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  • Nov 09, 2020

Emerging Playwright Jorjia Gillis Named 2020 Balnaves Fellow

A portrait of JORJIA GILLIS. Photo by Luke Currie-Richardson. Courtesy the artist and

On November 5, Sydney’s theater company Belvoir and the nonprofit Balnaves Foundation announced Jorjia Gillis as the recipient of the 2020 Balnaves Foundation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fellowship, which recognizes emerging playwrights and directors with an award of AUD 25,000 (USD 18,000) and a one-year paid residency at Belvoir towards the development of a new work.

Gillis was commended for her contributions to theater, in particular her work about Australia’s Indigenous issues. Her work-in-progress new play, commissioned by Belvoir, will follow Cassandra, the first Aboriginal female artistic director of a major theater company, who receives pressing news from her family and is called back to her coastal hometown. There, she encounters a series of ghosts who guide her in uncovering a painful family past. The sentimental comedy discusses topics of family, community, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Gillis will collaborate with Belvoir’s team and artistic director Eamon Flack to this play in 2021 as a Belvoir production for the coming years.

Born of the Budawang tribe of the Yuin nation, from New South Wales, Gillis has worked as a performer, writer, story consultant, and director across multiple disciplines including theater, television, and film. In 2019, she performed in the short comedy film Game Night (2019) with collective The Kvetch Set, about a group of friends competing in a game night while they wait out an apocalypse. She was previously creative associate at Playwriting Australia and program manager First Nations at the Australia Council for the Arts. 

The Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright Award was expanded into a Fellowship in 2018 and has since then been aimed at supporting artists’ work at Belvoir. The 2019 recipient was playwright, director, and producer Nathan Maynard, whose new play At What Cost? (2021), set in Tasmania, is scheduled to debut at Belvoir in August 2021.

Belvoir regularly tours productions domestically and internationally, and has nurtured talents including actresses Cate Blanchett and Leah Purcell, the latter a recipient of the Award in 2014. Landmark productions include Counting and Cracking (2019), Barbara and the Camp Dogs (2017), and The Sapphires (2005). 

Stephanie Siu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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