Students from Cooktown State School recently enjoyed an exciting behind-the-scenes experience after attending a performance of Moulin Rouge! The Musical in QPAC’s Lyric Theatre.
The students travelled to Brisbane to experience an enlightening week immersing themselves in arts experiences, which included visits to QPAC’s Cultural Precinct partners.
Queensland fashion designer Leigh Buchanan joined the students to share his personal experiences and journey in the arts industry, offering students a firsthand account of the challenges, successes and lessons he has learned along the way.
Leigh is an experienced designer, costumier, dresser and patternmaker with over 30 years’ experience. He has worked on a wide range of projects, including collaborations with shake & stir theatre co, Queensland Theatre and Opera Queensland, plus on movies such as Elvis, The Drover’s Wife – The Legend of Molly Johnson, Aquaman and more. His personal clients include Tina Arena, Meow Meow, Annie Lee, Vogue Italia, and Topology. He was also the runner up on the first season of Project Runway Australia.
Alongside sharing some fascinating examples of the different projects Leigh has worked on, he also offered valuable advice for those who aspire to pursue a career in costume design, theatre and television.
“It was a wonderful afternoon with the students, and I was so glad to see them engaged with my stories about working in the fashion and design industry,” Leigh said.
“A lot of people that I know in the performing arts space have different and varied skill sets, and I wanted the students to go home knowing that if they have a passion, they have lots to contribute. They just need to make a start.”
Leigh also provided some great insights into working with Catherine Martin; the renowned costume designer and four-time Academy Award winner. He spoke extensively about their work together on the 2021 movie Elvis plus Catherine's exceptional costumes in Moulin Rouge. Importantly, he discussed the significance of collaboration and teamwork in costume design and its integration with other art forms, such as set design, makeup, and visual effects.
Leigh believes these informal presentations are beneficial in inspiring and encouraging the next generation of creatives.
“The students told us that they don’t have a theatre in Cooktown. This is something that we take for granted every day here in Brisbane. We get to experience this wonderful world on a daily basis. I hope that the presentation helped them to think about what could be possible for them,” he said.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical Deputy Head of Wardrobe Matt Dunne also joined the session, fresh from the matinee performance. He provided some great insights into the show including how the magic of the quick change occurs seamlessly to transform each character between scenes. Dressers stand in preparedness side-of-stage in teams to facilitate a snappy change while ensuring wigs and costumes are ready to present to the audience.
Further to this, he discussed the importance of working collaboratively with the wig department and how this relationship is crucial in adhering to the show’s ‘Bible’ - the guide used to ensure consistency at each performance location.
He also shared the detailed work required in repairing and maintaining the costumes after each and every show – ensuring that any issues like tears, loose threads, or missing sequins are fixed promptly and that costumes are cleaned for the next performance.
Matt also shared some excellent trivia from the production. Did you know that each can can dress is made of 75m of fabric and takes 200 hours to make? Did you also know that Ziegler’s iconic red velvet jacket is made with meticulously hand-placed crystals and is made exclusively in the US by the Moulin Rouge! The Musical Broadway team?
Cooktown State School teacher Jen Hall was pleased to see her students engage deeply and enjoy this exciting afternoon of behind-the-scenes visit.
“For the majority of our students this was their first theatre experience, and then to have the opportunity to engage with industry specialists was extraordinary. Leigh and Matt were fabulously engaging, honest and relatable. It was interesting to see many of our students come alive and explore careers in this field,” she said.
Likewise, teacher Jen Young was proud that the students have begun to consider their prospective career paths after this insightful discussion.
“Seeing Moulin Rouge! The Musical was a life changing experience for myself and our students. The set designs, costumes and acting were phenomenal and left us all speechless. Watching Moulin Rouge! The Musical and hearing all the potential pathways our students could have would not have been possible if it weren’t for the after show de-brief with Leigh, Matt and (QPAC Producer) Alyssa,” she said.
A word from the students:
“Despite growing up over 2,000km away from the beauty and extravagance of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, I’ve always had a fascination with the bright lights and the flair of theatre. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with Leigh and Matt has only further inspired my deep passion for performance and stage design and widened my horizons of what’s possible for me to achieve in a world of art that once seemed so far away.” – Sophie
“I was in awe and found myself quite speechless upon watching my first musical Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Soon after, my peers and I were introduced to two very invested men, Leigh Buchanan and Matt Dunne. They provided a much-needed insight on the life within the arts, rattling the endless opportunities we can find ourselves indulged in. I cannot begin to describe how thankful I am for having the chance to listen and having met such passionate individuals within the arts industry. I never imagined how beautiful a musical can be produced, through the clothing, to the actors. A truly unforgettable experience.” – Kya
“Behind the scenes of Moulin Rouge! The Musical and meeting Leigh Buchanan and Matt Dunne was an unforgettable experience that provides a fresh insight of a new world that can be considered art. It shows the thought put into the show and how the smallest detail in the costumes, music and props can create a memorable experience, that can last you years to come. Talking with Buchanan and Dunne, I am able to say that art is a world that is always evolving, and it can be shown when seeing Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” – Ilyaree
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