“This Would Look Good on You” is the second show in a trio series by artist Orietta Crispino. This 50-minute performance delves into memories and artifacts connected to the apparel in her impressive wardrobe; ultimately exploring how women are influenced and shaped by the things that they wear. Weaving together stories of generosity and loss, operatic grandeur and comic reflections, Orietta takes her audience on an intimate journey through styles, colors, memories and theatrical references that add another glimpse of her Italian upbringing that was first explored in the 2017 piece “Let Me Cook For You.”
Furthermore, MINIFEST is a new immersive exhibition at TheaterLab in NYC that was initially launched in March of 2020 to bring audiences short sparks of new work and other tiny delights (and Orietta was central to the curation of the show). Returning for two days in 2021, this year’s fest focuses on “Fashion and the Body” in honor of Theaterlab’s Garment District home. Miniature works, new performances, film, and audio installations will be on view and there will also be snacks and socializing available.
Orietta Crispino recently discussed her career and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for the theater and how did you break into the industry?
Orietta Crispino: In my teens, in high school in Milano, Italy where I grew up. I was studying visual art and architecture and theater seemed to be the perfect medium to combine all my passions in one place. Beauty and form, function and geometry, music and words! It was a thrilling experience for me to be sitting in the dark and watch worlds being created right in front of me. My heart and mind were expanding, my senses were overstimulated. I looked for that thrill all the time and I was fortunate enough to find it often in those years as a spectator.
After graduating from the Academy of Dramatic Arts at the Piccolo Teatro in Milano as a director (I was one of only two women in the program), I was teaching acting for a few years at the Academy and then worked as an assistant director to a pivotal Italian director Massimo Castri who was my mentor. Then I moved to Trieste where I was hired by a theater for a three-year project on Italian playwrights between the two wars. When I came to New York in the late 1990s, I did not really have a plan! My first theatre-related endeavor here was participation in the Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab. Then, when I decided to stay with my partner at the time, we started Theaterlab in our loft in Williamsburg. On and off, I was running this place for 20 years now; currently, it is based in Midtown, its 3rd location.
MM: Tell me about Theaterlab. What are you hoping for the future of this venue?
OC: Theaterlab is a laboratory where artists and audiences come together to experience new forms of gathering and storytelling. The white box theater is our signature, a reflective space where everything is visible, and bodies are etched enhancing the quality of the human presence. When I first created the all-white space in 2005, my desire was to inspire theatermakers to play with geometry, including the dramaturgy of space within the story. We host, present and produce performing arts works that are hybrid in nature and give space to new ideas through a number of residency programs, dedicated to inception works, like Hotel New Work and Mothers Myths Monsters. After moving from downtown to the Garment district, we started thinking about the idea of home and how to weave our intimate space and offerings within a neighborhood that is more of a destination. Two years ago, we initiated a program Round The Block ľ an art walk to connect business and arts organization in the area, revealing the intricate fabric of the diverse tenancy in the area. Theaterlab is a small organization, the labor of love of so many years, and right now my main objective is to grow the team, paying living wages. I hope to become the destination for adventurous audiences to experience deep, intelligent, generous theater works in an inviting and personal setting.
MM: What inspired you to write a play based on your wardrobe?
OC: It was actually my long-time collaborator Lanie Zipoy who suggested it a few years back. She visited me in 2018, right after I came back from my last trip to Milano when I brought back some of my mother’s clothes. I had taken everything out of the closet and piled the pieces on tables and chairs, totally overwhelmed not only by the number of clothes but the simple realization that 90% of all my wardrobe consist of the clothes that I have not purchased myself – I either inherited them or they were gifts from my friends, my mother’s friends, my boss, my coworkers, and so on. I remembered how happy I was when I was given clothes; even though I would have never bought them, I’d try them on, they looked good on me and I felt liberated because I didn’t have to choose. As I sifted through the piles, each garment had a story, held a memory, contained a promise. Was I supposed to let them go? How could I give them away? How come I wear things for years that I did not choose myself? Is that how we create ourselves? Trying on clothes, playing with them as possible identities? That’s how “This Would Look Good on You” was born.
MM: Be honest, what are your absolute favorite pieces of apparel and why?
OC: All the ones I don’t fit in any longer!
MM: What’s your favorite segment of the show and why?
OC: I would say the last section, where I recreate myself as a strange creature wearing old items in new ways. Before leaving the stage, I recite Shakespeare. It’s a powerful moment of rebirth and a perfect weaving of art and life through the magic of theater.
MM: What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
OC: There is this line in “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov in which Medvedenko asks Masha, “Why do you always wear black?” – and she answers: “I am in mourning for my life.” You’ll be surprised to see how much color there is in my life! I hope this show will give the viewers longing for beauty, a gentle awakening of the senses, that identity is as illusory as the theater, and that we are all one.
MM: This Would Look Good on You is a part of a trilogy. How does each play in this series inform the others?
OC: Each of these episodes or movements presents a different perspective of my personal story and how I play the character of myself. The first one, “Let Me Cook For You” – It’s a soothing ritual in which I actually cook a small meal to share with my audience – examines the joys and pains of a life in service of others and how such life is shaped by myths and stories. This Would Look Good on You offers a glimpse of how I dealt with the expectations and perceptions posed on me by others through their gifts of beautiful garments. The third one, “Let me Dream With You,” is a very short movement, made only of sounds and my disembodied voice. It will be a calming, poetic ending, an offering of hope in a space without fear. The trilogy is site-specific work, designed to be performed at Theaterlab, moving from the Gallery to the main theater. I hope I will be able to perform it in the spring – all in one day.
MM: How does this piece relate to the other Theaterlab season offering, MINIFEST?
OC: This season, we play with the idea of how we dress and prepare ourselves to enter the public space after a year of many losses and isolation. Minifest is a fast-and-furious, fun festival of short works. The audience will be moving from a figure drawing lesson to a dance in which the performer is wearing a dress made of light filters, through a Mylar changing room to a live painting of clothing. This Would Look Good on You inhabits the same world in a different form.
Performances run from September 23 thru October 3; Thursday thru Saturday at 7:00 pm and Sunday at 5:00 pm. Tickets ($25) can be purchased at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1077219.
Note: Photos courtesy of by Gaia Squarci.