If you're a living, breathing human being in 2016, you've probably come in with ' work. It spans projects from Kanye West concerts to the set of "Grease: Live" and the Broadway musical "Hamilton."
Korins recently told ELLEDECOR.com about how his team crafted the minimal – but nimble – set for the hottest ticket on Broadway.
I had been a friend of Lin [Manuel-Miranda] and the entire creative team for a long time...
I have worked with each of them long before "Hamilton." Tommy [Kail, the director of "Hamilton"] and I both ran downtown theater companies, and I met him when we were doing Off-Off-Off Broadway theater and we would support each other's work.
As the creative team was nearing a workshop with the Public Theater, I got a phone call from them that said, 'Tommy would like to interview you." I have a long history with the Public; I've done many many productions there. So I didn't necessarily need to be interviewed, but I took it very seriously. I got a copy of the music and the script, and I listened to it obsessively. The only thing I had to judge was, 'Do I like the music?' and 'Do I have an attachment to it?' And I loved it.
I usually keep my cards close to my chest in an interview, but for this one, I really wanted it and I responded to the work. I did a lot of research and a lot of sketching, which I normally don't do. I told Tommy, "I'm like James Madison to your . We are the founding fathers of our generation of American theater and you've got to give me this shot."
It wasn't on the spot, but he hired me...
Then it was like, be careful what you wish for, because the truth is, it's not a revival. It's a brand new show, and my responsibility was extremely high. I thought it was a staggering work of genius when I read it, and that it could be incredibly special. But there was no blueprint of what it should be.
We started researching and making lots of sketches and tons of bad ideas. Horrific ideas...
At first, we were going to do it in a modern dress and modern environment. It was going to be a steely set, a black glossy set with a double decker metal catwalk. The floor was going to be like parchment paper, and there would be a huge quill that people could climb on, like a ship's ladder.
We talked about rendering the Founding Fathers at the top of the show like a portrait, as the people we know them as now. But then we would somehow scramble that picture frame or that portrait and they would become young, scrappy, and hungry. Like, here is where they are in their 40s and 50s and 20s.
We got rid of all those ideas, because designing is redesigning, right?
You never necessarily hit it on the first time. But I think there was something interesting about that aspirational space.
We kept on toiling away, and what we came down to was this: Our story was not actually about the people who built the country. It's actually about the people who built the foundation from which the country was built.
The cool thing about Hamilton is that every single location is a real place you can find an etching, portrait, or picture of. And in some cases, those places still exist, and so many of the events in the show happened in New York. We went to downtown, which is where Washington resigned. We looked at [the TV show] "The Knick." We looked at an Eakins painting. When you're looking for inspiration to try to make a piece of art, you'll find inspiration in the craziest of places, and then you churn it through your own artistic sensibilities and spit something out and see what sticks.
Fraunces Tavern in New York
The show is 51 numbers, and it takes place over 30 years. We had to come up with a theatrical metaphor that would move us from moment to moment. So the big idea with our set was to watch these people build the scaffolding from which our country will be built.
Tommy and I created a bunch of versions of the set inside the hull of the boat, because everyone was an immigrant and everyone came through the waterways. We used a lot of ropes and ships and nautical storytelling devices. Oscar, the head of the Public Theater, saw this and said to us, 'I lived in a house in Brooklyn that was built by ship builders, and I think you guys should really lean into that idea.'
We realized that all of the carpenters of the time were ship builders. The way they built buildings is the way they built boats. Our entire design is built by the same methodologies as the way a boat was built, with all of the lap joints, the pegs, the fasteners, the pulleys.
And then there's the turntable...
During my interview, after my very first reading of the show, I told Tommy, 'I feel like there is a cyclical movement of the show. I can't really figure out what it is.' I think it's because of his cyclical relationship with Aaron Burr, or because he was swept off Nevis by a hurricane, or the political storm that he finds himself in. But Tommy wasn't ready to have the conversation at that time, so we put a pin in it.
Just after we had started rehearsal in the Public Theater production, my associate, Rod Lemmond, said, "You know, whatever happened to that turntable idea you had? We could do a lot of staging with that." I brought the idea back to Tommy and Andy, and they took the blueprint of this idea and exploded it in an amazing way.
As an audience member, you can obviously see the turntables and say, 'Well, that's the scenic designer at work.'
But there are a million ways in the show where we work so subconsciously and subtly...
The back of the Rogers Theatre is a brick wall, but we built a back wall in front of the brick wall, and actually went through 33 different variations of brick color, just to find the perfect one for the design, based on the skin tone of our performers. The people in the costumes had to pop perfectly with the lighting and the rest of the design. It took us a year to figure it out.
During intermission, we fly in eight-foot tall walls, as if to show progress in the country that's being built. No one sees it, because they're off buying merchandise and going to the bathroom. But there's just more permanence and weight to the design.
Similarly, we replace many of the props on the walls. In the first act, there are rifles and wartime utilitarian objects, and in the second, there are more refined things – parchment paper, scrolls and maps. It's as if to say the first half of the show is about fighting a war, and the second half is about governing our country.
All of the furniture is perfectly and loyally recreated from the original based on research – ranging from Washington's and Hamilton's desks to the paper props. But they're all made from really rigid materials, because they need to hold up to the rigors of the show.
One of the biggest, most profound compliments I've ever gotten is from an actor who stepped on my set.
He said, "I don't have to do any character development work when I step on your set. When I step on your set, I know exactly who I am and exactly where I came from.'
Now, I try to go back to the show once every two weeks or so...
I watch half the show or a few of the numbers. We're getting ready to repaint the floor, because now it's had several hundred performances on it, and it's starting to be worn a little bit.
I'm also working on the Chicago production of Hamilton. The set is being built as we speak. The theatre there is six feet narrower than the Rogers, so one of the big challenges my associates and I are trying to tackle is how to shoehorn our design into a narrower space.
We're also scratching our heads on how to actually make the West Coast touring production happen. The show has to break down on Sunday, fit into a bunch of trucks, and be ready for Tuesday's performance. So what's a nine week load-in process in New York has to be created and engineered so that it can pop up, literally, and be ready in three days. That's a pretty cool and slightly terrifying challenge, but a challenge we're up to.
Behind the Curtain is a series about how the design industry's top talent got to where they are now.