Plays, operas, ballets, and musicals often require designers to mimic the natural world on stage. Sometimes their re-creations are so lifelike it makes the viewer wonder…is it real? Unexpected materials such as Styrofoam, chicken wire, insulation foam, and electronics are reimagined on stages as dense forests, winter wonderlands, and surreal landscapes. Designers stretch their artistry as well as the limitations of fabric to transform performers into tree creatures, flying owls, and even supernatural fairies. Opening April 22, Is It Real? Staging Nature invites visitors on a behind-the-curtain exploration of flora, fauna, and other elements of nature through the lens of theatre design.

“The technical aspect of theatre is exciting–and visitors will find much of what they see in the gallery surprising,” said R. Scott Blackshire, PhD, Curator, The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts. “The artworks celebrate designers, costumers, and set painters–artists in their own right–who transport audiences into caves, through forests, and to worlds beyond the imagination.”

This exhibition presents artworks from The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts by designers Boris Aronson, Franco Colavecchia, Natalia Gontcharova, Helen Pond, and Tony Straiges in conversation with sculptures by artists Mary Frank, Barbara Hepworth, and more. Handcrafted Monarch butterflies and animal marionettes made from hardware supplies by Mexico City theatre artists La Liga Teatro Elastico mingle with designs for opera backdrops and a fairytale musical forest from Broadway.

A new acquisition from the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund and some never-before-seen treasures from The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts are also on view alongside a magnificent tree trunk set-piece by Houston painter Earl Staley. The giant tree reveals how immense set pieces are fabricated, and gives guests the feeling of standing center stage.

Designs for the new Robert L. B. Tobin Land Bridge in Hardberger Park and Phase I of the McNay’s Landscape Master Plan are paired with artworks to honor the contributions of The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts’ namesake, Robert L. B. Tobin, and to celebrate art and nature as one in San Antonio.

Is It Real? Staging Nature takes root in the McNay’s Brown Gallery April 22 through October 24, 2021. This exhibition was conceived by R. Scott Blackshire, PhD, Curator, The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts; and organized with Kim Neptune, The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund Assistant Curator, The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts; and Liz Paris, Collections Manager.

This exhibition is a program of The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund.

VR Sunil Gohil