The Lysicrates Prize: Theatre for All. From Athens, 334 B.C. to Sydney, 2020 A.D.

Lysicrates Prize Winner 2015
“To all scribblers, daubers and assorted eggheads – a society’s real treasures.”
The motto of The Lysicrates Foundation


In ancient Athens, the people were totally theatre-mad.

Every year for a week, the whole city would stop dead, the government would come to a halt, businesses would be suspended, while tens of thousands of people, rich and poor, young and old would flock to the huge open air Theatre of Dionysus just under the Acropolis, for a drama competition.

Spectators would fill the Theatre to watch and passionately argue about great and innovative plays.

Theatre of Dionysos, Athens, Greece
Theatre of Dionysos, Athens, Greece. When it was rebuilt on stone in the fourth century BC, the theatre could hold over 17,000 spectators.

It was here that famous plays that are still staged to this day had their first performances.

Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus – the great playwrights who created drama as we know it today – were amongst the many brilliant authors.

The winners of these competitions were chosen not by committee, nor by an artistic director or some other type of expert, but by the entire audience of these ancient Athenians who were the very people who invented and practiced democracy. Today, democracy is one of the most precious values that we have. Democracy, where everyone is equal, where every vote counts, where every person has an equally important voice.

The Great Dionysia Festival of ancient Athens was not just about drama.

It was an extraordinary combination of religious worship, unparalleled literary creativity, community formation and critical self-reflection on society’s values and the challenges that faced it. Democracy, philosophy and poetic creativity came together here for the first time in history in a celebratory event on a grand, public scale.

In 334 B.C, the winning play chosen by the audience had been sponsored by a wealthy choregoi (donor) by the name of Mr Lysicrates. He celebrated this win by building a marble monument, which is still standing in Athens today, close to the Theatre of Dionysus, the Acropolis and the Parthenon – the very birthplace of European culture.

The Lysicrates Monument
The monument of Lysicrates as it currently stands in the Athenian Place, to the east of the Acropolis. Photo: Prof. Hans Rupprecht Goette.


In 1868, Sir James Martin, KCB, QC, three-time Premier of New South Wales, Chief Justice of New South Wales in Australia from 1873 to 1886 and philhellene, endeavoured to bring to Australia some of this rich and beautiful cultural heritage with its associated values and sentiments by building a replica of the Lysicrates monument with his own money.

NSW Premier Sir James Martin circa 1860
NSW Premier Sir James Martin circa 1860

Born into a poor family, as a child the very determined and ambitious boy walked or rode 13 kilometres each day from Parramatta all the way to school in the city of Sydney. There he acquired a love of classics and an affinity with Greek and Latin that lasted his lifetime and was eternalised in his replica of the Lysicrates monument.

The Sydney Lysicrates Monument
The Sydney Lysicrates Monument, Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, Australia

Martin’s beautiful replica is still standing in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney today.

In 2015, John and Patricia Azarias began an initiative to establish the Lysicrates Foundation to raise funds towards the restoration of the monument and to honour it by holding an annual Lysicrates Play Competition nearby.

With the abundance of world class theatrical talent in modern Sydney, the couple could think of no reason why there could not be a theatre competition based on the ancient Athenian model – one that would challenge playwrights, showcase acting and directing talent, be attended by people across all ages, backgrounds and postcodes.

From here the Lysicrates Foundation was born.


The Lysicates Foundation aims to take the ancient Athenian mould to give a platform to world-class theatrical talent, making the Lysicrates Prize the People’s Choice and an iconic event in Sydney’s cultural calendar.

The vision was for the event to be an annual one, arousing passions and controversy – the Archibald Prize for playwriting.

Just as we remember Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, it is hoped that someday in the future the winners of the Lysicrates Prize in Sydney will also be remembered for their passion, insight and skill in framing their creations.

What has been established is an opportunity for playwrights and their audience to come together and celebrate the power of theatre, just as our ancestors did on the slopes of the Acropolis.

A relationship has grown between The Lysicrates Foundation and Griffin Theatre Company to establish this significant cultural event and to create a new playwriting prize for Australia that reaches into the deepest traditions of western theatre.

Lysicrates Prize 2015 Steve Rodgers
Lysicrates Prize 2015 Winner: Steve Rodgers / Jesus Wants Me for A Sunbeam

Each year since 2015, Griffin Theatre Company invites Australian playwrights to submit the first 20 minutes of a new full-length work.

A team of Griffin readers produces a longlist to give to the judges and from this the judges select a shortlist of three plays.

The first acts of the three plays are rehearsed for one week each by professional actors with professional directors.

The first 20 minutes of each work is performed for an audience in the Royal Botanical Gardens.

With prizes for the runners up, the winner is decided by the people in the audience that night and received a full commission to complete the work.


The Lysicrates Prize is a philanthropic initiative presented by The Lysicrates Foundation and produced by Griffin Theatre Company.

There's still time (but not much) to get your tickets for the sixth Lysicrates Prize Event 2020.

The finalists for The Lysicrates Prize 2020 are:

Brooke RobinsonDeoxyribo-Whatever Acid
Katy WarnerThe Party
Matthew WhittetNo Need to Hide a Light When it Shines Like Hers

Lysicrates Prize Finalists 2020
Meet the three Lysicrates Prize 2020 finalists

You can now register to attend The Lysicrates Prize 2020 which will take place on Friday 31 January at 3pm. There, you will be able to vote for your favourite comedy, and through the power of democracy, choose a winning play.

It was free in ancient Athens and it’s free in Sydney today.

The theme this year is comedy.

The audience will vote for their favourite play on the day, and the winning playwright will receive a full commission to finish their work.

YOU could decide the winner!

The event is free but will fill up quickly, so be sure to save your spot.

REGISTER NOW ([email protected])

⃗ Friday 31st January 2020

⃗ Sydney Conservatorium of Music

⃗ 3pm arrival, doors open 3.30pm

⃗ Performances commence at 4 pm near the Lysicrates Monument, Botanical Gardens, followed by celebratory free food and drink in the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, in the presence of the Governor General of Australia.

09743df5e5c682ff9ab92eb2e38bd30c633e84bf lysicrates prize 2019 voting

You will be handed a voting coin as you enter the theatre which you will use to vote for the best playwright.

You vote for the winner and there is free food and drinks afterwards.

It's democratic. It's fun. And you get to support great Australian talent.

audience watching Lysicrates plays
The Lysicrates Prize: the People's Choice


Reserve your seats for free HERE or email: [email protected]

READ MORE about the Lysicrates Foundation HERE.

Read more on Greek City Times about the involvement of the Governor General and his wife in The Lysicrates Foundation HERE.