Considered to be the Nobel Prize for Theatre – the International Ibsen Award is gifted every two years and comes with a $2.5 million Norwegian kroner (equivalent to almost $400,000 Australian Dollars) cash prize.
It aims to honour an individual or company that has brought new artistic dimensions to the world of drama or theatre. Back to Back Theatre, a professional theatre company with an ensemble of actors with disabilities at its core, is the first Australian company to win this award. Previous recipients have included Peter Brook in 2008 and Taylor Mac in 2020.
“We are proud to be able to honor an outstanding and unique theater company that asks questions of their audience, of society and of each other through groundbreaking productions,” said Ingrid Lorentzen, Chair of the International Ibsen Award Committee.
“Back to Back’s work is exciting, unsettling and thought-provoking. It inspires us to be better artists and better people. Back to Back gives voice to social and political issues, and their work is a relentlessly collective practice, where several creators, ideas and perspectives are always present and create a space for inclusion and opportunities.”
“This is part of what makes their work so memorable and so important. Back to Back’s work has inspired and moved each of us in the committee, and we look forward to presenting this well-earned award to this theatre company,” said Ms Lorentzen.
Based in the Victorian regional centre of Geelong, Back to Back Theatre is widely recognised as an Australian theatre company of national and international significance. The company is driven by an ensemble of actors who are perceived to be intellectually disabled or neuro diverse and is considered one of Australia’s most important cultural exporters.
From 2009 to 2022, the company has undertaken 72 national and 89 international seasons of its work. This includes presentations and screenings at the world’s pre-eminent contemporary arts festivals and venues. From 2009 to 2022, community and education workshops have been delivered to approximately 24,000 community members and students, with a focus on artistic excellence.
Back to Back Theatre has received 21 national and international awards including a Helpmann Award for Best Australian Work, an Edinburgh International Festival Herald Angel Critics’ Award, two The Age Critics’ Awards, a New York Bessie and the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Group Award for our long-standing contribution to the development of Australian theatre.
In 2015, Artistic Director Bruce Gladwin received the Australia Council for the Arts’ Inaugural Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre. The ensemble were awarded the ‘Best Ensemble’ in the 2019 Green Room Awards.
“It is an honour to receive this major award for our achievements in theatre. It means a lot. It means recognition of our art. It is a privilege and an honour. It was probably the proudest day in my career,” said Scott Price, Back to Back ensemble member.
“Many amazing artists have collaborated with the Back to Back Ensemble over the last 30 years,” said Bruce Gladwin, Back to Back Artistic Director and Co-CEO. “The presentation of The International Ibsen Award honours not only the Ensemble’s talent and unique insight as social commentators but the richness and depth of Australian contemporary theatre.”
The Ibsen Award announcement coincides with the birthdate of the celebrated playwright Henrik Ibsen in whose spirit the prize has been established. The 2022 award ceremony will take place at the National Theatre in Oslo on 18 September.
Plans are underway for Back to Back to perform a season of the award winning Ganish Versus the Third Reich alongside the company’s most recent major work, The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, in Oslo: 16 – 19 September.
Image: Back to Back Theatre Ensemble – photo by Jeff Busby