Through the Playwrights-in-Residence program Playlab Theatre commissions playwrights to develop a work for production.

Lasting as long as a work needs, playwrights are provided with the guidance and resources necessary for a rigorous, inspired process of adventure and discovery, in pursuit of excellence.

As part of the residency, a playwright may take on a mentoring role with a young playwright (who will become a young playwright-in-residence), passing on insights and craft to another generation.

Brutal Utopias by Stephen Carleton

1971. The height of the Cold War. The Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia is opening up to Western tourism after breaking away from the Soviet Bloc. Branislav and Valentina Radovic have been commissioned to design an arcadian hotel complex for the government after forging an international reputation for designing ultra-modern concrete structures.

A small delegation from Indonesia has arrived to address the rift that is developing between the Nations. Suharto’s wife Tien, inspired by the work of the Radovic’s, requests they design a grand theme park that embraces all the cultures of the Indonesian republic, triggering the Radovic’s lofty utopian political and architectural ideals.

Present-day. New York City. A talented Australian Geo-Engineer, Natalia Silverman, has been asked to join the team designing New York’s ‘Big U’ – the sea wall mitigation project that will cradle Manhattan’s financial district from rising sea levels. But isn’t building a sea wall around the world’s iconic home of big business an inherent admission of environmental failure and defeat? Is she saving New York, or working for the bad guys?

Brutal Utopias examines the eternal clash between lofty ideals and realpolitik, and the search for perfection in a world that is tilting imminently toward chaos.

Playwright Diary Entry #1

Feeling excellent to have the 2022 Playlab season launched, and there’s been such an immediate buzzy response – including from a whole stack of people interstate who intend to fly in and check the show out, which I’m very touched and overwhelmed by. Getting the sense from friends in the lockdown states, especially, that next year is one where people want to emerge from their home cocoons and get out and about and see things again. Hoping this bodes well for a turnaround in theatre company fortunes everywhere. Amazing to be sharing this season with three other brilliant playwrights, including mates Merlynn Tong and Anna Yen, each of whose work I’m a big fan.

The play heads into creative development in the first week of December, and as daunting as it is having to rethink and reapproach the text having only just gotten it all out in first draft form, this is for me the part of the process where the piece is traditionally solved. Very kind and enthusiastic support for the early draft from director Matt Scholten, who is assembling a brilliant team of actors and designers. Saffron and I meeting soon to map the piece and work out what pieces of the jigsaw need to move around in creative development. It’s such an excellent part of Playlab’s process that I’ll have the full cast in the room for the creative development week. Looking to mould, mould, mould the story there and raise stakes; lift it from a character study that explores themes, to a tightly plotted play that tells a story well. Matt has also been working early with the wonderful Bill Haycock on the design, and I’m very much hoping he’ll be there in the creative development room too. Not looking to represent the many architectural features (museums, galleries, hotels) and locations mentioned in the play literally in the design, but needing to think about how we create a space that allows us to evoke or conjure the Guggenheim for example (see picture), or to project an image from a particular exhibition (see picture).

Also looking forward to exploring ways in which design and performativity might influence story arc and vice versa. Matt, for instance, is talking about wanting to have all actors on stage throughout the performance, which is a great offer for a writer: it forces me to actively consider ways in which scenes might bleed into one another and cross-hatch, which will in turn affect the way that Saffron and I match the scenes from the two time periods up so that they are mirroring each other thematically and rhythmically much more strongly. It all becomes as much about choreography as it does dramaturgy at this point of the development process.

About Stephen Carleton

Stephen Carleton is one of Australia’s leading and award-winning playwrights. Based in Brisbane, where he teaches drama and playwriting at the University of Queensland, he also maintains close ties to his hometown, Darwin, and to Cairns and Far North Queensland, where he was born. Stephen’s work is frequently anchored in northern landscape, imagery and politics, and is often lauded for the black humour that runs throughout. He is co-artistic director of Knock-em-Down Theatre with Mary Anne Butler and Gail Evans.

Stephen is one of only three playwrights nationally to win both major theatre industry awards for new writing: the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award in 2004/5 (Sydney Theatre Company) and the Griffin Award for Best New Australian Play in 2015 (Griffin Theatre Company).

He was Chair of the National Playwrights Committee for the Australian Writers’ Guild in 2015/16 (with Mary Anne Butler), and his company Knock-em-Down Theatre has received a Sidney Myer capacity building grant to promote his work in the US.

His major plays include: Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days of Somerset (2006), The Narcissist (2007), Bastard Territory (2014), all published by Playlab, The Turquoise Elephant (2016), New Babylon (2021), and the musical with Paul Hodge, Joh for PM (2017).

His plays have been produced by companies including Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Theatre Company, La Boite Theatre Company, Griffin Theatre Company, JUTE Theatre Company, Brown’s Mart in Darwin, La Mama, and the Brisbane Powerhouse.