What happens to old sets? How often are they recycled. When they aren't what happens? What's the oldest set still out there in circulation? What was the typcial age of the sets that were destroyed?
I don't know what is done in Russia, but in NY, most designers have a "destroy after use" clause in their contracts. They haul old set units out to the Jersey Flats and burn them. "Generic" pieces like plain flats and framed units and even cycloramas have been known to have been donated to college theater programs. The Metropolitan Opera used to donate its old plain units to the Dialectic Society at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Thanks Mel, I wasn't aware of the "destroy" clause. But I am sure that many regional companies do rent sets rather than building their own. I remember Ballet Theater of Chicago rented a George Virdak Giselle set and I don't remember from where (possibly Cleveland ballet where the directors had a personal history?), but I remember being told it was very old... wish my memory was better, but I think it might even have been a Ballets Russe set from the 1950s or late 40s?? I remember PA Ballet renting a Gaiete Parisienne set & costumes from ABT. And I remember hearing that once the Ruth Page Nutcracker was closed out from the Aire Crowne that the whole production would die because there was no other theater that could hold a set that big. I also remember hearing the main reason holding back ABT from presenting Tudor's Romeo & Juliet was the cost of rebuilding sets (I'm not sure that's true, but I did hear it).
So there must be some old sets out there in circulation? It would be wonderful for performing arts colleges to get the set donations, I would think (although I guess they enjoy making them themselves). West Point? [What is it about the Pentagon & arts funding... do military bands still get way more than the NEA?]
It's kind of sad. It's too bad it's totally impractical for them to be displayed in museums with proper lighting. Particularly some of the ones for Diaghilev by famous painters. I guess the set design is the true work of the artist, the sets being painted by others, but it would be wonderful to see their vision realized.
(That was what the Joffrey was for, eh? )
Of course, I'm delighted that some of Balanchine's sets were dropped and the choreography presented without them.