Shelter Island, New York, native GEORGE HOFFMANN is known as an artistic visionary, who, along with design partner Greg Kozatek, has captivated audiences with his elaborate and sculptural set designs. His work has appeared on the stages of The Capables, The Future Is Not What It Was, and Fever! A Date with Tennessee Williams, to name a few. Fairweather magazine’s Dana Michele Prussian recently caught up with Hofmann in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn, studio.
By Dana Michele Prussian
Dana Michele Prussian: How did you get your start?
George Hofmann: I studied interior architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I ended up building sets for a flm thesis project during my senior year. That’s when I met my design partner, Greg.
DMP: Why set design?
GH: There is something about the work in set design where I felt completely motivated. A lot of it is because it’s based of a narrative and it’s a very collaborative art form, and I think that’s fantastic. [It] churns more creativity.
DMP: Was there one show in particular that made you realize that motivation?
GH: People ask that of me all the time. For me, it’s not about a single show. It’s about the feeling when you leave after every show. You leave feeling totally fulflled and entertained and shows make you question yourself more than any other art form does. You are confronted by a group of people who have banded together who have made this comment on something.
DMP: Your designs on your website are really complex, especially your sets for The Capables. How do you conceive something with that many moveable parts?
GH: I think about it as a sculpture. That set in particular, The Capables, we’ve been working with that show for two years. We had an idea that the props should be 90’s knick-knacks.
DMP: Where did you get all of these knick-knacks?
GH: Oh man, it was quite an adventure! Most of the stuf was donated. Shelter Island has
a town dump and they have a goody area where people can drop of anything that can be reclaimed. On the weekends, three times a day, I would go into the town dump and pick up stuf. It was a big amalgamation of reaching out to people and saying, “Hey, do you want to clean out your garage?”
DMP: Do you have a favorite piece from that show?
GH: There is a bench completely made out of McDonald’s toys. An incredible Craigslist fnd. The toys completely wrapped the bench. Now I have this weird affinity towards it where I think I should have kept it. We never anticipated using it for another show.
DMP: Do you have a signature piece that pops up in all of your designs?
GH: There is in a weird way. In every set design, so far, we have included a Sleep No More mask. It’s always been kind of a reference.
DMP: How did that happen?
GH: It always just magically ends up in our pile of props, so we sneak it in somehow. Because it’s so visually striking, the actors will mess with it in the show. It’s kind of a running joke and it harkens back to great set design.
DMP: You mentioned that you studied interior architecture. How is designing a set diferent from designing a room in a home?
GH: I see set design as the most ideal environment for architecture. It’s the most controlled environment that you could get. In residential design, people have a preconceived notion of what a room should be. In this context, you are starting a whole new world. You are dealing with gravity, but that’s pretty much it. Even in that case you can still kind of mess with it. You can lift things. You can suspend things. The walls don’t have to connect to the foor the way they do in architecture.
DMP: The walls do not have to be functional or load bearing?
GH: Yeah, that actually took me a long time to get over. You learn all of these construction methods in architecture because you usually build for serious structures. In a theatrical context, there are lighter, looser rules and a lot more liberty.
DMP: How would you defne your design aesthetic?
GH: Our sets really embrace an overdone aspect. No crevice goes unflled. But our next show will be totally clean, very few props. It will embrace the simplicity of a black box.
DMP: That’s quite a sharp contrast. How are you dealing with that change?
GH: It’s a challenge. A lot of the theaters come black, and if you put something in a black room, it looks very strange. That’s why we try to treat the foor as much as possible, put rugs down, or a vinyl foor. If you think about it in a spatial relationship, the foor is the star of the show.
DMP: Can you cite an inspiration for your designs?
GH: I guess it would have to be Google. The abundance of information available on Google is astonishing. I can type in a feeling and images come up. I think that is what inspires me most—to have a visual catalogue. It brings me back to RISD. We had a picture library, which was just an accumulation of clippings in fles and you could just search by word. It was like a Google image search before we had Google.
DMP: How do you see your work developing over time?
GH: My ambition, along with Greg’s, is to essentially open a design studio and have it be a full-time venture. Whether it is interior design or printmaking . . . it falls back onto our education at RISD. We were given a foundation that gives us the sense that we can dabble, mix mediums.
DMP: What makes this particular medium—set design—an art?
GH: We make our own rules. That’s what makes it art. We have made this world. We are making this thing that has no relation to anything outside other than the script and gravity. That’s what makes set design a really special thing.
To learn more about George Hofmann’s recent projects, please see his website at: scenicfactory.com.