Cover the Winter Arts Preview, Chicago Reader print issue of January 20, 2022. On the cover: Illustration by Mike Centeno. For more of Centeno’s work, go to

When we first started planning this special winter arts issue, there was reason for cautious optimism about live performances. But as December turned to January and the Omicron surge hit, several companies did what they’ve been doing for almost two years: they made new plans. Bridgette M. Redman profiles playwright Cat McKay, whose show Plaid as Hell has been postponed by Babes with Blades, and Catey Sullivan catches up with Honey West (who knows about surviving pandemics), the diva in charge at Mercury Theater’s newly reimagined Venus Cabaret space. 

What’s it like being an essential worker in the arts and elsewhere now? Mark Larson centers several stage managers and front of house workers in our cover story to find out what shutting down and coming back has meant for them. In short: business as usual isn’t happening, and a lot of arts workers (rightly!) want to see changes. Annette LePique shows us how Blue Tin Production and 63rd House offer a model of economic justice and community empowerment in Chicago Lawn, while Dmitry Samarov finds a connection to the late Ray Johnson’s work at the Art Institute, “like having a talk with an old friend I’ve never met.” 

Friends old and new: welcome to the new normal. Whatever happens, we’re going to be here to talk about it.

Winter Arts Preview