Tony Award-nominated set designer Anna Louizos has sadly watched wonderful costumes, props, models, sketches and designs from adored plays and musicals get tossed in the trash when shows close.
"When I see the stuff that we've thrown away, it seems shameful," said Louizos, who has created the celebrated scenic designs for "Avenue Q," "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" and "In the Heights."
This month, Louizos has done something about it: She's launched Broadway Design Exchange, a website that allows designers to sell some of their work online instead of having it end up as landfill.
The site is growing every day and includes Robert Perdziola's sketches for Sutton Foster's costume in "Thoroughly Modern Millie," a prototype puppet from "Avenue Q," Lloyd Evans' costume sketches for the New York City Opera and even the "In the Heights" original off-Broadway model for $5,000. The two-week initial sale ends March 17.
"Those things have value to people," Louizos said. "Just like the ruby slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz,' there are some beautiful, memorable shows that have touched many, many peoples' lives."
Louizos, whose next Broadway show is "Honeymoon in Vegas," has used her extensive contacts in the design world to entice fellow theater artists to join her effort, offering them a chance to clean out their basements and earn something at the same time.
"It's one of those sad facts about living in New York City. You just don't have room for things. So you end up starting to prioritize. I've kept models for years and finally with the accumulation of more shows and more models, I finally take the one that's probably the least valuable to me and I throw it out. And I know that every designer has that experience."
She gathers photos and information about the items, puts them on the website and then sends the seller the shipping labels. Louizos takes 10 percent of the sale price as her fee. For some who toil behind the scenes from job to job, she hopes it offers some steady paychecks.
"I think it's going to open up a lot of opportunities for designers that they haven't even thought of yet," she said. "This provides a supplemental opportunity for income."
She hopes one day to turn the exchange into an auction, like eBay, and include theater companies across the country. She's also hoping to attract crew members willing to part with special show T-shirts or opening night jackets or gifts. If she's ever dubious of a source, she vows not to put his or her item on the site.
Selling stuff used in films and TV is commonplace in Hollywood as producers turn to eBay, but Broadway producers are far behind. (An attempt to sell the crystal chandelier in the latest "Annie" revival didn't even garner an opening bid of $10,000.) Theater cast-offs are usually donated to nonprofit groups for reuse.
Many of Louizos' items are ready for framing—some watercolor paintings from "Peter and the Starcatcher" or the lovely Evans drawings found in an abandoned New York City Opera file cabinet . Some are fun conversation pieces, like Beowulf Boritt's 1/2-inch model chairs made for the recent off-Broadway production of "Little Miss Sunshine."
Louizos has even rummaged around her own archives and will part with some of her own items, including sketches from "Avenue Q" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and some of her unused model pieces from "Cinderella"—she estimates 80 percent of a designer's work never makes to the stage—which she's turned into rich collages framed in elegant boxes.
She's also put on sale her hand-painted 7-by-2-feet Rosaries' Car and Limousine sign that was onstage during the Broadway run of "In the Heights." (She lugged it home on the subway after the run and charges $3,000.)
But she can't sell her miniature model of that Tony-winning show. It means too much. "I just can't let it go," she said, laughing.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits