11 Roche Schulfer
Executive director, Goodman Theatre
As theaters around the country scale back, make desperate pleas for bigger audiences or, worst of all, close up shop, Roche Schulfer has worked tirelessly to keep the Goodman the treasured city fixture it has been for eighty-seven years. In fact, he’s made tremendous improvements. The 2011-2012 season was the company’s most financially successful to date, achieving ninety-percent capacity for the nine productions, along with record-high fundraising totals and a whopping $300,000 gift from the Shubert Foundation. Along with their boundary-pushing, innovative seasonal programming, under Roche’s watch, the thirty-five-year “A Christmas Carol” tradition has continued to thrive and give families a heartwarming, artistically fertile evening at the theater. More than three decades at the helm and a mountain of accolades under his belt, Schulfer’s perpetually kind, outgoing demeanor easily conceals that he is among the hardest-working people in Chicago theater.
12 Michael Tiknis
President and managing director, Harris Theater
Since its opening in 2003, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater has been the premiere venue for independent dance production in Chicago, hosting the likes of Hubbard Street Dance, most notably, but also groups ranging from River North Dance to Muntu to Luna Negra. But in addition to serving as an essential mid-size rental house optimized for dance, the venue also produces its own event series under the Harris Theater Presents rubric. Last year, they landed the coup of all coups, presenting Paris Opera Ballet’s first-ever Chicago engagement. Since that’s the place that is credited with pretty much inventing ballet as we know it, that’s no small get and the response was, to say the least, enthusiastic.
13 Andrew White
Artistic director and co-founder, Lookingglass Theatre Company
Onstage at the Beacon Theatre in 2011, Regional Theatre Tony Award—Chicago’s fifth—in hand, Andrew White told a national television audience that Lookingglass Theatre Company believes in taking risks, supporting each other and telling the story. If you saw “Eastland” last season or “Metamorphoses” this winter, you’ve seen those optimistic principles in action. Collaborating with Ben Sussman and Andre Pluess, White penned the critically acclaimed musical “Eastland,” creatively chronicling the S.S. Eastland Disaster, which, due to popular demand, extended months past its original closing date. And, in what was perhaps the most unique theatrical event of the year, Lookingglass collaborated with celebrity chef Rick Bayless on “Cascabel,” a boisterous amalgam of theater, food and circus—the hottest, and spiciest ticket in town. Capping off a stellar 2012 was a surprisingly rejuvenated remount of “Metamorphoses,” which moves to Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage in February.
14 Steve Traxler
Co-founder and president, Jam Theatricals
While we all know about Broadway In Chicago, fewer realize the local influence on Broadway Outside Chicago. Traxler’s Jam Theatricals manages thirty Broadway subscription markets across the US, and recently took over management, along with SMG, of the 1835-vintage National Theatre in Washington, DC. But it’s in providing a pipeline for major Chicago shows to make the Broadway leap that gets our attention, most recently the acclaimed Steppenwolf production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” that’s a critical darling on the Great White Way right now. Traxler’s also got quite a history with another onetime Chicagoan, David Mamet. Not only is Jam a major producer of the hit revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross” starring Al Pacino (they won a Tony Award for the 2005 revival with Liev Schreiber and Alan Alda), but they also had a hand in Mamet’s world premiere of “The Anarchist,” which was one of Broadway’s notable flops last fall. A board member of the Goodman, Traxler’s been connected to “August: Osage County” ever since it left the stage on Halsted for fame and fortune: in fact, he’s a producer of the film version currently in production.
15 Charles Newell
Artistic director, Court Theatre
In his eighteen years as artistic director, Charles Newell has honored and expounded upon Court Theatre’s longstanding mission to present innovative productions of classic plays by incorporating the modern classic, the musical and sublime works of the African-American canon. And audiences and critics alike have adored the result. Newell’s leadership has led to audiences of about 35,000 a year—a strong number given Court’s 250-seat intimate space. He has also established a fortunate relationship with one of America’s greatest living playwrights, Tony Kushner. Last season, Newell directed the second production (the first was Off Broadway) of Kushner’s lightly revised “Angels in America” in a complete, eight-hour marathon.
16 Barbara Gaines
Artistic director, Chicago Shakespeare Theater
On opening nights at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, artistic director Barbara Gaines can be seen weaving through the ecstatic crowds with a unique kind of magnetism, obviously so proud of all she’s accomplished on Navy Pier. If getting the gorgeous theater built thirteen years ago wasn’t enough, she’s expanded their classical theater and musicals audience to thousands of families and children, exposing the young to the magic and possibility of live theater. The rest of the city has the yearly pleasure of viewing diverse seasons of plays and artists not only from Chicago, but other leading classical theaters like the Stratford Festival, The Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Not to mention that the World’s Stage Series is the most exciting importer of international work in Chicago. Gaines has ensured that Chicago Shakes’ role here is vital and impossible to replace.
17 Renée Fleming
Creative consultant, Lyric Opera
In her role as Lyric Opera Creative Consultant, Renée Fleming could very easily fall back on her impressive international reputation as a world-class soprano, pose for a photo opp or two in front of the skyline, and have an assistant draft an enthusiastic press release a couple times a year. Just having Fleming’s name and face on promotional posters plastered around the Loop is, itself, a boon for Lyric. However, from the frequency in which she appears at the Civic Opera House in person, with focused eagerness and oodles of innovative ideas, you’d hardly even know she doesn’t live out her days in Lakeview. Among her plethora of duties, Fleming performs an integral function as an advisory member of the board of directors. In 2011, she announced a new partnership with the Merit School of Music, sharing Lyric’s enviable resources with the esteemed school. Fleming even did some vocal coaching with the teenage students via Skype from her New York apartment. In January, Fleming co-hosted “The Second City Guide to the Opera” with none other than Sir Patrick Stewart, and, coming up in the spring, she performs the role of Blanche DuBois—a role written for her—in André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
18 David Hawkanson
Executive director, Steppenwolf Theatre
In ten seasons at Steppenwolf, executive director David Hawkanson has overseen some enormous changes to the beloved Chicago institution, while keeping its soul firmly planted in honest, visceral performance. Since 2008, the company has transferred three acclaimed plays to Broadway—“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is wowing audiences and critics right now. They have reconfigured the Garage space as a functional theater, overwhelmingly expanding their artistic programming. In the children and family theater arena, The Steppenwolf for Young Adults program is thriving. The SYA run of “The Book Thief” sold out rapidly to local schools, necessitating added performances for we curious adults. And with the recent purchase of the 18,000-square-foot Ethan Allen building next door, Steppenwolf is poised to soon assume the majority of a city block.
19 Deb Clapp
Executive director, League of Chicago Theatres
An avid supporter of theaters big and small, the League of Chicago Theatres executive director Deb Clapp really wants to get folks in seats. So much so that this February, in conjunction with the brand new Choose Chicago initiative, the League is sponsoring Chicago Theatre Week (February 12-17), a Restaurant Week-inspired six days of low-priced show tickets. Nothing if not a bold choice, Theatre Week promises to reenergize the usual pre-spring seasonal lull, and afford a broader demographic the opportunity to take in some high-quality shows without emptying their wallets. Still can’t find the performance you’re looking for? Why not stop by Hot Tix, the discount ticket service that Clapp also helms? And, as though she’s not supportive enough already, in December the League’s Storefront Playwright Project at Expo 72 allowed passersby to observe the city’s brilliant playwriting talent—such as Ike Holter, Ruth Margraff and Philip Dawkins—at work. And they paid all the writers hourly!
20 Eileen LaCario
Vice president, Broadway In Chicago
One of two vice presidents who help feed Chicago’s Broadway craving, LaCario functions as a sort of Ms. Outside to Suzanne Bizer’s Ms. Inside. While Bizer keeps the shows running and the books in order, LaCario keeps the producers happy while overseeing all promotion and marketing. This longtime veteran of Chicago theater also chairs the League of Chicago Theatre’s board, and when then-new Mayor Rahm Emanuel put together a transition team to advise him on arts and culture, LaCario was one of thirteen who had the mayor’s ear. LaCario and her husband, producer Tony D’Angelo, are the best kind of theater professionals: they’re fans, too, regulars not only at Broadway In Chicago shows, but at nonprofit shows around town.