Donna Abela and Alison Lyssa – Writing outside the circle of rightness: two incursions into the mainstream Australian repertoire


Donna Abela and Alison Lyssa

Writing outside the circle of rightness: two incursions into the mainstream Australian repertoire

Serendipitously, in 2014, productions of Alison Lyssa’s Pinball and Donna Abela’s Jump For Jordan offered Sydney audiences one of the first, and the latest, lesbian-themed plays to make incursions into the mainstream Australian repertoire. As Duck Duck Goose Theatre Company’s production of Lyssa’s internationally-celebrated Pinball – first produced by the Nimrod Theatre Company in 1981 – took over the Tap Gallery, the Griffin Theatre Company’s premiere of Abela’s award-wining Jump For Jordan packed out the nearby Stables Theatre. Written thirty years apart, each play moved the margin to the centre, claiming the main stage for lesbian bodies and narratives, feminist-informed forms, female subjectivities, and work authored by female playwrights. In this paper, Lyssa and Abela discuss the strategies they employed to write about people held outside of established circles of rightness, and subject to “The Great Silence” (Greenaway 1990) or the erasure of lesbian women and experience from mainstream history and culture. 

Donna Abela is playwright, dramaturge, and creative writing lecturer. She serves on the board of PYT Fairfield (which she co-founded), and along with Vanessa Bates, Hilary Bell, Noëlle Janaczewska, Verity Laughton, Ned Manning and Cath Zimdahl is a member of the alliance 7-ON Playwrights. While at the University of Wollongong, Donna completed her practice-led doctoral thesis titled Dialogic Interplay: a Strategy for Representing Difference and Cultural Diversity on Stage. Jump For Jordan, the creative component, won the 2013 Griffin Playwriting prize and the 2015 AWGIE Award for Stage, and is included in the 2019-2022 HSC Drama Syllabus. 

Alison Lyssa is a playwright and poet, teacher and mentor. As a writer-in-residence at Nimrod, 1982, she discovered dramaturgy’s uncanny ability to ask the right questions. Alison’s first two plays, Pinball, 1981, and The Boiling Frog, 1984, are now online in Australian Plays’ NIMROD 50 Collection, 2020. Pinball was previously published in Michelene Wandor (ed.), Plays by Women vol. 1V, London and New York: Methuen, 1985, and in Bruce Parr (ed.), Australian Gay and Lesbian Plays, Sydney: Currency, 1996. In 2019 she work as dramaturge on Catherine Zimdahl’s brilliant new play Gifted, supported by Playwriting Australia’s Duologue program. Alison has served on the Advisory Boards of Playworks Women Writers’ Workshop and Women Playwrights International. Her play, Who’d’ve Thought?, created with Women and Theatre Project, Telopea, was nominated for the 1991 AWGIE Award for Community Theatre. She has a PhD in creative writing, a certificate in screenwriting from AFTRS and has taught Writing for Performance, Creative Writing and Screenwriting. In 2019 she was a playwright-in-residence at Currency Press, writing a new play, Hurricane Eye.