What would you do differently to what you do now?
I feel lucky to have landed in the places and times that I have, and I have been able to follow opportunities that have presented to me. I was thinking about that earlier in the year when Circus Oz hosted a memorial for John Pinder in our Spiegeltent, he was a marvellous arts impresario who did a lot to foster comedy, circus, music and puppetry in Australia the 1970’s until recently. He gave me a job way back that allowed me to do and learn lots of different things and make important contacts. Before that, Kerry Dwyer gave me a job at the Pram Factory Theatre in Carlton and that really launched my career. So I wouldn’t change any of that! Perhaps I could have taken a few more leaps into the void and changed my direction or at least my location, but in one sense, the work has flowed on and I haven’t had time.
Who inspires you and why?
Women who remove the glass ceiling with the appropriate tools. We have a lot of those in the circus world, women who drive trucks, direct shows, run companies, head boards and do the heavy lifting in acrobatics. Day to day I get creative inspiration from my immediate environment, which is the costume workroom. I work with pattern makers, machinists and milliners who bring their own creative problem solving and aesthetics to the job and together we deal with the technical and design problems of circus costuming.
What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I try and make a difference day to day in my work environment by being a good boss. Circus Oz thinks a lot about workplace relations, so my workroom is a microcosm of that. Most costuming jobs are freelance so we are a small community that stays in touch and helps each other with jobs, contacts and moral support. In the global sense, it’s hard to feel effective, but I try and add my voice to support organisations like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Greenpeace who do the effective work.
Favourite holiday destination and why?
I love Venice when the Biennale is on. There are no cars or bicycles, you either walk or take a water taxi. It is fabulous to walk through the whole city into old buildings, either grand palaces or semi derelict places with water filled basements and see art from all over the world. It is certainly swamped by tourists but there is a stubborn element that is still Italian, for instance shopkeepers who don’t speak English and if you are there for a little while you find those people and places. Part of me wants to be Peggy Guggenheim with Jackson Pollack coming for lunch. (There is a museum in Venice that was her house and salon.)
When friends come to town, what attraction would you take then to, and why?
Coffee in Brunswick is always a good start to a tour of Melbourne and maybe a bit of local shopping at my favourite suppliers, like the Royal Nut Company and Georges Coffee, two of many old family businesses in Brunswick. There are so many galleries in Melbourne, I would make a shortlist in a particular area and spend the day doing that.
What are you currently reading?
I am reading the autobiography of Oliver Sacks, the psychiatrist and neurologist. It’s interesting how many mistakes and false starts he admits to, often the case when someone is breaking new ground or challenging the conventions of their profession. It only appears that someone’s progress was in a straight line in hindsight.
What are you currently listening to?
I listen to 3RRR and Radio National at work. There is often a friendly fight in my workroom over the radio dial as there are SOME who prefer Triple J or Gold FM, which drives me mad as I am deadly serious about my music choices. I have local musician Rob Snarski on high rotation and I will not be denied!
Happiness is getting the crossword out every Saturday, over coffee with a friend I meet in a Brunswick café. Or seeing one of my grandnephews get a kick in their weekend footy match while I chat to my family on the boundary fence.
What does the future hold for you?
If only I knew that… I know I will continue to work to polish the Circus Oz show up as much as I can and to see the company have an even longer productive future, we are 37 now, so we are quite mature!
Laurel Frank designs and makes costumes for theatre, circus, cabaret, dance, parades, events and puppetry. She regularly puts together teams of professional costume makers, prop makers and milliners to achieve large and small projects.
She is a founding member and the resident costume designer for Circus Oz and has sent them on countless Australian and international tours. She also runs the wardrobe department for them, managing the archive, current show usage and photo shoots for ongoing publicity. Her ongoing work for Circus Oz has been documented and collected by the Performing Arts Museum in Melbourne.
Laurel has designed and made costumes for many other circus companies and solo performers, including the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and the National Institute of Circus Arts. She has designed for many parades and events in Australia and overseas. For the last two years she has designed and managed the costume component of the Moomba parade.
She has designed and produced costumes for several children’s television series including L’IL HORRORS, a puppet series for Channel 7 (TV). She has also produced costumes for documentary films and advertising over the last decade.
Another branch of Laurel’s work is museum display, including reproducing and displaying historic costume for the National Museum in Canberra, the Immigration Museum Melbourne, the State Museum in Carlton, the Jewish Museum in Sydney and the Bendigo and Ballarat Regional Museums.
Laurel’s work can be seen in the current Circus Oz show, But Wait… There’s More playing under the Big Top in Birrarung Marr until 12 July 2015. For more information, visit: www.circusoz.com for details.
Image: Laurel Frank – photo by Rob Blackburn