Wednesday, 02 September 2020
On Saturday 21 November, the new Western Australian Museum will open its doors to the public after a major four-year redevelopment. Working behind the scenes at the Museum are a number of WAAPA Props and Scenery alumni, including Francis ‘Chuckie’ Raven.
Francis is the Museum’s Senior Technical Officer, responsible for preparing objects for display. This involves reviewing each piece to decide the manner of presentation and creating a suitable support for it.
“This can be anything, from a wire frame which is bent to support precious gemstones, to an intricate support for a full skeleton,” explains the 2014 WAAPA graduate.
Francis works alongside fellow WAAPA alumni Anna Sheehy and Stephanie Pullman. All three have spent time as artists/technicians at TraumaSim, a leading WA-based provider of moulage services, creating special effects designed to simulate traumatic injury or medical conditions for the training of medical and military personnel.
Francis also previously worked at the WA State Theatre Centre as a mechanist, duty technician and head flyman, and spent a year in Dubai as head of props on Dragone’s spectacular live show, La Perle.
Surprisingly, the catalyst for his move from theatre into museum work was a long-held fascination with taxidermy.
After teaching himself as much as he could about taxidermy from books and the internet, Francis reached out to the WA Museum for advice. An offer of work experience soon followed, which in time led to his current full-time position.
Here Francis talks to Inside WAAPA about the value of his training, what he loves about taxidermy and his family’s strong connection to design:
IW: What led you to apply for WAAPA’s Props and Scenery course?
FCR: I had been considering becoming a design technology teacher until I saw Wicked at Crown Casino in 2011. I was awestruck by the beauty of the set and knew I wanted the chance to create something like that.
IW: What did you enjoy most about the course and how did it help you on your career path?
FCR: It may seem a cliché but the friends I made at WAAPA and the connections I formed within the theatre industry have been an ongoing gift in my life. They have given me countless experiences. I’ve since had the opportunity to work on Wicked when it returned to Perth in 2015 and to travel to Dubai to work on the development of a state-of-the-art aqua-theatre for the Dragone production, La Perle.
IW: You started working at the State Theatre Centre before you graduated. How did that come about?
FCR: Through my lecturers I was offered the opportunity to interview for a position at the State Theatre Centre while still at WAAPA. After meeting with head mechanist Matt Norman (now at the WA Ballet), I was given a position as a mechanist and eventually became head flyman.
IW: Your passion for taxidermy has taken your career into museum work. What is it that you love about taxidermy?
FCR: Taxidermy has always fascinated me because of its unique nature. It combines biology with sculpture to produce a piece which sits somewhere between science and art. It’s that undefinable quirkiness that I love.
IW: When the WA Museum reopens in November, what are you most looking forward to?
FCR: I have to say that even after all the amazing objects I’ve seen, I’m still most excited to take my nephews, Isaac and Thomas, to see all the dinosaur bones I’ve held. At heart I am a ‘punk’ - professional uncle, no kids.
IW: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
FCR: It’s so hard to say, every day tops the last one. But here’s a recent one: during my first month at the museum, a colleague told me about how he had held a rock from Mars in one hand and one from the moon in the other. I was stunned and thought “If I ever experience that I will be just speechless”. The next day I held part of the moon and Mars in each hand.
IW: You have a brother Matt and sister-in-law Naomi who are now also studying design at WAAPA… what is it with your family and design?
FCR: That’s right! WAAPA just can’t get rid of us – and as if that wasn’t enough, my partner Sam Knox is a Props and Scenery graduate! I suppose it just shows the sort of community that WAAPA creates.
IW: What advice would you give to new Production and Design graduates?
FCR: Treat your career path like a jungle gym, not a ladder. Your path up won’t always be straight, you can sidestep toward a better one.
IW: Final question… Why are you called Chuckie?
FCR: My Ganga (Grandad) nicknamed me when I was a baby, he thought I was particularly skilled at it.
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