Stage fright
The art of theatre

11 June – 26 September 2005

Travelling exhibition itinerary

introduction | essay | gallery

detail: Kenneth Rowell ' Costume designs for the Three Ivans from Sleeping Beauty' 1973 watercolour and pencil on card. Collection of the National Gallery of AustraliaKenneth Rowell Costume designs for the Three Ivans from 'Sleeping Beauty' 1973 (detail) watercolour and pencil on card. Collection of the National Gallery of Australia more detail

Stage fright: the art of theatre features costume and set designs by Australian artists from the National Gallery of Australia’s Theatre Arts Collection. The exhibition is aimed at primary school children, but will fascinate anyone interested in theatre design. Visitors will be led on a voyage of discovery through a diversity of images drawn from mythology, fairytales, visionary worlds and fantasy characters intended for the ballet, opera and the theatre stage.

In Stage fright: the art of theatre children can witness the genesis of a design as the artist’s vision takes shape on paper, en route to its final destination on stage. Exquisitely rendered ‘finished’ drawings are displayed alongside others that have been quickly executed in order to capture the essence of an idea, a posture, a movement or a character. Some artists approach their subject in an experimental, whimsical and carefree manner, considering it to be a ‘work in progress’; these works often included fragile and ephemeral materials as part of their designs.

What is evident from each of the works in the exhibition is that artists employ a variety of approaches and techniques in order to conceptualise the designs for a production.

The idea of metamorphosis or transformation underpins the exhibition’s premise: actors changing into characters, figures turning into creatures and puppets coming to life. This idea of transformation is also a metaphor for the way designs are realised as three-dimensional costumes and stage sets, which are in turn given life by dancers, singers, actors and performers.

Stage fright acknowledges the evolution of Australian costume and set design from the 1940s to the early 1980s, yet also identifies recurrent, perhaps timeless, themes. The works in the exhibition evoke nostalgia for the past, while raising the curtain on a new and exciting contemporary stage.

Robyn Daw
Manager, Education


Steve Tonkin
Senior Curator
Cairns Regional Gallery