A Conversation With Christopher Smith

Interview with a Gallery Curator (QPAC's Tony Gould Gallery - Les Misérables From Page to Stage Exhibition)

Christopher Smith – QPAC Museum Curator | Image taken by myself

To coincide with Les Misérables celebrating its 30th anniversary a few days ago, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) are holding a “Les Misérables From Page to Stage” exhibition from now until when Les Misérables concludes at the Lyric Theatre in January 2016. Hosted in the Tony Gould Gallery, this exhibition seeks to provide a glimpse into the making and global success of the record-breaking musical, featuring items from not only the current Australian production but items from productions around the world since launch (Including some items from producer Cameron Mackintosh’s own collection).

At a media event for the exhibition’s opening on October 8, I had the chance to sit down with museum curator Christopher Smith. You can check out the transcribed interview below. My questions are in bold and statements by Christopher Smith will be underneath.

Image taken by myself
Image taken by myself

First of all, what do you think makes Les Miserables a stage musical that deserves an exhibition?

I think the thing about Les Miserables, which is thing which has also meant that it has lasted thirty years, is that it is incredibly rich and diverse in the make-up of the production. There is such a range of characters and stories, that I think the chance to get up close to some of that is very interesting. Also I also think the reason its lasted thirty years is that the original creators really cared about it, and I think the other thing this gives you is just a tiny glimpse into those people. The commitment of those people to the work, to developing the work, has ensured that its had the life that its had.

And in your opinion, what are some of the highlights of this exhibition?

Well, first I think are the costumes for me, because the costumes are the skin of the people. People just love to get up and close to what people have been wearing, and you get a real sense of those characters in the costumes. The designs are incredibly well thought through, so that they really reflect the different social strata and the periods the work itself covers. And I guess after that for me, its the photographs, in that they are very intimate, they are almost like family snaps, and for me I get a sense of the actual people who helped to make this show in the first place. The directors, the composers, the writers, but also the actors/performers themselves.

and can you provide some idea of how long it took to put together such an exhibition?

Well, Cameron Mackintosh is very fortunate that he has an extraordinary archivist in London, who has been with the company for many years. She is the person that probably knows where everything associated with any Cameron Mackintosh show is at any one time. So she worked very closely with the Australian representatives to develop the original exhibition for the national library in Melbourne – the Victorian State Library. And then we were offered the opportunity to cherry pick from that exhibition, to select pieces that we could then have up here. Their gallery is much bigger down there, and it was an exhibition that covered a whole range of other things as well. We were interested more on the specific things that reflect the development of the show that people were going to see here.

Image taken by myself
Image taken by myself

Was there anything you sorely wanted but couldn’t get into the gallery?

It would have been nice to have a cart, but I think the cart had to go back where it came from and I couldn’t have fit it in here anyway.

What do you see as the benefits of producing exhibitions based on theatre?

I think its very easy to go to the theatre and have a fabulous time, be entertained, be occasionally made to think about something – but not to always realise quite the amount of work and care and dedication that goes into producing that work. I think exhibitions give the audience a chance to engage with the artists and the art form itself on a much broader level. It gives them the sense of how things are actually created, and I think for the long-term health of the performing arts, the more people know about the processes, without giving away all the secrets of course, I think they feel a closer connection to the art form. And perhaps that also encourages them to be more adventurous with their viewing of the art forms as well.

Prior to the Les Miserables exhibition, you hosted one to celebrate QPAC’s 30th Anniversary. What do you think the public reception was to that?

Fabulous. Going on the comments we had from it, we had a really good response, because it was such a broad ranging exhibition. It was really only the tip of the iceberg. When an organisation has been going for 30 years, there is so much material to select from. We were very fortunate to be able to try and pull enough stuff to represent the different threads of QPAC. QPAC has so many different inputs – we have home companies, we have resident companies, we have visiting companies, we have international artists, we have all sorts of outdoor activities. We have so many different programs that happen here, so to try and get a sense of the richness of that. So for visitors who don’t know QPAC, I think it was a wonderful opportunity to get a sense of the diversity of what happens here, and for our many many many regular visitors it was a chance to go “Oh! I Saw That”, “Oh! I like that one!”, “Oh! What about so and so”. So it sparked conversation, and I think that’s really important.

Image taken by myself
Image taken by myself

All I can say is that with all the decisions you have to make about what goes into an exhibition, I wouldn’t want to be in your position.

(Laughs) I would like to say that’s why I am paid the big bucks, but I would be lying. No, its because I love it, and because the opportunity to work with really interesting collections is an absolute joy. The hardest exhibitions to put together are the ones where there just isn’t enough material, that you’re scratching to find things to tell the story. With something like QPAC 30 or Les Miserables, I am not scratching. They are such diverse, rich projects both of them, that to be able to then go in an assemble all that stuff and share it with the public is just a delight.

Thank you very much for your time!

Special Thanks

I would just like to pass on my thanks to Christopher Smith for taking time out of his schedule to speak with me regarding this new exhibition. I would also like to thank QPAC’s publicity team for helping organise photography and interview opportunities for this exhibition.

About the Exhibition

Les Misérables From Page to Stage will be open from Tuesday to Saturday, running from 10AM to 4PM during these days. Entry is free, and in my opinion is something worthwhile walking through if you are in the area OR are attending a matinee session of Strictly Ballroom / Les Misérables / *Insert your show at QPAC here* and have some time beforehand. It will be open to the public until Les Misérables finishes its run at QPAC – which has tickets currently on sale for sessions from 10th November 2015 until 10th January 2015 as of writing.

Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.


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