On International Women’s Day, we talk to Orietta Crispino, Artistic Director of Theaterlab, which has just celebrated 10 years at its W36th Street home. Here’s Orietta’s West Side Story.

Orietta Crispino Theaterlab
Orietta Crispino in the all-white loft-like space of Theaterlab. Photo: Phil O’Brien

So, what’s your New York story?  Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in Italy. I came to study English for three months in 1997 and I never left.

How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
Since 2005, I have been the Artistic Director of Theaterlab, a small nonprofit women-led arts organization hosting, presenting, and producing new performance work. After seven years on 14th Street, I was looking for a space to relocate. With a very limited budget, our current space at W 36th Street was the only one we could afford. I designed an all-white, loft-like space out of an entire floor of a small factory. Over the years, the space has become a signature white canvas for multidisciplinary artists to create new works. I consider Theaterlab my artistic home; the space is as intimate as the work we present, with adventurous programming merging theater with visual arts. We also provide studio rentals for artists, photographers, lecturers, and more.

What was your first job? What do you do now?
Leading Theaterlab was my full-time job before the pandemic and I am very fortunate to still have that job, but I wore many hats prior to it. While waiting for my permanent resident card, I worked for a boutique catering company, booking staff and managing the front of the house. It was an amazing experience for me, I got to discover the city through event space and private residencies. Unreal! During the pandemic, while fighting to keep our space, I dedicated a lot of time to advocacy work for the independent theater community and non-profit small organizations like Theaterlab.

Orietta Crispino Let Me Cook For You
Orietta Crispino performing Let Me Cook For You at Theaterlab last fall. Photo via Instagram

What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
Robert De Niro coming to a show at Theaterlab with his daughter performing in it.

Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I love the very mixed tenancy of it between fashion and theater, with a great number of immigrant workers and small businesses. With my team, we are trying to connect with the incredible life of the area by creating Round The Block, a program celebrating arts, business, and culture in our Garment District. It is a recurring series of walking tours of the neighborhood in which we connect creatives of all kinds, from visual artists to fashion designers to specialty grocers. Another thing I adore about Hell’s Kitchen is the closeness to the river, which keeps me sane!

What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Sometimes I find myself singing my favorite arias from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Simon Boccanegra. I know it all by heart.

What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I am an excellent hostess! I introduce people who would not meet otherwise, I nurture artistic and non-artistic collaborations; I cook, I tell good stories, and make people feel at home. The art of gathering is something we practice at Theaterlab.

What else should we know about you?
Come to Theaterlab – every month, we have plays, concerts, readings, dance shows, exhibits, and more to choose from.

Orietta’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places

International Grocery — 543 9th Avenue (between W40/41st St)
It’s a 30-year-old small establishment. Spices, olive oil, cheeses, and the best hummus! I cook so it’s important to get access to specialty ingredients… and such a joy to admire foods from around the world all under the same roof.

Capizzi — 547 9th Avenue (between W40/41st St)
A tiny pizzeria with a few marble tables. It’s intimate and the pizza is simple and delicious! Trust me, it’s not easy for an Italian to find pizza that would make me happy, and this place delivers.

Capizzi on 9th Avenue suits the Italian taste of Oreitta. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts — 323 W39th St (between 8th/9th Ave)
A great organization right on 39th Street fostering visual artists. It’s my go-to place in the neighborhood to experience visual arts, without schlepping all the way to Chelsea.

Stiles Farmer’s Market — 476 9th Avenue (between W36/37th St)
The MOST affordable produce market in the city, located right around the corner from us. 

Orietta Crispino Theaterlab
Orietta Crispino from Theaterlab at Stiles Farmer’s Market. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Tom’s Sons International Pleating — 327 W36th St #400 (between 8th/9th Ave)
A business run by the same family for generations: they make pleats for high-end fashion designers and retailers. They were a part of my walking tours of the Garment District. The craft is mind-blowing and their knowledge and hospitality are a joy.

Art To Ware Port Authority Bus Terminal — 625 8th Avenue (between W41/42nd St)
When you are up for a fashionable treat and want to discover young designers. Leslie Ware, the curator of this place, is a genius! So fun to go in!

West 37th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue
I love the murals commissioned by HYHK Alliance, I love walking by and looking at the spectacular view of the city uptown and downtown. We have produced some street dance/performances for our Round The Block here and brought our audience. There are a few more and I hope we’ll see more of them.

Orietta Crispino Theaterlab
Orietta loves the murals on the railroad bridges on W37th Street between 8/9th Avenue. Photo: Phil O’Brien

You can follow Theaterlab on Instagram @theaterlab and Orietta at @oriettacrispino. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form —w42st.info/WSSnominations

You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.

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