Performing Arts Collection
Designs
Designs

The Designs in the Collection reflect changing tastes in theatrical presentation in Australia from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries.  Designs are a common theme represented in the collecting areas of Dance, Theatre, Opera and Music. Currently the Performing Arts Collection holds over 8,000 designs, including costume and set design drawings, technical plans, and set models created by some of Australia's most influential designers.

The creation of design drawings, plans and models is a fundamental step in the creative development process of any production. Working closely with a creative team which may include the director, producer, writer, choreographer or composer, the designer's role is to create a three dimensional environment for the performers to inhabit and to convey the essence of a work by giving the stage and the performers a unique visual identity.

A designer conveys the visual and technical requirements necessary to realise this concept through the use of annotated drawings and scale models. Working drawings, are often marked with constructions and measurement advice, and tagged with swatches of fabric or proposed colour palettes. These drawings are then passed on to technicians, construction crews, prop-makers, costumiers, milliners and wig-makers so that the many specialists needed to realise the designer's vision are all working from the same basic information.

Many of the designs have spent years within company production departments before making their way to the Collection. This is particularly true of designs created for repertoire-based companies such as The Australian Ballet and Opera Australia, which rely on drawings and models to ensure that works are re-staged to the designer's original specifications. It was also the case with the earliest designs represented in the Collection, which relate to productions first mounted by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd (The Firm) at the turn of the twentieth century.

Hundreds of costume and set designs by leading British and European designers were imported along with the scripts, scores and notes necessary to re-stage major international musicals and pantomimes in Australia. These designs were interpreted and reproduced by the staff in the J.C. Williamson wardrobe department and paint room at Melbourne's Her Majesty's Theatre and kept for future reference. Annotations in various hands show that the designs were re-used over successive generations of production staff with some designs even making their way to the Tivoli Theatre for use during the 1950s and 1960s.

While 'The Firm' continued to stage elaborate theatrical spectacles, local designers including John Truscott, Anne Fraser, Kenneth Rowell and William Constable were being fostered by amateur companies such as the National Theatre Movement, the Little Theatre (later St Martin's Theatre), Ballet Guild and the fledgling Borovansky Ballet. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many Australian artists also turned their hand to designing for theatre, dance and opera. Notable examples in the design collection include Sidney Nolan's set design for the ballet, The Display and Arthur Boyd's costume designs for Frank Thring's production of King Lear.

With limited opportunities for training in Australia, designers such as Kenneth Rowell, Warwick Armstrong and Loudon Sainthill gained experience and employment in Britain during this period. The emergence of government-funded national ballet and opera companies, and state theatre companies during the 1960s and 1970s, however, saw an increase in opportunities for professional designers to work in Australia.

From Angus Winneke's striking designs for the Tivoli showgirls of the 1940s to 1960s, to Noel Crombie's distinctive costumes for rock band Split Enz during the 1980s, designs have reflected changing fashions and cultural mores. This is particularly evident in design for 'new circus' where design has moved away from the glitz and glamour of traditional circus attire to more colourful unisex, tank-tops and body-suits utilising new fabrics such as Lycra. Set design has also been influenced by the technological developments in specifications for materials used to construct sets and by the introduction of computer technology which allow sets to be moved with a degree of control unimaginable a mere fifty years ago.

Abbott, Guenda
Set Designer, Guenda Abbott (nee Bainton) studied in England at the Royal College of Art, London. The Guenda Abbott Collection includes photographs, programmes, scrapbook covering the areas Theatre / Opera / Design. Date Range 1935 - 1944.
More
Bardon, Henry
Henry Bardon (1921-1991) designed sets for various Australian Opera productions including La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutti and Madame Butterfly. Collection holdings include set designs and working drawings.
More
Cleveland, Paul
Designer Paul Cleveland held a range of design and production roles at th ABC, including Senior Designer and Acting Supervisor of Production Facilities. Holdings dating from this period include costume and set designs. Date Range c 1960 - 1970s.
More
Cobb, Judith
Judith Cobb (1961-2012) completed a Diploma of Arts (Fashion) at RMIT in 1981. From 1981 to 1983 she was Assistant Set and Costume Designer at Melbourne Theatre Company. Cobb designed productions for companies including Playbox Theatre, HIT Productions, Sydney Theatre Company, and Queensland Theatre Company.
More
Colman, Hugh
Hugh Colman is one of Australia's pre-eminent theatre, dance and opera designers.
More
Constable, William
William Constable (1906-1989) painter, printmaker and theatre designer, was born in Bendigo, Victoria. The Performing Arts Collection holds costume and set designs, including a number of works for the Borovansky Ballet.
More
Fraser, Anne
Anne Fraser 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. Collection holdings include contracts, correspondence, designs, documents, magazines, news clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, scripts. Design (Opera / Theatre / Ballet) 1933 - 1994.
More
Fredrikson, Kristian
Kristian Fredrikson (1940 - 2005) was one of Australia's most distinguished performing arts designers, whose 40 year career encompassed ballet, opera, contemporary dance, theatre, exhibitions, film and television. Collection holdings include designs, scrapbook, sketchbooks. Date Range: 1958-1962.
More
Hinder, Frank
Frank Hinder made a significant contribution to Australian stage design during the 1950s and 1960s. Collection holdings include an extensive collection of stage designs and related documents. Theatre.
More
Jeziorny, Richard
Richard Jeziorny has made a significant contribution to Australian stage design and scenic art during his career. The Collection includes examples of Jeziorny's work with Melbourne Theatre Company, Victorian College of the Arts, the Arts Centre, Malthouse, Melbourne Town Hall, WA Theatre Company, Melbourne Festival and Oz Opera.
More
Kahan, Louis
Louis Kahan (1905 - 2002) artist and designer. Kahan was surrounded by opera and music all his life. The Performing Arts Collection contains set models, masks and drawings by Kahan, in addition to an extensive collection of designs. There are also 105 sketches in the Public Art Collection by Louis Kahan.
More
Kirk, Roger
Roger Kirk is one of Australia's leading costume designers. His career spans nearly forty years and crosses theatre, musical theatre, opera, dance, film and television. He has worked with a broad range of companies both nationally and internationally and and received numerous awards both here and overseas. Musical Theatre / Design 1998 - 2005.
More
Parker, Trina
Trina Parker (1947 - 2005) first became involved in theatre in the late 1960s when she joined the New Theatre in Sydney. She worked as an actor, stage manager and prompt with the semi-professional company while studying interior design and architectural drafting. The collection includes designs, set models, photographs, production documents.
More
Pearce, Michael
Michael Pearce is a Melbourne-based theatre designer, visual artist and performer who has designed for dance, drama and opera companies in Australia and New Zealand, Europe and Asia. The collection holds a representative selection of Michael Pearce’s designs for productions staged by The Australian Ballet.
More
Prins, Richard
Richard Prins (1938 - ) was a costume and set designer for the Melbourne Theatre Company for approximately 20 years, designing for over 50 shows during his tenure. He was best known for his set designs, and was awarded the Irene Mitchell Award for Set Design in 1965 and 1970.
More
Ross, Imogen and Kristen Anderson
This important archive of material relates to the book, "Performance Design in Australia" by Kristen Anderson and Imogen Ross, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2001 and was donated to the Performing Arts Collection by Imogen Ross. "Performance Design in Australia" remains the standard text for research into design in Australia from 1980 to 1995.
More
Rowell, Kenneth
Kenneth Rowell was a leading Australian stage designer with a prolific career both here and in the UK.
More
Tate, Jennie
Costume designer Jennie Tate (1947 - 2007) trained at the Melbourne Theatre Company before embarking on a multifaceted career in which she worked in theatre, opera, film and television.
More
Thomson, Brian
Highlights of the Brian Thomson Collection include the set model for the Tony Award winning Broadway version of 'The King and I' and an extraordinary run of nineteen scrapbooks which reflect not only Thomson's work but those of his artistic collaborators from 1965 to 2001. Design (Theatre / Film) 1981 - 2002.
More
Truscott, John
John Truscott began work as an actor and designer with Gertrude Johnson's National Theatre. In 1967 Truscott was awarded two Oscars, for costume design and art direction for his work on the film Camelot. At the time of John Truscott's death in 1993, he was the government appointed artist-in-residence at the Victorian Arts Centre. Collection holdings include news clippings, news papers, programmes, designs. Design 1964 - 1979.
More
Winneke, Angus
Angus Winneke was born in Melbourne in 1911. One of very few professional theatre designers in Australia, Winneke worked full time for the Tivoli during the second World War. In 1983 Angus Winneke's family donated his collection of set and costume designs for the Tivoli and the Lido to the Performing Arts Museum. Collection holdings include over 350 designs, are scrapbooks compiled by Winneke through his working career at the Tivoli. Vaudeville 1940 - 1966.
More
J. C. Williamson Design Collection
J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd was the largest commercial theatre enterprise in the Southern Hemisphere for almost a century. The Lady Viola Tait Collection consists of almost 300 costume design drawings created by some of the leading European theatrical designers of the early twentieth century. Theatre Design 1920s - 1970s.
More
Wilson, W. J.
Collection holdings include correspondence, designs, scrapbooks, sketchbook. Design (Theatre) 1857 - 1897.
More
Photographs
Programmes