Discover the Theatre Collection

Costume worn by Geoffrey Rush in 'Exit The King', Malthouse Theatre, 2007 Designed by Dale Ferguson Gift of Malthouse Theatre, 2011 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume worn by Geoffrey Rush in ‘Exit The King’, Malthouse Theatre, 2007
Designed by Dale Ferguson
Gift of Malthouse Theatre, 2011
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
The theatre collection is the largest and most diverse part of the Performing Arts Collection. It represents many aspects of traditional and contemporary theatre including drama, comedy, magic, musical theatre, puppetry, vaudeville and variety.

At the centre of the theatre collection is the J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd Archive, a vast photographic and paper-based collection generated by what was the largest commercial theatre enterprise in the Southern Hemisphere for almost a century. Other large collections highlight the contributions made at both a personal and company level to Australian theatre.

Poster for 'Waiting For Godot', Arrow Theatre, Melbourne, 1957 Gift of Barry Humphries, 2004 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Poster for ‘Waiting For Godot’, Arrow Theatre, Melbourne, 1957
Gift of Barry Humphries, 2004
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Drama
The presentation of drama in Australia – through comedies and tragedies, classics and new works – is documented in collections relating to many theatre companies, including J. C. Williamson Ltd, St Martin’s/Little Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, New Theatre, Playbox Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare.

Individuals represented include internationally recognised actors Oscar Asche, Frank Thring, Coral Browne and Zoe Caldwell, along with local heroes such as Bland Holt, Patricia Kennedy, Irene Mitchell and Sheila Florance.

Comedy
Central to the area of comedy is an extensive archive and costume collection tracing the career of Barry Humphries and his alter egos, particularly Dame Edna Everage. Melbourne’s lively comedy scene is also represented through artists including Mary Hardy, Wendy Harmer, Max Gillies, Los Trios Ringbarkus, Rod Quantock and the Doug Anthony Allstars.
Wallaby production box used by Esme Levante, c.1958 Purchased, 1995 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne Esme Levante was the daughter of "The Great Levante" (Leslie George Cole), a famous Australian stage illusionist. This trick was used in her cabaret act, in which a live wallaby was produced from an apparently empty luggage case.
Wallaby production box used by Esme Levante, c.1958
Purchased, 1995
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Esme Levante was the daughter of “The Great Levante” (Leslie George Cole), a famous Australian stage illusionist. This trick was used in her cabaret act, in which a live wallaby was produced from an apparently empty luggage case
Magic
Magic-related items provide an insight into the mysterious world of illusionists and their fearless assistants. Australian performers including The Great Levante, Parer the Magician, Wong Toy Sun and Moi-Yo Miller Montes are represented, along with visiting international magicians who influenced the local magic scene.
Musical Theatre
The enduring practice of staging large-scale international musicals in Australia is documented in the extensive collections from J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd and the Gordon Frost Organisation. Home-grown musicals reflecting Australian stories are also represented, such as Lola Montez and The Boy From Oz.

Significant collections also trace the careers of musical comedy stars including Gladys Moncrieff, Evie Hayes, Maggie Fitzgibbon, Toni Lamond, Jeff Warren and Reg Livermore, along with designers such as John Truscott and Brian Thomson.

Pantomime
The traditions and spectacle of pantomime are captured through material associated with J. C. Williamson Ltd annual productions, most notably original costume designs from the early 20th century. Also represented are individuals who performed in pantomimes including Nellie Stewart, Jenny Howard, Maggie Fitzgibbon and Kenneth Laird.
Chinese hand puppet Gift of Joan and Betty Rayner, 1982 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Chinese hand puppet
Gift of Joan and Betty Rayner, 1982
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Puppetry

The creativity of Australian puppetry is documented through the extensive Handspan Theatre Collection, along with items relating to the work of J.F. Ley, Joan and Betty Raynor, Pilgrim Puppet Theatre and Polyglot Puppet Theatre. The puppetry collection is also home to a unique cast of well-known characters including Ossie Ostrich from Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday and Claude the Crow from Shirl’s Neighbourhood.
Vaudeville and Variety
The history of the Tivoli Circuit, the home of vaudeville and variety from 1901 to 1966, is highlighted by hundreds of costume and set designs by resident designer Angus Winneke, and photographs by Harry Jay and Zeus Merfield. Rival vaudeville managements run by George Sorlie, Max Reddy and Harry Wren are also represented, along with performers such as Roy Rene (‘Mo’), Will Mahoney, Charles Norman, Queenie Paul and Toni Lamond.

Nigel Triffitt 1949 – 2012

“Secrets” devised, designed and directed by Nigel Triffitt. World premiere, Handspan Theatre, Adelaide, 1983. Gift of Nigel Triffitt, 1998. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection.

Early last week the Melbourne performing arts community came together to celebrate the life and arts of Nigel Triffitt who died in Melbourne on 20 July, aged 62.

Triffitt was a hard man to pin down.  Always on the move, Triffitt travelled extensively and enjoyed ‘living on the run’. As a writer, designer, director he was similarly peripatetic finding inspiration in the fields of dance, music, opera, puppetry and visual theatre. So it was fitting that the tributes on the day covered various aspects of his personal and professional life. Speakers included Sarah Triffitt who spoke about growing up in awe of her exciting and adventurous cousin Nigel and Lola Pinder (Nigel’s god-daughter) who read words penned by her father producer John Pinder who took a gamble presenting Triffitt’s first major work Momma’s Little Horror Show at the Last Laugh in the early 1980s. Puppeteer and close friend Andrew Hansen spoke movingly about Triffitt’s relationship with his ‘family of choice’ especially during his illness.

“Fall of Singapore” devised, designed and directed by Nigel Triffitt. World premiere Spoleteo Melbourne Festival, 1987. Gift of Nigel Triffitt. Arts Centre Melbourne Performing Arts Collection.

During the last ten years or so of his life Triffitt embarked upon a very different journey researching the Triffitt family history and travelling the world exploring notions of spirituality. His friend and agent Hilary Linstead accompanied him on many journeys including to the Bungles Bungles where they first discussed a concept for Tap Dogs. Triffitt was drawn to the Australian outback again visiting central Australia with sharman Greg Snowden who also spoke on the day.

Never one to be upstaged, Triffitt had the last word as the audience sat entranced watching him in full flight as keynote speaker at the National Puppetry and Animatronics Summit held at Arts Centre Melbourne in 2002 (you can see it here.)

“Tap Dogs”, designed and directed by Nigel Triffitt, choreographed by Dein Perry
World premiere, Sydney Theatre Company, 1995. Gift of Nigel Triffitt, 1998. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection
“Metamorphosis”, designed by Nigel Triffitt, music by Brian Howardm libretto by Steven Berkoff (after Kafka). World premiere, Victoria State Opera, Melbourne, 1983. Gift of Nigel Triffitt, 1998. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection

In 1998 Triffit donated 30 set models to Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection reflecting his work on over 17 productions from 1974 to 1995. Productions represented include Momma’s Little Horror Show (1978), Secrets (1983), High Flyers (1985), the Men At Work World Tour (1983) and Tap Dogs (1995). A selection of Triffitt’s perfectly executed balsa wood models is currently on display at Arts Centre Melbourne in the Smorgon Family Plaza as a tribute to one of Australia’s most influential theatremakers.