41. Brad Morris
Few sketch and improv performers are truly terrific actors, but Morris is an exception to the rule—whether he’s on Second City’s mainstage (where he’s collected a paycheck for the past three years) or performing after hours with Tim Meadows in “Uncle’s Brother” at iO Theater. The guy is just sharp as a tack when it comes to building a character and finding the humor within.
42. Grant Sabin
It’s one thing to take a big budget and turn a set into spectacle, and another altogether to take little or no budget at all and work the same magic. Grant Sabin’s set for “Lucinda’s Bed” on the tiny stage at Chicago Dramatists stole the show last fall with its minimal inventiveness, carrying the weight of the passage of years and evolving fortunes, without spending a fortune. A couple months later, his set for the debut production for the newly re-formed American Blues’ “It’s A Wonderful Life: Life at the Biograph!” was a spot-on rendition of a 1940s radio stage, one that set the mood for this spectacular Christmas spectacular. Little wonder that Sabin’s one of the go-to guys for storefront theater sets in Chicago.
43. Julia Rhoads
Choreographer and dancer
Co-founder of Lucky Plush Productions, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, Julia Rhoads is the rare sort of choreographer who makes postmodernism pleasurable. Her witty inquiries into dream-states, hyper-networked culture and, most recently, internet-facilitated plagiarism are not only thought-provoking but fun to watch—a testament to the power of dance to address both the contemporary and the timeless.
44. Alison Siple
Alison Siple’s costume designs are both gorgeous and smart. In the sublime “The Mystery of Irma Vep” this fall at Court, her costumes added another layer of aesthetics and humor to the farce. In addition, 2009 alone found her doing “Icarus” at Lookingglass, David Cromer’s “Our Town” in New York, and two of the best-looking Hypocrites productions to date: “Oedipus” (in which costumes played literal roles in the show) and a surrealist “The Hairy Ape.”
45. Jet Eveleth
A frequent presence at iO Theater (notably as a member of the talented and long-running improv team The Reckoning), Eveleth—with her delicate features and killer timing—is a top dog in comedy. Biting but never cruel, she works the smallest details of her characters; the lady can act the tar out of a scene. She was the one bright spot in last year’s locally made indie film “American Legacy,” and she just finished filming a TV pilot with Greg Hollimon (“Strangers with Candy”).
46. Atalee Judy
Choreographer and dancer
Atalee Judy took her physical history as gymnast, martial artist and street punk, hurled it at the lens of dance and from the shards forged a new form of movement art. Her rigorous bodyslam technique, taught in workshops and refined in her company, Breakbone DanceCo, has proved that the bludgeon can be a more effective tool than the scalpel for dissecting issues of gender, sex, violence and vulnerability.
47. David Cerda
Actor and playwright
More than just a drag queen, David Cerda is a true renaissance man (in a dress). This writer/actor/producer just wrapped up the twelfth holiday season of giving transvestite reindeers a voice in “Rudolph the Red Hosed Reindeer,” and an extended remount of his queer fanboy movie tribute “POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical.” When Cerda isn’t leading his company Hell in a Handbag in flights of fancy pop-culture skewering, you can find him fronting his Joan Crawford tribute band The Joans.
48. Steve Gadlin
Gadlin and his fellow Blewt! collaborators breathe new life into the Chicago comedy scene each year with their improv-talent-show mashup known as Impress These Apes (which wrapped its fourth season in the fall). Gadlin’s fey performance as one of the ape judges on the panel (a character called Barry Shirley) is an inspired riff on Charles Nelson Reilly, and it is always, always funny. Not to mention the “talents” he and his partners dream up each week for the competition, which are bizarre but terribly fruitful.
49. Billy Siegenfeld
Choreographer and dancer
Ruth Page Award-winning dancer/choreographer Billy Siegenfeld celebrates the twentieth anniversary of his Jump Rhythm Jazz Project this year. Three years ago, Siegenfeld won an Emmy for his performance in a documentary about his rhythm-based technique and company. Siegenfeld’s joyous, playful approach to American dance and its interplay with music has an infectious optimism and timeless charm.
50. Nick Keenan
Nick Keenan’s the kind of guy you can’t wait to see a few years down the road. You know he is going to be doing something stellar because he is already one of the most exciting artists in town. The young designer’s resume has blown up to include many of Chicago’s major theaters, and he is is a thinker to boot. Follow his musings on web technology, theater infrastructure and community building on his blog theaterforthefuture.com.