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Profession: Actor and farmer
Hometown: Born in Houston, raised on a ranch in the Houston area
Current home: An 1870s farmhouse located between Austin and Houston
Known for: A company member at the Alley Theatre for 20-plus years, appearing in everything from A Streetcar Named Desire to Angels in America, she recently returned for the Alley’s 2019 staging of The Humans. Other projects include a 10-hour Tantalus, Horton Foote’s Orphans’ Home Cycle, and the TV series Queen Sugar.
What’s next: For now, she is taking time to run a farm, though she never knows when “the next phone call will come” for a role that she “couldn’t not do.”
What makes her special: When Brandon Weinbrenner joined the Alley seven years ago as associate producer and casting director, everywhere he turned was “a photo of Annalee in an Alley production or a quick aside about how fabulous ‘that Annalee’ is or a mention of her generous spirit and her beautiful farm.” He later had the chance to direct her in The Humans, in which she not only provided a “tour-de-force performance,” but was also a joy to work with. “Annalee is a star, and the kind of star that doesn’t need us to tell her that,” Weinbrenner says. “She is happy being who she is, contributing to the team without seeking attention. I adore her in every way.”
Make ’em laugh: Reflecting on her time onstage, Jefferies has a particular fondness for “having an earned laugh,” which she describes this way: “Something happens, and you’re the helm of that something. To hear an audience fall out laughing and you’re just standing there—that collective emotion at this very moment of time that we’re all in is the most fascinating thing. Feeling togetherness with 800 people.”
Christopher and Justin Swader
Profession: Scenic designers
Hometown: Evansville, Ind.
Current home: New York City
Known for: The set for the 2019 world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Dig at Vermont’s Dorset Theatre Festival, sets for the past five outdoor summer shows at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, and the set for rapper A$AP Rocky’s “Lab Rat,” a performance art piece and album release event.
What’s next: In addition to a few corporate and immersive projects still in the planning stages, the Swaders are designing Midnight at the Never Get, an Off-Broadway musical slated for May at the Greenwich House Theatre in Manhattan, which will be transformed into an immersive 1960s nightclub.
What makes them special: Producer and dramaturg Aislinn Frantz first met the Swaders in 2012 when they were scenic interns at the O’Neill Theater Center and was quickly impressed. “When I became a theatrical literary agent, they were some of the first designers I chose to work with,” Frantz says. “The worlds I’ve seen them create are at once lived in and complete and ready to surprise.”
Working in harmony: The Swaders initially designed a show together during their first year at college. “Ever since, we have continued pursuing opportunities as a design team,” they say. “It’s nice to have another set of eyes and ears, especially when juggling multiple projects.” They find that, due to a habit of finishing each other’s sentences, building off each other’s ideas comes naturally. “By the end of a process, it’s really hard to distinguish exactly where the original impulses came from,” they continue. “Usually the disagreements or compromises along the way can lead to the most successful ideas.”
Profession: Director and teacher
Hometown: Born in Kiev, USSR, raised in New York City
Current home: Boston
Known for: He’s directed shows at China’s Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center and American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., as well as the North American premiere of The Rosenbergs, a new Danish opera about the infamous spy couple. In addition, Troyanovsky is an associate professor of theatre at Boston’s Brandeis University.
What’s next: He’s directing Intractable Woman, Stefano Massini’s play about Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated while exposing Russia’s war in Chechnya. He is also working with playwright/librettist Stephanie Fleischmann and composer Daniel Kluger on a project inspired by The Bacchae.
What makes him special: Yan Chen, a dramaturg who’s worked with Troyanovsky on multiple productions, says he would call the director “an alchemist who makes texts come to thrillingly theatrical life. He delves into the text with care, conducts the most rigorous research, articulates core ideas and themes with brilliant insight and incisiveness, and translates them onto the stage in vivid, kinetic, bold, and imaginative ways.”
Narrative bones: As a teenage immigrant in New York, he gravitated to theatre as “a space to share my ‘outsider’ experience of the world and make sense of the chaos and confusion threatening our lives.” Drawn to complicated texts that ask difficult questions, Troyanovsky says he is “driven by imagistic, atmospheric, physical work that breaks with realism but has narrative bones too.”
Current home: Los Angeles
Known for: Her play Black Super Hero Magic Mama was featured on the 2017 Kilroys List. Her other works include Welcome to Matteson! and I Go Somewhere Else.
What’s next: She is currently working on two new plays: Berth Breach/Breech Birth, in which a Black female veterinarian discovers an entire slave ship in the belly of a pregnant mare, and The Great Jheri Curl Debate, about racial conflict at a beauty supply store in a Black neighborhood in 1970s Chicago. Another of Craig-Galván’s plays, A Hit Dog Will Holler, will have its world premiere at Playwright’s Arena in Los Angeles in May.
What makes her special: “Inda embodies the type of progressive, provocative, and profoundly intelligent artist that I seek always to collaborate with,” says playwright and director Robert O’Hara, who helmed the world premiere of Black Super Hero Magic Mama at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse in 2019. O’Hara cites Craig-Galván’s fearlessness as one of the joys of working with her, adding, “On top of all that, she’s seriously hilarious.”
Mixed media, innate intimacy: Craig-Galván says her “favorite kind of theatre uses little bits and pieces from other storytelling worlds and puts them on a stage in surprising ways.” She aims to incorporate elements of social/political satire and sketch comedy in her work to “add unexpected humor to otherwise horrific circumstances.” She also places emphasis on making the most of the sense of intimacy that is unique to theatre, saying, “I want to put more Black folks onstage and in audiences so the intimacy of sharing our stories feels safe, and our stories can be thoroughly and authentically expressed without consideration for any gaze but our own.”
Profession: Teatrista (actor, director, voice coach, teacher, and activist)
Hometown: Spring, Texas
Current home: Chicago
Known for: Lopez-Rios is a co-founder of the Royal Mexican Players, a group dedicated to increasing Latinx representation onstage. She is also currently an associate professor of voice and speech at the Theatre School at DePaul University, and has worked as a voice and dialect coach for Goodman Theatre (Measure for Measure), Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Julius Caesar), Houston Shakespeare Festival (Othello, Hamlet), Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, The Train Driver), and First Stage (James and the Giant Peach, Luchadora).
What’s next: This month she is directing a concert version of Evita at Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee. Later this year she will perform in the way she spoke by Isaac Gomez at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
What makes her special: “Michelle is a perfectionist,” says director Juliette Carrillo, for whom Lopez-Rios served as a voice coached on Mojada at OSF. “She holds the highest standard for herself, which is what makes her so good.” Carillo also notes Lopez-Rios’s sense of intuition: “She knows when something’s working and when it’s not. She’s masterful with language.”
Celebrating all stories: Lopez-Rios believes there is importance in every story. “No matter what my role is—teacher, director, voice coach—I show up with love and skill to celebrate the individual voice and tell those stories,” she says, adding that her vision for theatre “would be a radically inclusive art form that is affordable and accessible to all and tells many different stories.”
Profession: Literary manager, dramaturg, writer, and theatre artist
Current home: Red Bank, N.J.
Known for: Barfield is the literary manager of Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J. Previously he served as the associate artistic director for Chicago’s Collaboraction, and he’s also worked as an assistant director, dramaturg, and script reader.
What’s next: In April Two River will premiere The Hombres, written by Tony Meneses and directed by Annie Tippe, followed in June by a revival of Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues. Barfield is also working on his doctoral dissertation at Yale School of Drama on how contemporary African American playwrights engage with Black theatre history in their plays.
What makes him special: “Taylor is intelligent, kind, well read, and one of the most highly sought-after collaborators among his peers as a resource, dramaturg, assistant director, and/or general collaborator,” says producer Flo Low, who considers Barfield a rising leader in the field. “He is humble, generous, and wickedly smart.”
Team in play: Barfield was studying biochemistry in college when his roommate asked him to audition to be a replacement in a production. Though he was so nervous that he memorized the entire part before his the audition, it paid off: He got the role and found a lifelong love. “Theatre was playful. It made me consider the world in new ways. It challenged me intellectually and emotionally,” he continues. What’s more, he says, “It was the first place since the football field where I really felt part of a team. We could all work together in service of a greater vision.”