Sunday, April 22, 2001

Dazzling divas with Joe Rigotti

Event producer for Accent Cincinnati knows how to add the eccentric touches

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Bottom line: Joe Rigotti is a party on the hoof. In, oh, a million or so ways.

        Because of his job as event planner and producer for Accent Cincinnati. “My title is creative director and royal pain... but what I do is plan events from conception to execution.” That means dressing the room, picking decor, designing the lighting, even selecting tablecloths.

        Because of his hobby: He volunteers his expertise for charity events all over town — Back to Broadway, Night Against AIDS, Zoofari, Nutcracker Ball, next weekend's Diva Dazzle II salute to Cincinnati's singing women. “Eighty percent of what I do is my job. Thirty percent is a freebie. I know that adds up to 110 percent, but that's how it feels sometimes.”

[photo] Joe Rigotti, a professional event planner, with some of his mirrored balls.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        Because of his, uh, flair: Mr. Rigotti usually stays for events he produces and always dresses up: “Favorite outfit? Definitely my pink bouffant wig with the mirrored ball headband, zebra-striped velvet pants and ostrich feather accessories.

        “I believe in upstaging the bride.”

        Stages are something Mr. Rigotti knows about. The 34-year-old Beaver Dam, Wis., native came to Cincinnati in 1989 for CCM's Musical Theater program. He then moved to New York for about five years and got a fair share of roles, but NYC is expensive. Money ran out in the mid-90s and he moved back here.

        Today, he lives alone in Covington — “no pets, no plants, just an extensive wardrobe of spandex, feathers and sequins” — never wears a winter coat, always dresses in black (except for parties) and considers himself a Ph.D. in hot glue gun technology.

        “Once when I was going to an outrageous party in Columbus, I sat in the passenger seat and hot-glued an entire ensemble. Thank God the car had a cigarette lighter adapter.”

        Right. So how does one go about preparing for life as a sought-after event planner? Besides wearing pants made from hundreds of tiny mirrors glued together?

        “You plan your junior prom, then become social chairman of your fraternity. Then in my case, work in theater, seeing entertainment from the inside. From there, you evolve into it.

        “Then you let your wild side take over, the funky and unexpected things that really make it a party. Great visuals, great entertainment, great lighting, because God knows, the older we get the better lighting we need.

        “I truly believe success lies in the creative wild factor — whether it's sophisticated or over-the-top, it has to be elements people don't witness in everyday life.

        “Like Diva Dazzle, we're turning the Pavilion (Caprice) into a '30s supper club, all sophisticated and elegant, because it's something people can't experience much anymore.

        “It's not an issue of keeping current. It's a matter of keeping ahead of keeping current.”

        To illustrate, he tells about a trip to Miami last August and his visit to a way trendy South Beach club. “The decor was exactly like what I did for a bat mitzvah six months earlier. To see the same thing in Miami, it made me feel good about myself.”

        All this “keeping ahead” takes work. It means studying his bibles — In Style, People, Vogue. It means four or five trips a year to New York to see theater. It means still more trips to big cities to shop trendy little boutiques.

        “I do have a reputation for outrageous, over-the-top clothes. It started when I lived in New York and was into the club and rock scenes. In that world, you have to go beyond whatever to be noticed.

        “I was noticed.”

        Fine. Before anyone else notices, how about filling in the blanks?


        My biggest event disaster ...

Ooooh, Dennis Miller for a local corporate event. His performance wasn't geared to the audience. We had warned him to tone it down and thought he understood. He didn't — every other word was, uh, the wrong one. His performance went from 60 minutes to 20. We had to pull the plug. Lights up, music up, mike off. I was mortified.

        The event I'll never forget ...

Probably working with Cirque on a corporate event. I let my imagination run wild, way beyond outside the box. It was also the launch of my spandex fixation.

        If I weren't doing this ...

I'd be starring on Broadway in the Joe Rigotti musical. It would be Joe with an E, not Liza with a Z. Show tunes, all show tunes. I once had my car broken into and they rifled my CDs but didn't take a single one. They're all show tunes and I guess these weren't Broadway babies.

        When all else fails dressing a room for a gala, I ...

Go with lots of candlelight and reallly dramatic lighting. Good lighting makes any environment work. Or at least look good.

        I think my trademark is ...

        Definitely spandex and generally outrageous. Oh, and mirrored balls on everything.

        The best place to start planning an event ...

        I would say off-the-wall brainstorming where you make it clear that no idea's a bad idea. Sounds cliche, but if you just start throwing out words, something happens.

        One thing you forgot to ask me ...

Two things: Is my hair naturally this color? (No.)

        And where do I see myself going? Truly, I'd love to be a household name, producing the Oscars, Tonys, Emmys. People forget that there needs to be an entertainment value in all these events. I'm here to remind them.

        Diva Dazzle II, an AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati fund-raiser with divas Mary Jo Katona, Shirley Jester (Diva Emeritus), Pam Myers, Mary Ellen Tanner, Kathy Wade, Melodie Guinta, Spring Starr Pillow, Carol Sherman-Jones and Sherry McCamley, is Saturday. 421-2437.


In the studio with Charles Brown and Doreen LaRue
'Cincinnati Blues' documents early styles and local scene
Chasing the ultimate cheesecake
Diner's journal
Catching up
- Dazzling divas with Joe Rigotti
Prize possessions
Dave Barry opens Town Hall series
DEMALINE: The arts
MCGURK: Film notes
Singers turn Bogart's into happy, folkie beer hall
Reality check
Get to it