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Explore Australia’s fascinating and diverse theatrical history.

Theatre is the largest part of the Australian Performing Arts Collection, comprising of drama, comedy, magic, musical theatre, puppetry, vaudeville and variety.

When the final curtain came down on J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd in the 1970s, the Melbourne archive of this vast theatrical enterprise formed the core of the Australian Performing Arts Collection. The theatre collection has since grown to represent many companies and individuals – from stars of the stage to those behind the scenes – and to shine a spotlight on the stories and characters that have entertained Australian audiences.



Behind the Collection: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll Model

Collections Coordinator Anna Corkhill presents Tony Tripp's intricate set model of Melbourne Theatre Company's 1995 production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.



The costume crown worn by John Bell in the title role of ‘King Lear’, made in the Russian style, and covered in red velvet, jewels and pearls. 

Bell Shakespeare In Focus

As Arts Centre Melbourne prepares to welcome Bell Shakespeare back into our theatres in 2022, we revisit some of the company’s striking costumes from the Australian Performing Arts Collection.


A close-up of Ossie Ostrich's face showing his puppet eyes and part of his orange beak.

Ossie and Friends

Celebrating 50 years since Ossie Ostrich appeared on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, we shine a light on an icon of Australian entertainment and explore an artform that has brought laughter and wonder to generations of audiences.


A woman in a lavendar 1800s-style dress looks at a man dressed in a royal Siam costume - they are performing in a production of 'The King and I'. 


Celebrating The Production Company

For 21 years, The Production Company has been an important part of the performing arts community and a valued presenter at Arts Centre Melbourne.


Part of Dame Edna's Scream Dress, that was painted to resemble Munch's 'The Scream'. 


Dame Edna's Scream Dress

The Australian Performing Arts Collection team share their perspectives on a classic Dame Edna costume inspired by Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream.


A performer backstage at Pokeys Nightclub 


Legends of Drag

The most flamboyant and fabulous performances of them all are drag! These fantastic photographs from Pokeys drag show at the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda have been acquired thanks to the David Richards Gift.




Behind the Collection: Hugh Jackman Costume

Curator Ian Jackson shares the glittering costume designed by Roger Kirk and worn by Hugh Jackman in the 2006 arena production The Boy From Oz.



Behind the Collection: Puppet of Nanna the Dog

Curator Alison Wishart talks about the creation of the puppet 'Nanna'; the much adored pet dog of the Darling Family in Peter Pan, which was presented by Pilgrim Puppet Theatre in 1978.



Explore historical theatre items in our Collection.

Pram Factory sign

Sign of the Times

The Pram Factory in Carlton was the centre of a theatre revolution in 1970s Melbourne. The Australian Performing Group was formed by writers and actors who wanted to create innovative, radical and distinctively Australian work.

They took over a former industrial space in Carlton to perform theatre, music and circus that challenged the polite conventions of ‘respectable’ theatre. The sale of the factory to developers in 1981 led to the disintegration of the group, but its influence lives on wherever alternative and fringe theatre is performed, and in its offshoot, Circus Oz.

Sign from The Pram Factory, 1970s
Gift of Robin Laurie, 1994
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne



Mysteries of Magic

Mysteries of Magic

Audiences have long been entertained by magic illusions that present the seemingly impossible. This eye-catching poster advertises The Incomparable Sloggetts, an Australian magic comedy act led by Charles E. Sloggett from the mid-1910s to the 1960s.

The poster piques curiosity by showing the formally attired magician and his glamorous assistant performing their famous ‘decapitation’ illusion. Adding to the air of mystery are macabre symbols – a skull, serpent, skeleton and bat – suggesting the ‘otherworldly’ power of magic.

The Australian Performing Arts Collection has a rich and mysterious collection of magic props, posters, costumes and photographs.

Poster for The Incomparable Sloggetts, c.1930-40
Purchased, 2002
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne



Making an Entrance

Making an Entrance

In 1965, Jill Perryman had stepped into the lead role in Hello, Dolly! when the star became ill.

Thirty years later, the Gordon Frost Organisation enticed her back to play Dolly Levi once again. As one of Australia's leading producers of musical theatre, their 1995 production was lavish. Perryman starred opposite Warren Mitchell as Horace Vandergelder.

Perryman recalled that this spectacular (but very heavy) dress made her dramatic entrance, coming down a grand staircase, quite a challenge. The dress combines materials including organza, taffeta, sequins, beads, rhinestones, lamé, velvet and chiffon, to dazzling effect.

Costume worn by Jill Perryman in Hello, Dolly!, 1995
Designed by Tim Goodchild
Gift of John Frost - The Gordon Frost Organisation, Cultural Gifts Program, 2001
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne




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