«EPISODE 5: HAMILTON & GREASE LIVE SCENIC DESIGNER DAVID KORINS + DIRECTOR THOMAS KAIL PATRICK HINDS: Hey podcast listeners, Patrick here. Tickets for ...»
EPISODE 5: "HAMILTON" & "GREASE LIVE"
SCENIC DESIGNER DAVID KORINS + DIRECTOR
PATRICK HINDS: Hey podcast listeners, Patrick here. Tickets for
BroadwayCon 2017 presented by Mischief Management and Playbill are now
on sale. BroadwayCon’s latest news is that we’ve added Tony nominee,
Melissa Errico, Tony award winning playwright, David Hwang, best selling
author, Tim Federle, and actor, Eric Anderson, to the roster of guests. Tickets and all information are available at broadwaycon.com.
ANTHONY RAPP [singing]: I know a place where you belong. Come follow me and join the song.
ANTHONY RAPP [shouts]: Welcome to BroadwayCon… PATRICK HINDS: …The Podcast. The show for the theatre kid in all of us. I’m your host, Patrick Hinds. So I’m a little embarrassed to admit it; just a little, but when today’s guest Tony nominated and Emmy winning scenic designer, David Korins walked into the room for out interview, I just like immediately exclaimed, “Oh my God! You are so handsome.” Not my most professional moment. Not that I’m known for my overwhelming professionalism, but David humored me and was extremely good natured about it. Anyway, Davis Korins is the extremely brilliant scenic designer behind some of my favorite shows like Passing Strange, Bring It On, Hamilton of course, and the upcoming Dear Evan Hansen. And he was the scenic director for Grease: Live for which he just won an Emmy award. Scenic design, guys. It’s one of those things we all appreciate, but most of us don’t have any idea how that all gets put together.
So I loved getting to talk to David and ﬁnding out. Our interview with David ends with a live question from a fabulous superfan and our episode will end with a little piece of an interview I did recently with Tommy Kail, the Tony
award winning director of Hamilton and the Emmy winning director of Grease:
Live. So okay, here we go. Episode 5:
[SONG BIT FROM HAMILTON]PATRICK: Hi David Korins!
DAVID KORINS: Hi! We’re doing this?
PATRICK: Yes. Am I saying that—yeah, we’re doing that. Is it Korins?
DAVID: Korins. [PRONOUNCED LIKE CORE-INS] PATRICK: Korins. Cause I didn’t want it to sound like I said CORN-INS.
DAVID: My father was a pediatrist, so can you imagine Cornins, Korins.
PATRICK [LAUGHING]: I can’t. Welcome to BroadwayCon The Podcast.
DAVID: Thank you.
PATRICK: Thank you for being here!
DAVID: Thank you for having me.
PATRICK: We’re really obsessed with your work here at the BroadwayCon Podcast.
DAVID: Well awesome. Thank you.
PATRICK: Well let’s get into it.
DAVID: It’s so exciting.
PATRICK: First of all, I want to know. You’re a scenic designer mostly, right?
PATRICK: What—can you just, for the people, explain exactly what that job entails?
DAVID: Uhm, well, whenI started doing the job, I explained it to my mother by saying, ‘If you take the theatre and you rip the ceiling off of the theatre and you dump it upside down, and shake it, and everything falls out, everything that falls out that’s not an actor is what I make.’ That’s my description. So it’s kind of—I kind of create the environment or the world of the show and then the lighting designer reveals it.
PATRICK: Okay! How does—so when you look—when actors look back, you know on their childhood or whatever, they’re like ‘oh I took acting lessons, I took voice.’ Whatever. When you were growing up and shaping you’re sort of artistic world view, what can you say now that you did then that sort of informed what you would become with your career?
DAVID: Uhm, well. I—I have two older sisters and we each got our own bedroom and own set of bedroom furniture and my parents allowed us to rearrange the furniture in any which way that we wanted. So we could have that set of furniture, and all those props if you will, and dressing. But I would rearrange my furniture every six to eight months and I think that was my earliest childhood memory of this production design, set design world. I mean, I’ve since done a whole lot of things that I can look back on, but that, I think, is the earliest one where I would just change the ground plan, if you will.
PATRICK: That’s so interesting. Not to ask an overly obtuse artistic question, but when you are part of a creative team, what is it—to state the obvious, you know, kind of like you create the atmosphere, but what is your driving hope to contribute artistically. Like, what is your part of telling the story?
DAVID: Well I think it’s tricky because designers have the ability to make really cool things—really cool things, and I always try, and I’m really proud of the fact that I buck against making the ‘cool’ choice as often as I possibly can, and I think the job of being a designer, when we’re doing our jobs the best we can, is to serve the story the best possible way we can. So, you know, I read a show, I listen to a show, or I talk to my collaborators and I do a lot of things that are not theatre. I do hospitality and restaurants and clubs and experiences, and all sorts of things, but it’s really all the same. You talk to you collaborator. In this case, a theatre. It’s a director and a writer and you really try and ﬁgure out what the thing is that they want the audience to feel when they’re watching the show, and you kind of work—it’s a very psychological job. You kind of work from the inside out who’s space is it? When did they get the space? How did they react to it? You know, who decorated the space? If it’s a realistic place, and you kind of work from the inside out and you give as many details about the life of the space or the person in that space as you can, and you just help try and support the narrative of the show. And, some one those things are incredibly obvious. Like in the case of Hamilton, those turn tables or that big huge space. And some of them are very very very subtle like tiny little details—the dust in the corner of a room that maybe that no one would ever see except for the performer. And I like to—you know in a realistic space, I like to have a conversation with myself and my collaborators like: When was this building built? Who built it? What was it’s original purpose of the room? How many decades has the person been living there? Were they the original tenant or did they come in ﬁfty years after the face—it was originally a working factory and then someone bought the loft and they ripped down the wall and maybe you see one tiny bit of detail of what it used to be as a working factory and you keep adding layers and layers and layers of dramaturgy and history, so that the audience feels that and it all compounds and adds up to a wholistic experience for the audience, so I go back to talking to my collaborators and I say ‘what is it that you want the people to feel?’ and sometimes they say tings like ‘scared or contemplative or happy or instead in this person’s story and not that person’s story’ and then we use all the different details that we have at our disposal like color, line, texture, scale, architecture, proportion, etc. to do that. To support the narrative. I always ﬁnd it fasinating because playwrights write these things called scene, you know, descriptions, and it’s like ‘early morning—kitchen—the sun braking through the window. A chair. A table’ or whatever the thing is and then when I talk to the playwrights and say ‘tell me about the space’ more of these, you know, space descriptions, it turns out they’re writing about their mother’s kitchen or their aunt’s kitchen—
DAVID: Or their grandparent’s house or where they visited one time and the thing is, you really kind of dig down psychologically in the space they were thinking about. Sometimes they say ‘I have no idea. Wow. That thing you made was so magical,’ but often times, deep in their minds, they know what they’re talking about or they’ve experienced it once. And if you kind of act like a therapist, they say ‘oh gosh. I used to wait for the bus at my friend’s house, and it’s their house they’ve been writing about.’ PATRICK: Right!
DAVID: So it unlocks so much about the character.
PATRICK: Oh my God that is so interesting. This just popped into my head when you said something about—this might be a weird question, but have you ever created a piece of the set speciﬁcally for the actor and not for the audience—like to inform their performance?
DAVID: Many times. Many many times.
PATRICK: Can you give an example?
DAVID: Well so I was an intern at Williamstown theatre in 1997 and this great designer, Hugh Landwehr, uhm, it was right—the audience was walking into the theatre for the ﬁrst performance, and we were still on set painting wallpaper and all sorts of things behind a show curtain and I was in a room off stage in like an anteroom off the main set room and he said ‘will you please put a label on the phone that says ‘to the ofﬁce,’’ but the phone only faced upstage so only the actor would see it in a—basically a masking room. And I thought to myself, the level of detail is so speciﬁc and heightened and perfect and it’s just there for the actor.
DAVID: It’s just there for the actor and, you know, cut to ﬁfteen years later. I was designing a show for Manhattan Theatre Club. Joe Montello was directing, written by Adam Bock which was called The Receptionist. And the title character was Jayne Houdyshell played the receptionist. And we spent hours and hours and hours. I dressed her island—you know, her desk and ﬁlling cabinet area that she played the entire play from. I dressed it all ﬁrst, then she took the stage, and we spent hours going through what would be in that corner and all those things and all those details and making lists and notes and little tiny messages to herself and other things. This person would have put that in and her fake daughter in the show would have given this to her one day on a Tuesday and it would have been still there on a Thursday and, you know, layering and layering and layering.
DAVID: And I love doing that. I mean, the thing about being a designer is we take a shot at the bullseye early—way early because you have to build it and prop it and buy all the stuff and accumulate it all and then ﬁrst rehearsal happens. And I always ﬁnd that it’s a little backward. I conceive of the whole space and basically execute it and then we cast the show and we get the actors, so on the ﬁrst day of rehearsal, when we show the model and the designs to everyone, I always say to the actors, in particular the people who’s space it is supposed to be, uhm, I can’t wait to work with you and collaborate with you and please take this as a ﬁrst, rough draft and I can’t wait to really make this thing a nuanced home for you.
DAVID: Because in the end, but the end of the trajectory of the show, they’ve spent way more time with it and have developed the character so much more than I ever could, but perhaps the biggest and best compliment I’ve ever gotten in my professional life is from actors who have said, ‘I don’t have to do any character development when I walk on your set. I know exactly who I am.’ PATRICK: Yeah.
DAVID: Because, you know, all those details are accounted for and it’s reall a very interesting craft.
PATRICK: So fasinating. Can we talk about a few shows in particular?
DAVID [JOKING]: No. I’ve got to go PATRCK: Well it was really nice meeting you. Thank you for doing this. Uhm, can we talk about Grease: Live? Can we start there?
[SONG BIT FROM GREASE: LIVE] PATRICK: It has to be very different doing television verses theatre.
PATRICK: Right? I mean can you talk about that a little bit? You know, like did you know right away that this was something you’d be good at? Or did you just want to throw yourself into it and see what happened?
DAVID: Well, I’ve actually done a lot of tv and also, weirdly, in different disciplines of television, so I’ve done reality shows which there’s nothing really reality about reality shows. And I’ve done scripted, unscripted, I’ve done award shows and a lot of different things. The thing that I thought most applicable to designing Grease: Live was a project that I actually did that never happened. It was this thing called Broadway 4D which was this 75 million dollar behemoth of project which was sixteen of the most famous musical numbers of all time being ﬁlmed intentionally. Theatrical experiences being ﬁlmed intentionally to be show in 3D and shown in a movie theatre experience, and I spent two years of my life thinking about how to create theatre scenery to be ﬁlmed which is different than ﬁlming theatre and it’s certainly different than making a movie of a theatrical show, so when Tommy came to me to do the show, I really didn’t know if I wanted to do Grease: Live.
I wasn’t really sure what I had to add to it. I wasn’t really sure what the genre and the medium was. And then I remember, not remember, but harkened back to all the work I had done on that Broadway 4D experience and I was very very excited because it is a true mash-up of the two forms. And I think it’s important when we talk about these live theatrical experiences, they are not television shows. They are theatrical shows that is an A performing for B and C which means there is a live audience. I believe they need to have live audiences because if not, it’s tin-y and dead because theatre is, by deﬁnition, is A performing for B and C. And then you get to use all the amazing story telling conventions of theatre. What we do better than anything is, you know, showing obvious scene changes and that—which I think is so unbelievably satisfying. Everything in theatre is scaled to a six-foot person, so if you’re watching Hamilton, and you’re really bored of the show, which probably doesn’t happen, but if you’re really bored, you can look away from the performer because there is no editing equipment. There is no ‘I can zoom in on your face.’ It’s all scaled all to a six-foot human being, so you can look around the set and say ‘oh look David Korins put a shovel over there.’