Creating the State Theatre Stage Drop Curtain

Graham Bennett, Paul Kathner, Ross Turner, Kevin Pierce and Peter Petit painting the State Theatre curtain at Scenic Studios, Melbourne, 1984, Victorian Arts Centre Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

One items in our collection about which the Research Centre has received multiple enquiries this year is the Drop Curtain on the State Theatre stage.  I’m sure not many people realise that the curtain itself is an official museum object, catalogued into the Australian Performing Arts Collection!  Actually, it’s quite possibly the hardest working object we have, as it is never in storage and always takes pride of place, working nightly on stage.

Early design ideas for the curtain included using a method of embroidery and applique, (think Bayeux Tapestry) or even hand-weaving the entire curtain into a giant actual tapestry! As an artwork it would have been majestic indeed but may have dated over time. The medium of tapestry also was not going to work as a stage curtain which needs to be heavy for the correct drape but also requires the flexibility to fold and move quickly, easily and repeatedly.
John Truscott commissioned Graham Bennett to design the curtain in 1984. Bennett also designed and painted the beautiful celling of the Vic Restaurant. Next time you are in there, look up and admire his work.

The Design
Graham Bennett’s design features a representation of a lyrebird’s fanned tail as the centrepiece where the two halves of the curtain meet. A clustered spray of native flora comprising fern leaves, gum leaves and wattle flowers are painted on the far right and left lower sides; an exact mirror image of each other.  Above each of these, a smaller Victorian Coat of Arms is presented, on each top corner of the curtain.  In this insignia the female figures of Peace and Prosperity stand either side of the Southern Cross and a Kangaroo holding a crown.  The figure of Peace on the left, holds an olive branch and Prosperity on the right, has a cornucopia by her side.  They stand on a grassy mount with the State motto ‘Peace and Prosperity’ at the base of the figures. Depicting the Coat of Arms at a smaller size emphasises height of the curtain and allows the native flora and fauna motifs to dominate the eye.  Four ribbons draw all the elements of the curtain together. They hang vertically from the crests at each side and are laced through the bouquets.  Large golden curls of ribbon then work their way along the bottom section of the curtain becoming entwined in the lyrebird motif.

Painting the enormous curtain, Victorian Arts Centre Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

The Creation
The finished curtain is made of dense red upholstery velvet from Windsor Fabrics.  There was much interest in the curtain when our social media page posted some information on it and everyone asked “How did they get it looking so glimmery?”  In fact the surface was painted in multiple layers of “impasto”, a technique whereby the brushstrokes are thick and visible. Each layer was dried before adding the next, so that the result is a thick buildup of shimmering paint that glistens under the spotlights. The other secret about the paint itself is that there is gold leaf mixed through it.  When lit, the light bounces off the colour of the paint and the metallic gold particles, bringing out all the more brilliance to the piece.

The curtain cost $90,000 and was the gift of the then State Bank of Victoria. It took three months to create at Scenic Studios and the team who worked on it included Graham Bennett, Paul Kathner, Ross Turner, Kevin Pierce and Peter Petit.

By Claudia Funder, Collections Coordinator, Research Centre

Open House 2017

Quietly tucked away, beneath the lawn at Arts Centre Melbourne, hidden below Inge King’s iconic Forward Surge (colloquially known as ‘The Wave’) is the home of Australia’s performing arts history.

MM_102439.1200x1200
Inge King, Forward Surge, 1976, 50mm mild steel 
Commissioned in 1975, William Angliss Art Fund
Public Art Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Established in 1975, the Australian Performing Arts Collection is formally recognised as a state collection but has a national focus encompassing the history of the performing arts in Australia across dance, music, opera, theatre, circus, comedy, puppetry and magic. The collection currently holds over 650,000 objects including costumes, set models, stage designs, props and puppets, photographs, posters, programs, and the archives of some of Australia’s most significant performers, companies and designers.

It is not often we get to open our doors to the public, but once a year during Open House Melbourne we get to do just that. During twelve tours over two days, we brought over 100 people through on a whirlwind, showstopping tour of the Australian Performing Arts Collection. So much to see and so little time!

This year the highlights included:

  • Dame Nellie Melba’s costume from La Traviata
  • Kylie Minogue’s gold hot pants worn in the ‘Spinning Around’ music video
  • Geoffrey Rush’s costume worn in Diary of a Madman
  • A handwritten notebook  by Nick Cave
  • Wirth’s Circus scrapbook documenting the early history of Australian circus
  • Costumes from Dame Edna’s stage wardrobe
  • Peter Allen’s maracas
  • MTC’s set model for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll 
  • Leather jacket worn by Bon Scott of AC/DC
  • Designs from Australia’s leading stage designers including Ann Church, Jennie Tate, Mel Drummond and Roger Kirk.
  • Not to mention clown shoes, ballet shoes, magic tricks, puppets and much much more!
IMG_3509
Notebook compiled by Nick Cave, 1984-1985, Gift of Nick Cave, 2006, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
IMG_3103
Hot pants worn by Kylie Minogue in Spinning Around video, 2000, Gift of Kylie Minogue, Cultural Gifts Program, 2004, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
MM_17148.1200x1200.jpg
Set model for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Melbourne Theatre Company, 1995, Gift of the Melbourne Theatre Company, 1995, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
ARTS_CENTRE_BS_REPORTAGE_197
Maracas purchased by Peter Allen in Rio de Janeiro, 1977, Gift of Larry Rinehart, 2009, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Thank you to everyone who attended! We absolutely love showing you around and hope to get to share more of Australia’s performing arts history with you. We think this collection deserves a permanent gallery of it’s very own. What do you think? Tell us in the comments below!

Tales from the Research Centre

IMG_4631

Up on level 7 of Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne, a room walled with books overlooks the river and a beautiful view across the bridge to Flinders Street Station, St Pauls’ Cathedral and the imposing city skyline.  But rarely is time spent appreciating this grand vista, as this small room is our Research Centre for the Australian Performing Arts Collection.   Anyone researching the performing arts can book an appointment to study our archival collections for their projects. It’s our own little mini reader’s room, if you like.  The view might be grand, but heads are down as researchers pore through extant documents to learn more about performers, directors, designers, productions, producers and theatre process from the nineteenth century to today.  The online service also facilitates use of collection images for publications, academic theses, television documentaries, genealogy and even the odd school project!

IMG_4650

The Research Centre is always a quietly busy place.  A snapshot from this year shows research on theatre architecture, pantomime, costume, company finances and performers such as Billy Maloney, a well-known child singer and vaudeville comedian during the inter-war period, who later headed up children’s performance troupes. Billy was known as “the man with the Silver Stick” – the titular item being presented to him by the Prince of Wales (the future but short reigning Edward VIII) in 1920.

The bright orange clown costume pictured below, was owned by Michael Horowitz, a famous circus clown in Warsaw in the 1930’s.  Sue Smethurst got in touch as she is currently researching the family tree. Consequently three generations of Michael Horowitz’s descendants came to visit the Collection to see the costume owned by their ancestor.

ClownFull1200x1200
Clown outfit worn by Michael Horowitz, a member of the USSR Circus, c 1925, Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

During their visit, the family told the story of Michael Horowitz who was a famous Polish clown. In order to escape the invading Nazis, Horowitz joined a Russian circus which was about to tour to Australia.  Michael made his home here and after working menial jobs, was employed at GTV 9 in the 50’s as one of the clowns on the children’s programme “The Tarax Show”, along with Alf Gertler and Norman Brown. He was very much a member of the channel 9 ‘family’ in the early days of Australian television.  Ernie Carroll, the man behind Ozzie Ostrich later on, supported Michael Horowitz’s application to remain Australia.

Pop costume visit 3
Back row from L: Henry Horowitz, Meg Horowitz, Sue Smethurst, Paul Horowitz
Front from L: Charlie Horowitz, Alex Horowitz

Pertaining to the costume itself, the family believe that Michael might have done the exquisite embroidery as he was a great sewer.  However, the costume is dated around 1925 when Michael was only fifteen years old. Is this the costume of a 15 year old? Is it an appropriated costume from use elsewhere? If that date is accurate, why did he choose to take it with him years later when fleeing the country?

ClownDetail.1200x1200
Detail, Clown outfit worn by Michael Horowitz, a member of the USSR Circus, c 1925, Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

These are the kinds of questions which both frustrate and fascinate the researcher. The detective work our researchers do is painstaking. They read volumes of material and piece lives and events together from a line in a newspaper clipping here; a letter there, and in the case of Michael Horowitz, they also draw on generational memory passed down through the family.

Thanks to all our researchers for keeping us so busy and special thanks to Sue Smethurst and the Horowitz family for their permissions and images for this piece.

The Australian Performing Arts Collection Research Centre at Arts Centre Melbourne is open by appointment only on Mondays and Tuesdays.  researchservice@artscentremelbourne.com.au

Claudia Funder
Collections Coordinator, Online and Research.

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.

IMG_7026
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.

IMG_0759
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.

IMG_0074 3
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.

IMG_8302
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.
IMG_0074 2
The bodysuit also has a fitted internal support to preserve its shape and prevent crushing of structural decorative elements.
IMG_8910
PAC curatorial and collection management staff pack the silver crystal-mesh costume worn by Kylie during Act One of the KylieFever tour in 2002.

MELBOURNE OLYMPIC GAMES

PART 2

The Olympic Arts Festival 

12 NOVEMBER – 15 DECEMBER 1956

The Olympic Arts Festival was a special feature of the 1956 Melbourne Games. While fine arts competitions were associated with previous Olympics, Melbourne was the first Games to have an arts festival as part of the official program.

img-161205164025-0001
Programme for the Olympic Arts Festival. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

This program included fine art and design exhibitions and a Festival of Music and Drama that aimed to communicate something of Australia’s national character to overseas visitors and showcase the county’s best talent.

Music was a large part of the Festival with the Melbourne Symphony and Sydney Symphony Orchestras presenting concerts. This included a unique combined performance at the Olympic Swimming pool, where Sir Bernard Heinze conducted what was claimed to be the largest symphony orchestra ever assembled in Australia. During the performance soprano Glenda Raymond sung Ah, fors’è lui from La Traviata, and Olympic Overture by Clive Douglas was premiered. This work was the winning entry in an Olympic Composers Competition staged by APRA and the ABC.

abc-344
The combined Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras during the Olympic Swimming Pool performance, 2 December 1956. ABC 344 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
abc-340
Glenda Raymond and Sir Bernard Heinze at the Olympic Swimming Pool performance, 2 December 1956. ABC 340 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

 

abc-341
The Duke of Edinburgh was in the audience at the joint Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestra concerts, 2 December 1956. ABC 340 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
mm_87771-2000x2000
Prime Minister Roberts Menzies at the Olympic Swimming Pool performance, 2 December 1956. ABC 339 Laurie Richards Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Other festival events included free Music for the People concerts at the Botanic Gardens conducted Hector Crawford and a chamber music festival at Melba Hall. At Her Majesty’s Theatre the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust presented a program of four operas by Mozart, Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and the Children’s marionette play The Tintookies.

Companies not included in the Festival also staged special Olympic productions. At New Theatre, Dick Diamond’s Australian musical Under the Coolibah Tree was presented. Despite public suspicion of communism and condemnation of the Soviet Union after the Hungarian Uprising (this famously manifested in a brawl between the USSR vs Hungary water polo teams), the left leaning New Theatre kept things friendly by inviting Soviet journalists and a Chinese theatre company to view the show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the Tivoli, re-opened after an extensive refurbishment, the Olympic Follies was presented. This was an extravaganza of variety featuring the Hungarian acrobatic dancers Julia and Darvas, with lavish stage design by Angus Winneke.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2002-034-465
The amazing Darvas and Julia, c.1956. 2002.034.465 Betty Stewart Collection. Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

As you can see, life in Melbourne during the Games was friendly, social and entertaining. If you’d like to learn more about what was on during the Games check out the digitised newspapers in Trove . You can also ask our Research Centre for help in locating objects and information about this and other Performing Arts topics.

Ercole and Nancy Filippini: Opera Pioneers in Australia

SAM_7108

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.

Ercole Filippini_RigolettoNancy Filippini_Faust

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.

1989.010.007 programme2016.000.034 programme

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.

Nancy Filippini_piano

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.