Barry Kay, internationally acclaimed stage and costume designer, photographer, born 1932 Melbourne Australia, died 1985 London England





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BARRY KAY ARCHIVE

London





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Barry Kay






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Barry Kay was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 1 September 1932, and died in London, England, on 16 April 1985. He was a Stage and Costume Designer, who eventually gained international recognition and acclaim for his cutting-edge contributions to the performing arts. Well into his career, a birthday gift of a 35mm camera unsuspectingly sparked off an additional interest, Photography, which he pursued concurrently to designing for the theatre.

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Bibliographic Notes

This pages serves as a platform to provide biographic information about Barry Kay in prose format that structurally and stylistically does not match the itemized Biography.
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Early Years and Career Progression

Barry Kay received his initial education at the Ecole Internationale de Genève in Switzerland, a boarding school which he attended during the late 1930s. Upon his return to Australia he first joined Glamorgan Primary School for Boys (since 1947 under the auspices of Geelong Grammar School), and later on Wesley College, both Melbourne, until the end of 1948. With his interest in music, namely piano and composition, he won a price at Wesley College for "an original work of a remarkable composition of music" - Concerto in G Minor. Eventually Kay returned to Switzerland to study music to become a composer. In time, however, his interests developed into a different direction. He decided to establish himself as a painter, abandoned his music studies and resettled in Australia, where he matriculated at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, today's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, enrolling in arts, design and theatre courses.

Alongside his studies he rekindled his friendship with the Scottish-born choreographer Walter Gore, for whom he had already designed occasionally in the past. Yet, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, from where - as Kay commented amusedly later on - he was supposed to be expelled for apparently lacking the talent to draw, did not seem to be the venue of choice to attain a thorough arts education. Upon Gore's advice Kay ultimately quit 'Melbourne Tech' and left for France, in the early 1950s, to study art and painting at the Académie Julian in Paris for two years.

Following his studies in Paris and back in Australia, Kay started to make a name for himself as a painter. He exhibited widely and also attracted corporate business, which secured him prestigious design commissions. All the same, Kay's fascination in the theatre ran just as deep. But it was not until this time that he discovered his true calling: Stage and Costume Design. Influenced by the neo-romantic currents of the late 1940s and early 1950s, as he said himself, and inspired by the works of Christian Bérard and Antoni Clavé, his first-ever notable designs for the theatre, Soft Sorrow, he created for Gore and his Melbourne-based Australian Theatre Ballet company, 1955.

In 1956, Kay made London his permanent home, where he designed for, among others, The Old Vic, the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells, Western Theatre Ballet (now Scottish Ballet) as well as for numerous other UK venues and international opera houses and their ballet companies, such as The Australian Ballet, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Stuttgart State Theatre, the Vienna State Opera, the Paris Opera and The Metropolitan Opera in New York.

In designing for the ballet, the drama and the opera, Kay enjoyed close working relationships with choreographers, directors and producers alike - notably so, in chronological order, with Walter Gore, Margaret Webster, Elizabeth West, Peter Darrell, Kenneth MacMillan, Rudolf Nureyev, Robert Helpman, Robin Midgley, Alfred Rodrigues, Peter Dews, John Schlesinger, Colin Graham, Rudolf Hartmann and John Copley.

Kay's prolific, artistic output clearly demonstrates his development and steady advancement. Accordingly, his career could reasonably be divided into three overlapping, creative periods: 1. the Early Period of seeking his orientation - lasting from 1952/53 to 1958/59; 2. the transitional Middle Period of gradually breaking away from conventions in stage design such as mere painted sets - lasting until about 1964; and 3. the Late Period during which he designed constructed sets - terminating with his death in 1985.

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Barry Kay
Switzerland, ca 1939

Barry Kay aged 7 with Box Brownie camera in Switzerland 1939 frame of a home movie


Barry Kay portrait with hat at Eaton Place London residence of film producers Eila Hershon and Roberto Guerra during making of biographic TV documentary for Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln WDR 1981 executive director Wibke von Bonin

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Barry Kay
London, 1981





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In Pursuit of Ideals in Theatre Design

With his intuitive vision - never short of innovative ideas - Barry Kay contributed immensely to the performing arts. His inspired and subtle designs for the stage, steeped in seasoned understanding and compassion, ubiquitously reflect his introspective nature as much as his finely tuned perception. His ability of identifying with man's nature, his characteristics, also his quirks and predicaments, or with circumstances forming the settings for specific events, invariably found expression in his designs.

Combined with an extraordinary comprehension of stage space and its use, he specifically excelled in designing sets for the ballet. In matching his exquisite flair for period and imaginary fashion with his profound knowledge of fabrics and their diversified inherent properties, of dress constructing and tailoring, he created ravishingly beautiful costumes. Having held the view that sets and costumes must complement each other, he always treated them as inseparable, thus achieving a coherently harmonious single entity.

His vision, however, extended further than met the eye. With his intent firmly fixed on designing for the theatre, he was confronted with a predominantly stuffy world of scenography - a world deeply rooted in conventional, unimaginative design concepts. Surprised by the noticeable lack of meaningful design, particularly evident in the ballet, he began questioning traditions and conventions. Motivated by ambition and an enthusiasm for innovation, and backed by the ideals and ideas of the Russian Constructivists, he avidly championed a fundamental change by setting out to pioneer three-dimensionally constructed sets.

In winning their realisation, Barry Kay revolutionized stage design for the ballet almost single-handed. His notable breakthrough he achieved with his designs for Kenneth MacMillan's Images of Love (Royal Ballet, 1964). Eventually, he devised sets on a scale hitherto not seen. Some outstanding examples are Rudolf Nureyev's Raymonda (act III, Royal Ballet, 1966) and Tancredi (Wiener Staatsopernballett, 1966), as well as MacMillan's The Sleeping Beauty (Ballett der Deutschen Oper Berlin, 1967), the three-act version of Anastasia (Royal Ballet, 1971) and Isadora (Royal Ballet, 1981). The designing of the movie version of Nureyev's and Helpman's Don Quixote (Australian Ballet, 1973) Kay viewed as his ultimate challenge.

Kay's extraordinary accomplishments in changing the nature of theatre design, especially in terms of three-dimensional stage sets for the ballet and his exquisite costume creations, have left an enduring impact on the presentation of the performing arts.

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Barry Kay
with Merle Park, principal dancer
of The Royal Ballet,
and his assistant (ctr),
London, 1981

` Barry Kay at costume fitting with Merle Park prior to shooting a stills session himself for the Sunday Times Magazine of Kenneth MacMillan's Isadora premièred by the Royal Ballet Covent Garden London 1981 assistant Michael Werner

Prior to shooting the stills
himself for a feature in the Sunday
Times Magazine, Kay is dressing
Merle Park in his stunningly created
attire for her role of Isadora









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Photography

Barry Kay's impressive career in Photography commenced in 1973. The same sensitivity evident in his designs for the theatre he brought to this medium too. His ceaseless interest in human nature and characteristics found expression in the most remarkable socio-anthropological studies and documentaries, as well as in vividly and uniquely capturing stage artists acting and dancing in costumes and scenery he designed.

His first socio-anthropological, photographic volume, The Other Women, published on three continents and accompanied by exhibitions held in the UK, Australia, Germany, France and Switzerland, bore witness to his talent in this field. In portraying his subjects in their humanity Kay was a forerunner against the discrimination for gender identification and sexual orientation. By creating this documentary and making it publicly available he was groundbreaking in supporting the acceptance of social minorities with ripple effects lasting to this day.

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Public Representation and Acknowledgments

Kay's artistic achievements in the theatre are well-represented and documented at national museums, state galleries, art libraries, theatre collections and archives as well as at private collections worldwide. Public collections include: Victoria & Albert Museum, Theatre Collections; Royal Opera House Collections, London; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library, Sydney; Performing Arts Museum, Melbourne; Lipperheidesche Kostümbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna; University of Calgary, Library, Special Collections, Alberta, Canada; MacNay Museum, Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts, San Antonio, Texas.

In Australia, Kay's country of origin, he is as much renowned and acclaimed for his magnificent artistic accomplishments as he is the world over. Being regarded the authority on theatre design was honoured when, in 1982, the National Gallery of Australia acquired a noteworthy cross selection of his works, spanning his entire career.

In the early 1980s, a TV documentary about Kay's life and work was commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Köln, and subsequently aired by ARTE (Association Relative à la Télévision Européenne), the Franco-German TV network, which aims to promote quality programming related to the world of arts and culture.

Live Performance Australia, previously known as the Australian Entertainment Industry Association, the venerable peak body for Australia's live entertainment and performing arts industry, posthumously selected Barry Kay as one of eighty theatre artists awarded a place in its newly established virtual Hall of Fame. This Hall of Fame, launched on 30 November 2007, is Live Performance Australia's way of paying tribute to a remarkable collection of people on the occasion of celebrating its 90th anniversary. Frank van Straten, theatre historian and formerly first director of the Victorian Arts Centre's Performing Arts Museum in Melbourne, provided a short biography on each artist to accompany this event.


The Curator

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APPEAL: Did you know Barry Kay?

The Barry Kay Archive needs your help! To assist us in completing the itemized online Biography, consisting of Barry Kay's chronological professional development and activities, we would welcome to learn of any additional information you could provide, particularly so for the years prior to 1967. We are interested in professional engagements as well as social contacts Kay may have had in Australia, Austria, England, France and Switzerland. Should you wish to contribute in this respect, please contact the Curator.



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Notice:

All designs and photographs created by Barry Kay as well as his writings whether displayed on this web domain or in any other form or medium including the design and contents of the online publication of the Barry Kay Archive constitute Intellectual Property and are protected by Copyright and their use for reproduction and publication whatsoever and wheresoever whether commercial or non-commercial is not permitted without prior written consent by the Barry Kay Archive. - Please direct inquiries to the Curator.



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return to Index_2 of the Barry Kay Archive, housing and displaying stage and costume designs as well as photographic works by Barry Kay --- return to page top of About Us: Barry Kay - Stage and Costume Designer and Photographer, Early Years, Career Progression, in Pursuit of Ideals in Theatre Design, Public Representation and Acknowledgements - Ballet, Comedy, Dance, Drama, Opera, Play, Revue and Romance productions, as well as photographic works --- forward to About US: Barry Kay Archive - Founding, History, Intentions, Mission, Purpose, Objectives and Future of the Barry Kay Archive, containing Stage and Costume Designs by Barry Kay for Ballet, Comedy, Dance, Drama, Opera, Play, Revue and Romance Productions as well as his Photographic Opus

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