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November 14, 2013 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Is there some sort of online repository where I can find photographs of the sets of Broadway productions?

I'm a theater lover who doesn't really have the opportunity to travel to NYC. I also don't live in or near a major city so I don't have much of a chance to see shows when they go on tour. I love the artistry and spectacle of a set stage and would love to be able to see shots of stages with or without performers.

I've tried Google and while I get a few random shots, it doesn't really give me what I'm hoping for, but my Google skills are (quite) possibly lacking.

Musicals are my main area of interest, but I'd also relish the opportunity to see photographs of straight plays. I'm really interested in any time period at all, but anything from the 60s to the 80s would be of particular interest.
posted by BrianJ to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think the best way to do this is to look up particular set designers and find their web pages. Here's one for example.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:23 PM on November 14, 2013

Best answer: I don't know if your local PBS affiliate shows this, but you might want to seek out Great Performances. They broadcast live-taped* versions of lots of different types of performances, but they do opera, theatre, and musicals pretty frequently.

You can also sometimes find old recordings originally made to be shown in that sort of format -- I know there's a taped version of the OBC of Into The Woods on Netflix Instant, for example. I've seen a similar version of Sweeney Todd from around the same era, in a theatre class once upon a time.

I also may have had a copy of the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker production from the mid-80s, that I may or may not have worn out due to repeated viewings. I think when I worked in a museum bookshop, we actually sold the same tape.

So this sort of thing is out there, if you look. Opera and museum gift shops might be worth a look (many have online stores), as well as places like the Drama Bookshop. Their website isn't as Online Store ish as I'd hoped -- it might be worth a call to the physical shop to ask about this.

*Unfortunately, I don't have a good searchable keyword for the type of recording I'm talking about. Maybe someone else knows?
posted by Sara C. at 2:25 PM on November 14, 2013

Yeah, googling all the winners of Tony Awards for scenic design in the past 30-odd years would be a good start. Anyone still active will have a website with photographs.
posted by Sara C. at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2013

Best answer: My first instinct was New York Public Library, which has a large amount of digitized content for free to the public. For example, this list of theatrical productions 1960 to 1986 by a photographer named Kenn Duncan. This was obtained from browsing their special collections section and going to the Billy Rose Theater Collection, which is a curated list of archival items related to theater from all eras.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but actually calling NYPL and asking to speak to someone in their performing arts section and directing this question at them couldn't hurt. They're specialists in the area, and likely know of resources that would match this request. They're a public institution, so you wouldn't even need to be a card holder to get help.

Usually the Library of Congress is good for stuff like this, but I had less luck there.
posted by codacorolla at 2:35 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're going to have a difficult time in general finding images of these shows, as the designs are considered to be copyrighted works, and most modern musicals are owned by corporations like Disney, so a single repository would be unlikely.
posted by Morydd at 2:44 PM on November 14, 2013

Usually if a project is going to be written up in a major media outlet like the New York Times, LA Times, Newsweek, etc. there will be official press photos floating around. And there's nothing to prevent joe theatrefan from making a web site collecting said photos. I'm sure a site like that would be subject to Cease And Desist letters, but that's not to say it can't possibly be out there somewhere.
posted by Sara C. at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2013

Best answer: You can see videos of some productions at the NYPL in the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive there.
There's also the Theatre in Video from Alexander Street Press.
The Hartford Stage has a Photo Archive.
Playbill has a Photo Gallery section, but it's a bit cumbersome.
The Tony Awards also have photo galleries.
And anyone can browse though AP Images or the Time-Life photo archives.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:35 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Codacorolla has the right instinct here. The Billy Rose collection is the NY Public Library's special theater collection; the Lincoln Center branch of the New York library is exclusively devoted to theater and performance archives, and you can find plays, articles, recordings, and clippings files there. (I used their archives a LOT when I was regularly writing historical notes for a theater company that did plays from the early 1900's - it's REALLY exhaustive.)

The reason why you may want to go that route is because, indeed, a lot of these are copyrighted works - not just the designs, but the plays themselves. The union keeps a VERY tight control on whether a play can be videotaped - but the one exception they make is that the library makes a video of just about EVERYTHING that gets done on Broadway, and it gets stored there. Anyone can make an appointment to go see that videotape at the Lincoln Center library, though (you just have to watch it there at the library).

So I wouldn't be surprised if the New York Library is also where you're going to be able to find a lot of archived set designs and pictures as well. I'd definitely talk to someone there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: has a ton of photos archived in this collection of stories. Some searching there should net you a ton of photos.

Also, look for souvenir programs, they tend to have a lot of detailed photos and can be found used on eBay.
posted by graymouser at 5:35 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You guys are the best! I'm going to have to mark everyone as 'best answer'.

roomthreeseventeen - That's a great suggestion! Thanks so much. I hadn't even considered that.

Sara C. - The Great Performances suggestion is a really good one. In fact, most of the shows I've been fortunate enough to see have been thanks to them. Into the Woods and The Light in the Piazza just off the top of my head. Thanks also for the Drama Bookshop link.

codacarolla - Thank you times a million! Those gallery links are absolutely amazing and I've spent hours over the last few days digging through them. I'm also going to take your suggestion of calling the NYPL and seeking further assistance.

Morydd - I didn't even consider the possibility that the set would be under copyright but that makes perfect sense...especially with folks like Disney involved.

Ideefixe - Thank you so much for the links! Those are brilliant.

EmpressCallipygos - I knew that they typically recorded Broadway shows for archival purposes but I didn't realize that anyone could view those recordings. It looks like I'm going to have to make a trip to NYC if for no other reason than to check out the recordings. Thanks!

graymouser - Souvenir programs! I didn't think of that. I've been scouring eBay for those lately. Thanks!
posted by BrianJ at 9:04 AM on November 18, 2013

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