Two Blue Mountains playwrights Margaret Davis and Mark O'Flynn are shortlisted for the Silver Gull award.

Torrid year for scriptwriters: Two Mountains playwrights have made the shortlist of six for the Silver Gull Play Award, pictured Mark O'Flynn and Margaret Davis.
Torrid year for scriptwriters: Two Mountains playwrights have made the shortlist of six for the Silver Gull Play Award, pictured Mark O'Flynn and Margaret Davis.

Two Blue Mountains playwrights are in the running for the prestigious Silver Gull award.

Blackheath's Margaret Davis and Leura's Mark O'Flynn are in a shortlist of six for the award which will be decided on December 7.

The shortlisted writers and winner will share in a total prize pool of $7,000, sponsored by The Buzz From Sydney.Established in 2015 The Silver Gull Play Award is an important literary prize for new theatrical writing by a playwright living in NSW.

Davis said it was "a big honour ... [and] the silver lining ... excuse the pun," to come out of the work being cancelled during COVID.

"It would be wonderful to win, of course. But it's a really strong field and I am happy to be on the shortlist amongst them."

O'Flynn said "it's a lovely feather to put in the cap". His work was also cancelled making it eligible for the unproduced works prize.

"We were rehearsing when COVID struck and it all fell in a heap. Hopefully the Silver Gull attention might revitalise it's production chances."

O'Flynn's work Fitson and Dan is a romantic tragedy between an independent woman ahead of her time and a soldier traumatised by war.

He said the original impetus came from co-writer, Kate O'Brien, who passed away 15 years ago.

"So this play is about a voice from the past talking to a current audience, and about a contemporary theatrical vision looking back to the past. The dramaturgical work in this regard was crucial."

In Margaret Davis's timely play Sanctuary a man and a woman encounter each other decades after a violent tragedy blew them apart. She said Sanctuary is not much about second chances, but one last chance.

O'Flynn said the first half of lockdown he didn't write much. "The second half however, I was very productive with lots of projects on the boil. I have a new book of poems due out next year for one."

Davis said 2020/21 had been a "torrid year" for theatre.

"There were outcries about the cancellation of musicals with casts stranded without pay ... and rightly so ...actors and directors lamenting the cancellation of shows they had started rehearsing - also heartbreaking. But with playwrights I don't think anyone really considered that we lost out on productions of plays we'd spent years writing, often with no pay - and that the royalties/box office income we lost could not be quickly recouped. Even the Writers' Guild only surveyed its playwright members a few months ago. However, I did benefit from some lovely "rescue package" projects last year."

These included a play for the Q Theatre in the form of SMS messages, which the audience received in real time and a small grant from Blue Mountains City of the Arts Trust.

Davis said the shortlisting was up there with "a Varuna fellowship and an AWGIE nomination".

"There are not many awards for playwrights and very few for unproduced scripts. Over a whole career you learn to be philosophical about productions that almost come to fruition ...You tell yourself, "it's about the work, not the recognition" and in the long term that is certainly true. But recognition is also very heartening."

Davis also works as a theatre director and co-wrote/directed sell-out seasons of Eating Pomegranates, 2019, and Breaking Bread, 2017, in which local writers (including O'Flynn) wrote pieces for local performers. O'Flynn's novel The Last Days of Ava Langdon was shortlisted for both the Miles Franklin Literary Award as well as the Prime Minister's Literary Award.

The 2021 shortlist includes Off The Record by Chris Aronsten, Cloudsurfing by John AD Fraser, The Scammer by Wendy Lewis and The Other End of The Afternoon by Bokkie Robertson. More than 50 plays were submitted and judges were "greatly impressed [by] the quality and originality".

Previous winners and shortlisted plays have usually been produced - Superheroes by Mark Rogers was produced at Griffin and had an extended season at the Seymour Centre last year, Davis said.