From over 220 entries for the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2020–21 (QPDA), and three finalists, Brisbane writer Steve Pirie has been announced the winner with Return to the Dirt, a powerful — and gently humorous — meditation on what it means to die in the 21st century and what a final act of love can do for our healing.
Pirie’s work was selected ahead of fellow finalists Anna Loren for Comfort and Maddie Nixon for her work Binnavale. Delivered through Queensland Theatre, the QPDA is a prestigious and important award for Australian theatre, in that it guarantees a professional production of the winning entry in the Company’s 2021 Season.
“Steve Pirie’s play Return to the Dirt is a revelation,” said Artistic Director Lee Lewis, who was part of the judging panel for the awards. “It is one of the best new Australian plays I have read in the last five years. He has done what all great writers do… bravely transform personal experience into story so that we are willing to imagine into the scariest of places.
“This play is emotionally rich, humane, startlingly funny, spiritually sophisticated and deeply honest. In these strange and difficult times this is the kind of writing we need to inspire us. I have not been so deeply moved by a play in years. Our playwrights are our national treasures and great stories are hived in every corner of this great country – this is a story set in Toowoomba which will speak to the world about how we, as humans, value a life. I can’t wait to share it with our audience on the Queensland Theatre stage next year”.
“The QPDA is the largest playwriting award in the country. The significance of guaranteeing a production to the winning play cannot be overstated. For every playwright in the country, the QPDA offers a career-changing opportunity. Working with the Queensland Government to shine a huge light on the extraordinary writing talent we have in this country is both inspiring and exciting”, Lewis said.
Judges for the 2020–21 award included Ms Christine Castley, Deputy Director-General in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet; Ms Lee Lewis, Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre; Ms Nadine McDonald-Dowd, Executive Producer, Queensland Performing Arts Centre; and Ms Jennifer Medway, Literary Associate, Melbourne Theatre Company.
Steve Pirie is a writer, theatre maker and youth arts worker currently based in Brisbane. A graduate of the University of Southern Queensland, he is also the co-Artistic Director of Mixtape Theatre Collective, a regional independent theatre company based in Toowoomba, Queensland. His first play, Escape from the Breakup Forest, has since been published by Playlab following state-wide seasons, and in 2014, Steve’s work 3 O’Clock, Flagpole was selected for development as part of the Lab Rats initiative. In 2017, he was an independent artist with Queensland Theatre where he developed his work, Return to the Dirt as part of his residency, which was presented at La Boite’s HWY Festival in 2018.
His entry, Return to the Dirt:
In 2014, Steve Pirie returned to his hometown in regional Queensland with no job, money or goals. After a series of dead ends, he finally found work in a local funeral home, where he spent the next year living and working among the dead, the dying and the families left behind. Join Steve, your tour guide, as he takes you through the realms of the dead and behind the closed doors of the Australian funeral industry in this powerful meditation on what it means to die in the 21st century, to lose the ones we love, what a twenty-something learned about what awaits us at the end, and what a final act of love can do for our healing.
Return to the Dirt is a celebration of finding your place in the world, the power of personal redemption and humility at the end of all things. Most importantly, it is a stepping stone to one of the most important conversations you need to have.