John Truscott AO 1936-1993

John Truscott

John Truscott was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985

From 1989 to 1991 Truscott was artistic director of the annual Spoleto/Melbourne International Arts Festival.

John Edward Truscott was still working, dreaming and inspiring when he died on 5 September 1993.

 

John Truscott was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985. Two years later he accepted the position of creative director of World Expo ’88 in Brisbane. Within an almost impossibly tight time frame he ‘sitescaped’ the sprawling area on the South Bank of the Brisbane River, commissioning and installing sculpture and other artworks and peopling it with living fantasy figures. His program of outdoor events included a breathtaking carnival style cavalcade that wound its way through the exhibition grounds every day and – most memorably – every evening. He was also instrumental in obtaining a superb collection of treasures from the Vatican, which were displayed in a specially designed pavilion.

From 1989 to 1991 Truscott was artistic director of the annual Spoleto/Melbourne International Arts Festival. He had seen Gian Carlo Menotti’s original Spoleto Festival on his first trip overseas, and it had left an indelible impression, but he believed that every festival had to develop its own identity, not merely rely on world-class imports. ‘Our Festival has to have its own personality,’ he said. ‘In this case it’s the personality of Melbourne – and that means involving our own arts community.’

For his first Festival – the last under the Spoleto banner – Truscott centred activities at the Victorian Arts Centre. He established a big free outdoor entertainment component, and illuminated the city’s streets and trees, fountains and flowers; he pressed the River Yarra into service and mounted a Botanica garden exhibition; and he introduced the now-traditional Lunchtime Chamber Music Concerts. For the 1990 Festival Truscott spanned St Kilda Road with two huge ornamental arches. Visitors included Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes, and Nigel Triffitt staged his adaptation of Moby Dick. Highlights of Truscott’s final Festival were Richard Strauss’ Elektra, directed by Bruce Beresford, and a major retrospective of the work of the Australian-born stage designer Loudon Sainthill. Under Truscott’s direction, the Melbourne International Arts Festival became a major event in the city’s calendar, eagerly anticipated and warmly accepted by a wide array of audiences, and generously supported by a diverse range of sponsors.

In 1992 Truscott returned to the Arts Centre. As Artist-in-Residence he helped re-assess and refurbish the Centre for the 10th anniversary of its opening and developed plans for the next decade. Sadly, he saw neither. John Edward Truscott was still working, dreaming and inspiring when he died on 5 September 1993.

A substantial archive of his designs, and a number of his original stage costumes, are preserved in the Performing Arts Collection at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. To perpetuate his ideals, a group of his friends and colleagues established the John Truscott Foundation Inc. It encourages excellence in design, especially from emerging practitioners, and sponsors an annual Green Room Award for innovative stage design.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Martin Carlson and Margaret Manion: ‘The Truscott Legacy’, in On Stage, volume 2, numbers 1 & 2
Paul Clarkson: Melbourne International Arts Festival, 1986-2005, Melbourne International Arts Festival, 2005
Sue Nattrass: ‘A Tribute to John Truscott,’ in the commemorative booklet published by the Victorian Arts Centre, 1993
Frank Van Straten: A John Truscott Chronology, unpublished manuscript, 1995
Pamela Zeplin: ‘John Truscott’, in Companion to Theatre in AustraliaCurrency Press, 1995