Theatre and performance in Victoria

Find information about theatrical performers, performances, theatre companies and venues. Includes everything from drama, opera and dance to circus, puppetry and readings.

Link to digitsed item
Link to digitsed copy
Link to digitised item
Link to digitsed item
Link to digitsed item
Link to digitised image
Link to digitsed item

Search the catalogue

Our catalogue lists theatre programmes, biographies, interviews, recordings, pictures and personal papers.

You can find them by searching

  • the name of the performance
  • an exact title of a biography
  • some main words from a title
  • the name of the author or creator

If you are interested in photographs or posters use the catalogue drop-down menu to limit your search to 'Pictures & photographs'. To find personal papers, use the 'Manuscripts' option on the catalogue drop-down menu.

Theatre programmes

Theatre Programmes Collection

If you are interested in looking at theatre programmes, start by searching the catalogue using main words from the title of the performance.

For example, type in mary poppins or lady windermeres fan. Add the words theatre programme to the catalogue search box with the main words in the title.

Example image of searching for theatre programmes

Note: Programmes are catalogued at file level rather than item level. This means that when you request a file you may find it contains a number of programmes and publicity material covering productions that were performed over a number of years.


Manuscripts Collection

The Library's Manuscripts Collection includes many theatrical gems like:

  • George Selth Coppin -  the papers of actor and theatre manager,  including playbills and posters for many performances in his theatres
  • Tivoli Theatre -  including programmes and photographs

Request files at the La Trobe Reading Room information desk or phone 03 8664 7009. Files are delivered to our Heritage Collections Reading Room. Delivery takes 20-30 minutes and you must order before 5.30pm.

Newspapers and magazines

Newspapers are a very useful source of information. They may contain articles, interviews, photographs, reviews and advertisements for performances. 

Our research guides  will help you navigate our large collection. The guides cover both historical and current newspapers:

Daily newspapers such as the Melbourne-based The Argus, The Age, The Sun and The Herald all carried theatrical information. You should also check local suburban and rural newspapers for reports about smaller events.

Some newspapers or magazines specialised in theatrical news. We have compiled lists of these publications that are in State Library Victoria's La Trobe Collection. These lists are available below. Generally these newspapers and magazines are not indexed, so you will need to browse the time period relevant to your research. One rare Victorian theatre newspaper, The thespian: a journal of amusement (circa 1884-1886), is only held by the State Library of New South Wales.

The Periodicals Index references articles in a variety of Victorian magazines circa 1850s - 1930s. Look for references under the headings 'Theatre', 'Opera', 'Musicians', 'Singers', 'Woman singers', 'Woman playwrights', 'Woman producers' and 'Woman dancers'. You can find the index in the Arts Reading room (level 2, ground floor).

Selected online resources

AusStage is a directory of Australian performing arts. It is not exhaustive but it can help you to find the locations and dates of performances. It includes some references to reviews.

You will also find reviews in blogs like Theatre Notes (2004-2012). Independent commentary is provided here by Alison Croggon. She was the Melbourne theatre critic for The Australian newspaper until 2010.

If you're interested in early variety theatre, check the information in the Australian Variety Theatre Archive.

The Performing Arts Collection at the Arts Centre, Melbourne is Australia's largest collection of performing arts history.

Was the performance at the University of Melbourne? You can search the university's Student Theatre Archive by title or date.

You will find scripts by title or author at AustralianPlays.org.

Search for information in Trove. It now includes many of the resources originally found in Music Australia which was also hosted by the National Library of Australia.

Also check Trove lists for performance information from archived web site, Australia dancing.

YouTube includes a large range of performance types for you to view online. Use the box at the top of the YouTube screen to search for performances as diverse as those by contemporary dance group, Chunky Move and early soprano, Dame Nellie Melba.

 

Poster

H2003.90/213

Wehe / Radclyffe, H2003.90/213

J C Williamson scene books

'J.C. Williamson Ltd was for nearly a century the dominant theatrical agency in Australia, owning and leasing many theatres, and touring a succession of notable actors, singers and dancers' (source). Theatre Heritage Australia Inc have digitised a number of J C Williamson scene books, showing 'JCW sets, backdrops, scenic details, lighting rigs etc. stretching back to the end of the nineteenth century'.