Shining a light on Asian Australian theatre

Asian Australian playwriting takes centre stage at the National Play Festival.
Shining a light on Asian Australian theatre

Image courtesy Playwriting Australia.

Contemporary Asian Australian playwriting forms a key focus at this year’s Playwriting Australia (PWA) National Play Festival in response to a growing demand for diversity of voice on Australian stages.

Melbourne playwright Michele Lee, whose play Moths is among four selected works on showcase at the festival, said that recognising multicultural Australia on stage was very important against Australia’s history of violence and genocide.


‘Some of the ways that the arts can combat this is to show stories that are of people who aren't just Anglo, but people who are Asian, brown, blue, yellow or whatever.

‘Growing up, the works that I learnt about were from a certain kind of society. I didn't really think about Asia as being a source of inspiration, and I think that is really saddening that an Asian person growing up in Australia, I grew up not being exposed to Asian works.

‘I think that it’s great that as a body Playwriting Australia are putting effort into saying it’s not just Europe or America that we should be looking to, let’s have a look to Asia to see what kind of work they’re doing,’ she said.

PWA Artistic Director Tim Roseman said that part of PWA’s vision was to create a theatre ecology that was reflective of multicultural Australia. ‘At the moment, the playwriting world is a very narrow prism of white, well-educated, middle class artists and that to me doesn't speak to the whole of Australia.’

‘Michele Lee is one of the more advanced members of that Asian Australian playwriting community, and it’s a wonderful thing that she’s present at the festival. It is vital to me that we make this a regular stream of what we do. Success will mean it being utterly unremarkable when there were is Asian Australian theatre at the Play Festival.

A special presentation of new plays from Singapore theatre company Checkpoint Theatre continues PWA’s cultural exchange with the company, where playwrights Jessica Bellamy and Lachlan Philpot were hosted by the company last year.

‘There’s a very small theatre scene in Singapore, but it is zesty, imaginative and potent. Checkpoint Theatre are creating the kind of dynamic way of working that you see in some of our more inventive theatres here in Australia, so it feels like a very natural place to be creating a partnership.’  

Roseman said that PWA had also recently partnered with Performance 4a on an outreach project to identify and mentor new Asian Australian playwrights in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Michele Lee’s Moths will be presented on Friday 13 June at 6.30pm and Sunday 15 June at 4.30pm.

Checkpoint Theatre’s For Better Or for Worse, and The Weight Of Silk On Skin will be presented on Saturday 14 June at 8:30pm.

The Playwriting Australia National Play Festival runs from 12 to 15 June in Sydney.

For full program information and tickets visit the Playwriting Australia website

Troy Nankervis

Monday 2 June, 2014

About the author

Troy Nankervis is an ArtsHub journalist from Melbourne. Follow him on twitter @troynankervis