Playwright and director Fleur Kilpatrick has been announced as the winner of the inaugural Helen Noonan Prize, a $5000 award for women in the performing arts who have made an outstanding contribution to female-driven storytelling. Kilpatrick also receives two weeks accommodation in Queenscliff to allow her to focus on current or future projects.

Fleur Kilpatrick

Presented by the AWE Alliance, an organisation devoted to the promotion of women in the Australian arts and entertainment industry, the Prize is given in honour of the late soprano Helen Noonan, celebrating both her creative output and championing of women artists. The award was given to Kilpatrick in recognition of her play Whale, which explores climate change and Australia’s responsibility to its Islander neighbours.

“This is a really special thing to be acknowledged for,” Kilpatrick told Limelight. “I spend a lot of time thinking about theatre as workplace and considering how I can make my plays a safe place to be in. I try to ensure that my collaborators and audience feel respected by my work. I take my responsibility as a writer of worlds and workplaces really seriously, so it means a lot to have this acknowledged.

“For me it is also really meaningful that the play this committee selected was about climate change. I think there has been a tendency to reduce ‘women’s voices’ down to a category that deals exclusively with relationships, violence and our bodies. Whale is a deeply female work and, I’ve always felt, a very female take on climate change, ricocheting between charismatic leadership/global problem solving and self-doubt/self-depreciating anxiety. Climate change is part of who women are today. It is as much a social catastrophe as an environmental one and it most deeply impacts those with limited mobility and financial independence: this makes it a women’s issue and something I think about through feminist lens. I’m really grateful that the committee felt this from the script and the production.”

Helen Noonan. Photo supplied

Whale was awarded the Max Afford Playwrights’ Award in 2018 and received its premiere earlier this year as part of the Darebin Arts Speakeasy program. Described as a participatory theatre experience, it takes its audience from a Town Hall meeting into the belly of a whale.

The Helen Noonan Prize will enable Kilpatrick to travel to interview climate activists for her next project.

“I’m a huge believer in peer-to-peer support and women helping each other to create sustainable careers and this award feels like the epitome of this approach to artistic work,” Kilpatrick said.