In photographer Stephen Mosher's new 218-page book from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, the "common thread" is a natty old sweater he asked scores of people to wear for photo shoots, but the metaphor of the project is clear: The common thread is the humanity of the subjects.
In what is sure to be one of this season's hottest theatre industry gifts, "The Sweater Book" is that proverbial gift that keeps on giving. Photographer Mosher, a 39-year-old Texas native who is now a New Yorker, is donating two-thirds of his proceeds from the book to AIDS organizations: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Cassidy's Place.
The seed of the book began more than a decade ago when Mosher was taking headshots of performers. "I was wearing it when Amy Raynes arrived for her head-shot sitting," Mosher writes in the book. "A fair-skinned blonde beauty, Amy had chosen a pink turtleneck for her shot. Worried the choice would render her ghostlike, I peeled off the sweater and she wore it instead."
Shortly after, the same thing happened with other actors in sittings: "Different people, same lighting, same garment, same photographer. What stood out in each photo was the individuality of each person."
The trend became a project and a mission that resulted in a collection of more than 800 photos meant to benefit HIV/AIDS organizations. About 600 shots fill the book (522 on the pages, 60 on endpapers). Among theatre folk captured in "The Sweater Book" are Gary Beach, Jonathan Freeman, Mary Testa, John Glover, Lily Tomlin, Jerry Herman, Sheldon Harnick, Andrew Lippa, Stephen Schwartz, Peter Matz, Carol Hall, Lynn Ahrens, Betty Comden, Don Pippin, Mary Rodgers, Richard Maltby and David Shire, David Zippel, Bill Russel and Bruce Bossard, John Bucchino, Frank Wildhorn and Linda Eder, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, Jason Alexander, Mercedes Ruehl, Mark Harelik, Liliane Montevecchi, Karen Ziemba, Michael Berresse, Donna McKechnie, Hal Linden, Betty Buckley, Judith Ivey, Marc Kudisch, Marin Mazzie, Bea Arthur, Susan Stroman, Scott Wise, Anne Reinking, Carol Burnett, Heather Headley, George Hearn, Kristin Chenoweth, Justin Kirk, Tovah Feldshuh, Charles Busch, Nicky Silver, Paul Rudnick, Scott Ellis, Randy Graff, Dana Ivey, Swoosie Kurtz, Lanford Wilson, Michele Lee, Patricia Morrison, Christine Baranski, Celeste Holm, Walter Bobbie, Andrea Martin and on and on.
Given the 10-year shooting time of the project, many of the subjects are also no longer with us, and in the back of the book are glimpses of the late Ray Walston, Portia Nelson, Eileen Heckart, David Dukes, Roddy McDowall and Burton Lane. Al Hirschfeld, Steve Allen, Peter Matz have also passed on since the project began, though you only need to see the shot of a very pregnant Jessica Molaskey to see that the book is also punctuated with hope.
Composer and actor Gilles Chiasson (Rent) is the subject of the last photo with the cardigan. After that, the sweater disappeared. To where, Mosher doesn't know.
Mosher told Playbill On-Line the first question people ask is, "How could you lose the sweater??!!" and the second question is, "How often did you clean the sweater?"
"We cleaned the sweater if someone wore the sweater completely naked, or if someone wore the sweater while holding a pet that sheds," Mosher told Playbill On-Line. "Also, if the sweater was on the beach — if it got sand or surf it. The rest of the time, we tried to keep all the energy of all the people in the sweater. Washing it could ruin that."
The sweater was nothing more fancy than a mass manufactured acrylic garment (it was cleaned by hand washing, for the record) that was bought at a department store in Texas. The color? Black with beige pattern.
Publication date of "The Sweater Book" is Oct. 20, but it has appeared in book stores in recent weeks. For more information, visit www.StephenMosher.com.