Ursula Yovich wins the Balnaves Award 2016

The dazzlingly talented Ursula Yovich, the actor, singer and writer who starred in Belvoir’s A Christmas Carol, has been announced as the winner of The Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright’s Award 2016. The awards was presented by Hamish Balnaves, General Manager of the Balnaves Foundation.

Ursula Yovich. Photo by Brett Boardman.
Ursula Yovich. Photo by Brett Boardman.

She has won a commission to write a play that touches on traditions and rituals in Indigenous culture that non-Indigenous peoples know little about.

The play will be about a woman who has been estranged from her Indigenous mother. When her mother dies, she travels from her home in Sydney to Darwin to look after funeral arrangements, and soon discovers a host of traditional customs she must navigate to honour her mother. As she deals with her grief, she also must come to terms with a lack of cultural knowledge about her mother’s people and how that impacts on her Indigenous identity.

“Writing this play will be my first major solo writing experience,’ said Yovich.

“I’ll be writing about a very personal story so I’m very pleased that I will have excellent people to support me through the process. I’ve wanted to pursue this writing project for some time and it is so affirming to have people say ‘Yes, we want to hear your story’.’’

Anthea Williams, Belvoir’s Associate Director – New Work, spoke on behalf of the judging panel. She said, “I’m thrilled that we have been able to honour Ursula Yovich with The Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwrights’ Award this year.

“Ursula is an artist who is well known to Belvoir and our community as one of the country’s finest actors and singers, her talent also extends to her writing ability – both for theatre and music.  Ursula’s application highlighted her strong, authentic and important voice and her unique understanding of dialogue, character and theatrical form.”

“One of the objectives of the Balnaves Award is to investigate stories of Indigenous experience,” said Hamish Balnaves.

“The customs and rites of the many Indigenous nations throughout Australia are largely unknown to non-Indigenous Australians. These rituals are inherent to Indigenous cultures and in many ways it is surprising that non-Indigenous Australians are not more aware of these practices.

“A play like Ursula’s could have a genuine impact on building understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through the sharing of these important traditions.’

The Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright’s Award is a $20,000 award which is comprised of a $12,500 commission to write a new play and a $7,500 cash prize.

The first winner of the Award, Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife, will debut at Belvoir in September 2016.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and was the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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