Choosing Australian Plays – Bringing our Stories to Life

Stage Whispers readers are being offered a three-month free subscription to  Meg Upton explains why it is such a valuable resource.

Each year Drama, English and Literature educators encounter the dilemma of selecting a play to study or produce in collaboration with their students. Which play? Which playwright? What’s good? How long? How many students? What age? What about the school’s culture and broader community standards? Importantly, will it engage them, will it challenge them, and will it enhance their learning?

Why study Australian plays? Playwright Andrew Bovell told the Daily Review that “Australian audiences are not satisfied with a repertoire only of Noel Coward, Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and William Shakespeare. They want new plays that tell their stories and reflect their lives … a theatre that prioritises the work of Australian playwrights, in all their diversity. I know that through such writing it is possible to read the pulse of the nation.” (Daily Review - August 1, 2017).

In essence, if theatre is concerned with stories and stories are concerned with what it means to be human, then studying Australian plays enables teachers and young people to collaboratively explore Australian stories and feel “the pulse” of what it means to be Australian in a multi-faith, multi-cultural society with a complex Indigenous history.

The 2019 seasons of nine major theatre companies indicate at least half of programmed work is Australian, and in many cases new works. Significantly, many are new Indigenous works, and in some instances work written by other culturally diverse playwrights. This is incredibly exciting. More students have the opportunity to experience diverse Australian stories in performance. Studying Australian plays in class is a natural progression of what is being programmed on our stages. 

Australian Plays is dedicated to publishing, promoting, licensing and showcasing Australian playwrights and plays. There are over 2,000 scripts by over 950 playwrights available online as well as a series of focused collections, monologues, and critical essays from current theatre makers and writers. Eight new plays have been added to the catalogue in January alone.

A glimpse at the most popular titles on the front-page reveals Stolen, Black Diggers, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Neighbourhood Watch, Away, Cosi, The Book of Everything, Ruby Moon and Extinction. Many of these titles appear on state based curricula and are powerful plays offering stories of Australia’s Indigenous history, the mythology of the Australian bush and the suburbs, the migrant journey, and the Vietnam War. But what else? What other plays are possible?

Teachers and students have access to a powerful search application on the Australian Plays site, one that enables them to explore and select plays that respond to some of the key questions posed above. Click on Find-a-Play and you can search for a title, author, a keyword, as well as a category. There are forty categories currently in the collection including: Australian History, Children’s Theatre, Comedy, Gender Themes, Indigenous Themes, Verbatim, Plays by Women, and Political and Social Themes. There is also an option to select the target audience, length, cast age and cast size. Further, there is a monologue search application for finding a text to suit individual students interested in, or required to, explore a monologue for their drama studies. 

Within the Theatre for Young People category there are twenty-nine plays that feature characters 16-18 years, exploring themes of migration, resilience, love, identity, culture and journey. Several have large casts, many offer an ensemble approach, and the theatrical or performance styles offer great scope for page to stage and for literary analysis. By subscribing to the E-News you receive regular updates about new publications, and recommended scripts. 

Becoming a subscriber allows you to dig more deeply, to read plays online, to access resources for shows including the newly created Malthouse Theatre Education Collection – 20 years of Playbox/Malthouse scripts with their accompanying education resource - and explore the other collections in more detail. Many scripts are available to purchase online as a downloadable PDF, giving you immediate access to the script you are seeking. Australian Plays also licenses a large range of scripts for production. 

In selecting, studying and staging Australian plays we can bring to life a myriad of Australian stories, and the voices of those who comprise this complex, diverse country, to which our students make an important contribution. 

Australian Plays is offering you a free three month subscription!

To gain access simply email with the subject line STAGE WHISPERS.

Dr Meg Upton is the Consultant Education Curator at Australian Plays. She is also a drama education lecturer at Deakin University.