“How are you feeling?” is a question we rarely ask or answer openly and probably the strongest driving force of the daily choices shaping us. After focusing much of the last year exploring the topic of mental health, I was intrigued when David Korins listed therapy and this question as the first step to designing your life at TED X Broadway last month.
When David agreed to sit down for a conversation for Fit for Broadway, my goal was to gear our conversation towards questions that might allow a glimpse into what shapes and strengthens a creative life, professionally, of course, but also personally. “What makes you, you?”
We all know David’s work well; Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Bandstand along with designs for Kanye, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and much, much more. We talked a lot. Over 6,000 words so this is Part 1 of 3. I’d highly recommend listening to David’s episode of Design Matters and watching his interview on Build Series to round out a snapshot of one of the Greats of The BE Way.
Jane: You courageously put a 12 week fitness challenge on Instagram a few weeks ago.. How is it going?
David: So we’re in week 2 and 2 days. The first week I went to the gym 6 out of 7 times. The goal was 4 times a week and I thought I would shoot for 5 because they’ll always be one that gets messed up. The second week I went twice. So the average became 4 and now I’m 1 out of 2 for the next week. So I feel like I am on pace…
Jane: You’re on track.
David: But I also feel like the real true goal should be that I should be able to do it 3 or 4 times..
Jane: Personal training or are you working out by yourself?
David: I’ve always been really active and I used to be a very serious athlete.. and workout all the time. Then I got busy, etc etc so I’ve been trying to find other cool ways to be active as an adult and last February, so a year and a half ago, I was in really really good shape. I was in such good shape, I decided to get a personal trainer because you know you have to get in really good shape because the shame and all the stuff. (laughs) So I decided to get a personal trainer because I was feeling that good about myself. [I messed] up my shoulder from a batting cage incident and for years, I’ve been living with shoulders that are not great but basically I can live a very active life and compete in sports except for a couple range of motion situations. I had told this to my trainer and he said “don’t worry about it, you’re all good,” and in the first day, he hurt me. Or I got hurt.. I didn’t go back to the gym, forget about go back to him, I didn’t go back to the gym for like 5 months. So I’m just now back and I’ve reengaged a personal trainer but I have not hung with him yet.
Jane: Where do you work out? Where does David Korins go to workout?
David: David Korins really doesn’t belong to a gym. I now belong to a gym. I go to Equinox. I have in year’s past been a part of many gyms but really for the last decade, I’ve worked out outside. I live near both parks uptown and I used to just do that. For awhile, I did that workout, Insanity. I was actually in Detroit researching Motown the Broadway musical, and I saw the infomercial and I bought it. I came home and I did it and I never missed a day and I remember lamenting… I was three workouts away from the end and I was so sad and bummed out. I got in really good shape and I thought I’ll just keep doing it. I stopped… and I took a day off, then a week off, then like 3 months off. So now I’m Equinox.
Jane: Do you go to any other classes? Yoga…?
David: This is becoming the tale of Get Fit, Get Hurt. I just did a yoga class 3 weeks ago. I don’t do yoga. I’ve done it maybe 6 times in my life, spread out over 25 years. And I just did a yoga class and I hurt myself immeasurably for like 3 weeks so I don’t think I’m going to go back to yoga but I have been playing around with the classes that are offered at Equinox and they’re fun. They’re a way for someone to take you through an experience so you don’t have to do the same 6 things every time.
Jane: They have cycling and boxing…
David: I’ve never done cycling at Equinox. I’ve done cycling at Soul Cycle. We did a Hamilton Soul Cycle in the Hamptons. It was Anthony Ramos, Jasmine, and Andy Blankenbuehler and myself and we rocked out. We did it for a charity and rocked out. At Equinox, I go to the one by Lincoln Center and I play basketball. Which I’ve also, talk about getting hurt, I’ve also gotten a major ‘on-crutches-for-8-weeks’ sprained ankle, playing basketball. Torn my cornea playing basketball and broken two ribs playing basketball, all at Equinox. So that’s great! (Laughs) but I’m in pretty good shape.
Jane: Do you have any other wellness practices… Meditation?
David: Before I got my internship at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1997, I had only heard that it was like theatre boot camp… “you work 24 hours a day”. My then French teacher, was also a Reiki Master and she introduced me to spirulina… this is back before spirulina was even a thing. She introduced me to the blue green algae thing and into all these tinctures and things and I started religiously using them for 4 or 5 years. Then, I moved on to fasting. Maybe twice a year I would try and do some sort of cleanse. This was before Blueprint and all of that stuff…
Jane: What did that look like?
David: There was this product, I think it was called Sonne’s #7… it was basically like clay and you would shake it up and agitate it and pound it and it would basically harden in your intestines and it would act like an intestinal pipe cleaner. So if you were doing that while you would fast, it would just scrape out everything, probably all the good and the bad bacteria. I would do it once or twice a year and then I evolved from there to just trying to do a reductive diet. I pretty much ate everything and then it became, I would do vegetarian for awhile, and then juice only and then water only and then ramp back up. And I feel like that really helped. Maybe it was a placebo but I felt like that was nice to clean out once a year. And then I also took a TM* class. I did the full on certified, four day thing…
Jane: Who’d you do it with?
David: Arielle Tepper Madover’s husband. We met when I was working with Ari on Annie and Ian was like “We should have a man date!” and we thought, what should we do that’s more than just hang out and go to dinner so we decided we would do TM together. We did the whole process together and I think while we were doing it, we were trying to figure out who was going to quit first. He won because he quit first but I actually really, really appreciated it. I don’t practice it anymore, but sometimes when I really feel sick or really need to fully center, I pull it back and do it. Once I was ill in Miami and I could not get home. I was stuck in bed and I remember I dipped right back into my TM practice and it was the thing that got me back to New York City. I am able to conjure that space up…And I try to eat well.
Jane: What does that look like now?
David: It’s all the things. Fairly high protein breakfast. I get a lot of greens. It looks like a fairly responsible… I’ve actually been blessed I think that I never got a sweet tooth. Just in life, everyone was always interested in dessert and I was never that interested in dessert. I was always more salty than sweet so I just have never been like “oh god what I want is that hot fudge sundae.” Just never was a thing. As I get older, it’s a little bit shifting, like I could have a cookie here and there but I’m not one of those people which I think helped a lot.
Jane: 100%. Sugar is so bad for you. I think we’ll realize it in a few years…
David: All the processed stuff in general. You know there’s that theory ‘If your grandparents don’t recognize it, you shouldn’t have it.’ And mostly, if it doesn’t rot in 3 days… that’s generally my thing. I have kids so I have a cabinet full of stuff that doesn’t rot in 3 days but in general, I try and not do that.
Jane: I had first met you when you did your TED X Broadway talk and you spoke about designing your life and the first thing you said was therapy. Why is therapy the first step to designing your life?
David: You’re sitting on this couch in my office. Basically every meeting, every collaboration starts just like that. It starts like, “Hey, how are you?”.. you’re on the couch, I’m on this chair. And I talk about it like it’s therapy because so much of what happens when we make a world is you have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. So you’re sitting in the spot of my client or collaborator and 85% of the conversations we have are about what’s happening.. politics, emotions, family, what are you reading, what are you watching, what are you thinking? Because, as I say in the TED Talk, a 35 year old Lin Manuel Miranda would write and want to make a different Hamilton than the 39 year Lin Manuel Miranda because he now has two kids. The world looks different. Barack Obama was the president when he started and now Donald Trump is the president and that looks and feels differently.
So much of what we do is always a snapshot of who we are in that moment and that’s why it feels like therapy. Sometimes you go to therapy and it’s like red alert, red alert, triage, this thing happened and when I leave this meeting I have to go make a big life decision and sometimes it’s about bigger, broader strokes of other things that are going on. But it’s always refracted through that moment in time. Who are you as an artist? The same exact group of people that come together might make something different later. Also it’s my job to pull that emotional piano out of the swamp and figure out what’s the real essence of the story that you want to tell.
So yea, we were telling the story about the founding fathers of our country in Hamilton but really we were telling a story about something so much bigger. Dear Evan Hansen isn’t really about some kid who finds a note, it’s about people who are having a hard time connecting to each other and about this thing that terrifies any parent… “How was school today?” and they go “Fine.” and then you’re like, but it’s not fine. This kid’s near suicide and he’s getting bullied and he can’t talk to this girl and it’s all these other things. And so really what’s the story you’re telling, Justin and Benj and Steven? Ya know? It’s not just kid in blue shirt with a cast. So that’s why it’s therapy. Because what’s on the page is only the beginning… it’s like the Rosetta Stone but something underneath is a north star.
Jane: Do you have a personal belief in therapy for your life?
David: I mean, I go to therapy. Someone once told me, “You should go to therapy, it’s like a masterclass in You.” I guess I believe in building space to contemplate, whether that’s through meditation or through a workout regime. When I got out of college, I found myself getting busier and busier. We all carry around phones in our pocket and so everyone expects you to be available at every time of the day, text messages and everything else and I started running long distance. I had been on cross country teams and other things like that but I had never really seriously ran real long distances. And I found myself going on longer and longer runs because that was the one way I could say “I didn’t get your call, I was on a run.” You couldn’t bother me. So I believe in finding a way to find a contemplative place to connect with yourself. And so for some people that’s therapy and that’s talking… What I’ve found that’s interesting about therapy is it’s not really about the red hot issue. It’s more about, kind of finding global patterns. Every time I see a red hot issue whether it’s like I ordered this thing in a restaurant and couldn’t get it or I asked a person for this and couldn’t… you realize, oh, I’m wanting something, whatever the thing is. You’re seeing this pattern shows up of wanting or hoping or whatever the thing is frequently in my life. And then it’s really about recognizing patterns and changing them or not changing them. But being ok with not changing them… So, I remember when Nike came out with the Nike plus watch.. You could chart your path and see kind of geopositioning where you were. I would just start running miles and miles and miles because I didn’t need roads or a path to be able to chart how long I went. I would just try and go as long as possible… it was much more interesting to lose myself in the run.
Photos & Interview by Jane Jourdan.
(Part 2 & 3 COMING SOON!)