The Merchant of Venice @ Trinity Repertory Company

Photo by Mark TurekI had the pleasure of seeing The Merchant of Venice at Trinity Repertory Company last week, directed by Curt Columbus. The Merchant of Venice is William Shakesphere's tragic comedy about the merchant Antonio who owes a hefty amount to the Jewish moneylender Shylock. The cast did a magnicifant job with standout performaces from Joe Wilson, Jr. who played Antonio as well as the prince of Moroco, Darien Battle on triple duty of the duke of Venice, Salerio, and Launcelot Gobbo, Mary C. Davis as Portia, and Stephen Berenson as Shylock.

But of course since I'm a fashion photographer I was there mostly to check out the costumes. I had the chance to have an email interview with the costume designer, Olivera Gajic.

Brittanny Taylor: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Can you introduce yourself to my readers? Where are you based? Where did you go to school? How long have you been doing costume design?

Olivera Gajic: I am a New York based designer. I come from Serbia, where I went to the Academy of Fine Arts. After a five-year program of strong art training I received my BFA degree in painting, fashion and costume design. Then I came to the US and I got a MFA from the University of Connecticut. I’ve been working professionally for 15 years.

Photo by Mark TurekBT: Where did your passion for costume design first develop?

OG: I come from a tailor’s family and I grew up in a costume shop.  Basically, I’ve been designing all my life.  My grandmother’s wooden sewing machine is still covered in the paintings I made when I was a little child playing in the shop.  During all of my education, including high school for textiles and costume construction, I’ve been heading towards this same goal of being a designer. I learned in my 20’s that I actually wanted to be a costume designer.

Photo by Mark TurekBT: Since the play didn't exactly define what period it was set in, was it your choice to mix in the modern with the Elizabethan era clothing? Most of the younger men in the cast wore jeans and along with more accurate shirts and jackets of the era.

OG: Director Curt Columbus sad that he wanted the clothing to be inspired by the 30’s, look modern and feel like Shakespeare. I tried to make costumes that have their own world, that are sort of timeless. I researched Italian Renaissance fashion of the times because that’s the setting of the play. I used the famous Venetian red; I looked at Italian painters, and the historical facts regarding fabric trade. Those rich fabrics came to Italy from around the world. Also if you look at the men’s silhouettes of the times they wore leggings, and small doublets. So that is where skinny jeans and fancy jackets reflected the period. I don’t think that I ever did traditional Shakespearean costumes. Actually right now I am working on a Charles Ludlum play “Stage Blood,” where the play within a play is Hamlet and I am doing those costumes very traditionally, but that is determined by the playwright.

Photo by Mark Turek BT: You took inspiration from designs found on the runway from Alexander McQueen, Armani, and Cavalli to name a few. Certain designers are so theatrical in their designing it makes sense to see it on the stage. What was your inspiration to do so instead of just making a traditional costume you would usually see for this play?

OG: Alexander McQueen is my ultimate favorite, but for this show I did research Italian designers. I looked at some of Versace, D&G and Armani’s fashion. I am so influenced by fashion that sometimes I even don’t know where certain ideas come from. I absorb the fashion and research periods, and then let the play inspire me. I draw parallels between period characters and contemporary references, so often I look into movie stars, their fashion, old Hollywood, real people, businessmen, politicians, musicians...whatever speaks to me. Basically I look for inspiration everywhere and then I do my own thing.

Photo by Mark TurekBT: I see that you won an award for costume design. That is an incredible achievement! What was it like?

OG: Yes I was recipient of the 2011 tdf/Irene Sharaff Young Master Award, 2010 IT Award for Outstanding Costume Design. And it was so amazing. We all work so hard, with out competing or trying to win any prize. We just work so hard to make the play happen, to create the world that will help the story to be told…and then one day someone recognizes you. This award was given to me by my established colleagues, and it’s humbling and reassuring to know that I am on the right path. That I am part of this group of people that I admire, and also to know that someone is looking out for you…
Photo by Mark TurekBT: What is in the future for you? Would you ever consider stepping into fashion design or is your heart in costume design?

OG:I actually come from fashion; I first did runway shows before I knew that I would be a theatre designer. But when I did my first play I really knew that that is the world that I belong to. I am an artist, and theatre is the place where I can fully express myself. I guess I loved creating the worlds and telling a story more than making pretty things, and theatre definitely provides me with opportunities to do beautiful designs. It is more inspiring to me to make beauty with deeper reasons, such as depicting a character who will be able to tell us a story that will move us, or helping to us to transcend our world, characters that carry messages that might change someone’s life. They do change mine. And theatre is so collaborative, and it’s so amazing how much more all this joining ideas and efforts can do.

Photo by Mark TurekThe Merchant of Venice is running now until March 11th. You can purchase tickets online on Trinity Rep's website and keep up to date with the theater on Twitter and Facebook. Also be sure to check out more of Olivera's work on her website.