Auckland playwright Albert Belz is the winner of New Zealand's most significant national theatre award, the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award, New Zealand's playwrights' organisation Playmarket has announced. The winner was announced at a function on Saturday evening at Wellington's Downstage Theatre. The award is sponsored by the International Arts Foundation of New Zealand and Downstage Theatre Society.
This prestigious annual award has existed since 1983 and recognises the work of an outstanding emerging New Zealand playwright. Such a playwright has had one or more full-length plays produced to critical and audience acclaim. Previous winners include many of this country's most celebrated writers, including Briar Grace Smith, David Geary and Toa Fraser.
For the first time this year the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award has been judged by a panel of leading directors and dramaturgs from around New Zealand, and now includes a $10,000 full-length play commission for the winning playwright.
Born in Whakatane and of Ngati Porou, Ngapuhi and Ngati Pokai descent, Belz's third full-length play Yours Truly recently premiered in Wellington to critical acclaim. It was announced last week that the play has garnered an enormous nine nominations at this year's Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards, including Best New New Zealand Play. The story choice was bold - a love story set in Victoria England focused around artist Walter Sickert, prostitutes, royalty and the story of Jack the Ripper.
His second work for the stage, Awhi Tapu brought Belz to national attention in 2003. A subsequent North Island tour with Taki Rua Productions sold out, with audiences and reviewers praising the play's power, vitality and emotional punch. Awhi Tapu also received an award from The Human Rights Commission for its "positive contribution towards harmonious race relations". It will shortly be published by the Play Press.
Also an experienced television and film writer and actor, Albert currently has two full-length plays in development, an adaptation of short stories by Witi Ihimaera for Massive Company and Te Karakia, a commission for Taki Rua Productions. He is one of several writers contributing to Te Whaea for next year's Auckland Festival.
This year's judges, making their decision based on play premieres over the last three years, were Shane Bosher (Silo Theatre), Alister McDonald (Fortune Theatre), James Hadley (BATS Theatre), Roy Ward (ATC), Catherine Downes (Downstage Theatre), Murray Lynch (formerly of Downstage Theatre), Circa Theatre Programming Committee, Guy Boyce (Christchurch Arts Festival), Mark Amery and Jean Betts (Playmarket)
The award is named after the man considered by many to be New Zealand's first most significant playwright, Bruce Mason who died in 1982. Born in Wellington in 1921, Bruce Mason was a key figure in the birth of a New Zealand theatre. His contribution was recognised in 2005 by the unveiling of a sculpture of Mason at Downstage.