Costume renderings for Broadway productions

Buying Broadway, One Piece at a Time

Are you interested in owning a piece of a Broadway show?

We’re not talking about investing; we mean a real piece of a Broadway show. If so, go to www.broadwaydesignexchange.com where a treasure trove awaits. You can purchase Christine Jones’s set model for American Idiot or a set sketch by Raoul Pene Du Bois for the Ethel Merman vehicle Call Me Madam. Maybe you’d like to own Zack Brown’s costume sketch for Al Pacino, as Herod, in Salome, or a drawing by Alvin Colt for one of Liza Minnelli’s television specials. Much, much more is available, including sheet music from The Ziegfeld Follies of 1922 and its 1923 successor; a topiary depicting a bird from the Pulitzer Prize–winning Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo; a framed original painting by Boris Aronson, the genius who designed sets for the original productions of Company, Follies, and Pacific Overtures; and a limited-edition print of an original sketch by actor-playwright Charles Busch.
The Broadway Design Exchange — the brainchild of set designer Anna Louizos — operates on a stated mission to “showcase the work of talented designers and artisans who work in the entertainment industry — Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater, film, and television.”

“It’s an idea I’ve had for years in one form or another,” Louizos says. “So many designers create so much stuff in the process of working on a show, but a lot of it ends up not making it on stage and we’re reluctant to throw it away. And not every museum will want every designer’s work.” This way, she adds, designers can find good homes for their past work and make a little money in the process.

Having floated the idea through United Scenic Artists, the designers’ union, and via letters to colleagues, Louizos says, “people came out of the woodwork with stuff; it’s been really interesting to get this response. I researched setting up a website and started doing it in November of last year. I planned a two-week sales event in March, to build anticipation.” The response was sufficiently strong that she kept it going. She adds, “I administer everything; sellers have to go through me, because it’s important to make a trustworthy website. I tell sellers to put a price on each object that makes them feel comfortable with letting it go. We will also plan auctions of designers whose work is priceless, and the cost will be what anyone is willing to pay.”

The website is important to Louizos for another reason: She firmly believes that the sketches and models of talented designers are artwork in themselves. “They represent so much craftsmanship,” she says. “They’re sculptural, they’re painterly, they employ all of the skills of any artists who put their work on the walls of a gallery. Artists in the theater sometimes feel underappreciated because their work isn’t featured the way it should be.”

Louizos also feels strongly that there is an untapped market for these items. “I know that many people appreciate this stuff and, until now, they haven’t had access to it. It’s the perfect marriage of people in the audience and people backstage. And, hopefully, it will also create a greater awareness of what it takes to put on a show.” Buyers include “people who were involved in a particular show or those who loved a show and want a piece of it. Or perhaps a friend loves a certain show; this would make a very special gift.” Given the intense interest of some show fans, is there evidence of repeat business? “There are definitely those people,” she confirms.

Recently sold items on the website include Paloma Young’s costume sketches from Peter and the Starcatcher and a prototype for Princeton, one of the lead puppet characters in Avenue Q. The Broadway Design Exchange also takes customer requests. Currently, Louizos has fans looking for Carol Channing and Neil Simon memorabilia, as well as any items from the musicals Seesaw and Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.

One of Broadway’s top scenic designers, Louizos cultivated an interest in theater as a youngster in California’s Sacramento Valley. “For a kid growing up in a small town, theater was a wonderful way to escape,” she says. “In theater, you could be part of something bigger and grander. We had one high school in town and the big event each year was our musical. It created a community — we had football players and music geeks working together. I was originally a performer, but in college I realized that design could be a profession and my teachers encouraged me to follow that.”

Indeed, Louizos has had something of a charmed career, designing such hits as Avenue Q, Golda’s Balcony, Curtains, In the Heights, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Next up for her is Honeymoon in Vegas, a new musical based on the hit film, about a marriage-averse guy who finally gets up the nerve to propose to his girlfriend, only to find that she is being courted by a mobster. Tony Danza, Rob McClure, and Brynn O’Malley star. The book is by screenwriter Andrew Bergman and the score by Jason Robert Brown. “The score is fantastic,” she enthuses. “It so tuneful; you can’t get the songs out of your head.”

In a way, Broadway Design Exchange is Louizos’s way of giving back. To be a working Broadway designer, she says, “you’re in such a small club that you feel so special.” Now she can share that excitement with a much wider audience.

Images from left:

  1. Watercolor and gouache costume sketch for Thoroughly Modern Millie by Robert Perdziola.
  2. 1/4″ Off-Broadway model of In the Heights by Anna Louizos.
  3. Marker and watercolor costume sketch by David Murin of Henry V for Oregon Shakespeare Festival