From Dame to Dame, actor to audience, musicals to magi, honky tonk to hip hop, visitors will see their old favourites, discover new ones and see never before seen objects that champion Australia’s performing arts.

On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts tells a story of those behind the scenes, whose artistry may not be so well known but whose roles are arguably just as important. The opening photograph of the exhibition demonstrates this perfectly, taken of Ange Sullivan, Head of Lighting at the Sydney Opera House, preparing a ghost light during the pandemic.

Among the other items featured are photographs, posters, playbills, sheet music, costume design, set designs, rare books and objects. From a theatre playbill from 1796, the earliest document printed in Australia, to a striking image of Sir Robert Helpmann as Oberon in the 1937 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there are plenty of interesting artifacts that show the history of our arts.

Other artists, companies and performing arts industry icons featured include Bangarra Dance Theatre, J.C. Williamson, Peter Allen, Dame Nellie Melba and Tim Minchin.

Poster for The Swinging Singing Sound of The
Seekers, The Honeycombs, Frank Berry, Johnny Wiltshire & the Trebletones, Birmingham Theatre,
10 and 11 December 1965


Houston Rogers, Portrait
of Robert Helpmann as Oberon, 1954,

Exhibition and Library curator of Rare Books and Music, Dr Susannah Helman, says the Library’s performing arts collections show how much Australians love live performance.

“As a big fan of live performance of all kinds, I thought I knew the history of Australia’s performing arts, but our collections have opened my eyes to the cultural lives Australians of the past could have known,” says Dr Helman

“The Library’s performing arts collections are overwhelming in scope – an embarrassment of riches really – and only a selection can be displayed. In the exhibition, I’ve tried to represent key moments, productions and performers in our history, to give context to today’s performing arts scene.”

Director-General of the National Library of Australia Dr Marie-Louise Ayres FAHA says visitors from all walks of life will be entertained, inspired, challenged and moved by the exhibition.

“You may not think of the National Library when you reminisce about the band poster you had on your bedroom wall as a teenager, but the objects and moments captured in our performing arts collections are immense,” Dr Ayres says.

On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts is exclusive to Canberra and opens at the National Library of Australia on Friday 4 March, running until Sunday 7 August 2022. Entry is free.