Artist, Immigrant: Irina Kruzhilina

by Marcy Arlin

in Artistry & Artistic Innovation,Global Citizenship,Interviews

Post image for Artist, Immigrant: Irina Kruzhilina

The United States is a multicultural nation, and nowhere is that truer than in the arts. However, the full range of the diverse cultures working in the arts often occurs out of the spotlight. As Artistic Director of Immigrants’ Theatre Project I have worked with immigrant theatre artists from over ninety nations, including the Native American nations, and people who are part of the African Diaspora. These artists have navigated – whether for decades or only a few months – not only making a living in our society but the sometimes byzantine combination of talent and connections that is “making it” in the theatre. In this blog series I want to celebrate their work, focusing on those artists who, while known to those who work in ethnic, multicultural theatre, may remain hidden from the mainstream audience. I am curious about how they feel about being bicultural, speaking lines in a second (or third) language, finding work, and what their unique perspective can offer American theatre. -Marcy Arlin

I first met Irina while working on a play by Ruth Margraff at the Soho Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival this past summer. She worked like no costume designer I knew who was doing for an off off Showcase festival. Besides the usual costume designer research and fittings, there were full rehearsal costumes, an amazing team of dressers, and built costumes. “But it only runs for a week,” I said. “Doesn’t matter,” she said. “That’s how I work.”
1) What do you love about theatre in the U.S. for yourself and in general?

I feel theatre in the U.S. has a very wide range, more so than in any other country. A lot of classical, a lot of modern, a lot of good, a lot of bad. You don’t have to conform to a stereotype to succeed modern theatre, meaning that you don’t have to follow a certain fashion or trend. You can do any form of theatre, whether it’s classical or experimental, political or not, new or old fashioned.

2) What do you miss about working in your homeland?
The quality and depth of work, resulting from an intense focus on quality education and discipline. I miss the simplicity, and the large scale. I miss the professionalism, but most of all I miss the audience – most shows in Moscow are sold out, despite very high prices.

3) How do you see yourself/identify yourself as an artist in terms of being an immigrant? Does it matter to you?
I do not at all feel like I am an immigrant here. I do not really consider myself an immigrant. I did not just pack my things and go, looking for a better life. In fact all my family is in Moscow, and I just happen to be here, for now.  I work all over the world but this is the place I am based. Just as many other people, New York for me is a center from which I go other places. I did not come from Moscow to NYC, I came from theatre and I stayed in theatre, which does not have borders. With that in mind the whole idea of being an immigrant for me never really mattered.

4) How does it affect your getting work? (accent, ethnicity, etc.)
It does not affect it negatively, If anything it makes it easier. The theater community in the States LOVES Russians. I feel privileged to be from Russia and it gives me only strength.

5) What is your residency/citizenship/visa status? How does it affect your life as an artist?)
I have had my green card since 2004, and I am a citizen  now, so I do not have no problems any longer.  I certainly did before – Disney, one the most powerful companies in the world wanted to hire me for a project but could not get me work visa on time. So I have had my share of visa struggles.

6) What are you doing now? Here and/or abroad?
This spring/summer I am designing costume for the Earth Celebrations Parade in NYC, a new play called Arctic Tale in San Francisco and a King Lear production in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

 7) Can you tell me a theatre short story/anecdote about when you first came here? A more recent story?
When I was a student at CalArts one of my favorite American directors, David Chambers, hired me over the phone for his production of Merchant of Venice. He called me and asked me if I would like to come to Milwaukee in March to design the show. I mistook Milwaukee for Waikiki and I thought that I was going to Hawaii.

Irina Kruzhlina: I have designed costumes and sets for theatre, opera, dance and puppetry performances for over a decade. Venues include Brooklyn Academy of Music, Fischer Center for the Performing Arts, the Jewish Community Center in New York, the National Theatre in Prague, Spoleto Theatre Festival, La MaMa ETC, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, Plovidiv Drama Theatre in Bulgaria, and the Russian Drama Theatre in Baku, Azerbaijan. I have collaborated with acclaimed directors and theatre organizations including Daniel Banks, David Chambers, Mabou Mines, Doug Fitch, Ken Roht, Karin Coonrod, Marcy Arlin, Myra Bazell and Ruth Margraff. I am a member of Filament Theatre Company, Theatre Without Borders and a Chashama resident.

I have participated and led workshops at Sundance Theatre Lab, SITI, La MaMa Umbria, DAH International Theatre School, RhodopiInternational Theatre Laboratory in Smolyan, Bulgaria and the First International Theatre Conference in Baku, Azerbaijan.

My design method, “Inside Out” has been taught at various colleges (FIT, Westmont College, Sarah Lawrence College, Pacific Union College), and non-profit educational institutions throughout the US and abroad. I hold an MFA in costume design from California Institute of the Arts and in fashion design from Moscow Textile University. I am the recipient of the 2007 NEA/TCG Career Development Program For Theatre Designers.

Marcy Arlin is a freelance director and Artistic Director of the OBIE-winning Immigrants’ Theatre Project. A member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Theatre without Borders, League of Professional Theatre Women, No Passport, and Fulbright Scholar to Romania and the Czech Republic. She recently directed The Farnsworth Invention for Oddfellows Playhouse in Connecticut. Current projects are the readings series Eastern European Playwrights: Women Write the New; and East/West/East: Vietnam Immigrants Out of War, a binational, trilingual (Vietnamese, Czech, English) theatre project based on interviews with American and Czech Vietnamese, in collaboration with Firehouse Theatre in Richmond, VA, and Divadlo Feste, in Brno, Czech Republic. Directing venues include: 59E59, QTIP, LaMama, Vineyard, Oddfellows, Artheatre/Koln, Nat’l Theatre of Romania/Cluf. Created Journey Theatre, working with survivors of war and torture. Co-Editor Czech Plays: 7 New Works. Lecturer in theatre at CUNY; taught workshops on community-based theatre at Yale, University of Chicago, Brown, and NYU.