Bernard Caleo

Programs Officer

Listen and read

When people ask me what I do... I say I work at the museum in the public programs department; we’re a team of seven people or so and we work out things for people to do on the weekends and in their school holidays. And my specialty is shows, presentations, theatre in the museum.

I’ve done some character work. My main character has been Harry Call, a story collector who wears a blue safari suit – I would say a violently blue safari suit – and carries a big purple net which he catches story clues in.

The first thing I do when I get to work is… just see who the team is for that day – who’s on the floor, who is around, what sort of laughs are going to be had. That’s very dependent on personnel.

Later this week I will... talk to a man who will provide seating for a circus that I am producing for the museum and he will tell me whether we can fit five hundred or six hundred people into the touring hall. We’ve collaborated with NICA (the National Institute of Circus Arts), which is part of Swinburne in Prahran. This is the third circus we’ve done with them. We’ve done a backyard bugs circus, we’ve done a bees circus and this year will be a walking whale circus, which will focus on evolution. So there’ll be tumbling and juggling and acrobatics and swinging and diving through the air! All of which will make the evolution of whales crystal clear in everybody’s minds.

There is also truth to the rumours that my Charles Darwin impersonation is going to need some brushing up. I’m pretty excited about that because it will mean the usage of a bald wig, which I’m very happy about because...I would like to go bald.

I first got into this area... that is to say interpretation of museums and historical sites, by working at the Old Melbourne Gaol. A friend of mine was working in the public programs area there and contacted me, knowing that I was performer and a bit of a writer, and they said: “I want a show for the Old Melbourne Gaol, which takes place at night, which takes place in candlelight, which scares people, and gets them interested in the history of the place and gives them a bit of a thrill”. So I wrote this show for the Old Melbourne Gaol and performed that for some time. And once I’d been doing that for a few years, I saw that this place was being built. So I thought there must be somebody there who needs somebody who knows about museum theatre. So I just walked up and knocked on the front door, really.

In my job it is important to... It is very important to be very organised. Unfortunately, I am very disorganised so there’s a lot of frantic grabbing – metaphorical grabbing of things – and taking care of things at the last minute, just because that seems to be the way I’m built. I really enjoy doing what I do here. It’s a bit of a tricky thing, that mix of arts and the museum: it’s a good thing and it’s worthwhile and very fruitful but it can be a bit tricky.

Others say I... don’t work enough [laughter]. Admin roles just seem to run off me like water off a duck’s back – they don’t seem to stick very well. But others also say I do make a very nice cup of tea.

In my job I never dreamed I would... be present at the birth of a live dinosaur. As part of a show we did this year that was called ‘Minmi grows up’ – Minmi was an Australian dinosaur – we did a presentation for schoolkids and general audiences where a giant egg cracked open and baby Minmi tumbled out. And every time it was a glory to behold!

If I had a magic wand I would... create a small department of people to do museum theatre. Get a lot of arts folks on – directors, designers – and really focus on it. The museum has a lot of resources in making shows, actually, which we’ve found from just doing our fairly small presentations. My dream would be to really harness that. So, it would be museum theatre – dinosaur shows and bug shows – but shows that would be on as part of the Melbourne Festival. So you’d come here as part of the arts world of Melbourne. That’s my sorcerer’s apprentice moment!

Looking into the crystal ball... I can see more and more faith being invested in theatre and performance as interpretive modes at the museum. In future, I would have moved from performing into more production roles – overseeing things. That’s another thing I never thought I’d do; I’d always thought that I’d be onstage and not behind the scenes but I’ve found that I quite enjoy that Machiavellian making-sure-everything-happens-the-way-you-want-it to. I can see there’s a role for more production – manipulating things, really, to make these presentations come about.

What’s that?
The dinosaur head is actually the head for children to wear, and it’s the head of the adult Minmi.

That’s Mars, the God of War, who was found on Mars when my character Harry Call went to Mars when we had an exhibition here called Mars and Beyond. We sent Harry up to Mars and had a big press conference with the Mars Society here. Harry was congratulated and then he was sent off, and people watched on the screen while as Harry walked along the corridors of the museum bumping into various things – he’s a bit of a goof, is Harry – finally getting into the rocket. He would send back dispatches to the visitors – kids – we had a Mars Lab here at the museum and they built all his equipment for the exploration of Mars and it was clearly shot out by a second rocket.  And then we had footage shot back from Mars, which looked suspiciously like the rock face near Half Moon Bay. When Harry went there, he actually met Mars, the God of War, who looks like a piece of Mars.

Outside the office I... am dedicated to production of comic books, my other great love (aside from theatre). I run a comic book publishing house called Cardigan Comics and we publish an anthology of Australian comics every year. We’ve got one coming up themed ‘Love and Food’ and we got an Arts Victoria grant for that. I’m quite involved in the Australian comic book scene, so that’s quite a big part of my life outside. I’d like to try somehow wangle it into the museum. That’s probably another thing I want to do at the museum, get comic books – somehow – integrated.

“...I do make a very nice cup of tea...”

Image Gallery

Bernard Caleo Bernard Caleo as Darwin