Costume designer Lisa Zinni returns to the area as part of Freestyle Love Supreme (FSL). The Philadelphia native found her passion for design at an early age. Now living in New York, Zinni’s work spans a wide range of styles from contemporary to period and whimsical. Zinni talks about her work with the show and where she gets her inspiration from.
[Miller (formerly Merriam) Theater at the Kimmel Cultural Campus] June 7 to 12, 2022; kimmelculturalcampus.org
Debra Danese: What was the first show you costumed?
Lisa Zinn: If we are technical, I would say that I started very young. I grew up in the East Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia. We used to do shows in the back yard of our house on Chelten Avenue with all the neighborhood kids. I dressed up my siblings and our friends with whatever clothes I could find in the house.
The most formal answer would be at the undergraduate level at Desales University. Our senior class was to produce a children’s show and I designed the costumes. The show, Don’t count your chickens before they cry wolfwas a fun and clever reimagining of Aesop’s Fables.
NOT A WORD : What did you learn from this experience?
LZ: Without realizing it, I think I, at age 10, knew how much the visual aspect of a show can elevate the overall experience of the audience. At college age, I decided that being a costume designer was exactly what I wanted to do! Looking back, I think I realized how much I loved the joy of the collaborative process.
NOT A WORD : What was your inspiration for Freestyle Love Supreme?
LZ: FSL is so unique and unlike any other type of theatre. There is no script or plot. Design-wise, the characters are all upgraded versions of their own personalities. I draw inspiration from the performers themselves, as well as a mix of old school hip hop and contemporary fashion.
I start each look with a conversation to find out what they like to wear – what colors or prints they like – and get their overall vibe. I like to highlight and enhance what they might wear in everyday life. I like to mix textures and colors and I always customize each look and add details where possible.
For example, I added the rhinestone letters KR on the right sleeve for Kaila (Kaiser Roze). Chris Sullivan (Shockwave) has T-shirts with an abstract graphic on them, which actually says shockwave. I designed a rainbow colored bandana print cloth for Jay Ellis that has extra length in the back so he can use it in any way that works at the time – as hair , veil or scarf.
James Iglehart (J-Soul) is a Star Wars fan and prefers the simplicity and comfort of a T-shirt, so we’ve custom printed his shirts. One of them is a full-scale Millennium Falcon accented with assorted Swarovski crystals.
Andrew (Jelly Donut) has a jacket and sneakers that we embellished with cut stones. His chain necklace is actually shaped like the state of Maine where he grew up.
In the theatre, you have to have two of everything for the laundry. Instead of doubles, the FSL all actors get a second look so they never get stuck in the feeling of repetition. It also gives the show a constant flow of visual combinations to support the improvisational nature of the show.
NOT A WORD : Your portfolio covers a wide range of genres. What have been some of your favorite shows to dress up?
LZ: I really like what I do so it’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes I like a show because of the combination of people. Sometimes it’s the creative process with the director or the show itself, its music and its message. I have so many favorites.
A very memorable one is a production of West Side Story in Tokyo at IHI Stadium. The audience seats were built on a revolving, rotating stage and had the equivalent of 12 Broadway sets in a circle. The concept combines realism and theatricality. The design of these costumes and the custom construction of the entire show, the tailoring of each costume and the construction of each dress was certainly a highlight of their careers. Seeing and experiencing the finished production on such a grand scale was incredibly rewarding.
i loved designing Sweeney Todd for its edgy darkness and I also have a great love for Shakespeare’s design. I appreciate the freedom and creativity that comes from not being bound by a specific time period and being able to combine contemporary elements and period costumes to create a fantasy world.
I’ve been the associate costume designer on a number of Broadway shows with amazing costumes. I loved being part of the design team for An American in Paris, set in the 1940s. There were 500 costumes, covering everything from uniforms and show girls to Dior-inspired ballet dresses and costumes. I am currently an associate costume designer of SIX Musical comedy about Henry VIII’s six wives reimagined as Tudor pop stars. The costumes are made of hologram vinyl with studs and stones and latex printed spandex. Maybe my favorite is what I’m doing right now.
NOT A WORD : What characteristics make you a successful designer?
LZ: A passion for creation, as well as a good listener and an excellent problem solver, are definitely my strengths. I’m good with budgets and understand where to put the money when you have it and how to make things work when you don’t.
I know how to ask the right questions. I listen to the actor and do my best to help him connect to his character through his costume. I understand the psychology of clothing and how the choices I make can visually support how we perceive and understand a character and enhance directors’ vision. I can see the big picture. I can zoom out the wide color palettes, while zooming in and treating each costume as if it were the only one. I’m not precious about sharing ideas. If one doesn’t work, I always have another.
NOT A WORD : As a Philadelphia native, what local spots could you typically be found in?
LZ: Philly and its theater scene have always been thriving. Growing up, my parents took us to the Walnut Street Theater, so it meant a lot to me to be able to work there as a designer. I also enjoyed working at the Arden Theater Company. It came full circle when my family and friends saw my work in theaters in Philadelphia. There is so much culture and so much to see and do – fantastic restaurants, bars and museums. You will definitely find me at Miller Theater (formerly Merriam Theater) with SLF!
SUPREME LOVE FREESTYLEpremieres in Philadelphia June 7-12, 2022 at the Miller Theater (formerly Merriam) at the Kimmel Cultural Campus. kimmelculturalcampus.org