Announcing the winners of the Shane & Cathryn Brennan Award for Playwriting

Award-winning playwright Mary Anne Butler won the Stage category of the inaugural Shane & Cathryn Brennan Award for Playwriting with her play wittenoomwhile John Armstrong released the Young Audience Theater category with Ali in zombie land.

Marie-Anne Butler. Photo courtesy of Currency Press

Supported by Australian Plays Transform, the Shane & Cathryn Brennan Prize was launched in December 2021 with the aim of discovering and rewarding new Australian plays. Butler and Armstrong take home $10,000, while 11 other shortlisted writers split a total of $40,000.

Reflecting on the announcement, Butler said: “I am absolutely humbled and humbled that wittenoom received this award, and would like to thank Shane and Cathryn Brennan for their continued advocacy of Australian writers and writing, especially new writing. I would like to thank the Writers Guild of Australia for their continued advocacy and growing initiatives on behalf of playwrights, and the judges for recognizing wittenoom as worthy of this award.

Originally inspired by the song Midnight Oil blue sky mine, wittenoom is named after the former blue asbestos mining town of the Pilbara, which is now the largest contaminated site in the southern hemisphere. Dedicated to victims of asbestos-related diseases, the play follows the story of a dying mother and her daughter, who move to town.

Butler’s previous awards include the Victorian Prize for Literature, the Victorian Premier’s Drama Award, an AWGIE Stage and two Northwest Territories Chief Minister’s Book of the Year Awards.

Accepting his award, Armstrong said: “’It is fantastic to win the Shane & Cathryn Brennan Award – not just for the prize money but also for the boost it will give to the programming of the play. Unlike writing novels, writing for stage or screen is never an end in itself; a play must be performed to come to life and reach an audience. Hope the price helps Ali in zombie land find their audience so they can contribute to the conversation about teen mental health.

Armstrong wrote Ali in zombie land following her daughter’s experiences in her final year at school and credits her contribution to the project as crucial in helping to understand the lived experience of anxiety. A dark comedy, it features the anxious perfectionist Ali and a cunning zombie girl, who escapes from her graphic novel. Although the play deals with serious mental health issues, Armstrong wrote a work that is part romantic comedy, part gothic horror, and part teen comedy, to ensure it resonated with young audiences.

Armstrong was a script producer and head writer for the AACTA and Emmy award-winning Netflix series Beat bugsand has already won four AWGIEs and the 2014 ATYP Foundation Commission.

Butler and Armstrong’s works were selected from 13 plays, all of which are available through the AWG’s prestigious Pathways for Playwrights program.

Stage category finalists are The Zap by Kirsty Marillier, a high school comedy about rumor, legacy, intersectional feminism and fake news; and Way back when, Dylan Van Den Berg’s haunting tale of the colonization of Tasmania through the lens of a Gothic revenge drama.

The finalists in the Young Audience Theater category are earth cloud by Mari Lourey and Rosieville by Mary Rachel Brown.

Highly recommended works in the Stage category include Appropriate by Katy Warner, Never closer by Grace Chapple, No pink dicks by Moreblessing Maturity, Python by Jamie Hornsby (co-winner of the David Williamson award last year) and Memory by George Ketels, with Captain Dalisay by Vanessa Bates and The shining girl by Jo Turner and Zeeko, both winners in the Young Audience Theater category.

Announcing the winners, AWG President Shane Brennan said, “Cathryn and I are delighted to celebrate and recognize the achievements of Mary Anne and John, as well as the 11 shortlisted writers, with the awarding of the prize.

“Australian playwrights have faced years of hardship due to underfunding and COVID-19 theater closures; yet, despite this, they have continued to produce exceptional works, telling stories about who we are as individuals and as a nation.

All pieces from this year’s Shane & Cathryn Brennan Prize are presented at Course for playwrights.

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