Book cover with red tinted image of actor Sir Robert Helpmann and yellow text reading "On Stage"
National Library of Australia

Imagine a crowded theatre. The lights have just gone down. An expectant silence blankets the audience as the chatter abruptly stops. The show is about to begin.

Live performance is storytelling, expression, activism and hope. It is by natural ephemeral, yet its impact can be long-lasting, on audiences and those who work on stage and behind the scenes. Technology lets us record, amplify and broadcast, but it can't replace the possibility and connection that naturally occurs between performers and audiences.

Deep in the National Library of Australia's stacks are collections that document those fleeting moments when people came together for a live performance. From a 1796 playbill (the earliest document printed in Australia), to original costume design artwork, to a backstage moment at the ballet captured in an elegant black and white photograph, this book features an array of material that will bring the thrill of live performance to life for the reader.

This book is the exhibition companion for the Library’s current exhibition, On Stage: Spotlight on Our Performing Arts.