21 David Cromer
Just when we thought David Cromer couldn’t ascend any higher, he proved us wrong. The MacArthur Genius director who got his start in Chicago with hits like “Our Town” at The Hypocrites and “Adding Machine” at Next Theatre works so much here, you’d hardly even know it’s not his home base anymore. Cromer directed two of Chicago’s most talked about productions of 2012. The New York Times’ Ben Brantley giddily praised The Goodman’s “Sweet Bird of Youth” starring Diane Lane, while the darker, drearier “Rent” at American Theater Company (a co-production with About Face Theatre) sparked equal parts adoration and fury. But Cromer doesn’t limit himself to only Chicago and New York. No, sir. His sensational production of Nina Raine’s “Tribes,” which closed last week at the Barrow Street Theatre Off Broadway moves to the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in February. And that oh-so-famous staging of “Our Town,” now at Huntington Theatre Company, is regaling Massachusetts audiences with its small-town, barebones universality and a breathtaking Act III surprise.
22 Fred Eychaner
President, Alphawood Foundation and board member, Joffrey Ballet
In a city whose performance culture is dominated by its nonprofits, the folks who toil mostly anonymously and behind the scenes to provide funding are an essential cog in its machinery. Perhaps most valuable of all are those who help the small and medium-sized theaters and dance companies—the ones whose boards don’t dominate the society pages—stay up and running. Chicago’s blessed with many such funders, from the individual angels who populate boards to the foundations like Driehaus, MacArthur, Chicago Community Trust and Alphawood that fund not only the bold-faced names of today, but also the marquee toppers of tomorrow. Though media mogul Fred Eychaner (his company prints Newcity) is known as a spotlight avoider, he puts his own money to work for causes he believes in, whether it’s LGBT issues, the election and reelection of President Barack Obama or the arts. On the latter front, he reportedly gave $100 million of his own money to the Alphawood Foundation, which is not only a major donor to the Joffrey Ballet, but also to dozens and dozens of smaller groups, ranging from Breakbone Dance to A Red Orchid Theatre.
23 Tracy Letts
Ensemble member, Steppenwolf Theatre
It takes real power to do what Tracy Letts did last winter at Steppenwolf. When John Mahoney had to bow out of “Penelope” two weeks prior to opening, Letts, an old pro, effortlessly stepped in, giving no impression that he hadn’t been attached to the production all along and making no public fuss over the situation. His performance was, as usual, terrific. Although Letts has been far away in New York City, breaking bourbon bottles every night as George in the Broadway transfer of Steppenwolf’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”—easily the most acclaimed production of the season—last summer in Chicago he premiered a new adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters” also at Steppenwolf. And his most recent work as a playwright, “Superior Donuts,” found its stride in a revival by Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company that proved so popular, it was later remounted at the Royal George. After acting and playwriting, Letts has also discovered a third calling: fantasy voiceovers. In October, he lent his smokey voice to a giant metallic dragon in House’s “Iron Stag King.” Always breathing fire.
24 Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke
Founders and artistic directors, Chicago Dancing Festival
Each summer, the Chicago Dancing Festival grows in size, scope and ambition. What started as three free nights of dance at the Pritzker Pavilion in 2008 grew over the last five years to a full week of performances, lectures, films and panel discussions at the four biggest dance venues in the city. The biggest free festival dedicated exclusively to dance was the brainchild of Chicago-based dancer Jay Franke and Chicago-born, New York-based, internationally renowned Lar Lubovitch, who continue to collaborate annually on the project, pulling in big names from the coasts to share the stage with some of the finest companies in Chicago.
25 Glenn Edgerton
Artistic director, Hubbard Street Dance Company
When he took over the city’s largest homegrown presenter of contemporary dance as only its third-ever artistic director in more than thirty years in 2009, Glenn Edgerton brought a deep appreciation for dance practiced at its very highest level, honed in a career as a dancer and director, most notably with the Joffrey Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater. Since then, he’s expanded the collaborative enterprise of his predecessors, building on partnerships with the CSO and Art Institute and launching a major showcase for new work at the MCA. In addition to showcasing the work of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo in the Hubbard Street repertoire, he’s expanded collaborations with some of the world’s most interesting dance creators, like Mats Ek and Victor Quijada. All this while overseeing a company of eighteen dancers who perform here and around the world year-round.
26 Lane Alexander
Co-founder and director of Chicago Human Rhythm Project
Chicago’s king of tap, co-founder and director of Chicago Human Rhythm Project Lane Alexander, has certainly been on his toes as of late. As dance’s sole representative on newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s arts and culture transition team, he was an essential voice in putting forth the community’s interests at a critical time. And then, last summer, he launched American Rhythm Center at the Fine Arts Building, a shared education, rehearsal and administrative facility for several arts groups, including his own, as well as Giordano Dance Chicago, Kalapriya, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre and several others. And then, last month, Alexander choreographed the first-ever tap concert at the Kennedy Center, “JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance.” All this in addition to CHRP’s regular operations and performances, including the massive Rhythm World summer festival and Global Rhythms production that kicks off the holiday season.
27 Michael Halberstam
Artistic director and co-founder, Writers’ Theatre
Artistic Director Michael Halberstam co-founded Writers’ Theatre twenty years ago, and that risky suburban experiment has proven an enormously popular destination in the sleepy hamlet of Glencoe. The community has embraced the theater, and when Halberstam announced that they will break ground on a whole new Studio Gang-designed building in place of their current Women’s Library Club facility, their gracious landlord agreed to rent them the plot on a ninety-nine-year lease for only a dollar per year. That’s a measly number compared to the estimated $30 million the building will cost. After twenty years of intelligent, forceful, intimate drama, Writers has also recently woven musicals into their repertoire, and their audience of 35,000 is clamoring for them. “A Minister’s Wife” ended up at New York’s Lincoln Center, last summer’s “A Little Night Music” was a perfect summer romance, and Halberstam helms “Sweet Charity” later this month. He’s sure to be doing the Rich Man’s Frug come season’s end.
28 PJ Powers
Artistic director and co-founder, TimeLine Theatre
At a rebellious sixteen years old, TimeLine Theatre Company has been driving like a pro for a while now. In 2011, the American Theatre Wing called them “one of the nation’s top 10 most promising emerging professional theatres” and in 2010, the Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout named TimeLine “Company of the Year.” The many accolades are thanks, in no small part, to co-founder and artistic director PJ Powers. Powers’ leadership over the past fourteen years has lead to an expanded season of consistently impressive work, forty-six Jeff Awards and a subscriber base of more than 3,100 people.
29 Brett Batterson
Executive director, Auditorium Theatre
The amiable leader of Chicago’s priceless Louis Sullivan masterpiece, the Auditorium Theatre, Brett Batterson combines a rare mix of business-friendly leadership (think capital campaigns), arts administration and stewardship of one of Chicago’s greatest architectural wonders. As admirable as it is to, say, produce an opera, it says something that his bio includes the construction of new washrooms at the theater; mundane elsewhere, but not so much when you’re tinkering with an architectural treasure. Not only does the Auditorium serve as the performance home of the Joffrey Ballet, but it’s the go-to venue for many touring ballet companies of note, like this season’s Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg. A particularly noteworthy accomplishment on Batterson’s watch has been the growing phenomenon of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s annual Chicago residency, which this spring grows to ten performances over two weeks in the 3,900-seat theater. But if you ask him, we suspect he’s equally excited about the co-commissioned work being presented this spring by River North Dance Chicago in collaboration with Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, which is an outgrowth of the massive Miles Davis Festival produced at the Auditorium back in 2011.
30 Charna Halpern
Producer and co-founder, iO
Working with the legendary Del Close, Charna Halpern began promoting and teaching the longform improvisational structure known as the Harold more than thirty years ago. Located just down the street from Wrigley Field, iO Chicago (formerly ImprovOlympic) has since become a hotbed of improvisational impressiveness, with last year’s three new additions to the “Saturday Night Live” cast serving as only the latest examples of alumni from iO moving up in the comedy world. Halpern has witnessed over 5,000 students progress through iO’s classes, penned seminal works on improvisation and helped particle physicists in Switzerland work together, but she still dedicates the majority of her time to iO, overseeing more than twenty-five improv and sketch shows a week on iO’s two stages. And sometime in the next year, iO will be leaving its longtime Wrigleyville environs for a new home in the Clybourn Corridor, where it will more than double in size.