Designer On Design: The Many Facets Of David Korins

(Immersive Van Gogh, New York City, photo Nina Westervelt)

Hamilton. Drama Book Shop. Immersive Van Gogh. Sotheby’s. These are but four of the projects in the current portfolio of David Korins, an Emmy Award-winning, Tony-nominated scenic designer and creative director whose career embraces Broadway, television, concerts, and exhibits.

Hamilton set, photo: Joan Marcus

As the scenic designer for Hamilton, Korins was part of the creative team that set a new benchmark for Broadway musicals. That team included the late lighting designer, Howell Binkley, and as Korins worked on remounting the show for Sydney, Australia, it was the “first post-Howell, post-pandemic production.” The show is heading to LA in August and has announced a September 14 opening date on Broadway. He also worked on the Disney+ film version of Hamilton, “poking holes in the set for the camera,” and allowing the audience to see what it looks like from a very up-close point of view.

Collaborating with Lin-Manuel Miranda on Hamilton is one thing, but collaborating on a bookstore? Groans were heard around the city as the iconic Drama Book Shop closed its doors after more than 100 years, but Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, along with the show’s director Thomas Kail, lead producer Jeffrey Seller, and theater owner James L. Nederlander, decided to save the shop and move it to a new location on 39th Street near Times Square. “Tommy and Jeffrey had a lot of good ideas,” says Korins, who was brought on to design the new store. “They were enchanted by European cafes, places where people gather, and make intellectual connections—what they meant for culture.”

Drama Book Shop, photo: Drew Dockster

Korins moved beyond the architectural concepts of such a café, pointing out that “we are theatrical storytellers." To tell Drama Book Shop’s story, he created a three-dimensional bookworm that wraps around the lights and the stacks. “It is literally a literary timeline,” notes Korins, whose 140’-long, 3,500-pound bookworm comprises 2,500 scripts and songbooks covering 2.500 years of theatre history—from the ancient Greeks to current musicals—skewered on a steel frame that twists, in spite of its weight.

“People respond with surprise and delight, as they see the bookworm break through the wall,” explains Korins, who hopes the shop will “foster the next generation of Kails and Mirandas. The bookworm is like our Rosetta Stone.” Korins collaborated with Broadway lighting designer David Weiner on this project and calls his work “stunning. We created a sense of place, a place for everyone,” says Korins, whose daughter points out, “you can listen to the sound, and hear the conversations of a community.”

Drama Book Shop, photo: Drew Dockster

If the bookstore is an analog immersive environment for coffee, conversation, and intellectual stimulation, the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in New York City is a digital experience that immerses the audience in fragmentation of 40 of Van Gogh’s masterworks and 400 elements of his art. As creative director, Korins joined the original Immersive Van Gogh creator Massimiliano Siccardi, composer Luca Longobardi (who wrote the 38-minute score), and art director Vittorio Guidotti, to implement the largest iteration of this exhibit to date. “This immersive experience covers all of the walls and the floor,” says Korins about the 500,000 square feet of projections, tens of thousand frames of video, and millions of pixels that have invaded a 70,000 square ft. space at Pier 36 at 299 South Street in Manhattan.

Immersive Van Gogh, New York City, photo: Nina Westervelt

“The guests’ journey takes them through mirrored sculptures,” says Korins, who once again called upon his theatrical storytelling prowess, using 8,000 paintbrushes for Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” and imbibing the exhibit with the ten top colors from the artist’s palette. “I looked at the brand and reimagined it with my artistic sensibility,” says Korins, who will go on to be the creative director for the exhibit in LA and Las Vegas, although they will be smaller footprints than New York City. “The projection surfaces are different in each city,” he points out. “In LA they are dry wall, while in New York, double ply walls framed to stand up.”

While Korins was getting bids for these projects from scenic shops, another kind of bidding was taking place at Sotheby’s auction house. “With the world locked down due to the pandemic, they turned to all online auctions, which helped them pivot. They have a huge international audience and auctions are filled with drama. My idea was to design it like a TV show,” he says about Sotheby’s big spring sale last May, for which there were tiered risers as in an amphitheater and lots of screens for the digital elements. “There were also 50 people in a lounge setting with comfortable blue velvet chairs and side tables. They set sales records that day,” says Korins, who is “continuing the conversation for a hybrid model combining live auctions and a virtual auction.”

Sotheby's 

Much like the live events industry, where hybrid, immersive, and virtual have become buzzwords, Korins is leading the charge in the many facets of the design industry where his visual storytelling reigns.

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