Queensland Premier's Drama Award | Queensland Theatre

Congratulations to Steve Pirie, winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2020–21 for Return to the Dirt.

From over 220 entries for the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2020–21 (QPDA), and three finalists, Brisbane writer Steve Pirie has been announced  the winner with Return to the Dirt, a powerful and gently humorous meditation on what it means to die in the 21st century and what a final act of love can do for our healing.

 Pirie’s work was selected ahead of fellow finalists Anna Loren for Comfort and Maddie Nixon for her work Binnavale. Delivered through Queensland Theatre, the QPDA is a prestigious and important award for Australian theatre, in that it guarantees a professional production of the winning entry in the Company’s 2021 Season.

 ”Steve Pirie’s play Return to the Dirt is a revelation,” said Artistic Director Lee Lewis, who was part of the judging panel for the awards. “It is one of the best new Australian plays I have read in the last five years. He has done what all great writers do… bravely transform personal experience into story so that we are willing to imagine into the scariest of places.

 “This play is emotionally rich, humane, startlingly funny, spiritually sophisticated and deeply honest. In these strange and difficult times this is the kind of writing we need to inspire us. I have not been so deeply moved by a play in years. Our playwrights are our national treasures and great stories are hived in every corner of this great country – this is a story set in Toowoomba which will speak to the world about how we, as humans, value a life.  I can’t wait to share it with our audience on the Queensland Theatre stage next year”.

 “The QPDA is the largest playwriting award in the country. The significance of guaranteeing a production to the winning play cannot be overstated. For every playwright in the country, the QPDA offers a career-changing opportunity. Working with the Queensland Government to shine a huge light on the extraordinary writing talent we have in this country is both inspiring and exciting”, Lewis said.

Judges for the 2020–21 award included Ms Christine Castley, Deputy Director-General in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet; Ms Lee Lewis, Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre; Ms Nadine McDonald-Dowd, Executive Producer, Queensland Performing Arts Centre; and Ms Jennifer Medway, Literary Associate, Melbourne Theatre Company.

Steve Pirie:

Steve Pirie is a writer, theatre maker and youth arts worker currently based in Brisbane. A graduate of the University of Southern Queensland, he is also the co-Artistic Director of Mixtape Theatre Collective, a regional independent theatre company based in Toowoomba, Queensland. His first play, Escape from the Breakup Forest, has since been published by Playlab following state-wide seasons, and in 2014, Steve’s work 3 O’Clock, Flagpole was selected for development as part of the Lab Rats initiative. In 2017, he was an independent artist with Queensland Theatre where he developed his work, Return to the Dirt as part of his residency, which was presented at La Boite’s HWY Festival in 2018.

His entry, Return to the Dirt:
In 2014, Steve Pirie returned to his hometown in regional Queensland with no job, money or goals. After a series of dead ends, he finally found work in a local funeral home, where he spent the next year living and working among the dead, the dying and the families left behind. Join Steve, your tour guide, as he takes you through the realms of the dead and behind the closed doors of the Australian funeral industry in this powerful meditation on what it means to die in the 21st century, to lose the ones we love, what a twenty-something learned about what awaits us at the end, and what a final act of love can do for our healing.

Return to the Dirt is a celebration of finding your place in the world, the power of personal redemption and humility at the end of all things. Most importantly, it is a stepping stone to one of the most important conversations you need to have.


Launched in 2002, the QPDA is an initiative of Queensland Theatre with the support of the Queensland Government.


Through the QPDA, Queensland Theatre has developed 31 new Australian plays, employed over 220 actors, writers and directors, and fostered audiences of more than 34,500 to engage with new theatre works.

The goals of the QPDA are:

• to produce a platform for Australian theatre makers and playwrights to develop new works that are an artistic response to, or reflection of, ‘Australian Society’ and expose audiences to this work

• to promote the creation of high quality, original, artistic work

• to recognise and develop creative artists, their work and their standing within our society

• to enhance the employment of Queensland actors, creative teams and production artists.

The process:

A panel of industry professionals reviews the entries, leading to a shortlist. The shortlisted artists meet the award judges before three finalists are selected. The finalists receive paid development, leading to a presentation of their work for the judges. The judging panel then selects a winner to receive further development of their work, before it’s programmed into the next Queensland Theatre season. 



Interviews with past QPDA winners


David MegarrityThe Holidays (winner)
Hannah Belanszky, don’t ask what the bird look like
Anna Yen, Slow Boat

Michele Lee, Rice (winner)
Kathryn Marquet, Furious Creatures
Suzie Miller, I Looked Up and There You Were

Daniel Evans, Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (winner)
Tim Benzie, The Overflow
Megan Shorey, One in Seven (music-theatre)

Maxine Mellor, Trollop (winner)
Stephen Carleton, 
Bastard Territory
David Megarrity (for The Human Company), The Empty City

Marcel Dorney, Fractions (winner) 
Rebecca Clarke, 
Philip Dean, Unreliable Bodies

Richard Jordan, 25 Down (winner)
Katherine Lyall-Watson, Tinder
Sven Swenson, Dangerfield Park

David Brown,  The Estimator (winner)
Anthony Funnell,  The Tram
Michael Riordan,  String

Adam Grossetti, Mano Nera (winner) 
Stephen Carleton, Constance Drinkwater and the Last Days of Somerset
Philip Chappell, Welcome to Dreamland

Sven Swenson, Road to the She-Devil’s Salon (winner)
Kathryn Ash,  Flutter
Bruce Clark, The Kaufman Letter
Simon Ratcliffe, Conurb
Hugh Watson,  The Valley
Gayle Wilkinson,  Goat Head Burs