Claudia Callisto Returns With Her Fringe Show ‘The Good Italian Girl’

The ultimate 80s ‘Giusa’ Claudia Callisto is bringing back her show with more big 80s hits and big 80s hair, telling her story about life growing up as the good Italian girl. With two of her shows already SOLD OUT you better Grab Ya Tix! quick for this years season of The Good Italian Girl – Love is a Battlefield. Shows at Fergs Stepney are all gone but you can catch her at Prompt Creative Centre: Sun February 26 and Sunday March 5 and Eliza Hall Prospect at Payinthi: Friday February 24 but be warned they are selling fast (not a marketing line they definitely are!) Claudia chatted to Hi Fi Way about the show and how her life inspired her to write the book, create a Fringe show and also launch a podcast!

Your show is called The Good Italian Girl Presents – Italian Love is a Battlefield, so what is a ‘good Italian girl’? 
That’s a very complex question to answer! I started off writing my book The Good Italian Girl which was a play on words because all our lives we’ve been conditioned to act like the ‘good girl’ within our family. Making the right choices and being denied by cultural obligations. So I wrote in my book about being placed in a cultural box and always trying to find who I really was. It’s a little bit of what we call ‘the wog guilt’ and ‘wog expectations.

I was writing my book about all these unwritten rules and expectations that were placed on us. The rule book was always there but its not a book as such or that’s written down, it’s pass down by our parents with harsh words or ‘the look’ or “Don’t do this!” or “Don’t behave like that!” Always correcting our behaviour.

Most of my life I tried to not rebel from all that but to put my own personality in my family. It was about my journey. The good Italian girl or first-generation Australian Italians or ethnic girls all tried to please their parents and live up to their expectations.

You mentioned your book The Good Italian Girl. Did the book come first or the show?
The book came out two years ago and it was self-published. My dad passed away in July 2020 and I was really kind of lost with “What was that all about?” All we did was argue about him trying to give me his opinions, constantly correcting me or saying “You can’t do this or that!” and I was reflecting on all of that. I was over fifty when he passed away and I thought to myself that he loved me but he was forever trying to tell me how to live my life. Even right up to the last few months of his life we were arguing about plants and stupid things.

I went through a bit of a crisis as I was the third daughter. I was the one born in Australia and the one that was trying to break most of the rules. In actual fact I was the one that did what he wanted for most of his daughters which was to marry another Italian, have that big Italian family and abide by the Italian culture.

My sisters were a lot more quieter and the eldest daughter didn’t break any rules where as I was trying to be myself and live in the eighties going to clubs with all my friends. My friends were all going through the same thing so the book was about growing up as a ‘Giusa’ (also known as Giusi) and talking about these rules that we all had to abide by. All the hiding we did with our family because we didn’t want to hear their disappointment with us.

In the end I reflected that my dad really did do the best he could with the skills that he had, coming to Australia, starting a new life and here I was this sassy daughter trying to exert her own personality. I know he loved me and I loved him back. As a mother now with my own child, my dad comes out of my mouth “You cant do that!” “Where are you going?” and I reflect back that the shoe’s now on the other foot! I’m proud of that book. I launched it and have now sold over 600 copies.

What was your motivation to write a show about growing up with these strict Italian traditions and expectations?
Someone said to me “Why don’t you write a show?” So I did my first show last year and I adapted what was in the book into a storytelling show, not so much of a comedy but comedy did come out. My background is a Training Manager and I am a BAS Agent/Finance person so to do that show, for me, was huge. Even writing the book was huge so now I’m back for a second year’s season.

So obviously you’ve never been in the Arts industry before this, were you scared or apprehensive?
No. I was never in the industry before and I was petrified! I used to be a corporate trainer so I knew I could do it. I can do a workshop. I can stand up and deliver business material quite easily. I’m a talker, an entertainer, I’m a wog chick! You know we have big parties which is nothing for us. Big Christmases, big Easters and I know that my message is relevant to our big community.

There’s also a podcast Good Italian Girl and Friends, you’re one busy Italian girl! 
I just launched a nine-part podcast called The Good Italian Girl and Friends last November and I invited all my ‘Giusa’ friends from Adelaide and individual groups of friends to talk about their experiences growing up and it was hilarious. Their escape stories were different from mine but theirs were crazier! They were climbing out of windows and telling parents all sorts of stuff so mine were quite tame in comparison to their stories.

We just all grew up the same. We were all battling this with our parents and we all didn’t tell them half the stuff that went on! Now I realise, that before I wrote the book, we would have these huge discussions when friends were over or at dinner parties and that our kids don’t understand how they have it compared to what we all went through growing up!

So, did those discussions inspire more content for the show?
As mothers we all talk about “Is your child doing this?” “I said no and he just doesn’t listen!” Now we feel like we are the meat in the sandwich. We have one generation on one side, our parents, who are still telling us what to do and growing up we had to listen to them and we are in the middle with our husbands then we’ve got our kids on the other side telling us how to parent! So, we are like “What the fuck happened here?” (laughs)

So that’s what the shows about just from that actual scenario that’s happening in our generation at this time.

So, are you telling the ethnic stories from a female perspective?
The thing is we have all these ethnic comedy men onstage and I love them, I follow them; Joe Avati and Sooshi Mango. I have been following them for years and I think they are very funny but they represent their mums and sisters. I am the mum and the sister in the picture doing what they show onstage.

I’m telling the stories more than from a comedy perspective. There’s ethnic comedy out there but there’s no one from my generation which I was born in 1967, there telling our stories. We tell our stories amongst us and we laugh! We laugh because we know how painful it was and through comedy we grow. That was our trauma, that’s what happened to us. We all know that every parent was the same. I didn’t feel different in my environment because I went to Catholic school with other Italian girls, ‘Giusas’, that were the same as me.  

What can audiences expect when they come and see your show?
I made this show up. I scripted it and there’s no other show like it! It’s based on the same format as last year but it went too long so this year, I’ve streamlined it so its not as long. Its storytelling with a comedy element to the story. It’s not just comedy, it’s my story growing up battling with my dad but in between that what I have felt all my life is that when I play 80s music (from when I was a ‘Giusa’ in the 80s) those songs resonated so much they helped me during that time.

A lot of those songs have such emotive feelings so I scripted the show to incorporate 80s music to get that message across. Its very similar to last year and I even do a bit of a ‘Giusa’ dance. I’m not a dancer or skinny (laughs). I’m just an average ‘Giusa’ with high hair with a bit of attitude. I’m out there just being myself and people love that!

There’s a message in it and there’s lots of fun!

You are a co-founder of Shining Light; can you tell us a bit about that? 
I set up a market stall and an online business to sell gratitude journals and motivational/affirmation cards. These are the things I gravitated to when I was going through my struggles with IVF. I did gratitude journals which helps with mental health and mindfulness.

What’s three words to describe your show? 
Culturally thought provoking, 80s memories and fun!

Fringe Interview by Anastasia Lambis

Tickets and show information for Lolly Bag at Fringe Tix. Grab Ya Tix!

Link to The Good Italian Girl Podcast here.

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