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Exhibition at the McNay Art Museum offers an insider's look into the world of theatre design
The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to re-experience, in ½-inch scale, the delight or shock of audiences when lights rose on stage.
SAN ANTONIO, TX.- Currently on view at the McNay Art Museum until June 1, the exhibition Constructing the Stage: Artists from the Theatre Collection highlights the increasing importance of maquettes (stage models) as scenery moves from two dimensions to three. More than 20 maquettes for operas, musicals, and plays feature work from artists who made their mark in the 1970s and 1980s: Ralph Koltai, Timothy O'Brien, Adrianne Lobel, and Tony Straiges.

The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to re-experience, in ½-inch scale, the delight or shock of audiences when lights rose on stage. Visitors discover how stage models are made and how they are used in production, from blocking movement and plotting lighting to actually building and painting the set.

Designs by Steve and Sam Gilliam, legends of San Antonio theatre, provide an engaging counterpoint to the maquettes with Remaking Tradition in Fiddler on the Roof, also on view at the McNay. The exhibition showcases the Gilliam's scene designs for the production of the beloved musical at the St. Louis MUNY in 1998, followed by thenational tours in 2000 and 2009 that starred Theodore Bikel, Topol, and Harvey Fierstein.

More than 75 drawings, from quick sketches to detailed renderings show the Gilliam's evolving approach to iconic elements of the musical, including Tevye the milkman's house, on which the fiddler perches. A recreation of the Gilliam's work area also reveals their working methods, specifically their embrace of digital technology with display of a computer, scanner, printer, and more traditional drawing tools. Photo projections show how the finished scenery looked onstage and how it was created, from fabrication to painting. In a recording, Steve and Sam also discuss their collaboration as a husband-wife design team.

"We are honored to showcase the work of this distinguished design team. Steve and Sam are best known in San Antonio as professors at Trinity University, but I wanted to focus on their national career," said Jody Blake, Curator of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts. "Fiddler on the Roof was, probably, their biggest hit and they let us borrow everything, from preliminary sketches and models of Tevye's house to color renderings (some made using Photoshop) and production photographs. To exhibit an entire production has been a curator's dream come true."

The installation of Remaking Tradition in Fiddler on the Roof is on view through June 1. The Gilliams will present a public gallery talk in the installation on Thursday, March 13 at 6:30 pm.

Ralph Koltai, Timothy O'Brien, Adrianne Lobel, and Tony Straiges are four British and American designers who made their mark in the 1970s and 1980s. Bringing innovation to such venerable institutions as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Opera, Koltai and O'Brien won acclaim for daring sculptural and architectural designs. Informed by a postmodern sense of playfulness, Lobel and Straiges designed iconic productions of Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George and John Adams's Nixon in China, respectively.

Established members of the San Antonio theatre community, Steve earned his MFA in scene design, and Sam works as a professional actor. The couple have also taught at Trinity University. Steve was named a professor emeritus upon his retirement in 2012, while Sam continues to teach courses in the performing arts and human communication.

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