Opening night at “The Misanthrope” at Court Theatre in May 2013 and I was in the lobby with Newcity’s then-theater editor, Johnny Oleksinski, when he introduced me to the photographer Joe Mazza. Joe pounces with energy and it did not take me long to crack a big smile. That was all Joe needed. “Oh my God,” he exclaimed. “Your wrinkles! You have the greatest smile wrinkles! I want to photograph your wrinkles!” Not especially thrilled at any recognition of my aging, it was, needless to say, a strange but amusing encounter. I chalked the conversation up to lobby chatter, the kind of thing that gets said in the moment and forgotten the next moment. A few weeks later, I got a Facebook message from Joe. One of his “wrinkle shots” would become my headshot, and soon we were collaborating on the first-ever photo shoot for the Players 50. Fifteen actors, dancers, directors and comedians showed up at the Music Box Theatre for that first shoot, and when we saw the results, we knew we were on to something special.
Eight years later, we’re bundled up in Mazza’s North Side studio on a December afternoon. He’s keeping fans on and the double doors wide open in order to provide maximum ventilation due to the pandemic and it’s chilly both inside and out. But Joe’s far from cold. He roars approval when anyone arrives; he genuinely sees beauty in every human he encounters and lets them know it. He loves days like this. And he loves the word “fuck” as an exclamation of joy and wonder, shouted, ideally in machine-gun repetition. Also an actor and puppeteer, he’s all of this during a photo shoot, coaxing smiles and performance out of even the most reserved person. None of his first-time subjects have ever been at anything quite like a Joe Mazza photo shoot.
This is Joe’s thirty-second “Leaders of Chicago Culture” photoshoot for Newcity since that night we met. For the first few years, he shot all seven of our lists each year, from the Art 50 to the Music 45, but these days, he sticks to his first love, the world of theater, dance, opera and comedy. And the Players love him, too, often saying that a highlight of making this list is getting a Joe Mazza photo. This year, forty-nine out of fifty made their way to his studio.
We did not publish a Players list in 2021 due to the start of the ongoing pandemic. We’re freshening it up with this return with a new approach to the cover. Joe Mazza’s magic is still front-and-center, but art director Dan Streeting has added a bit of his alchemy as well. And it’s a bit different inside as well; we’ve arranged our Players by category rather than number, though their overall rank is still listed. Let us know what you think.
Look for Newcity’s January 2022 print edition at over 300 Chicago-area locations this week or subscribe to the print edition at Newcityshop.com.
IN THIS ISSUE
Work In Progress
How Woman Made Gallery is overhauling after unraveling
Players of the Moment
Jon Carr and Parisa Jalili of The Second City
The Players 50
These folks never stop performing for Chicago
And so much more…