Dinner Guest: Creative Director David Korins

Alice Garbarini Hurley | You’ve designed the sets for over a dozen Broadway shows, including “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “War Paint.” Were you always interested in theatrical design?
David Korins | No. I was a jack-of-all-trades growing up in Mansfield, Massachusetts, a suburb about 20 minutes south of Boston. I was a big athlete and musician. I had a really bad audition experience in senior year of high school. I wanted to play the lead character of Billy Bigelow in “Carousel.” I was still in the play. But in college, I quickly pivoted from being onstage to being backstage.

Did you have big career dreams as a young man?
I started playing basketball as a kid, in third or fourth grade, and played all the way up through college. I wanted to be a professional basketball player but never grew past 6 ’2”, so that wasn’t really in the cards. But I did think that once I found my lane, I would do well in it. I thought about sports management and medicine. Then I thought that with theater, I could combine my physicality with my artistic endeavors. You need strength to build a design overnight. You create a complete world from zero.

What kind of musician were you?
In high school, I was in concert band, marching band and jazz band. I played all the woodwind and brass instruments. I have two older sisters who were in band; that’s how I got into it.

What was your path?
I went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I got my foundation training for five years at Williamstown Theatre Festival, a huge and important springboard to New York City. I started assisting and working on Broadway shows and meeting directors.

“Hamilton” is celebrated for the story, the songs, the acting. But your set design must also play a part in its appeal.
I would love to think that the set is why people come to “Hamilton,” but no. One of the things I’m proudest of with the show is that it’s a very, very cohesive production . . . the lighting, choreography, sound, design. It’s very hard to see where one thing ends and the next begins. Every single element looks like it finishes the last sentence of the one before it. A lot of it has to do with the director, Tommy Kail.

How much time do you get to work on a set design?
Sometimes I get six months. Sometimes I get six years. I start with a sketch and conversations with my collaborators.

Do you have idols or role models in this line of work?
I idolize everybody who does it. Everyone makes a huge contribution. I’ve only walked out of one show during the first act in my whole life. Even if you see something that’s terrible, you learn from it, whether it’s a TV show, movie, play or book. I think, How did it get there? Did they all make a series of decisions that led them down the wrong path?

How often do you go to Broadway shows?
I’ve been working in this industry for a long time now. I wind up seeing all the shows that open on Broadway every year. I tend to binge and see four or five shows in a row.

The Windsor chairs in “Hamilton,” the vintage desks in “War Paint”– do you have an appreciation for beautiful furniture?
I really have an appreciation for beautiful everything. Sometimes, I’m thinking about beams and concrete floors. Sometimes, I’m thinking about eyelashes or fringe on a pillow. What is beauty? It’s completely subjective. A lot of people love the smell of flowers. I really don’t. Some people love industrial smells.

Can you name the three productions you’re proudest of, or is that like choosing favorite children in a big family?
Funny you said that, because I really have three things I’m proudest of – our two daughters, ages 12 and 8, and the company I run (David Korins Design). It’s incredibly flattering and humbling that the 11 people who work for me show up every day.

Do you love New York City?
I’ve been living here for 20-something years, and I’ve never looked back. But things have changed so much that it’s really hard to be an artist here now.

How do you feed your artistic soul?
I read a lot, but my biggest inspiration comes from traveling and meeting new people. I like that quote (from Saint Augustine): “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” My real inspiration comes from conversations with people. I feel I can have a conversation with most people.

After a play closes, what happens to the set?
It depends on the theater. Some shows go on national tour and some sets go into storage.

You also create what you call “360-degree worlds” for concert, music, interior and hospitality projects. Do you turn down projects?
I probably turn down 15 or 20 projects for every one that I accept. It’s a complicated stew involving collaborators, calendars and more. And recently, I’ve been thinking about legacy. Words matter more now than ever. Actions matter more now than ever. What kind of footprint are we leaving now? You only get one shot at creating a body of work.
I don’t want to put out something that makes my daughters ask, ‘Why did you do that?’ “Hamilton”, Photo courtesy of David Korins Design

Coffee or tea? Where?
Coffee. Milk, no sugar, and in my hand, please.

Power breakfast?
Something warm and high in protein.

Food or drink that keeps you calm and on task?
See question number one.

Favorite exercise?
Playing almost any sport.

Brooklyn or Queens?
Brooklyn. Most of my friends are there, and both my parents were born and raised there. Must be in my roots.

Favorite books to read with your daughters?
We love the [Guinness] World Records books and crazy fact books. We are super dorks about fun facts.

Top spot for a drink in NYC?
Bond 45, of course! Bombay Sapphire Martini up, with extra olives.

What do you miss about your Massachusetts hometown?
Simpler times.

Best child-friendly NYC restaurant?
My kids have always frequented restaurants made for adults and used the adult menus. Champions adjust.

Go-to home furnishings store?
ABC Home.

Best train ride?
Too many germs on trains.

Favorite airline?
I somehow have the most miles on American, although I’m told there are better choices. Open to suggestions.

Dream destination?
Being physically fit, perfectly rested, completely at peace, in my country house . . . if only I had any of that, let alone all of it. The ultimate dream.

Good place for a haircut?
I’ve been seeing my guy Patrick for years.

Preferred pencil?
I draw in fine-point black ink.

Brand of jeans?
The well-worn-in kind.

Best notebook or journal?
I’ve been drawing in Cachet black bound notebooks for 10 years and have filled about 28 volumes.

MacBook laptop?
I own a 13-inch Space Gray one.

Inspiring bridge or tunnel?
The “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the “Tunnel of Love.”

Preferred seat to watch a Broadway play?
Somewhere on the aisle, far enough back to see the whole stage comfortably

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