Scope of the Archival Collection
When the Deed of Settlement or instrument by which the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford Foundation was executed on the 9th October, 1986, Dr Rodney Seaborn AO, OBE, the Founding director and President, wisely ensured that the scope of the Foundation’s mandate included as a statement of the objects of the Foundation, the words “for the purposes generally of encouraging and promoting performing arts within Australia.”
The scope of the archival and library collections of The Foundation are defined in such broad terms as to comprehend practically all aspects of the history and development of theatre and the performing arts generally in Australia, so that there is literally no aspect of the subject scope of the Archives and Library which does not touch, to a greater or less extent, upon the history of the theatrical and performing arts in Australia.
The scope of the Foundation’s collections embrace drama, opera, dance, ballet, mime, music, puppetry and all other forms and facets of the performing arts and other arts in Australia including the plastic arts in so far as they may relate to the performing arts in all their expressions, forms and media (that is, the arts of shaping or modelling, carving and sculpture).
In addition to its responsibility for preserving historical records on Australian theatre, an important long-term object of the Foundation, in keeping with its charter, is to expand its existing collections to include both archival and bibliographic resources for historical research on painting, sculpture, craft work, community and ethnic arts and languages, radio, films, television and literature.
The Foundation Archives, Library and Performing Arts collections fulfil an important role in supporting and sustaining the Foundation’s aims of promoting education and research in the performing arts in Australia and overseas with the aim of developing the performing arts in Australia. The Foundation’s archival and library collections are available for the use of students, scholars and teachers involved in training for the performing arts throughout Australia.
The Foundation also has a responsibility, by facilitating and encouraging access to its archival and library resources, to publish and promote in any media and otherwise support the dissemination by all means and media, knowledge and information concerning the performing arts and Australian performing artists and arts organisations in particular.
We encourage teachers and student groups to book in and visit the SB&W Foundation office in Neutral Bay where many of the collections are stored. We have on offer an amazing educational resource. Please phone to organise a time for your group through the CONTACT page.
Following his retirement from the ABC, and anxious to ensure that this unique collection of theatre memorabilia was preserved for the benefit of future historians and scholars of Australian theatre, John West was encouraged by Dr Rodney Seaborn to present his substantial collection of theatre archives to the Seaborn, Broughton & Walford Foundation.
On the 18th June, 1991, at a large press gathering in the SB&W Foundation Function Room in Wattle House, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, John West discussed with the press how he had accumulated his theatrical archives and why he had decided to donate them to the Foundation, the occasion being widely reported in the newspapers. On the same day, some 140 “Friends” of the SB&W Foundation attended the “John West Dinner” at the new Nikko Hotel, Macleay Street, Potts Point, held in his honour to acknowledge and accept the generous donation of his lifelong collection of papers to the Foundation. Since that time, the papers have been accommodated in various locations until their transfer to the SB&W Foundation premises at 925 Botany Road, Rosebery, Sydney.
A substantial portion of the John West Archives comprises research notes, newspaper clippings and correspondence exchanged by John West in the preparation of his book Theatre in Australia, published by Cassell Australia in 1978.
Especially notable among the voluminous papers which have been accumulating over John West’s career is an extensive series of press clippings on Australian theatre and performing arts generally, initially mounted in press-clipping books, but subsequently filed loose in neat annual bundles arranged chronologically from 1959 to 1997, and, within each year, sub-arranged by theatre venue or production company. This sequence of news-cuttings provides a remarkable overview of Australian theatre history for almost forty years, and, in strict accordance with archival principles, they are maintained and listed in the same manner in which they were accumulated by John West throughout that period in order to ensure that they continue to be as readily accessible for reference and research as they were for John West for the purpose of producing his radio programmes.
Initial work on the arrangement and description of the John West Archives was commenced by SBW Foundation Chief Archivist Dr Peter Orlovich in 2002, but has been deferred indefinitely until such time as the SB&W Foundation is in a position to provide sufficient funding to enable the work to be resumed and completed by a professional Archivist.
As the John West Archives are only partially catalogued, access to the collection is necessarily restricted, although specific enquiries and requests for information about material in the collection may be directed to our Archivist. A partial Guide to that portion of the collection which has been arranged and described may be consulted in the SB&W Foundation Archives and Library Search Room.
The Marionette Theatre of Australia was formed in 1965 by The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust and the Arts Council of Australia to cater for the growing demand for professional puppet theatre throughout Australia, and in the same year, by arrangement with J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd., undertook an Australia-wide tour of Peter Scriven’s original “Tintookies”. Thereafter followed many productions by the Marionette Theatre of Australia between 1965 and 1975, including The Magic Pudding, The Explorers, Little Fella Bindi, The Wind in the Willow, and the British Hogarth Puppets production of The Water Babies.
In 1982 and 1983 the company acquired and renovated the Sydney Sailors’ Home at The Rocks which thereafter became its home and principal venue for its productions until 1988, when, owing to the cessation of annual general funding grants by the NSW Ministry for the Arts and by the Australia Council, the financial solvency of the company rapidly deteriorated, resulting in the eviction of the company from The Rocks Theatre in November 1990, the building being resumed by the lessees, the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority. An administrator, Peter McGill was appointed early in 1989, under a “deed of compromise”, but when no further funding grants were made to the theatre in 1990, the company was obliged to adopt plans to dispose of the company’s assets. Preparations were made by Lawsons Auctioneers, for an auction sale of the puppets scheduled to be held on the 16th December 1990, and auction catalogues printed, and, while some puppets were sold, many others were withdrawn from sale before the auction.
The puppets and the books which belonged to the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust were generously accommodated at the Independent Theatre which had been acquired by the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford Foundation from the Trust, and in 1994, the Trust relinquished custody of the puppets in favour of the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford Foundation.
The Marionette Theatre collection has had several homes since the demise of the company in 1991-1992. For some time they were accommodated partly at the Stables Theatre, home of the Griffin Theatre Company at Kings Cross and partly at the Horizon Theatre Company Ltd at Croydon Park, where they were kindly accommodated until 2006, when they were transferred to the custody of the SB&W Foundation Archives and Performing Arts Collection for permanent preservation with other components of the archives of the Marionette Theatre of Australia.
The puppets are in the process of being identified and registered with the generous assistance of a number of puppeteers who were involved with Marionette Theatre of Australia productions prior to the final production of Sydney Coves in 1988.
Allan Lees is one of Australia’s veteran theatre designers, costumier, consultant, administrator, and educator. He was born in Dunedin and educated in Wellington, New Zealand. After completing art studies and music studies with orchestral performances as a horn player, he spent three years in commercial art, exhibition design and retail display.
His career as a theatre designer commenced over fifty years ago with a design for the production of The Gypsy Baron in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1960.
Allan trained privately with Harry Baker, formerly of the Central School of Design in London, and was commissioned by the New Zealand Opera Company, to design Don Giovanni. He was subsequently engaged by the New Zealand Ballet to design Swan Lake with Artistic Director and Choreographer Russell Kerr, for the national tour with The Royal Ballet’s Svetlana Beriosova and partner Karl Musil of the Vienna State Opera Ballet.
He travelled to Europe and Australia, and on the invitation of Stefan Haag, joined the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Sydney, as Resident Designer and designed La Boheme, Rigoletto and Don Pasquale starring June Bronhill, with the eminent Viennese director Stephen Beinl.
He was appointed Resident Designer of The Old Tote Theatre Company, forerunner to The Sydney Theatre Company, and Senior Tutor in Stage Design at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 1967.
During this period he designed three world premieres in Sydney, working with many of Australia’s leading directors and artists, and continued to guest design in New Zealand with the opera Faust, and in most Australian states.
He was designer of Fidelio, the first opera staged in Sydney by the then newly named company of The Australian Opera in 1970 with director John Copley of The Royal Ballet, and with the same director designed a new production of Rigoletto.
His first sole design exhibition was staged in Sydney in 1972 and he was awarded an Australia Council Arts Development Grant for further studies in Europe.
He returned to Australia to design the acclaimed Love For Love with the English director Ted Craig in the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House and spent time in the Royal Opera House Covent Garden working with John Copley.
The Australian Opera staged his designs prepared in London for Jenufa, and this opera, with Rigoletto were selected as the repertoire for the first overseas tour by The Australian Opera and were performed in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand.
In 1974, he was invited to become Head of Design with the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney, and to formulate and administrate a national training programme for students that related to professional standards and requirements and to involve the very best guest tutors available from around Australia and from designers and directors visiting Australia.
While Head of Design at NIDA, 1974–1981, he continued with many design commissions, and as Associate Consultant with Tom Brown and Associates, 1970-1991, assisted in theatre consultancy on visual, administrative planning and technical matters, and in close association with the architects, planning for performance venues including the Adelaide Festival Centre, the Australian National University (ANU) Centre in Canberra, the Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane and the Theatre Royal in Sydney.
Other roles have included Secretary, Treasurer and Corporate Adviser to the Australian Production Designers Association and executive member with various government and arts groups planning the training and development of young artists in teaching and training programmes.
As Chairman and Executive Director of his own company, Allan Lees and Associates Pty Ltd., he controlled the operations from 1981 of subsidiaries Harlequin Costume Hire, Harlequin Ballet Centre, Harlequin Costume Makers, and Figurine Dancewear in Sydney, with an extensive manufacturing and retail staff. It was during this period that Harlequin was to manufacture many costumes for productions with The Australian Opera and The Australian Ballet, for Channel 9 Sydney and for films including Manganini, Sara Dane, Southern Cross and The Term of His Natural Life.
Also during this period he was engaged to commence design work on the first Australian Wagnerian Ring Cycle and to design The Circle for a national tour with the great Australian theatre team of Googie Withers and John McCallum. He relinquished his administrative role in the company and resigned as its Chairman in 1991.
Allan Lees was appointed General Manager of the State Opera House in Wellington in 1991 where he revised the full venue staff structure, designed and supervised the new orchestra pit and computerised the ticketing operations.
He returned to Australia in 1994.
Away from the theatre he has also been responsible for the design and consultancy of major projects as diverse as the design of a Georgian manor for the London-based opera agent Haydon Rawstron to the re-design of the Choir and Chancel of Christ Church Cathedral, Canterbury.
He has been General Director of Theatre Associates in Sydney, Australia, and is in constant demand for expert skills as a theatrical tailor, and in this capacity has recently completed Tailored Costume Associate for Star Wars 2 and Stars Wars 3 and the movie Peter Pan, Senior Cutter for the musical Mamma Mia, Principal Tailor for The Phantom Of The Opera in Seoul South Korea, Cape Town South Africa, Shanghai China, and for the musical Oliver.
Responsible as a theatre designer for well over 350 major productions, the majority in Australia, his work with The Australian Opera alone includes two productions of Fidelio, firstly with John Copley, the second in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House with German director Berndt Benthaak; Rigoletto, Jenufa, the spectacular Tosca and Adriana Lecouvreur for Dame Joan Sutherland., all with director John Copley; the Verdi opera I Masnadieri again for Joan Sutherland with the Austrian director Peter Beauvais to celebrate 25 years of Australian opera; Wagner’s Das Rheingold and Die Walkure with the London based director Andrew Sinclair; and Thomas’ Hamlet with San Francisco based director Lotfi Mansouri. The productions Tosca with Eva Marton and John Shaw, and Adriana Lecouvreur with Dame Joan Sutherland and Heather Begg have been released internationally on video and DVD,
Other theatre company productions with the major Australian companies include As You Like It, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Imaginary Invalid, Pygmalion, The Affairs of Anatol, The Seagull, Little Murders, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Dandy Dick, Equus, The Brass Hat, Rookery Nook, Otherwise Engaged, The Alchemist, Once in a Lifetime and The London Cuckolds.
Allan Lees has designed with 45 major companies in opera, ballet, musicals and theatre.
He designed the productions of Fidelio for the Victorian State Opera and for the State Opera of South Australia.
Following a guest design visit for The Royal New Zealand Ballet with their production of Romeo and Juliet, Allan re-established regular design commissions in New Zealand, and again returned to design Cosi Fan Tutte with Gray Veredon, Don Giovanni with Eric Hooper, Il Trovatore with Andrew Sinclair, and La Traviata both with Bernd Benthaak all for Canterbury Opera: La Boheme and La Traviata both with Berndt Benthaak, Cossi Fan Tutte and The Merry Widow all for the Wellington City Opera; and a newly created ballet for The Royal New Zealand Ballet with Melbourne based choreographer Jonathan Taylor of Hamlet for a New Zealand and European tour, with performances in England, Germany and Austria.
He has designed new productions of La Finta Giardiniera and La Gazza Ladra in Sydney, re-staged his designs with The Australian Opera for Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, Jenufa and I Masnadieri in Sydney and Melbourne, a new production of Amahl and The Night Visitors in Wellington, and the New Zealand Tour of Les Miserables. He also designed the productions of Adriana Lecouvreur for The State Opera of South Australia and Tosca for the Lyric Opera of Queensland and the Victoria State Opera.
He was designer for the production of The Merry Widow for Canterbury Opera with the Melbourne director and choreographer Robert Ray.
Other work has included Artistic Consultant on a stadium opera proposal for Turandot in Beijing, later cancelled, and designs for stadium productions of Aida and The Merry Widow, the staging of his designs for the ballet Romeo and Juliet at The Richmond Ballet: State Ballet of Virginia, U.S.A., and at Canterbury Opera with The Magic Flute for director Eric Hooper, Noyes Fludde, Rigoletto and The Marriage of Figaro, and the Australasian Premiere of the musical Jekyll & Hyde.
He has also designed the productions of Tons of Money, The Way of the World, the new stage version of The Jungle Book, The Killing of Sister George, Travesties, Kiwifruits, Cabaret, Three Sisters, Hay Fever and Kiss Me Kate at The Court Theatre Christchurch, with director Eric Hooper.
Allan has also been a Guest Lecturer in Theatre at the New Zealand Drama School in Wellington, and in June 2001 re-staged the highly successful musical of The Jungle Book for Wellington New Zealand.
His production designs for Tosca were acclaimed during the 2000 Sydney Olympics Arts Festival and were re-staged in Sydney during 2002, his designs for Les Miserables have recently been re-staged in New Zealand and further performances with his designs for the musical The Jungle Book for which he received Costume Designer of the Year Awards in New Zealand for 2001.
His most recent New Zealand productions were for Madama Butterfly with Director Eric Hooper for Dunedin New Zealand and the inaugural production for Southern Opera of Carmen with Rinat Shaham and director Eric Hooper in 2007.
Most recently, he designed the set and costumes for The West Australian Ballet’s production of Don Quixote which was performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, Western Australia from the 7th – 22nd May, 2010, under the Artistic Direction of Ivan Cavallari, Choreography by Lucette Aldous after Marius Petipa, Music by Ludwig Minkus, arranged by John Lanchbery, Lighting by Jon Buswell, and Conductor Enrique Carreon-Robledo.
He has also designed the sets and costumes for the West Australian Ballet’s production of Cinderella which was performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth, Western Australia from the 6th – 21st May, 2011, under the Artistic Direction of Ivan Cavallari, Choreography by Jane Smeulders, Music by Sergei Prokofiev, Lighting by Jon Buswell, and Conductor Myron Romanul. The production toured to six cities, including a season in Canberra in October 2011.
This is possibly the only surviving diary of the American-born Australian theatrical entrepreneur who traveled to the United Kingdom, Europe and North America in 1909, principally with the aim of selecting theatrical productions and performers suitable for his theatrical circuit in Australia and New Zealand.
This diary includes manuscript entries by J.C. Williamson from his arrival in Southampton, England, on Tuesday 29th June, 1909 to his arrival in Vancouver, Canada, on Friday 10th September, 1909. The diary includes theatre programmes for performances attended by J.C. Williamson, most of which are annotated by JCW with the date on which he attended. A preliminary transcript of the diary has been made by Dr Peter Orlovich which is available for consultation in the Search Room of the SB&W Foundation Archives and Library. Access to the original diary is restricted due to its fragile condition.
Sydney Irving [1918 – 1999], whose father was head electrician at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, started work at the age of 11 years as a call-boy during nights and matinees for J.C. Williamson at Her Majesty’s Theatre, while continuing at school. According to Irving family lore, the singer Gladys Moncrieff, who starred in Maid of the Mountains, the last show to play at the old Her Majesty’s Theatre before it closed in 1933, paid Irving two-shillings a night if he did his homework. At the age of 15, Irving left school to work full-time for J.C. Williamson Theatres Pty Ltd (known as “The Firm”) in the front of house where he learned the theatre business, while working backstage at night. After serving in the militia at the outbreak of World War 2, he transferred to the 2nd AIF to form No. 5 Detachment of the Australian Entertainment Unit, serving in Papua New Guinea and New Britain. After discharge from the Army in 1946, he returned to J.C. Williamson and for the next 17 year4s served as Manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane and as the Firm’s Queensland representative and a director of Kings Pictures Ltd. In 1963 he returned to Sydney to manage J.C. Williamson’s NSW operations and to administer its New Zealand circuit. In 1965 he was made general manager of the Sutherland Williamson Opera Company, a post which demanded extensive overseas travel to buy shows for J.C. Williamson and to keep up with the latest trends in theatre design in Europe and America. From 1974 he worked with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust and The Australian Ballet, finally retiring at the age of 67 years after 55 years in show business. [Source: Obituary by Paul Irving, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April, 1999]
This collection, which was donated by Emily Irving, widow of Sydney Irving, includes photographic images, theatre programmes, J.C. Williamson Theatre Magazine Programme scrapbooks, and a large salary book of the J.C. Williamson Theatres Pty Ltd Sydney Office.
- Photographic prints of an unidentified stage production of The Sentimental Bloke, possibly at J.C. Williamson’s Theatre Royal, Sydney, production opening on Wednesday 20th June, 1962
- Photographic prints of the Criterion Theatre and Criterion Hotel in August 1922.
- Seating Plan of the Criterion Theatre, Sydney [undated]
- Advertising brochure for the Actors’ Patriotic Gala Matinee at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney on Thursday 3rd September, 1914
- Two copies of Souvenir Programmes for the 200th performance of Our Miss Gibbs on Wednesday 12th April, 1911 at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, including one imperfect copy of the programme and one incomplete portion of the programme.
- J.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine Programme Scrapbook for the Criterion Theatre, including cast lists [17.12.1921 – 13.07.1935]
- J.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine Programme Scrapbook for Her Majesty’s Theatre , including cast lists [01.08.1903 – 10.07.1933]
- J.C. Williamson Ltd. Magazine Programme Scrapbook for the Theatre Royal, Sydney, including cast lists [28.01.1928 – 03.01.1948]
- “Salary Book” [comprising “Salary Sheets” or “Salary Lists” for theatrical productions of J.C. Williamson Theatres Limited. Includes lists of all performers and production personnel. [Date Range: 04.11.1955 –31.10.1970; 31.10.1972] [1 volume]
Prominent amongst the archival holdings in the custody of the SB&W Foundation are the archives of the Griffin Theatre Company, whose home is The Stables Theatre at Kings Cross in Sydney. The Stables Theatre, which was purchased by Dr Rodney Seaborn on behalf of the SB&W Foundation, has been owned by the Foundation since 1986. A Guide to the Archives of the Griffin Theatre Company has been compiled by Ann Peck, and a copy is available for consultation in the Archives and Library Search Room. The Griffin Theatre Company archives from 1979 to 2009 are substantially arranged and described, upwards of thirty series having been identified and listed in the Guide, although an extensive series of theatre posters for Griffin productions, and some miscellaneous archival series remain to be included.
Following demobilisation from the Army at the end of World War 2, Peter Morrison commenced medical studies at the University of Sydney, but after three years, began his media career as a cadet journalist with The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, later becoming the youngest editor of Film Weekly.
He then became head of public relations at J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd during the early 1960s, working closely with its managing director, John McCallum, and touring productions in the capital cities of Australia and in New Zealand. After ten years with J.C. Williamson Theatres Ltd, Peter Morrison branched out with the formation of Morrison Fenn Public Relations, which, in 1975, became Peter Morrison Public Relations and his wife Judy [who, as Judy Gainford, was Miss Australia in 1947], joined the business, which they managed together until his retirement in 2006. For thirty years, he was a theatre, ballet and part-time opera critic for the Australian Jewish Times and in 1990 was invited to join the Sydney Theatre Critics’ Group. [Source: Pauline Jenkins in Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July, 2010]
Peter Morrison donated his collection to the Seaborn, Broughton and Walford Foundation in 1995. A Guide to the Peter Morrison Publicity Pty Ltd Archives is available for consultation at the SBW Foundation Archives and Library Search Room.
This series comprises photographic negatives, principally relating to productions staged in Sydney by J. C. Williamson Theatres Ltd during the 1960s and 1970s, but also to other subjects including the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. Peter Morrison was head of public relations at J. C. Williamson during the 1960s and on a visit to the SBW Foundation in 2004 stated that the photographer was George Dennis and that the negatives were used for publicity photographs for programmes and displays at Her Majesty’s Theatre and the Theatre Royal in Sydney.
The majority of the negatives are single, measuring 120mm x 95mm, stored in individual glassine envelopes which are generally labelled with a negative number, month/year and sometimes subject. There are 12 sets of negative strips, also in glassine envelopes. In compiling the Item List, where the negatives were not labelled with a subject, theatre programmes and other sources were used to ascribe titles. Many negatives are yet to be identified.
The negatives were originally stored in two large boxes, one containing groups of negatives in envelopes or boxes labelled with production names and dates, and the other containing tightly packed negatives in no discernible order. The negatives have been arranged, as far as possible, in roughly chronological order, using the numbers and dates on the envelopes as guides.
The vast majority of the negatives are in poor condition, being warped, showing wavy grooves in the film base and exhibiting “vinegar syndrome”. This may have been caused by poor environmental control during storage of the negatives.
The SB&W Foundation is custodian of a large accumulation of monographs and serials which are of considerable historical significance for the study of the performing arts in Australia.
Our library holdings initially included:
- The Dennis Wolanski Library Books
- The Philip Parsons, Katherine Brisbane and Currency Press Library
- Nancy Robertson Johnston Library of Puppetry Books
We encourage teachers and student groups to book in and visit the SB&W Foundation premises in Neutral Bay where many of the collections are stored. We have on offer an amazing educational resource. Please phone to organise a time for your group through the CONTACT page.