The Australian Performing Arts Collection is proud to share its latest acquisition, the Australian Gypsy Cloak, which connects theatre traditions and the sense of community within the Australian performing arts industry.
“We are absolutely thrilled to add the wonderful Gypsy Cloak to the Australian Performing Arts Collection,” said Janine Barrand, Director Australian Performing Arts Collection. “It is such a special object that reflects behind-the-scenes traditions and the spirit of community within Australian music theatre.”
“It also importantly honours ensemble members; those performers who are so integral to making large-scale musicals come to life. We are grateful to Kim Bishop for ensuring that this piece of theatre history can now be preserved into the future.”
The Gypsy Cloak was introduced in Australia in 1993 and is based on the tradition of Broadway’s Gypsy Robe (now renamed Legacy Robe), which dates back to the 1950s. The Gypsy Cloak is a full-length garment with handmade appliquéd patches representing Australian music theatre shows.
It is passed among major productions and presented to an ensemble member – known as a “gypsy” due to their movement between shows. The recipient either has the most credits or has been working in the business the longest. This enduring part of theatre history recognises the hard work of ensemble members, rather than principal artists.
This new acquisition is the first of two Australian Gypsy Cloaks and has been donated by costume designer and wardrobe manager Kim Bishop, on behalf of the Australian music theatre community.
Bishop has been the unofficial custodian of the Cloak since it was discovered in a box at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne after the run of the musical Eureka (2004-05). Over the years, the Cloak had been lost or forgotten, and found or rediscovered several times.
“I love that the Gypsy Cloak is awarded to an ensemble member, not the star or the principal cast of a musical,” says Bishop. “The commemorative show logos stitched to the Cloak are usually created by the Wardrobe Department. It’s not only a perpetual award for one of the performers but it’s a historic community arts project.”
The show mementos on the Cloak feature a range of techniques including beading, embroidery, needlepoint and painting. The earliest identified patch on the original Cloak is from Nunsense 2 in 1993, with productions represented up to 2010. These include Cats; Les Misérables; Phantom of the Opera; Show Boat; Miss Saigon; The Boy from Oz; The Producers; Chicago; Dusty; Priscilla: Queen of the Desert; Billy Elliot; Shout!; Avenue Q and Wicked.
Music theatre veteran Nathan Pinnell was bestowed the honour of the Gypsy Cloak during his time in the 2016/17 production of Singin’ in the Rain where he was Dance Captain/Swing. He says the experience was an absolute privilege.
“It was a privilege to be a part of the line-up of talented thespians that paved the way for a performer such as myself,” says Pinnell. “I would say the most honourable part about receiving the Gypsy Cloak was the recognition of my work and my contribution to the musical theatre industry in Australia and internationally.”
When an ensemble member is praised with this honour, there is an on-stage ceremony during which the company forms a circle and the former recipient announces the next ensemble member to receive the Cloak.
The newly esteemed performer puts on the Cloak and moves around the circle three times allowing the company members to touch it for good luck. The recipient often visits the dressing rooms wearing the Cloak and sometimes it temporarily stays in their dressing room where cast and crew members can view it.
The second Gypsy Cloak is currently in circulation with one its most recent recipients, Thern Reynolds, ensemble member in EVITA, saying how significant this honour was given his three-decade career.
“I received the Cloak from Stephen Wheat, a friend of mine and cast member of School of Rock,” says Reynolds. “It was a huge honour to receive it as it came to me in the year in which I celebrate my thirtieth year as a musical theatre performer. It also represented my entire body of work spanning four different decades.”
When I was a teenager starting out, I saw the Cloak and always hoped to wear it one day. I love that it recognises the hard and invaluable work of ensemble performers, who are, in my opinion, the backbone of musical theatre.
The first Australian Gypsy Cloak will now be preserved in the Australian Performing Arts Collection while the tradition lives on as Reynolds recently handed over the current Cloak to Glen Hill, ensemble member of Jersey Boys. For more information, visit: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au for details.
Image: Australian Gypsy Cloak (front & back), 1993-2010. Gift of Kim Bishop on behalf of the Australian music theatre community, 2019. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.