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Sydney Theatre Company’s new Patrick White Playwright awards

STC Literary Manager Polly Rowe, Kamarra Bell-Wykes, Emme Hoy and Artistic Director Kip Williams. Photo: Teniola Komolafe

Emme Hoy has been appointed Sydney Theatre Company’s new Patrick White Playwrights Fellow, one month before her adaptation of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – directed by STC Resident Director Jessica Arthur – is due to open at Roslyn Packer Theatre.

The recipient of this year’s Patrick White Playwrights Award is Kamarra Bell-Wykes – a playwright, director, performer and creative consultant from south-east Queensland – for her play Whose Gonna Love ‘Em? I am that i AM, which was presented as a rehearsed reading in the Richard Wherrett Studio at Roslyn Packer Theatre.

Artistic Director Kip Williams said Hoy is “brilliant with story and language” and that her appointment as this year's Patrick White Playwrights Fellow was a testament to STC’s commitment to incubate emerging talent.

Hoy’s relationship with STC began in 2017 when she became a member of the inaugural Emerging Writers Group; she then went on to write additional scenes for the Company’s 2018 production of Saint Joan starring Golden Globe Award-winner Sarah Snook.

“We’re delighted to be continuing our relationship with Emme in appointing her as the 2021 Patrick White Playwrights Fellow,” Williams said.

“Her writing moves deftly between moments of comedy and pathos. It is passionately political; philosophical and psychologically astute, often engaging with feminist themes, musing on the nature of existance and the act of creation. Emme is a keen scholar of literature and the theatrical canon: she listens to the great female authors, playfully engaging with them and riffing on their work to create her own. I can’t wait for audiences to see her whip-smart adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in June.”

STC’s Literary Manager Polly Rowe said Award-winner Bell-Wykes’ piece took the judges by surprise for its “challenging, unique and ambitious vision”.

“This is a piece that insists on being experienced in a room of people – that could only exist on stage,” Rowe said. “The words are written to be spoken aloud, almost as a ritual, offering the hope of collective truth-telling, collective healing. Kamarra's voice rings out, powerful and distinct.”

The Fellow

Emme Hoy, whose adaptation of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (a co-commission with the National Institute of Dramatic Art) will open at Roslyn Packer Theatre in June, said she was “humbled and honoured” to be appointed this year’s Patrick White Playwrights Fellow.

“I am so delighted to have the opportunity to continue to develop my relationship with STC,” Hoy said.

“The Company has taken chances on me and supported me from the very beginning of my career. I'm in awe of the Fellows that have come before me, and look forward to working with the Emerging Writers Group to continue fostering the culture of support for emerging writers and a new wave of Australian work that the Company represents. The mentors (from playwrights, to dramaturgs and directors) I have met through STC have been inspirational both for my writing and as examples of how to be a positive force in the industry, and I cannot wait to continue to learn from them.”

Polly Rowe said it was the first time in two years that a Sydney-based writer had been awarded the Fellowship.

“As we move from working remotely to being back at The Wharf, we're excited to be working with a Fellow who can regularly join us in the building,” Rowe said. “We're looking forward to seeing what artistic gems form from incidental interactions between the Resident Artists and Emme's brilliant creative mind.”

Since it was established in 2010, the Fellowship has continued to evolve in step with the culture of the Company and its artistic objectives. The Fellowship is for an outstanding playwright who will contribute to the fabric of the Company, advancing the artistic conversation and advocating for playwrights.

Previous STC Patrick White Fellows are Angus Cerini (the outgoing Fellow), Anchuli Felicia King, Nakkiah Lui, Sue Smith, Andrew Bovell, Tommy Murphy, Kate Mulvany, Angela Betzien, Hilary Bell, Patricia Cornelius and Raimondo Cortese.

The Award winner

There were 128 scripts submitted anonymously for STC's 22nd Patrick White Playwrights Award, with the prize of $7,500 for an original, unproduced script going to Kamarra Bell-Wykes for Whose Gonna Love ‘Em? I am that i AM.

The play is a post-dramatic work about trauma; about moving through it and the difficulty of healing intergenerational wounds in a capitalistic society built on colonised land. It juxtaposes therapeutic platitudes against the force of intrusive thoughts. It considers the way that trauma is held and remembered physically; how it becomes written in the DNA of those who experience it. These ideas are communicated in a post-dramatic form: fragments of dialogue, monologue, poetry, images, are masterfully structured to convey rage, grief and a glimmer of hope.

It was performed as a rehearsed, staged reading at the announcement ceremony, directed by Kamarra herself and starring Ray Chong Nee, Danielle Cormack and Carly Sheppard.

"I'm still in absolute shock – it's such an honour and privilege to be recognised with such a prestigious award for this work, and to know it has resonated with people is incredibly humbling," Bell-Wykes said.

"This award will afford me the time, space and financial means to focus on my own practice. As artists we often assist other people's work and seek out other jobs to stay afloat, meaning our own work becomes de-prioritised. I am excited that with this award I'll be able to focus on my own artistic practice and have the time to commit fully to elevating my craft."

The Patrick White Playwrights Award offers a cash prize of $7,500 for a full length, unproduced play of any genre written by an Australian playwright over 18 years of age. The readers and judges – who this year were Angela Betzien, Angus Cerini, Michelle Law, Polly Rowe and Shari Sebbens – assessed the scripts in search of a work that is original and ambitious with great potential for staging.

Previous winners of the Patrick White Playwrights Award include Ra Chapman (2020), Keziah Warner (2019), Mark Rogers (2018), Kim Ho (2017), Lewis Treston (2016), Anna Barnes (2012), Melissa Bubnic (2010), and Angus Cerini (2007).

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