Listing a cavalcade of homegrown performing Aussie and visiting international talent, a final walk backstage through the dingy corridors, recording booths, and last century interiors provided 90 minutes of voyeuristic delight to fifty of us in The Grand Tour: A Tour of the ABC Studios, as part of the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival (22 June–9 July 2017).
35+years employee Andrew Best crafted this tour, delivering it in its second year despite the studios being set for transfer in 2016 to Docklands. ABC’s archives department were in overdrive to save every relic of the past near 60 years of memorabilia. We got a firsthand glimpse into this treasure chest. The site is dripping in the sweat of stars, of both the on- and off- stage variety!
On a game show set in Studio 33, where news bulletins reported from 1956-2000, Best recalled the creation of the national broadcaster’s TV studios. Commissioned for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, from 1958 it rolled on through the burgeoning televisual decades of the 1960s-1990s, and onwards. The building was temporary home to rock ‘n rollers, actors, agents, tech heads, artistic directors, culture vultures and power brokers, and served up an image of Australian society to itself. Beside us, in its second Studio #31, music show Countdown ran for 3 decades.
The list of shows that came into being here is a roll call of the best Oz television: Bellbird, Sea Change, RAGE, The D-Generation, Frontline, The Big Gig, Kath & Kim, Marngrook Footy Show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and news and sports services. To have ABC TV credits on your resume meant you had hit performing gold. Stars who cut their teeth as early actors include Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Ben Mendelsohn, and Eric Bana. Music icons who sang in their early days include Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, AC/DC, The Village People- the cast list is endless.
Best regaled us with the nuts-and-bolts details of its workroom, where camera operators were hired on apprenticeships and costumiers had to also be wig makers. On show, costumes, signage, props and bespoke set pieces spoke of this backroom imaginarium. Visible still was graffiti as well as original ‘NO SMOKING’ and ‘REHEARSAL/RECORDING’ signs! Entire rooms laden with props were a retro lovers’ heaven and we imagined frantic staff running last minute pieces onto set.
This backstage army, who made the magic happen, are recorded in photos along its central corridor and a palpable feeling of family and legacy hang in the air. We thought of all the creatives down the decades who waited for that moment ‘on camera’.
This backstage walk and talk into the inner sanctum of this performing ‘palace’ tugged at our heartstrings. It was as if ‘Aunty’ didn’t want to crumble til her secret self had been seen. The original took us into her arms for one final embrace.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
The Grand Tour: A Tour of ABC Studios was held 27-28 June 2017 at 8 Gordon St, Elsternwick.
The venue is partly accessible.
View other events at the Glen Eira Storytelling Festival, 22 June–9 July 2017.
This article is dedicated to ABC TV props man, and actor, Guy May (1968-2016).