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If you haven’t heard of Daniella Mazzio, a 23-year-old artist living in Chicago, you should consider fixing that. A DePaul University graduate and trained theatre, film and performance artist, her work has been featured at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and YesFest at the Elmhurst Art Museum to name a few.
In November 2016 she created a sketch, Film Revue, based on famous Oscar-winning films and a month later, she premiered her one-act play boxes at Prop Thtr. She is currently working on her play, Polyanna but her “baby” as she describes is her comedic variety show she co-developed with fellow artists titled ‘Cago!.
Her love for art began when she was around eight years, mostly due to her parents whom she says are the “pop culture king and queen of the Chicago suburbs.” Her dad is a TV, movie and music buff and her mom is a visual artist who paints and sketches.
I can tell when she talks about her parents that she has a great admiration for them, which was perhaps why art has become something for her that “just makes sense,” especially when it comes to working within different mediums.
“I’ve never understood why people limit themselves within art,” she says. “That causes conflicts and ego because you don’t have an understanding of every field. Why wouldn’t you learn as much as you can to expand what you do?”
Since she started working toward diversifying her craft, it has become clear that comedy has become the medium she finds the most rewarding. “Comedy consistently makes me the happiest,” she says. “It [comedy] came when I didn’t have a plan. It fulfills me in a way other things don’t. I’m just fortunate that it’s working out.”
And while it was her curiosity that drove her to explore comedy, another part of it was the “institutional” discrimination in theatre. Daniella says she’s fortunate to not have dealt with it directly but she still acknowledges that as women in the field, it can be hard to get your big break.
“I look at people who get booked and a lot of them are white men,” she says. “It’s hard not to have that sinking feeling because as a woman you either have to be amazing or you’re out whereas you can be an adequate white man and get booked – that tells me something is going on.”
But that hasn’t stopped her. In fact, nothing seems to slow her down but rather propel her to create content drawn from real-life experiences – no matter the topic.
In October 2017, Daniella was diagnosed with depression after a “close brush with suicide,” which she describes as a fragile position where she didn’t trust that she wouldn’t hurt herself. Three months prior to the diagnosis she was sexually assaulted.
Daniella tells me she hates calling it “rape” because the situation wasn’t violent but she also recognizes that lack of consent and the betrayal of trust by someone who was a close friend at the time.
“The bullet point it always comes down to is I had told him no previously in the night, and he manipulated my trust so that I would continue spending the evening with him under the belief that nothing would happen. And when it did – the moment he betrayed that trust – I froze,” she says.
“It's hard to call it rape because all I can see were all the things I did wrong,” she adds. “And when someone you care about does it, you don't want them to be a person who would do that to you. You want to protect them.”
It took Daniella months of telling her friends, parents and therapist the story several times, often with her own bias of guilt, to finally come to terms with what had happened.
“I would've rather just lived in the feeling of it being an awkward night than dealing with the emotional and physical violations, the loss of a friend, and the depression that followed. But the brain and the body know,” she says.
“Talking about it was hard and intense, but after it was over I felt this gigantic weight gone. I had looked at the thing head on, and it couldn't have power over me anymore. It was my story.”
She shares her story through her art and says she’s a firm believer in making jokes about something that has happened to you because “it’s your narrative and your feelings.”
“I do jokes about rape culture. I have a whole song I wrote following the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings called Thank You (For Not Raping Me) that roasts the whole pedestal that we put men on for not being monsters,” she says.
“I think it's pretty funny and it makes me happy when it lands. I think because I'm a comedian, it makes me want to be more honest about this sort of thing outside of my comedy just to remind people that I'm not just a two-dimensional jokester, that there are still serious and intimate qualities to me. I think that makes me better as an artist.”
“Depression, suicide, sexual assault – these things shouldn’t be silenced because they’re a part of my life,” she adds. But she admits, sometimes she struggles with how much people should see. To remedy showcasing too much of her personal life, she aims to portray these issues through a character and with every true story, she’ll add an untrue statement so it’s not “all me.”
But she is still very open to speaking about her depression and has “no shame” when it comes to her diagnosis. “I talk about it because it’s something people go through and it’s great I got help,” she says. “It’s another life thing that needed to happen.”
She has dealt with it with medication, therapy and of course, art, which has managed to seep it’s way into our society through various forms, according to Daniella.
“Memes are even art,” she says. “I want to go to grad school for media studies – the study of pop culture – because art is everywhere and I would love to trace how it’s changed and why we need it. Why was Britney Spears so important to us? Why are the Kardashians?”
She doesn’t necessarily have the answer to that question but she does think art has the power to incite change – especially comedy as it was “birthed to political commentary.”
I can’t help but ask if she’s a Saturday Night Live fan, which these days, has no shortage of political content to mock, but her answer surprises me.
“I think SNL desensitized people to Trump and that’s how he got elected,” she says. “The intent is to just be relevant. Sure, it’s funny but like-minded work to like-minded people is not productive. If I’m doing liberal comedy, I don’t want to say the same thing every liberal believes. It doesn’t seem like the right way to bring about a conversation.”
So she’s not the biggest fan of the show but then again, she tells me her goal isn’t to be a comedian on SNL – it’s simply to make people laugh.
“Art and comedy can make people feel better and if that’s the only impact – that’s noble,” she says. “I like the idea of people having fun for an hour. It’s an escape, a reprieve and a community where people can have fun and find commonalities. Is that change? I don’t know but it makes people feel good and that’s important to me.”
Bringing people joy, if only fleeting makes what she does worthwhile but she hopes that through her art, she can dedicate herself to learning new things and “opening the paths that are untraveled” so she can grow not only as artist but as a person too.
“I would love to be a better person because one better person in the world is something more than we had before,” she says. “That’s more hours spent laughing, and more empathy in the universe. You can’t change the mind of hateful people but you can figure out how they got there and figure out a game plan to prevent it.”
“I’m still trying to find my voice,” she adds but it’s not really about her voice she explains. “If you’re a person of privilege then it’s about listening to those who aren’t. It’s about matching our society’s needs while creating a better society.”
Can art make that happen? Leave it to Daniella to find out.