The Oscar Award Winning John Truscott

You may have heard about the new documentary on Australian film designer Orry-Kelly but did you know that he was not the only Australian to win multiple Oscars? In addition to designing for the theatre, John Truscott, designer of Art Centre Melbourne’s interiors, won two Academy Awards for costume design and art direction for his work on the critically acclaimed film, Camelot in 1967.

Costume designed by John Truscott for 'Camelot', J.C.Williamson, 1963 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume designed by John Truscott for the stage production of ‘Camelot’, J.C.Williamson Theatres Ltd, 1963
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Find out more about the career of John Truscott here.

Costume Gallery – All That Glitters

This gallery showcases some of the wonderful costumes in our Performing Arts Collection. You can currently see these costumes (and many, many more!) on display at Arts Centre Melbourne in the free exhibition, All That Glitters. This exhibition celebrates the vision behind these costumes, the creativity and skill of those who created them, and the show-stopping performances that brought them to life.

All That Glitters will be on display in Gallery 1 until 23 February 2014.

All That Glitters: Showcasing costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection

Gown worn by Jill Perryman as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!, The Gordon Frost Organisation, 1995. Designed by Tim Goodchild. Gift of John Frost, 2001. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection. Photograph by Jeremy Dillon.

All That Glitters showcases some of the most breath-taking examples of stage costume from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection. The exhibition celebrates the vision behind these costumes, the creativity and skill of those who created them, and the show-stopping performances that brought them to life.

Costume has played an important role in the development of the Performing Arts Collection since its inception in 1977. The spectacular stage wardrobes of Dame Nellie Melba, Dame Edna Everage and Kylie Minogue lie at the heart of this collection and epitomise the drama, exuberance and glamour of theatrical costume at its most dazzling. These stars of the stage, along with magnificent gowns recently donated by Opera Australia and a number of newly conserved pieces from the hit musicals of the 1950s and 1960s have been the inspiration for All That Glitters.

The exhibition draws together a rich selection of costumes by leading Australian designers including Hugh Colman, Roger Kirk, John Truscott, Kenneth Rowell and Kristian Fredrikson. Many of the costumes have been created to form the centre piece for some of the most lavish productions ever staged by companies such as The Australian Ballet, Sydney Dance Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Bell Shakespeare and Opera Australia.

Cloak worn by Nellie Melba as Elsa in Lohengrin, c. 1891. Designed by Jean-Phillipe Worth
Gift of Pamela, Lady Vestey, 1977. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection. Photograph by Jeremy Dillon.

Each costume has its own unique story and All That Glitters retells these stories with photographic images of the costumes in performance, capturing some of Australia’s most charismatic performers in action. Large scale productions from the world of opera create a major focus point for the exhibition with three extraordinary gowns created specifically for Dame Joan Sutherland.

Stunning costume jewellery will offer a historic glimpse at the captivating stage persona of performers such as Nellie Stewart, Queenie Paul and Esme Levante whose appearances lit up the Australian stage in the first half of the 20th Century.  Also featured are treasured pieces from a famously extravagant production of Aida first seen in Australia in the 1930s.

All That Glitters presents a dramatic display of treasured costumes from Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection, which are unique to Australia’s performing arts heritage.

All That Glitters
Gallery I November 16 – February 23, 2014


Celebrating John Truscott

'Celebrating John Truscott' at Arts Centre Melbourne
‘Celebrating John Truscott’ at Arts Centre Melbourne

Featuring the Academy Awards won by John Truscott for CamelotCelebrating John Truscott is a free exhibition celebrating the life of the esteemed  designer at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Smorgon Family Plaza from 5 September to 6 November 2013.

John Truscott’s extraordinary contribution to the arts both here and overseas is widely acknowledged today. A leading pioneer of Australian stage design, Truscott’s high standards and versatility allowed him to work across many art forms, including theatre, dance, musical comedy, film and opera. Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection holds close to 300 items that chart Truscott’s rapid journey from the local stage to international stardom.

Born in Melbourne on 23 February 1936, Truscott embarked on a career in the theatre at an early age. His first design commission was A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the National Theatre Movement in 1954. His long association with the Melbourne Little Theatre (later St Martin’s Theatre Company) began in 1957, and as resident designer, Truscott designed close to eighty productions during his six years with the company. He also began to make inroads into large-scale musical theatre with designs for productions such as Garnet H. Carroll’s The King and I (1961).

Truscott’s work for the J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd production of Camelot (1963) led to an invitation to design the Hollywood film version of Camelot, released in 1967, and for which he received two Academy Awards. Two years later Truscott was also nominated for Best Art Direction for the feature film Paint Your Wagon (1969), starring Clint Eastwood.

After fourteen years overseas, Truscott was enticed back to Australia in 1978 to design Mozart’s Idomeneo for the Victoria State Opera and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers a year later. In 1980 he began designing the interiors of the Melbourne Concert Hall (now Hamer Hall). In a career full of highlights, the interiors of Arts Centre Melbourne are perhaps his most lasting and heart-felt achievement. On completion of the Theatres building which officially opened on 29 October 1984, Truscott headed back to Los Angeles. In 1988 he returned to Australia as creative consultant to Brisbane’s World Expo.

In 1989, Truscott took over as Artistic Director of the Melbourne Spoleto Festival with a view to ‘do something that hasn’t happened in Melbourne before’. He created a carnival atmosphere and decorated the city he loved with lights, fountains and flowers. At the time of his death on 5 September 1993 Truscott was back at Arts Centre Melbourne as the government appointed artist-in-residence and was helping to refurbish the building for its 10th anniversary.

Behind the Scenes of Camelot

Eric Richards with a mechanical horse used in 'Camelot', 1963
Eric Richards with a mechanical horse used in 'Camelot', 1963. Photographer unknown.

A new acquisition by the Performing Arts Collection at Arts Centre Melbourne sheds light on the work of Eric Richards and the art of theatrical prop making.

A highlight of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection is a life-sized, mechanised horse designed by John Truscott for the J.C. Williamson (JCW) 1963 production of Camelot. The horse was acquired by the Performing Arts Collection in 1996 and provides the Collection’s most tangible link with a production once billed as ‘the most spectacular musical comedy ever staged in Australia.’

This treasured connection with Camelot was strengthened early in 2011 when material representing the career of JCW Property Master, Eric Richards, was donated to the Performing Arts Collection by his niece, Liz Coady. The scrap book, loose photographs, correspondence and programmes that make up this collection provide rare insight into the highly-skilled processes that go on behind the scenes of large scale theatre productions.

In his role as Property Master, Richards oversaw the design and realization of theatrical props for well-known productions by the Tivoli Theatre and J.C. Williamson Ltd from the 1930s through to the 1960s. For Camelot, Richards was faced with the difficult task of creating medieval armoury for the knights and their horses. His masterful use of papier-mâché techniques and detailed paintwork helped make Truscott’s grand vision for Camelot a reality. In fact a handwritten note from Truscott assured Richards that ‘Camelot could not possibly have looked as beautiful as they say if it hadn’t been for you’.

Photographs in the Eric Richards collection provide a deeper understanding of the Camelot horse and the intricate level of detail associated with this production. The candid nature of the photographs also reflects the sense of fun and camaraderie shared by JCW production staff as they worked together to create another memorable moment in Australian Performing Arts history.