How the ‘Hamilton’ stage designer is infusing Broadway magic into this year’s Oscars

By Nate Berg

March 26, 2022

Viewers of this Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast will see their screens fill with a mesmerizing swirl of spiraling lights, like a wormhole into another dimension. But don’t worry, the Oscars aren’t trying to hypnotize you. The maximalist stage of this year’s ceremony—despite looking like the kind of vortex that’s meant to suck in part of your brain and take over—has a much softer intent.

How the ‘Hamilton’ stage designer is infusing Broadway magic into this year’s Oscars | DeviceDaily.com

[Image: courtesy David Korins Design]

According to David Korins, production designer and creative director for this year’s show, the stage is meant to portray a message of hope. “I wanted to make this dynamic portal into the future. I wanted to make something that felt like it glowed from within, that was incredibly deep and rich and textured,” he says.

With a curtain made from more than 80,000 Swarovski crystals and illuminated with 5,000 linear feet of LEDs, the dome-shaped stage will feature floating orbs of light, scalloped partial walls, and a variety of movable elements that are all fully electrified and ready to shine. The show will take place once again in the 3,400-seat Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, after a year break when COVID-19 forced the ceremony to downsize.

How the ‘Hamilton’ stage designer is infusing Broadway magic into this year’s Oscars | DeviceDaily.com

[Photo: Linda Pianigiani/courtesy Swarovski]

On top of all of its other devastating and dramatic impacts, two years of a global pandemic has had a significant impact on the way films are produced and consumed. Korins says this year’s stage is trying to give the moviemaking world a sense of optimism in all that glimmer and glow.

“We are changed as a group of people. So I think just to come back and do a regular old show wouldn’t be acknowledging the evolution that we are in as artists and as a global community,” says Korins, who also designed the stage for the 2019 broadcast.

How the ‘Hamilton’ stage designer is infusing Broadway magic into this year’s Oscars | DeviceDaily.com

[Photo: Linda Pianigiani/courtesy Swarovski]

It’s a notable jump from the abbreviated version of the ceremony last year, but also with some of that show’s lessons applied. The 2021 ceremony was an audience-limited affair filmed in a decked-out section of L.A.’s grand Union Station, with a design by architect David Rockwell. Instead of the huge stage and massive seats of a theater, the awards were presented on a modest platform with nominees seated at tables intimately ringing the stage. “I think the production team made incredible lemonade out of the COVID lemons,” Korins says.

Korins’ design for this year’s show replicates a bit of that intimacy, with table seating on a deck over the front section of the theater’s seats, which creates a space for the show to spill out onto, and likely engage, the A-list audience up front. “It’s created a very immersive environment,” Korins says.

How the ‘Hamilton’ stage designer is infusing Broadway magic into this year’s Oscars | DeviceDaily.com

[Photo: Linda Pianigiani/courtesy Swarovski]

Korins is known mostly for his work designing for Broadway, including the hit musicals Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. He says that background directly influenced the way he thought about using the size and space of the Dolby Theatre to give the show a very fluid feel.

“We’re really going to do the best of what theater can offer, meaning scene changes where things are sliding and flying, people are walking underneath scenery, through scenery, around things, sliding to reveal things, like the way that you would see things in a Broadway musical,” he says.

How the ‘Hamilton’ stage designer is infusing Broadway magic into this year’s Oscars | DeviceDaily.com

[Photo: Linda Pianigiani/courtesy Swarovski]

Korins says there are a few smaller design details that keen viewers at home may want to keep their eyes peeled for. The show will be presented in four acts, and though he says they’ve been designed to blend seamlessly from one to the next, each will have a slightly different look. He also points to the oversize statues of the Oscar award, which the design team created, including one made of stacked plexiglass that reflects and refracts the motion and glow from the light-filled stage, and another that creates the illusion of silk in motion.

“It’s all in service of me taking this moment to have our viewers look at something, then look at it again and kind of lean forward,” he says. “They make you take note, and then they make you lean in and talk about them.”

 

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