Dean, School of Fine and Performing Arts at Columbia College
Many of Chicago’s future “Players” are formed at Columbia College’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, where Onye Ozuzu serves as educator, researcher, dean and inspiration to young artists at the start of their career. Ozuzu heads a faculty comprised of our city’s most innovative and talented working performing artists and is herself constantly working on new projects. Her 2015 collaboration with saxophonist Greg Ward to reinvent Charles Mingus’ “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” on the Pritzker Pavilion stage was fierce and transcendent. Ozuzu was also selected as a recipient of a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Grant in 2016. Onstage and behind the scenes, Ozuzu is a force in the Chicago performing arts scene.
Artistic director, Greenhouse Theater Center
Plenty of artistic directors want to shake things up when they take over the helm of a company. Rarely do they do so quite as dramatically as Greenhouse Theater Center’s new artistic director Jacob Harvey, whose home company was, until this year, known for being a curator and host for companies such as Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, American Blues Theater and Waltzing Mechanics rather than as a producer. That changed with the announcement of the Solo Celebration, a series of one-person plays running for the better part of a year across Greenhouse’s four stages. The company’s inaugural season has been met with resounding praise, an encouraging sign for Harvey who has proved apt at the business of art. Moving forward, he promises to make the nurturing of Chicago theater his main priority even as his company expands into new pastures.
Greta Honold, John Zinn and Patrick Zakem
Producers, Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s LookOut Series
This year saw the grand opening of the latest extension of Steppenwolf’s increasingly vast campus at 1700 North Halsted. And while the folks next door at 1650 busy themselves with the expansion of the regular season, a trio of savvy producers are curating this new space, a versatile eighty-seat cabaret-style theater that has already hosted a wide range of events aimed at broadening Steppenwolf’s appeal to younger and more diverse audiences. Greta Honold, John Zinn and Patrick Zakem have seemingly been given free range over the aptly named LookOut series to consistently entertaining ends: the last six months alone have seen the remount of Definition Theatre Company and The New Colony’s massively successful “Byhalia, Mississippi,” celebrated improv trio Sand and Grammy Award-winning classical music group Eighth Blackbird. Filling in the gaps of the traditional performance schedule, the LookOut series has thus far succeeded in getting new faces into the building both on stage and in the seats.
Yolanda Cesta Cursach
Curator of performance, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Ever since Peter Taub announced last year he was leaving the helm of the MCA Stage after twenty years, Yolanda Cesta Cursach has kept the ship steady. As a part of the team of performance curators working during Taub’s tenure, she was instrumental in bringing pioneering new work like “Power Goes” by The Seldoms to the stage. She has since shouldered the considerable programming load as curator of performance, not only continuing the multidisciplinary probity of Taub’s estimable vision, but expanding and giving it new focus. An upcoming multi-week program that digs into Merce Cunningham’s integration of visual art and dance that presaged the first avant-garde dance movements is among a host of programs throughout the year that seek new boundaries.
Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke
Co-founders, Chicago Dancing Festival
For ten years the Chicago Dancing Festival, brainchild of Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke, was a cultural highlight of summer in Chicago. Free performances from top companies around the city, the country and the world graced high-profile downtown stages—the Harris Theater, the Auditorium Theatre, the Museum of Contemporary Art Stage—with a culminating program at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park that drew ten-thousand attendees in its first year alone. Then, in late October, a few weeks after the close of a successful tenth season—which included a delightful new participatory program on Navy Pier—Franke and Lubovitch announced the Fest was coming to a close, the project complete, a finished work of art in and of itself. Dance fans were stunned and many of us found ourselves asking what the heck we’re going to do at the end of August in 2017. Franke and Lubovitch gave our city a great cultural gift and demonstrated the widespread hunger and enthusiasm that exists for brilliant, accessible dance. Let’s hope this is ultimately just the closing of a chapter and not truly the end. We’re anxiously awaiting the next one.
Director of new play development, Victory Gardens Theater
Isaac Gomez doesn’t sleep. It’s the only reasonable explanation for how he manages to cultivate new work and design public programs for Victory Gardens Theater, dramaturg for professional theaters all over the city and administrate for Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists. Oh and did you know that he’s an accomplished playwright too? “The Way She Spoke: A Docu-mythologia” played during the Greenhouse Theater Center’s Solo Celebration this past year. Gomez is a tireless (literally) advocate for diversity and inclusion in theater. After multiple high-profile incidents of white actors being cast in roles written for actors of color, he was an integral part of the sold-out townhall event at Victory Gardens in which those issues, and many more, were addressed. And if all that’s got you feeling exhausted you should know that Gomez was recently tapped to curate this year’s Theater on the Lake festival. And while we can’t wait to see what else he gets up to in 2017, we do have one recommendation: power naps.
Timothy J. Evans and BJ Jones
Executive director and artistic director, Northlight Theatre
In just under two years, Northlight Theatre has produced five world premieres. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. The company was recently awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that will go toward producing “Faceless,” a timely new play about religious freedoms from Selina Fillinger that opens this month. “Faceless” was developed through Northlight’s Interplay Program, an initiative that invests in provocative new work from local and international playwrights. Much like their peers in Glencoe, Lincolnshire and Aurora, Timothy J. Evans and BJ Jones have brought all the professional knowhow from the city proper out into the suburbs.
Lyric Unlimited director, Lyric Opera of Chicago
Lyric Opera is always finding new ways to bring people of disparate musical backgrounds together to share and celebrate all forms of music making. No experience in opera? No worries! Lyric Unlimited, announced in 2012, is an initiative to bring people together and keep the conversation going. Formerly the Director for New Initiatives at Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Institute for Learning, Cayenne Harris is a perfect choice for director of such a wide-reaching enterprise. Executing Lyric Unlimited’s myriad programs while establishing a funding model that will keep this type of sweeping endeavor successful requires a unique set of skills and an outgoing, easy personality that connects with everyone. Next month, Lyric Unlimited will produce the Chicago Voices Gala Concert, showcasing the city’s musical traditions of blues, jazz, rock, folk, hip-hop, gospel and maybe a little opera thrown in just to keep it all good, crazy fun. As is the case with every Lyric Unlimited happening, you can bet that Cayenne Harris will have her talented hands on every aspect of this spectacular event.
Founder, producer, Chicago Inclusion Project
One of the most ubiquitous and capable performers in the city, able to move easily between a diverse array of spaces such as Court Theatre, The Second City and The Hypocrites, Emjoy Gavino is also developing her activist resume as the founder and producer of the Chicago Inclusion Project. With the relative homogeneity of Chicago stages, the existence of CIP is crucial. As Gavino and her organization encourage theaters to be more inclusive, conversations regarding, race, gender and disability have opened up with the ultimate goal of expanding opportunities for underrepresented communities. With upcoming engagements with Backroom Shakespeare Project and Haven Theater, Gavino’s 2017 is sure to be productive.
Director of performing arts, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)
With Shoshona Currier at the helm, DCASE has big expectations to fulfill. In the wake of Oracle Productions Public Access Theatre closing, planning free programming at the Chicago Cultural Center and other locations throughout the city is falling even more on her shoulders. Upcoming projects include writing grants for communities with limited access to theaters and developing a more solid support structure for local artists. Beginning the year with the International Puppet Theater Festival and OnEdge, an experimental performance series, DCASE is off to a promising start.