The Australian National Playwrights' Conference will live once again in its natural home at ANU's Burgmann College in 2001, despite occasional dalliances elsewhere such as at the Adelaide Festival. The all important diary dates are April 17 to 28, and there will be opportunities this time around for many more people to be involved in addition to the focus group of playwrights.
Traditionally the ANPC concentrated on a small group whose plays were professionally workshopped over 2 weeks, with top class actors and directors coming together at peak energy levels with a sense of dedication to the growth of new Australian theatre. Over the last 20 years, and especially since top flight dramaturg May-Brit Akerholt became director, ANPC has become far more inclusive.
Nowadays indigenous writers are represented every year, no longer with any sense of a need for affirmative action but as a natural part of the mainstream. The New Dramatists Exchange with New York continues with an Australian writer there and an American writer here. The Young Playwrights' Studio runs around the nation separately from the main Conference, with successful young ACT writers Tom Hodgson (Hannibal and Co.), Sarah Kaur (Girl) and Christopher Curwood (Brain Drain) among others being awarded a year's membership of ANPC and observer status at the Conference. And, as always, any interested person can buy a ticket for a day or for the whole 2 weeks as an observer, including taking part in the often highly energetic discussions in the daily forums and seminars.
For some years now there has also been The Studio running throughout the fortnight in parallel with the main Conference. This is for anyone who has "a script, a scene or even just a great idea". It's a course for budding writers with daily classes taught by professional writing tutors and specialist theatrecraft people, and often sets the seeds of a script which in a later year appears in the main Conference. One writer, Jen Nield, described The Studio as "like being given a brand new box of tools", the image emphasising that writing for theatre is a practical craft.
And now comes a new initiative which I suspect will grow bigger than Ben Hur: the Drama Teachers' Studio. For the first time, ladies and gentlemen, drama teachers across the nation can spend their Easter holidays (and up to $950 for registration, accommodation and meals from April 18 to 21) on an annual professional development binge.
The Drama Teachers' Studio, directed in 2001 by the experienced playwright, dramaturg and theatre writing teacher Timothy Daly, already well known for his ANPC work in Canberra as well as interstate, will concentrate on texts being taught by the teachers especially for Year 11 and 12 and in tertiary education courses. In the Conference milieu, teachers at last will have a regular opportunity to mix with the top professionals in the industry - and relatively early in the academic year, ready to feed all their experience back to their students.
I believe that this special relationship between the ANPC and the teaching profession will help establish the status of drama teachers, who are still too often regarded as people playing games rather than as the highly trained and disciplined professionals that they need to be nowadays. Despite the cost (becoming a member of ANPC and Earlybird registration by February 23 saves $110), the Drama Teachers' Studio will be invaluable, and is already being strongly supported by the NSW Educational Drama Association and the ACT Drama Association - and ANPC's phones are running hot from teachers in other states within days of sending out their fax.
Write to ANPC, PO Box 1566, Rozelle NSW 2039, email firstname.lastname@example.org , phone 02 9555 9377, or fax 02 9555 9370. The 2001 Australian National Playwrights' Conference is waiting in the wings.© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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