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Opening up the Australian Performing Arts Collection

Frank Van Straten AM played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Australian Performing Arts Collection. As the first archivist at what was then the Performing Arts Museum, and its founding director, he has done more than any other individual to seed this rich collection and secure its longevity. Today the Australian Performing Arts Collection is the nation’s leading collection of performing arts materials, documenting Australia’s circus, dance, music, opera and theatre heritage. It consists of 737,000+ items including costumes, designs, programs, photographs, posters, props, personal memorabilia and archival material.

The key objective of the Frank Van Straten Fellowship program is to tell stories from the Australian Performing Arts Collection through high quality research and/or creative works that will resonate with diverse audiences. The Fellow will be given the time, space and support to undertake research aligned to Australian Performing Arts Collection’s key subject areas: circus, dance, music, opera and theatre (which includes comedy, vaudeville and magic). The program also creates opportunities for the wider community to access the Australian Performing Arts Collection through the outcomes of Fellowship projects.

Generously supported by Frank Van Straten AM and the Adrian Turley Foundation.


2021 Recipient – Cathy Pryor

We are delighted to announce that the Frank Van Straten Research Fellowship for 2021 has been awarded to Ms Cathy Pryor. Cathy’s project Rare Flowers and Golden Butterflies- women and magic in mid-20th century Australia, will focus on the careers of three female magicians; Esme Levante, Myrtle Roberts and Loretta “Moi-Yo” Miller Montes. Often hired as attractive assistants to be sawn in half or to be the foil for other tricks, Rare Flowers and Golden Butterflies will show that women played a pivotal role both on stage and behind the scenes through telling the stories of their fascinating careers.

The major project outcomes of Cathy’s research will be an audio documentary, The Illusory world of Esme Levante for Radio National’s The History Listen and a supporting online virtual exhibition with text, audio, photographs and archival material. Stay tuned for the release date.


Download media release


2020 Recipient – Kate Rice

Dr Rice used her fellowship opportunity to research a number of historical theatrical performances documented in the Australian Performing Arts Collection and produce a series of performative podcasts that bring these forgotten stories of the Australian stage to life. Dr Rice explored a range of subjects including the 1919 Influenza Pandemic, child performers and a fight for copyright in the early twentieth century.

Read more about Dr Rice’s research:
Theatre and the Influenza Pandemic of 1919
Researching the Performing Arts Collection Without Leaving Home

Listen to the creative docu-drama podcast about what happened to Melbourne theatre during the 1919 pandemic in Performing the Past


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