Queensland Playwrights’ Season
Rick Billinghurst’s ‘experiment’ in 1977 with the Queensland Playwrights’ Season has special significance.
Funded by The Utah Foundation, the season included a revival of George Landen Dann’s In Beauty It Is Finished and four premieres of new, short works – Lorna Bol’s Treadmill and Jill Shearer’s The Kite, Nocturne and The Boat. As The Courier-Mail announced: “For the first time ever, plays written by Queenslanders will dominate the subscription season of a Brisbane theatre”.[i] Playlab’s President, Rod Lumer, recognised the importance of this moment in La Boite’s history:
The Queensland Playwrights’ Laboratory (Playlab)[ii] in attempting to help our playwrights has long realised the need for a major theatre to acknowledge the existence and worth of local playwrights and we are grateful that Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre is making this positive contribution to the cultural self-esteem of our state.[iii]
A relationship between Repertory and Queensland plays and playwrights, begun in the 1930s with George Landen Dann, was reignited in this experiment. In La Boite’s first Newsletter for 1977, Billinghurst and Blocksidge wrote:
The Queensland Playwrights’ Season is the beginning of a program to establish the importance of the Queensland regional writer. Brisbane Repertory’s La Boite Theatre has incorporated within its charter, the practical development of the Queensland Playwright in the belief that exciting theatre essentially grows from a primary concern with its surrounding community, and that begins with the local writer.
La Boite plans to include many more things of Queensland in its programs, to mirror Queensland society including contemporary politics. Queenslanders now realise their State is full of drama, and we predict Queensland theatre will grow, through its popularity with local audiences, over the next year or two.
Was the season a box office success? Apparently not, as theatre reviewer Don Batchelor reported: “It [the season] was rightly hailed as a highly significant and laudable venture by people close to theatre. Publicity for the season was excellent. The advertising budget was three times the average; yet ticket sales were discouragingly low – 33% of capacity in fact.”[iv] This box office failure did not unduly bother Rick Billinghurst who believed that all companies (including QTC) “receiving large public subsidies had a responsibility to put those funds at risk … and that one major use of risk funds should be to present the work of new – particularly local – writers”.[v]
Writer: Christine Comans
[i] The Courier-Mail, Jan. 10, 1977.
[ii] Playlab, the oldest State support group for play development, was founded in 1972 by Barbara Stellmach and a group of Queensland playwrights. Playlab Press, established in 1978 by Rod Lumer, has published a sizeable and growing catalogue of playtexts and drama books by Queensland writers.
[iii] Letter to the Editor, The Courier Mail Jan. 10, 1977.
[iv] Batchelor in Theatre Australia, Feb. 1978.
[v] Billinghurst quoted by Fotheringham in Theatre Australia, June 1977.