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Taking Risks Pays Off For Award-Winning Playwrights

15 Apr 2024

One holds the record for most shortlisted entries, the other has tasted triple success - The Adam NZ Play Award gives special recognition for this year's joint winners.

Awards can be hard to come by - but in the context of this year's Adam NZ Play Award - they've so often worth the wait.

Playmarket announced the winners of some of Aotearoa's most coveted playwriting gongs over the weekend, with the Adam Award celebrating the best in unproduced writing for the theatre. And for 2024 - two creative minds couldn't be separated. 

Dan Bain's The Odyssey and Sam Brooks' This Is My Story of Us have shared the top prize, both of them with different but determined creative paths.

For Brooks in particular, it's been some time coming. He has plenty of accolades and admirers in his career - like his success with the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award in 2016 and the Dean Parker Award in 2023 - but the Adam Award has eluded him until now.

His 15 entries currently holds the record for the most plays shortlisted for the Adam NZ Play Award. 

Brooks told The Big Idea "Winning this award genuinely means the world to me. As a playwright who has been writing for over a decade, and submitting work for this award for the nearly the same amount of time, to have a prize that recognises a playwright doing mahi on their own – almost always without a commission, often without the potential of a future draft let alone a publication – is extremely important."

This Is My Story of Us focuses on a relationship shrouded in secrecy which opens out to a profound exploration of grief and a questioning of morality. As one judge remarked, the story "hurt my heart. It sucked me in and spat me out. I was left needing to sit with my thoughts and feelings for some time." 

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Sam Brooks. Photo: Supplied.

Brooks - with a reputation of work that refuses to follow storytelling norms - takes pride in his latest entry being singled out.

"This is one of the riskiest plays I've ever written – something that will genuinely upset and disturb audiences – and to be acknowledged for that work, before it even has the whisper of a potential production, is huge. 

"It not only validates, it elevates. It lets me – and the wider industry – know that this play is something worth reading, worth looking at, worth producing, worth buying a ticket to, worth discussing afterwards.

"There are risks in putting on plays – maybe nobody will come, maybe none of those people who do come will like it and even hate it – but so many of those risks are being taken before a company, or a venue, even considers programming it.

"They happen in a playwright's head, on their laptop, in the hands of the first readers they get. Maybe if companies and venues took more risks with work, they would benefit from the rewards. Safety and security are cold blankets, and nobody in this country has either of them, so why not take more risks?”

Risks are nothing new for Bain - he's been working as a theatre director, playwright, improvisor, street performer, actor, motivational speaker and comedian since 2001.

The Artistic and Programming Director of Little Andromeda Fringe Theatre in Christchurch, Bain's The Odyssey is described as "a glorious new take" on Homer’s original epic poem, repositioned as a comedy scramble style show.

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Dan Bain. Photo: Supplied.

It was a trifecta of success for Bain over the weekend, with the McNaughton South Island Play Award and the Dean Parker Award for Adaptation.

Bain told The Big Idea was still letting the achievement set in.

"As someone who primarily works in comedy, I never really thought that awards - particularly the Adam - were ever going to be part of my career. 

"Even when I was nominated, I was very much ‘oh, maybe I could win The South Island one, but the Adam is off limits. Don’t even think about that. That’s for worthy plays about issues. Not for your nonsense.’ 

"So, to win not just the McNaughton, but the Dean Parker, and to co-win the blimmin’ Adam with Sam, was an extraordinary surprise. 

"It’s great to feel recognised and to have it acknowledged that writing comedy that is actually funny is incredibly difficult. 

"Every time my imposter syndrome starts telling me ‘You just write stupid jokes’ - I will remember this moment."

Brooks and Bain have joined some of the country's most admired playwrights in winning the Award, including Hone Kouka, Albert Belz, Katie Wolfe, Nancy Brunning, D. F. Mamea, Jess Sayer, Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCrackin. 

Since 2008, there have been 95 shortlisted and winning plays that have been produced in 119 different productions.

Adam NZ Play Award joint winners

Dan Bain for The Odyssey
Sam Brooks for This Is My Story of Us

Runner-Up and Best Play by a Woman Playwright

Cassandra Tse for Before We Slip Beneath the Sea

Best Play by a Māori Playwright

Tawhi Thomas for Matenui

Best Play by a Pasifika Playwright

Teherenui Koteka for Kaveinga

Dean Parker Award and McNaughton South Island Play Award

Dan Bain for The Odyssey

Other Finalists

The Boy Trip by Sam Brooks

Trojan Horse by James Cain

We’ll Always Have Paris by Paul Kalburgi

The Ants by Alex MacDonald

Breakdown by Craig Thaine