Inclusion, not President Trump’s hair, is the theme of 2019 Oscars stage

Set designer David Korins with a rendering of this creation for the 91st Oscars show Sunday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It’s Wednesday in the heart of Hollywood and staging crews are rolling out the red carpet with just four days to go until the 91st Academy Awards ceremony.

Inside the Loews Hollywood Hotel, Tony-nominated Broadway production designer David Korins (“Hamilton,” “War Paint,” “Dear Evan Hansen”) stands next to a mock-up of the Crystal Cloud, one of “15 or 16” stage designs that will provide the dazzling backdrop to Sunday’s show at the Dolby Theatre next door.

Days earlier, he offered a peek at his first Oscars design — a shimmering, swirling symphony of sparkling blues and gold dotted with 1,250 Swarovski crystal strands painstakingly hung above the Dolby stage, weighing 1,600 pounds — to gasps of online admiration.


Some commenters also said it reminded them of President Trump’s hair.

“Oh. Interesting,” Korins says, appraising the design. “I don’t see that, but I think that people see in artistic endeavors all sorts of things. You look at paintings and sculpture and architecture and people see what they want to see. And I choose to see one of inclusion and humanity, femininity and beauty.”

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Inclusion is the buzzword Korins keeps bringing up in interviews about his Oscar design, and it is the feeling he hopes to conjure Sunday, whether you’re an A-lister in evening wear with a coveted ticket to the show or a movie fan watching it at home in your pajamas.

Seeking to break the mold of traditional award shows, Korins says he wanted to create a sense of community with his designs, which include another waterfall-like Swarovski installation that reaches three stories high and contains 400 crystal strands.


“The world is filled with hard lines and straight lines and us-and-thems, and I really wanted people to feel like this was an asymmetrical, warm, undulating art installation that was installed in this theater,” he says, noting that the design will extend beyond either side of the stage, toward the theater’s opera boxes.

Those themes have been crafted into Korins’ nature-inspired visions for the Academy Awards stage, using 41,000 Swarovski crystals, thousands of Swarovski beads and pearls, and roses — lots and lots of roses.

“The rest of the show is completely dominated by over 40,000 real roses,” he says. “I tried to think of, ‘What was nature’s version of a perfectly imperfect object that was iconic and elegant, to be representative of Hollywood’s biggest night?’ Because roses are not perfect, right? They’re organic. And because the world is not perfect.

“I thought it would be an interesting and iconic partnering,” adds Korins, who has also designed concert stages for Kanye West and 2019 Oscar nominee Lady Gaga and who won an Emmy for 2016’s “Grease! Live.” “We don’t have to strive for perfection. We can just strive for warmth and beauty.”

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With the Academy Awards only days away, sets are still being tweaked, but Korins might be the only member of the production team seemingly not sweating the ticking clock. The general stage designs, each requiring a lengthy build-out, are set, he says, even as kinks continue to be ironed out.


“They’re like crayons; each one is its own color, and we’re shading and toning and mixing colors and palette-ing now,” Korins says. “We’re tweaking and changing and evolving different combinations of scenic elements and how we’re going to use them.

“There are no mistakes. There are only happy accidents.”

He has said that he hopes his Oscar design work reaches “across the aisles,” because “that is the movies. Regardless of where you fall, people love movies. The Venn diagram of where the Oscars sit is literally all-encompassing, and everyone has an on-ramp to it.”

Closer examination of his Crystal Clouds design shows that the figure center stage is 2014 Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, one of the stars of this year’s best picture nominee “Black Panther.”

“That’s Lupita,” Korins says, grinning. “I used her as a scale figure, just because I think she was representative of a Hollywood luminary, she’s the right height and she felt to me like an appropriate person to put in the image.”

Is this his way of saying that he’s rooting for “Black Panther”? He demurs with a diplomatic smile. “I’m rooting for all of them.”