By Rebecca Peppiatt
A 23-YEAR-OLD Darlington playwright has become the latest winner of the Robert Juniper Award for the Arts, securing $10,000 to develop a play that will be staged at the 2023 Fringe World Festival in Perth.
Haylee Whisson was announced as this year’s award recipient at Mundaring Arts Centre last Friday, in what could have been the very last presentation ceremony for the scholarship.
Shire of Mundaring pulled the plug on funding the award in May this year, leaving its future uncertain.
However, organisers announced at the award presentation on December 10 they had secured future funding from Juniper Galleries’ Trish Juniper, wife of the late Robert Juniper whom the award is named after.
“As one who has been involved in the Trust since its very beginning more than 30 years ago, I am absolutely delighted that the funding from Juniper Galleries will enable us to continue to make the award,” Robert Juniper Award for the Arts trust secretary Chris Durrant said.
“I have seen from close-up how it has helped and inspired so many of the creative young talents of our Shire.
“This can only help Mundaring maintain its reputation as the State’s cradle of artistic talent.”
Ms Whisson, from Darlington, is the 33rd recipient of the prestigious award and chosen unanimously from an independent panel of judges.
“It was really, really, amazing to win,” she said.
“There were seven finalists who are phenomenal artists.
“Beyond the money it’s a vote of confidence that what you’re doing, and creating, matters.”
Ms Whisson calls herself a theatre maker, actor and emerging writer.
She holds a Bachelor of Performing Arts from WAAPA and at 19 years old founded Onset Theatre Company.
“I like to explore themes that relate to mental health in my work,” she said.
“I find that when you put things on stage that aren’t as talked about in real life, it creates an opportunity to have more openness and I deeply believe we should be talking about this more.”
Growing up in Darlington with a musician father meant Ms Whisson has always been heavily involved in the arts scene, but her love of theatre came after she spent two years living in India.
“I love how it can tell truths about the world and start important conversations that need to be had through a means that is showing not telling,” she said.
“There’s something magical about the theatre and everyone in that space is feeling something very different, and that collective energy that happens in a space, there’s nothing quite like it.”
Ms Whisson’s $10,000 scholarship will be used to develop a one-person play titled Menswear which she will write, workshop, and stage.
She describes it as “Fleabag meets Kath and Kim”.
“This show concept has been niggling in my mind for a long time,” she said.
“I worked in menswear and it got me thinking about the anxiety of being stuck in a rut and also working in a menswear store and the trials and tribulations that come with that.
“I had 30 minute styling sessions and had these really beautiful, telling conversations with them.”