Ruth Cracknell interviewed by Michelle Potter in the Esso Performing Arts collection [sound recording], 1989
The Library's collections are rich with materials that capture Australia's broad and diverse history with the performing arts.
The performing arts are well represented in the Library’s manuscript collections, particularly through the personal papers of individuals and the records of non-government organisations. Papers are held of some major figures in theatre, ballet and other performing arts, including Sir Robert Helpmann, Dame Peggy van Praagh, Peter Finch, Geoffrey Ingram, John Bell and Anna Volska, Richard Wherrett and Ruth Cracknell.
The pictures collection includes paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and posters of significant people, places and events in the Australian performing arts.
The performing arts are also strongly represented within the Library’s Oral History collections. Highlights of the collection include the ESSO performing arts series of audio recordings which documents aspects of Australian theatre history from the 1930s to the 1980s, and the interviews of Bill Stephens with prominent Australian performers.
Tip: when using the catalogue to find oral history recordings you can limit your search to ‘audio’ or include the words ‘sound recording’ in your search.
The Library's extensive holdings of published material on the performing arts in Australia include historical works, biographies, critical studies, annual reports, newsletters and journals.
There is also a wide range of materials which are unique to the performing arts sector like theatre programs, broadsides and scrapbooks.
The PROMPT Australian Performing Arts Programs and Ephemera collection includes programs, flyers and tickets for theatre, musicals, opera, dance and comedy from the late 19th century to the present. Supplementary printed ephemera such as brochures, publicity releases, broadsides and handbills are also collected as part of the PROMPT collection.
Complementing the PROMPT collection is a sequence of fragile scrapbooks of performing arts ephemera dating from as early as 1857. The collection includes scrapbooks of circus, vaudeville, and theatrical performers in Australia and New Zealand; a scrapbook of Bessie Campbell, ‘Banjo Queen’; opera and operatic life in Australia; and Ballets Russes Australian tours, 1938-1940, among others.
The Library also provides access to a valuable collection of newspaper clipping files. Many of the articles in the files are from 1970-1990, a period which is largely undigitised. There are two types of clippings files held by the Library: biographical (such as Kylie Minogue biographical cuttings) and subject cuttings (such as Festivals subject cuttings).
Some performing arts materials have been digitised and are freely available online through the Library’s discovery service, Trove.
The Library subscribes to a number of licensed databases, online archives and other digital collections that contain articles, journals, ebooks and databases pertaining to the performing arts. You can access these for free with a Library card.
The databases can be found using the National Library’s eResources portal. To search for content in our eResources portal see our Searching for eResources page. You can also browse the category list which can be accessed via the Browse eResources tab (see below). The Arts and Humanities category includes the sub-category Performing Arts.
Performing arts databases
- Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990
- Ausstage: The Australian Live Performance Database
- Bungei Kurabu. Meiji hen
- Contemporary Musicians
- Music and Dance Reference
- Nineteenth Century Collections Online. British theatre, music and literature : high and popular culture
- Oxford Music Online
- The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, 1902-2019
In addition to these, many multidisciplinary resources include materials relating to the performing arts, such as EBSCO eBooks and PressReader. These sources will often be rich sources of information on international artists and performances.
Key performing arts collections
The Library has several significant collections which have broad appeal across the genres of the performing arts.
A collection of images that documents over 200 opera, theatre and ballet performances between 1976 and 1998. Some concerts and performances by individual artists are also included.
A collection of interviews with people from the fields of dance, music and theatre and documents aspects of Australian theatre history from the 1930s to the 1980s.
A collection of books, music and manuscripts. Mostly relates to Western music from medieval times to 20th century, but also includes books on Indonesian music, ballet and the performing arts generally.
A collection of oral history interviews, recordings, sheet music, and manuscripts relating to dance music.
A set of paintings on Chinese performing arts in the Qing dynasty China.
The Adelaide Festival of Arts, also known as the Adelaide Festival, is an arts festival which takes place annually in Adelaide, South Australia. The Festival started in 1960 and is a major celebration of the arts and a significant cultural event in Australia. The Library’s holdings include a collection of programs and related ephemera and posters.