The Many Facets of Anne Fraser

Helmut Newton, Portrait of Anne Fraser, c. 1950 Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Helmut Newton, Portrait of Anne Fraser, c. 1950
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Anne Fraser (1928 – 2005) was born in New Zealand and came to Australia at an early age. She began her career as an advertising designer before working with the National Theatre in Melbourne. In 1955 she became the first full-time designer for the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC). In this role she designed the original 1956 production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and its subsequent London and New York seasons.

After leaving the MTC, Fraser worked for a short time for the South Australian Theatre Company in the late 1960s, before being invited to become Head of Design at the Old Tote Theatre Company in Sydney in 1971. She worked with the company for six years, spending a year in Europe and the United States during this time.

In 1977 Fraser began working as a freelance designer. She again designed many productions for the MTC, including The Doll Trilogy (1977), Ring round the Moon (1977), Electra (1978), The Man who came to dinner (1980), Amadeus (1981) and The Real Thing (1984).

Costume design from the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Company production at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne. Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume design from the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Company production of Amadeus at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne.
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume design by Anne Fraser for the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Co. production of Pete McGynty and the Dreamtime at the Athenaeum Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Costume design by Anne Fraser for the 1981 Melbourne Theatre Co. production of Pete McGynty and the Dreamtime at the Athenaeum
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Fraser also designed for ballet and opera companies. Her work for the Victoria State Opera includes productions of The Return of Ulysses (1980), Die Fledermaus (1981), Eugene Onegin (1983), La Traviata (1992) and set designs for My Fair Lady (1988). In 1985 Fraser worked on Capriccio andCountess Maritza for the State Opera of South Australia. For The Australian Ballet she designed the productions of La Sylphide (1985) and Don Quixote (1993).

Preliminary sketch for set design created by Anne Fraser for the Australian Ballet production "Don Quixote" first performed at Arts Centre Melbourne, 1993 Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Preliminary sketch for set design created by Anne Fraser for the Australian Ballet production “Don Quixote” first performed at Arts Centre Melbourne, 1993
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Set design for Swan Lake, Borovansky Ballet, 1957 Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Set design for Swan Lake, Borovansky Ballet, 1957
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Fraser won several Green Room Awards for her designs throughout her career and in 1993 was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the arts as a theatre set and costume designer. Anne Fraser passed away in Melbourne on 20 October 2005.

Collection Holdings

In 1996 Anne Fraser donated material relating to her career as set and costume designer. The Performing Arts Collection now holds over 2,000 objects in the Anne Fraser collection. Her extensive collection ranges from miniature dolls that a young Fraser created of favourite stage and screen performers whilst a student, to letters, contracts, catalogues, programmes and many hundreds of set and costume designs. After her death in 2005, an additional 146 designs, including working / preliminary drawings for various productions, were donated to the performing arts collection on her behalf by Blair Edgar.

Miniature doll of Renee Asherson as 'Katharine' in "Henry V" made by Anne Fraser c.1940  Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996  Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne  As a commercial art student at the Melbourne Technical College, Anne made miniature dolls of her favourite theatrical performers. She said she would be so impressed by their performances that she "just had to do something about it".
Miniature doll of Renee Asherson as ‘Katharine’ in “Henry V” made by Anne Fraser c.1940
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
As a commercial art student at the Melbourne Technical College, Anne made miniature dolls of her favourite theatrical performers. She said she would be so impressed by their performances that she “just had to do something about it”.
Early design by Anne Fraser as a student Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996 Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
Early design by Anne Fraser as a student
Gift of Anne Fraser, 1996
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

The collection reflects the designer’s work with many of Australia’s performing arts companies including The Australian National Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, The Australian Opera, The Victoria State Opera, The State Opera of South Australia, Playbox Theatre Company, The Australian Ballet and the Old Tote Theatre Company.

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.