At the beginning of every Broadway creative process, all that exists is an empty stage. Using craft, imagination, and theatre magic, designers bring a production to life, transporting an audience to worlds near and far.
It’s a challenging feat for any one production, but for many Broadway designers, a life in the theatre involves re-inventing the wheel again and again, remaining inspired through a vast career. Playbill caught up with Tony-winning scenic designer David Rockwell to unpack his approach to design, his creative process, and to explore his favorite theatre designs.
"We always begin by reading the script, listening to the music, and meeting with the director to try to absorb and understand the possibilities of the story—the backstory and the intent," he says. "Then we move on to a lot of research about the show, its emotional qualities, and its time period. Then we have to conjure something that is an amalgam of all of those ideas and has a certain level of magic, as well as an unexpected approach. In each case, there is that period where you feel like you’re not going to figure it out. I think for a creative individual, the worst possibility is knowing the answer before you begin because then you short circuit that process. It’s a combination of having the tools, delving into as much of the history as you can, and then finding all of the tangents.
"What’s so incredible to me about theatre is that it’s a temporal art form experienced in the moment; a particular performance cannot be repeated. It’s an experience that becomes an important part of our collective experience, our memory, based on having it shared live and in real time. As a designer, I think about how to make that extraordinary. I don’t think it’s about big or small. It’s about creating connections and giving the audience a visceral experience."
From She Loves Me to Hairspray, go inside Rockwell's designs for five very different shows.