Audition season has just come to a close for tertiary Drama Schools across the country. Depending on the school, actors are encouraged to perform monologues from a wide variety of plays; both Australian and International. After several post-audition discussions about monologue choices, I came to a realisation about Australian plays in comparison with international plays.
I was asked by someone why I thought plays by iconoclastic writers like Chekhov, Ibsen and Miller, to name a few, are so perennially popular across time and geography compared to Australian plays by writers like David Williamson and Louis Nowra. Why do so many actors choose monologues from the plays that we have coined as 'classics' rather than choosing something closer to home? In my opinion, plays like A Dolls House and All My Sons have transcended time and place because although they are characteristic of the theatrical genre and historical context of the time they were written, the themes and characters are so piercingly pervasive that they can be applicable to any time and place. As a modern audience, we can still find resonance in Nora's struggle and Keller's moral dilemma because they are universal, rather than rooted in colloquialisms of their geographical context. The goal of the playwright is not to write a 'Russian' play, or evoke the 'American Dream' – this comes through in a subtle nuanced ways naturally, but it is definitely not the main focus of the play. We remember these plays for their universally applicable themes and utterly human characters. This is, in my opinion, why actors so frequently choose monologues from these plays for audition season.
I find that Australian plays try harder to leave a distinctly 'Aussie' footprint on the prose, and playwrights want to produce plays that are heavily rooted in typical Australian colloquialisms and evoke the traditional vernacular. The audiences of these plays have come to expect this, and it has become part of the appeal for Australian plays. It isn't coincidence that we so often see a David Williamson play commissioned on Melbourne Theatre Company production seasons; the subscribers have grown to know this Australian style and expect an Australian theatre company like the MTC to produce and showcase these plays. When I think of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, I instantly hear Olive's heavily Australian accent, and when I think of Blackrock my first thought is of beaches and surfing; the stigma attached to Australia cannot help but to be reflected in the plays. Australian playwrights, more than playwrights from other countries, seem to want to prove to the world that Australian plays are just as good as any other, but in doing so they cannot help but leave a very distinct Australian mark that is more difficult to separate from the themes, characters and plots.
In saying this, I have no issue with Australian plays, I actually quite enjoy seeing plays that have such a focus on capturing and recreating the culture of our nation. But, when asked why they are less performed, this is why I believe that Australian plays struggle when compared to Miller and Chekhov to transcend the barriers of time and place. They are fantastic in their own regard, but do not have the same universal appeal as the plays that are so widely performed, especially during the audition season.