Though we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.
Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Darren Criss (#4) with Team StarKid
With our criteria shifted back to artistic accomplishment in theater, dance, comedy and opera this year, our task got infinitely tougher. Because while the number of performing venues grows at a steady rate, the increase in the number of noteworthy artists seems to grow exponentially. For everyone we name on the list below, we had to leave off five, an embarrassment of riches for Chicago. We made a conscious effort to introduce a meaningful number of new faces to the list this year; the necessary absences should not be construed as a loss of worthiness as a consequence. We often find trends when we do the research these lists require; this year we’re starting to see a more meaningful effort to redefine performance itself in the internet age, from the runaway success of StarKids, to the more calculated endeavors of Silk Road. So what defines a “player”? Consider it some complex stew of career achievement, recent “heat” and, in some cases, rising stardom.
Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Dennis Polkow
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As the economy slowly lifts us back to our feet and we look around, we see a remarkable sight: a performance industry in Chicago that survived the worst recession since the Great Depression wholly intact. Sure, we had a few brushes with death, and no doubt a few very small, very new theater companies threw in the towel, as they do even in good years, but unlike many other cities across the country, we’re in pretty good shape. How good? The League of Chicago Theatres issued a press release last week proclaiming our town as America’s theater leader, with more than 250 professional theaters, including four Regional Tony Award winners, and a combined annual budget of $250 million serving five million audience members. Add in our thriving dance community, a comedy scene that’s the envy of the nation and two world-class opera companies and you’d have to say we’re doing pretty damn good. But neither the economy nor any cultural organization is fully out of the water yet, and the dramatic uncertainty injected into the political sea by Mayor Daley’s decision to call it a day means Chicago’s performance community will need some steady hands at the wheel these next few years. Accordingly, for this edition of The Players, we’ve broadened our horizon and taken a closer-than-ever look at the individuals in charge of the financial fitness of our local institutions. Read the rest of this entry »
Tara DeFrancisco, No. 36
In this town of performers—theater makers, dancers, comedy creators—you’d think it’d be pretty easy to assemble a list of artistic influencers and innovators. And it is. The challenge is paring that list down to a mere fifty. It’s a testament to the wonders of the performing-arts culture in Chicago that we easily came up with about 200 names when we set out to create this year’s version of The Players. Unfortunately, we’re only listing a fraction of those worthy of your attention, but that’s the problem with an abundance of riches. Hopefully you’ll see a handful of recognizable names and a whole lot more you’ll start noticing from this point on. We’ve retooled the criteria for this year, focusing on onstage artistic achievement, rather than the backstage influence of artistic directors, executive directors and the like—who will get their day again next year. Let the arguments begin. Read the rest of this entry »
What makes Chicago’s theater world special? We picked up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly for clues. In the cover story, “CSI” star William Petersen explains his decision to leave his role as one of the top paid actors in television, earning a rumored $600,000 an episode, to move back to Chicago and Chicago theater: “It was too safe for me at this point. So I needed to try and break that, and the way to do that, for me, is the theater.” EW went on to credit Petersen for much of the show’s success, notably bringing a theatrical ensemble philosophy to play in its production. Or consider the runaway success of Steppenwolf’s “August: Osage County,” which transferred to Broadway, receiving critical acclaim and multiple Tony Awards, not by shaking it up with Broadway “names” but instead by virtually transferring the Steppenwolf production intact, with the addition of lead producer and fellow Chicagoan Steve Traxler. What makes Chicago theater—or for that matter, Chicago dance or any other form of performance practiced on our stages—special? We’d contend it’s the power of the ensemble, the spirit of collaboration that champions artistic risk-taking and subordinates the commercial. And so, in that spirit, the critical ensemble responsible for Newcity’s ongoing stage coverage presents our take on the most influential people on and offstage in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »
Click here to visit the most recent Players list.
We’ve always known we were a town for theater. But this year perhaps we needed outsiders to remind us of just how great Chicago’s theater community is compared not only with New York, but with the rest of the world. Venerable London theater critic Michael Billington went so far as to herald our city as the “current theatre capital of America” after a recent visit, citing not only the three big S’s (Chicago Shakespeare, Second City and Steppenwolf), but also Victory Gardens and the Goodman. Other critics from New York and Toronto sent similar, although not quite as superlative, love letters this year. So it seems fitting this year that our Players issue, in the past reserved for members of the theater community who wield the most power, focus on the artists—those both on stage and behind-the-scenes who make out-of-towners go home and drool. Read the rest of this entry »