A multi-award winner across theatre, music, interior design and more, there’s little in the creative world that David Korins hasn’t turned his hand to. Speaking to productionglue’s, a TAIT Company, Robyn Henry, David reflects back on a career of collaboration, a year of upheaval and the future of live entertainment.
Robyn: Why don’t we go back a little in the time machine… You and I have done theatre together for over 10 years, but how did you get interested in it in the first place, how did it start?
David: At school I was an athlete, musician and a performer, which I think have a lot in common, as they’re all about improvisation within a framework. I had a really bad audition experience as a performer and thought, well, I’m never going to do that again! But I really loved the artform and never wanted to give up on the idea of being a part of a community. My way-in was always the theatre. It’s the most accessible thing – people don’t normally grow up on film sets.
When I went to college, I took a class which taught me a little bit about scenery, lighting, costume and sound design, and the professor took me under his wing. He told me about this magical place called Williamstown Theatre Festival, encouraging me to apply for an internship. It was there that I saw the full trajectory of what it was like to go from an intern to designer. I got to see every part of the craft, how you could apply narrative to creating environments, and I was totally hooked.
Robyn: You’ve worked in a lot of different mediums since then, too. How did you begin to move into other industries?
David: I wanted to learn and thought the way to do that was to try a lot of different things. So very quickly I started designing things like furniture and people’s window displays. And I got an understanding early on that it’s the same process, whether you’re designing a restaurant, a rock concert, a play or an event. I feel like I’ve always been able to acknowledge what I now and what I don’t know, so I question how I can make the best, deepest, most imaginative and dynamic collaborations – how can I cover my weaknesses and accentuate my strengths? I built my design business on the idea of collaboration, creating a team around me that could really build up.
Robyn: It’s interesting all of the different areas you’ve found success in. What inspires you creatively, and does it change depending on the medium you’re working in?
David: I’m inspired by stories and people. I think there’s also real power and strength in being multidisciplinary. People who I know who are a production designer for say, rock concerts – they need that next pop star, otherwise they dry up, or they need that playwright, or that next director. And I think that’s not really the way life works, it’s much more ebbing and flowing. People who build and fabricate in one lane, often try and solve the problem in one way, so I think there’s been real power in spreading out.
Robyn: For a multi disciplinarian – I know this is probably like me asking you to choose a favorite child – but do you have a favorite type of project that you like to work on? Or do you have a dream project?
David: Each one of the areas I work in feeds my soul in a different way. I love the fact that theatre is a complete edge to edge world, conjured from a blank space. I love that music is not tethered to reality – it’s a through-line directly to your heart. With film and television, you can do things that you can’t in a live event. You can zoom right in and show some intention with an eyeball, or create a massive cathartic revelation of space that you can’t do in a theatre. With a restaurant, you’re wrapping yourself in a 360° experience, with food – you can’t get a more nurturing kind of experience. They all serve a different thing for me. If I had to pick just one I’d be really unhappy. But if we’re talking dream projects, it would be the opening ceremony of the Olympics. LA 2028?!
Robyn: You’ve received a lot of acclaim and awards for your work – which has meant the most to you? What do you see as your biggest achievement?
David: I’ve certainly done the most theatre. So that Tony Award feels ever elusive for me. As designers, we are creative storytellers, and we need to try and tell the stories the best possible way. If you can see a design and recognize the person that made it, then I would posit that those people are not telling the story in the most selfless way possible, because Beetlejuice shouldn’t look like Hamilton, at all, and Hamilton shouldn’t look like Dear Evan Hansen. And none of them should look like the Academy Awards. So I tend to just try and make the best possible choices to support the narrative and the artist – very much to the detriment of my trophy case!
Robyn: Let’s talk a little bit about the collaboration we’re in right now. You’ve worked with TAIT and productionglue many times over the years. I’m interested to see from your standpoint, what do they bring to the table?
David: Well TAIT and Glue bring two different things, but the overlap is the professionalism and talent.
I think Glue has an unbelievably deep roster of omnidirectional thinkers that solve a ton of crazy problems – both logistically and creatively. There’s a lot of pressure that’s taken off an artist or institution knowing that Glue is there to – literally what your namesake is – be the glue that holds everything together.
The stuff that TAIT is up to with regards to fabrication and technology is a whole different level. As well as the engineering, touring and everything, TAIT is about dynamic thinkers. Like the most incredible rocket ship – you can hand over a germ of an idea and TAIT will grow it into the most amazing plant. You know you’re in a good place when something is made better than you ever even imagine. And I have a pretty ambitious imagination!
Robyn: This year of course has been a very interesting one. You and I were supposed to do the TIME 100 event just three weeks after what ended up being the shutdown. What has this time been like for you? What have you been channeling your energies into?
David: I was talking to someone the other day and they said, ‘on a scale of one to ten, where are you?’ and I said, ‘every single day, I am on a scale of one to ten.’ On my best days, I am working out, meditating, I’m focused, we are pivoting and growing the business in ways I’d never dreamed of. We are as creative, if not more, than we’ve ever been.
We’re developing a whole bunch of new capabilities and taking this time to really thoughtfully and sensitively think the best possible way to move into what will be a very interesting and totally challenging time. I think we’re moving into the roaring ‘20s. I think that this thing is going to come to an end and the whole world is thirsty for experiences. People want to get out.
Robyn: Where do you think the industry will go next year?
David: I think that the most substantial thing that will change is the stories that people decide to tell. This is going to leave an indelible mark on everyone. Are people going to break out of lockdown to become world travelers or will they be germaphobes? If you apply that idea to every single creative force in the world, whether you’re a musician, restauranteur, playwright or composer, the stories are going to be different.
I don’t necessarily think the delivery system will be different, but what people find interesting, challenging, escapist is going to be different. We will get theatres back open, people will be back in to stadiums, of course we will. But are we going to want to laugh? Will we be more political? Don’t forget in the middle of all of this we had an incredible amount of social uprising and you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. The world is changing, and it’s going to be really interesting to see how that is represented in art and culture.