There’s no “Hubris and Humiliation” with this Playwriting Win

1 October 2021


University of Queensland student, Lewis Treston, has done it again. After already winning the Patrick White Playwrights Award in 2016, and having been nominated for a Matilda Award in 2019, this year Lewis has taken his skills international, winning the 2021 New Play Award at the Australian Theatre Festival in New York with his play Hubris and Humiliation. The win comes with a US$5000 prize and a staged reading in New York at the Australian Theatre Festival.

Hubris and Humiliation

The play is a camp adaptation of an amalgamation of Jane Austen’s novels, and follows the story of Elliot Delaney who is sent by his mother to Sydney, to marry rich after she loses her home to a scam involving catfishing,

When asked about the Jane Austen angle, Lewis says “my mum really liked BBC. I grew up watching that on sick days, and then it was sort of always in my orbit.”

The play deals with the looming question of the function of marriage in a post-marriage-equality Australia. “I think I unconsciously knew Hubris and Humiliation was a good play for the now, post marriage equality, because of it’s queer bent, and it just seemd obvious tieing that in with Austen who interrogated marriage so thoughtfully”

“With marriage equality in Australia, it seemd like an institution strike that people were running away from and then gay people were running towards. It was fun to sort of play with that tension.”

The work was completed as part of his Master of Philosophy in Creative Writing where he was supervised by the School’s own Associate Professor Stephen Carleton and Dr Chris Hay. “The relationship with my supervisors was really really good … they’re experts in the field, so you couldn’t really go wrong.”

“It was a great experience that was instrumental to the success of the play.” He says about his study, “I would unreservedly encourage anyone to do a Masters of Philosophy, if they were interested, at UQ”. 

For Lewis, his time at UQ has given him practical skills that have “changed my process for the better”, leaving him skills to apply to his future plays, which he teases could be in the process with Sydney Theatre Company, or, as he corrects, “there’s interest. STC did a rough draft development of Hubris and Humiliation at the start of the year”. An award-winning playwright and modest -- who could have thought?

Lewis has already applied to keep studying at UQ for his PhD where he wants to continue studying queer camp lenses. “I want to look at American and Australian family dramas through a kind of camp queer lens, with the view of adapting a play in this style of drama.”

Advice for future budding playwrights and uncertain students

Lewis leaves the age-old advice to “stick to your guns“. If playwriting is something you want to do, and you think it’s right for you, “stick to your guns”. And while that phrase might sound like a solo military expedition, Lewis provides hope, “there are so many people in the humanities and arts who are there to support you and point you in the right direction.” 

In regard to where to start, Lewis suggests to “work out what you’re fixated on, and realise that should be a play”. 

Of course playwriting isn’t for everyone - and he admits that when he was a prospective student he didn’t know what he wanted to do. Having completed a Bachelor of Arts, Lewis strongly recommends starting there. “A Bachelor of Arts degree opens your mind up to so many different possible things. When I did one, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But an Arts program just introduces you to so many different things that can help you figure out where you fit best. It’s a great way to learn about yourself.”

Hubris and Humiliation marks the playwright’s ninth completed work and one of his crowning achievements so far. In regard to the strange chaotic state of the world he mentions:

“It’s a strange time for my career to start peaking” 

Written by Jake Allwood