What a very interesting question? One I was very happy to pick up the mantle and try to find out the answer. Many theatre’s now heavily use touring companies which means that when a show closes the show simply moves on to the next venue. I know this as a couple theatre’s I posed the question to, told me this was the case. However in answer to the question of what happens to a set and props when a show closes, the first thing to say is that it very much depends on the show and of course the theatre.
One very prestigeous theatre was more than happy to assist me with an idea of what can sometimes happen. The Savoy Theatre has had many shows gracing it’s heavenly venue which includes, established shows, touring shows and brand new productions that have originated on their stage.
Shows that transfer are obviously treated very carefully, boxed up and transported to the new venue. This was seen recently with Let It Be when it moved from the Prince of Wales and then again when it closed and went on tour. Rather than build new sets, they are moved carefully with the hope that minimal tweaking will make a set work in the new venue. Equally, shows that tour are built to move and most things can be dismantled and moved easily.
There are even shows that might only do a limited run, but they are packed up carefully and stored for future use. When they had the D’Oyly Carte Opera there in the late 90’s, the company were often doing shows on sets from previous productions and tours.
New productions are the biggest uncertainties. Sometimes – especially if a show is not successful – no provision is made for what to do next. Show’s that have flopped have ended up scrapping sets as the fastest and cheapest way to clear the theatre. In the past when a show went bankrupt and it was down to the house staff to clear the stage, the set was chopped up and thrown on to skip trucks. More recently there are set salvage companies who are interested in taking sets and recycling them for their most useful components.
Thinking about set dressing, props and costume – which is maybe the point of interest here. It falls into the same basic categories. If a show is being stored, the aim will be to pack and preserve as many of these items as possible for future productions. Also, while some shows are propped and items are obtained to order, other props are hired and at the end of its run this will all be returned to the prop supplier, potentially for use on a different production.
There will be certain things that cannot be tastefully retained for the future, and costumes are high on this list. While some are generic and reusable, or specific and too valuable to throw, others are too worn or too cheap to pay to store.
People sometimes keep costumes, as they do props which are also often kept for sentimental value, especially when they would otherwise be thrown away. Generally items are not put up for sale purely because it’s not really a consideration when a show is closing to salvage stuff in that way or to look for interested buyers.
Who knows there’s probably all sorts of actors and technicians with show souvenirs from some of the classics and what a souvenir to have!
As as always if you have a question you’d be interested to know the answer to please contact me via Twitter @carnfarmer. Thanks for reading.