Australia’s first female magicians to find spotlight with 2021 Frank Van Straten Fellowship

Loretta-“Moi-Yo”-Miller-Montes-at-Stage-Door-Princess-Theatre-Melbourne-photo-by-Jeff-Busby-2006The Australian Performing Arts Collection has announced Cathy Pryor as the recipient of the 2021 Frank Van Straten Research Fellowship.

Pryor’s work Rare Flowers and Golden Butterflies will focus on the careers of three female magicians; Esme Levante, Myrtle Roberts and Loretta “Moi-Yo” Miller Montes. The project aims to demonstrate the pivotal role that these women played on stage and behind the scenes by telling the stories of their fascinating careers.

“Magic has been a performing arts field that has traditionally been dominated by men, and the role women have played in the development of the art form in Australia has often been overlooked,” says Frank Van Straten Fellowship recipient Cathy Pryor.

“I want to explore what their stories tell us about the way gender was represented on the stage, how did they carve out careers of their own, and what is their legacy?”

A major outcome for the project will be an audio documentary titled The Illusory World of Esme Levante, which will be delivered in collaboration with ABC Radio National’s The History Listen alongside plans for an online virtual exhibition with text, audio, photographs and archival material.

“I will have access to the collection in March. The first step in the process is to spend some time immersing myself in the Australian Performing Arts Collection and identifying items and archival material that relate to the three women,” says Pryor.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to really spend some time uncovering an aspect of Australia’s performing arts history that has not had the attention it perhaps deserves.”

A key objective of the Frank Van Straten Fellowship program is to enhance the analysis, discoverability and interpretation of the Australian Performing Arts Collection through high-quality research and the program has been well-received.

The panel was delighted with the response to the Frank Van Straten Fellowship this year. We had double the number of applications from last year. Given the changes and uncertainty of the pandemic, it was just tremendous,” says Claudia Funder, Research Centre Coordinator of the Australian Performing Arts Collection.

“Cathy’s previous work is very imaginative and gives the listener a tremendous mix of textures to engage with including interviews, vintage sound recordings, music and written narrative. The use of primary material brings those sources into the spotlight and shows us how collections can come alive to tell stories.”

The fellowship is made possible through the generous contribution of the Frank Van Straten AM and Adrian Turley Foundation. Frank played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Australian Performing Arts Collection in the late 1970s and was the founding director and first archivist of what was then the Performing Arts Museum. Arts Centre Melbourne has been the proud custodian of the Collection since its creation in the early 1980s.

Today the Australian Performing Arts Collection is the nation’s leading collection of performing arts materials, documenting Australia’s circus, dance, music, opera and theatre heritage. It consists of 737,000+ items including costumes, designs, programs, photographs, posters, props, personal memorabilia and archival material.

For more information about the Frank Van Straten Fellowship, visit: for details.

Image: Loretta “Moi-Yo” Miller Montes at Stage Door – Princess Theatre, Melbourne – photo by Jeff Busby, 2006