Hermia Boyd & Lola Montez

2018 marks the 60th anniversary of the vibrant Australian musical Lola Montez. Our current display in Smorgon Family Plaza, made possible by a recent donation to the Australian Performing Arts Collection, celebrates both the musical and the designer, Hermia Boyd.

Lola Montez was devised by Alan Burke (writer), Peter Stannard (composer) and Peter Benjamin (lyrics) who sought to create a uniquely Australian musical. Set in Ballarat, the story was inspired by the real-life exploits of Lola Montez, the celebrated and notorious courtesan and dancer, who visited the Australian goldfields in 1855-56.

Lola Montez

Lola Montez, born Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Ireland in 1821, led a colourful and often scandalous life. After a childhood spent in India, England and France, and a failed married before the age of 20, Montez trained briefly as a dancer in Spain where she assumed her stage name. She then travelled across Europe performing her risqué routines.

After affairs with Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas, Montez travelled to Munich (claiming to be of Spanish nobility) and won the heart of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Rising within the court she exerted great political influence until her identity was exposed, Ludwig abdicated and she fled to Switzerland. Tours of North America, Europe and Australia followed.

Montez’s reputation preceded her in Melbourne, with audiences on the San Francisco goldfields the first to see her provocative ‘Spider Dance’ in the early 1850s. In Australia miners were said to have thrown gold nuggets on stage during her performance, but critical reviews were less favourable. Offended by a negative review published in the Ballarat Times, Montez publicly attacked the editor Henry Seekamp with a horsewhip.

A century later, this story was bought to life by Bourke, Stannard and Benjamin who first staged the musical in Melbourne in 1958. This production by the Union Theatre Repertory Company (now Melbourne Theatre Company) was directed by John Sumner and starred Justine Rettick in the title role, with set and costumes designed by Warwick Armstrong. Impressed by the musical, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust then backed a commercial season in Sydney and Brisbane. This was directed by George Carden, featured English actress Mary Preston and was re-designed by Hermia Boyd.


Hermia Boyd – designing an Australian gold rush musical

Hermia Boyd (née Lloyd-Jones) was born in Sydney where she studied sculpture at East Sydney Technical College. During her studies she began working for Guy Boyd, a member of the artistic Boyd family, decorating his pottery. It was here she met Guy’s brother David whom she married in 1948. The couple travelled widely, spending extended periods of time living in both Australia and Europe where they set up their own pottery studios in Sydney, London and southern France. During this time Hermia frequently exhibited and worked across various mediums including ceramics, printmaking, painting and sculpture.


In 1958, after Hermia, David and their family returned to Sydney, the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust employed Hermia as the designer for Lola Montez. Continuing the long tradition of artists designing for the stage she conceived both the sets and costumes for the musical. Her attention to detail and artistry invested the production with what critics described as a ‘picturesque grandeur’ that captured ‘the spirit of the place and the time’.

Although the musical received mixed reviews, the soundtrack was a success when it was released on record with the single ‘Saturday Girl’, featuring Michael Cole and Jane Martin, becoming a Top 40 hit.


Decades later, there is renewed interest in the musical. A revival is currently in development with a collaboration between the original composer Peter Stannard (now 86) and The Follies Company. The gala performance for this production opens at Parramatta Riverside Theatres on 2 June 2018.

Nicole Bowller
Assistant Curator

Hermia Boyd & Lola Montez: Designing an Australian gold rush musical
20 January – 25 February | Smorgon Family Plaza
Arts Centre Melbourne

In anticipation of the circus

Posters have always played a crucial role in the promotion of travelling circuses. High Hopes: in anticipation of the circus celebrates the recent donation of the Vern Ellis Collection, consisting of over 40 circus posters, to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Australian Performing Arts Collection and provides an insight into the rich history of circus in Australia.

Dating from the 1920s to 1960s, these posters (also known as bills) were part of pervasive campaigns that announced the imminent arrival of each circus. Advance agents employed by the circus were sent out several weeks ahead of the company to paste posters in prominent locations across towns: on walls, billboards, shop windows and telegraph poles.

Gwen Chaplin and Olive Ellis promoting Wirth’s Circus, Brisbane, 1940s
Gift of Mrs. Barbara St. Leon, 2015
Arts Centre Melbourne, Australian Performing Arts Collection

During World War II when men were unavailable, Wirth’s Circus employed women to post bills in major cities. Wearing crisp white uniforms, they created a sense of excitement and additional publicity for the circus.

A well-designed poster differentiated a circus from its competitors and enticed potential visitors to attend. By the mid-twentieth century Australian circus posters had evolved from heavily text-based designs to more elaborate graphic imagery. Bold, eye-catching and colourful, these posters offered a glimpse into the circus tent, inviting audiences into a world of breathtaking skill and spectacle. Borrowing from the American circus poster and comic book traditions, posters often depicted complex narratives with aerial views of large performances contrasted with feature acts in close detail.

L-R: Poster for Perry Bros Huge Circus and Zoo, c.1920s–1930s; Poster for Perry Bros Huge Circus and Zoo, Wellington, 1929; Poster for Holden Bros Combined Comedy Stage Show, 1930s; Poster for Bullen Bros Circus, Townsville, 1961
Vern Ellis Collection, 2017
Arts Centre Melbourne, Australian Performing Arts Collection

Early posters made use of bold text to differentiate each circus from its competitors. As the number of circuses increased, and international companies toured Australia, further distinction was required to set each circus apart. Imagery became more elaborate as printing technology improved, while the claims on posters grew wilder in an attempt to draw larger crowds using phrases such as ‘death defying, danger deriding’, ‘the greatest’ and ‘the only big responsible show coming this season’. The location and date of performances provided the specifics of the event but were less prominent. This information was often handwritten, printed or attached to posters at each town, allowing a generic poster to be used for an entire tour.

High Hopes: in anticipation of the circus is on display from 29 June – 15 August, 2017 in the Smorgon Family Plaza, Theatres Building, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Nicole Bowller
Assistant Curator


This year Arts Centre Melbourne celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the creative collaboration between abstract painter John Peart (1945 – 2013) and composer Nigel Butterley (b. 1935). In 1967 the pair took to the stage of the Sydney Town Hall, along with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, to present the collaborative performance Interaction as part of the Last Night of the Proms.

Peart and Butterley conceived the performance as a creative interaction between music and painting, a live ‘happening’ where each could act in response to the other. Prior to the event, Butterley, a pianist and an established composer, wrote a work of five movements, each more energetic than the last. On the evening of the performance Butterley was seated at the piano and divided the orchestra into five sections. This allowed him to direct the various sections of the orchestra to come in and out, responding to Peart’s evolving painting.

Peart, who was only 22 at the time, was establishing a name for himself as an innovative abstract painter. During the performance he worked on the stage above the orchestra, with long-handled paint rollers on a large canvas stretched before the audience. For each of the five movements Peart painted with a different colour, the intensity of which increased as the performance unfolded; the palest used during the first, gentle movement and the darkest during the final, most vigorous movement.

The performance is fondly recalled by Peart’s close friends and directors of Watters Gallery, Geoffrey Legge and Frank Watters, who looked on with “amazed admiration at the way the vast painting came into marvellous and inevitable being as Peart proceeded”. They remarked that “he couldn’t step back and survey the work as it developed, he just flowed with the music. His application of black during the final exciting movement made it hard not to believe he was under the spell of an out-of-body intelligence so inspired did each new mark seem”.

Interaction, 1967, a recent donation to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Art Collection, was a preparatory study created during rehearsals. Although smaller in scale, Peart’s lyrical and direct brushstrokes capture the rhythm and movement of the improvisation on canvas. Produced at the beginning of Peart’s career, the work also signalled his lifelong commitment to an exploration of abstraction and experimentation. The addition of this artwork to the Art Collection enriches the historical interpretation of our Foundation Collection, particularly in the artistic connections with Peart’s abstract contemporaries, Yvonne Audette, Roger Kemp and Donald Laycock.

An Interaction between Music and Painting is currently on display in the Smorgon Family Plaza (May 20 – June 25), featuring Interaction, 1967, alongside the award-winning film, Interaction – music and painting, 1967 (directed by Gil Brealey, reproduced by permission of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Library Sales © 1969 ABC TV). This film, produced in the same year as the performance, captures the essence of the creative partnership between composer and painter.

Nicole Bowller
Assistant Curator

Kylie On Stage Tour

Ever wondered what it takes to send an exhibition on tour? In this behind-the-scenes post, you can get a glimpse of staff from the Performing Arts Collection busily preparing Kylie On Stage for tour.

Gold boots and stiletto heels worn by Kylie Minogue in the On A Night Like This tour packed into their travelling box with custom inserts to prevent movement and damage while travelling.

The Kylie On Stage exhibition wrapped up in January and is now being meticulously prepped and packed for a regional tour to the Mildura Arts Centre, Geelong Gallery, Ararat Regional Art Gallery and La Trobe Regional Gallery in 2017 and 2018. The exhibition allowed visitors to explore the creative processes behind the costumes and production of Kylie Minogue’s concert tours, but for the objects themselves, the show doesn’t end when the exhibition lights go dark. Instead, a team of registrars, curators, conservators and other museum professionals go to work preparing each object for travel to the next exhibition venue.

This lengthy process involves careful photography and documentation to record the condition of each object, creation of handmade supports, and fitting out or building customised boxes to fit complex objects such as headdresses. Exhibition objects risk damage ranging from packing materials and handling through to vibration caused by transport vehicles, so each one is carefully packed with conservation grade materials and dedicated supports to provide the best possible protection. The intricacy of the craftsmanship on many of the Kylie On Stage costumes has inspired clever solutions to protect delicate beading, diamantés and fabrics. Photos of the packing process are then used to guide installation and prevent handling-related damage during unpacking at the next venue.

Fitting custom supports in a box tray to support a headdress.

While all objects are treated with the utmost care, sometimes you can’t avoid having a particular favourite. Some of the team’s favourite items from the packing process include a pair of yellow Dolce & Gabbana stilettos worn in the encore of Kylie’s 2002 KylieFever tour, a kimono-style mini dress worn in Act Five of the X2008 tour, and two pairs of gold shoes worn in the On A Night Like This tour (2000/2001). Shoes and accessories are not always very visible in performance, so being able to see the detail and craftsmanship of smaller items in the collection up close is a particular privilege.

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A standard box which has been fitted out with customised foam and Tyvek supports for a pair of shoes worn by Kylie Minogue in the encore of her 2002 Fever Tour.

Visitors can look forward to getting their own close-up view of these and all the other objects featured in Kylie On Stage when it arrives in Mildura this August. To learn more about the exhibition and regional tour, visit Kylie On Stage or explore the Kylie Minogue Collection online through the Arts Centre Melbourne website.

Left: The textile conservator fits a padded Tyvek belt around the Jean Paul Gaultier bodysuit worn in Act Six of the Kiss Me Once 2015 tour.
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The bodysuit also has a fitted internal support to preserve its shape and prevent crushing of structural decorative elements.
PAC curatorial and collection management staff pack the silver crystal-mesh costume worn by Kylie during Act One of the KylieFever tour in 2002.

Ercole and Nancy Filippini: Opera Pioneers in Australia


This year marks the centenary of the arrival of baritone Count Ercole Filippini in Australia. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1885 to Italian parents, he made his professional debut in his home city, before gaining a contract with Italy’s prestigious La Scala opera house in Milan in 1912. With the closure of theatres in Europe during World War I, Filippini joined the Gonsalez Opera Company for a tour that included India, China, and the Philippines, followed by 14 months in Australia and New Zealand from June 1916.

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Count Ercole Filippini in the title role of Rigoletto, c.1914 and Contessa Nancy Filippini as Marguerite in Faust, Perth, 1930. Images courtesy of Coralie Tonti-Filippini.

When the tour ended Filippini remained in Australia and, in 1918, opened a school of opera in Sydney. One of his students was a young music graduate, Anne McParland (later known as Nancy), and by the end of the year the couple were married. In 1919 Filippini joined Frank Rigo’s touring company, which featured other Italian principals and Australian singers.

During the 1920s, the Filippinis set up Grand Opera companies in South Australia and Western Australia, all the while envisioning a national audience. Ercole performed onstage while Nancy produced and directed. She became Australia’s first female conductor of symphony orchestras and later joined her husband in lead roles.

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Programmes for the Italo-Australian Grand Opera Company, 1927 and 1932. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection.

The pair were dedicated to making Italian opera widely accessible, touring regularly to the outback and remote corners of the country as well as major cities. In order to make ends meet, Ercole also sang in vaudeville venues and cinemas, and together with Nancy, experimented with shortened versions of operas. In the early 1930s they broadcast regularly on ABC radio in Perth, even performing full operas with their company in the studio.

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Nancy Filippini, Sonara House Studio, Melbourne, 1936.  Image courtesy of Coralie Tonti-Filippini.

Ercole Filippini died at the age of 48 in 1934. Nancy continued her involvement with singing, broadcasting, and leading choirs and orchestras; she died in 1987, aged 91. Instrumental in sharing Italian opera across Australia, their musical legacy also continues through many family members including grandson, singer-songwriter Paul Kelly.

“Opera Pioneers in Australia” is on display in Smorgon Family Plaza, Theatres Building, Arts Centre Melbourne until 30 August 2016.

Shakespeare 400


Tomorrow, 23 April marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare – poet, playwright and actor. Across the globe Shakespeare’s influence and legacy is being celebrated as part of Shakespeare400 with works of theatre, dance, music, art and literature inspired by the Bard being performed throughout the year.

Australians have long been enthralled by the plays of Shakespeare. The first known performance of his work in Australia is believed to be a production of Henry IV staged in Sydney on 8 April 1800. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Australia played host to many international Shakespeareans from Charles Kean and George Rignold to Laurence Olivier, however, only the work of local actor-managers Allan Wilkie and John Alden seemed to hint at the possibility of a permanent company. This dream was finally realised in 1990 with the founding of The Bell Shakespeare Company by actor John Bell and philanthropist Tony Gilbert.

To coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death we’re sharing some highlights from our Bell Shakespeare Collection including costumes and production photographs from the company’s past twenty five years. Also on display are some very special items donated to the Performing Arts Collection by John Bell earlier this year which reflect the history of Shakespeare in Australia. These include two very fine prop swords used by 19th century Shakespearean actor, George Rignold who performed in Australia from 1886 to 1899. In true theatrical style these pieces and a number of others were passed down to John Bell by actress Amber May Cecil, whose father actor/director Captain Lawrence H. Cecil came into possession of them following Rignold’s death in 1912.

Shakespeare 400 is currently on display in Smorgon Family Plaza, Theatres Building, Arts Centre Melbourne.