This was the start of the whole Lysicrates experiment. No-one had tried this for the last 2500 years – a free play competition where the audience votes for the winner. 400 pioneers filled the Conservatorium, their voting tokens in their hands. They chattered, pored over their programs. The lights went out. On this spot, for tens of thousands of years, the Gadigal people had held performances too – the kangaroo dance, and the dog dance – so it was fitting to start by filling the darkness with the mysterious booms of Brock Tutt’s didgeridoo.
Then it was on – two dark plays, one comedy. Each person in the audience knew that the $12,500 prize could depend on him or her. The plays were complex, absorbing, and clever. And the acting was fabulous. Within five minutes, some people had tears in their eyes. The second play intrigued, then deeply moved the audience, while the third quickly drew roars of laughter. The audience filed out and were met with three urns, one for each finalist. Each person threw a voting token into one of the urns, and the votes began to be counted.
The first enchanted procession from the Conservatorium through the Botanic Gardens down to the Lysicrates Monument began. At 6 p.m. the sky was pink, the air warm soft, and the currawongs melodious. Down at the monument a Greek trio was playing cheerful songs. People started to dance. The mood was joyous.
After the votes had been counted, the Premier of NSW, Mike Baird, announced the winner, the second play, Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, by Steve Rodgers. Elated, Steve held the trophy aloft, and the rest of the evening began, with more dances, and a party.
2015 Winner: Steve Rodgers
The 2015 Finalists
Playwright: Lally Katz
A black comedy about five people who desperately need each other to make it to the future. A low-rent motel in New Jersey. Paul, a young Australian, has come to the US for a new job in a company that’s just gone bust; James, in his fifties, works there and has given up. Cookie, a pregnant Romani fortune teller, cast out by her family, and Moe, her boyfriend, need money for land; and Mary, who owns the motel, just wants answers about her dead son.
Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam
Playwright: Steve Rodgers
Adapted from the novella by Peter Goldsworthy. An evocative, haunting, moving tale about loss and familial relationships, a husband and wife, parents and children, brother and sister. It explores the nature of an ideal family, and their quest to define their lives through each other, isolating themselves from the outside the world. A rumination on a kind of suffocating love.
The Savvy Women
Playwright: Justin Fleming
A contemporary Australian adaptation of Les Femmes savantes (The Bluestockings), a comedy by Molière in five acts. Both Molière and Fleming write in rhyming couplets. It is a satire on academic pretension, female education, and préciosité (French for preciousness), it was one of Molière’s most popular comedies. The Australian version had the audience in stitches.