The Players: The 50 people who really perform for Chicago / by R. Sheth

January 13, 2009

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.

45. Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani
Artistic director and executive director , Silk Road Theatre Project (
Silk Road has become a hub for minority playwrights, whether they’re writing about the Korean experience or the lives of modern-day assimilated Arabs and Muslims. Who else but Silk Road is focusing on the Middle East with plays of such high quality, immediacy and wit? "Pangs of the Messiah" (in the spring) is sure to spark debate with its semi-futuristic, apocalyptic story of West Bank Jewish settlers at odds with the Israeli government. And folks are definitely taking notice: last spring, this six-year-old company was honored with the 2008 Broadway in Chicago Emerging Theater Award.