash University.