Award-winning play may never hit the stage

·2-min read

An Australian script has won a playwriting award but may never be staged due to funding cuts at the Sydney theatre where it was developed.

John Armstrong's play Ali in Zombieland won the $10,000 theatre for young audience category of the Shane and Cathryn Brennan Prize announced on Tuesday.

But funding cuts at Sydney's Australian Theatre for Young People, where the script was developed, mean it's uncertain the show will make it to the stage, Mr Armstrong says.

"It has been sitting there without being performed for a while, so it's been great to get this award because it might give it the impetus to get performed, which would be the main thing," he told AAP.

His dark comedy looks at teenage mental health through main character Ali, an anxious perfectionist in her last year of high school, and through a zombie that escapes from a graphic novel.

Mr Armstrong wrote the play in 2020 and hoped to stage it that year, until ATYP lost its Australia Council funding.

ATYP artistic director Fraser Corfield said being unable to stage Ali in Zombieland was a sad reflection of the state of live theatre funding.

The show requires animated zombie projections that ATYP couldn't afford, he told AAP.

"It has the capacity to be a really significant Australian work, but it can only be performed by a company that is resourced to provide the technical support," Mr Corfield said.

Mr Armstrong said his daughter Tess' struggles with anxiety as she finished her HSC inspired him to write the play.

"She's read every draft and right from the beginning she has been my toughest critic, has helped make it authentic to that age group," he said.

Playwright Mary Anne Butler won the $10,000 stage category of the awards with her fictional drama Wittenoom, which follows a dying mother and her daughter who move to the remote mining town in Western Australia.

Melbourne's Red Stitch Theatre supported the play's development, and Ms Butler hopes it can be produced soon.

But she is also worried about funding cuts.

"I think it's devastating. Theatre is such an immediate and visceral experience, it's been proven to raise empathy levels in audience members, it's an extraordinarily powerful tool to get stories across," she said.

The rest of the $60,000 prize money will be shared by 11 other finalists.

The Shane and Cathryn Brennan Prize was launched in 2021 to reward new Australian playwriting.

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