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9 Theater People We Are Thankful For

These are the actors, directors, and designers we're giving thanks for this November.

Thanksgiving is a time for Americans to stop and count our blessings and undoubtedly, we in the theater are very blessed. Here are nine artists whose work makes the theater a smarter, livelier, and more joyful place to be.

Anna Deavere Smith stars in her solo play Notes From the Field at Second Stage Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

1. Anna Deavere Smith
Writer and performer Anna Deavere Smith has been creating socially relevant documentary theater for decades. In solo shows like Fires in the Mirror and Let Me Down Easy, she took complex political situations and gave them a human face by using the actual words of her research interview subjects for the script. She's still at it with Notes From the Field, her examination of the school-to-prison pipeline, in which she portrays 17 real people with authenticity, specificity, and heaps of empathy. Smith's plays don't merely reflect social change; they're part of the movement.

Daniel Radcliffe and Reg Rogers starred in James Graham's Privacy at the Public Theater.
(© Joan Marcus)

2. Daniel Radcliffe
No one would blame Daniel Radcliffe if he took his Harry Potter millions and retired to a private island in the Caribbean, but that's not what he's chosen to do. Instead, he's made regular appearances on the New York stage, most recently in James Graham's Privacy, an unconventional new play that had Radcliffe go on an awkward blind date with a random audience member every night (among other activities that exposed the glut of personal information floating around the internet). Radcliffe did it all with enthusiasm and good humor, both of which are vital assets for a serious working actor. We're so glad he's chosen to make New York one of his artistic homes.

Anne Kauffman was nominated for a 2015 Drama Desk Award for her direction of Clare Barron's You Got Older.
(© David Gordon)

3. Anne Kauffman
Director Anne Kauffman has spent much of the last decade giving theatrical life to new plays by some of our leading playwrights, including Amy Herzog, Anne Washburn, and Lisa D'Amour. Her meticulous attention to detail ensures that their words come across clearly, but Kauffman shines brightest when crafting the spaces between the dialogue. This is evident in Adam Bock's A Life, which has five minutes of gripping stage time that features neither text nor movement. You really have to see it to believe it. We're excited for her to make her Broadway debut next June, when she directs a revival of Marvin's Room for Roundabout Theatre Company.

Austin Pendleton, who originated the role of Motel, attended the opening night of the Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
(© David Gordon)

4. Austin Pendleton
At the age of 76, Austin Pendleton continues to be the most tireless jack-of-all-trades in the theater. While the line between being an actor and director is often sharply delineated by professional considerations, Pendleton gladly does both whenever he can. He recently directed the off-Broadway revival of A Taste of Honey at the Pearl Theatre, and he's currently helming the New Rep production of Fiddler on the Roof in Boston (he played the role of Motel in the original Broadway run). This Christmas, he's set to appear in a series of cabaret performances with Barbara Bleier entitled Tis the Season to Be Morbid. Pendleton exemplifies the indispensable thespian who does it all because he truly loves the work.

Thomas Kail directed two plays at the Public Theater in 2016: Dry Powder and Tiny Beautiful Things.
(© David Gordon)

5. Thomas Kail
Thomas Kail is best known as the Tony Award-winning director of Hamilton, but he also has a very active career off-Broadway, including two shows this year at the Public Theater: Dry Powder and Tiny Beautiful Things. The latter is currently running and stars Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), who adapted the script from the Cheryl Strayed book about an online advice columnist. When Kail directed the premiere of A.R. Gurney's Family Furniture at the tiny Flea Theater in Tribeca, he could regularly be found chatting with the audience in the lobby after the show. Whether working in a 99-seat theater or a massive Broadway house, Kail brings an assertive drama-free approach to his directing so that the onstage drama can thrive.

Gideon Irving stars in My Name Is Gideon: I'm Probably Going to Die, Eventually at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
(© Maria Baranova)

6. Gideon Irving
Having spent much of the last five years traveling the globe and performing in living rooms, 30-year-old wandering minstrel Gideon Irving is a relative newcomer to the New York theater. You may never want him to leave after seeing My Name Is Gideon: I'm Probably Going to Die, Eventually, his delightfully strange off-Broadway solo show in which he performs original songs using uncommon instruments (for one number, his torso serves as a makeshift drum kit). Irving treats us all like guests in his living room, building an instant community among his audiences. Unfortunately, he's not likely to stay put for very long: His next major project is a cross-country horseback tour. Irving is exactly the kind of artist we need at this time: Generous, unique, and completely unbound by convention.

Clint Ramos won a Tony Award for his costumes in Danai Gurira's Eclipsed.
(© David Gordon)

7. Clint Ramos
Designers are too often the unsung heroes of the stage, but we cannot help but sing the praises of Clint Ramos, who has quickly asserted himself as one of the sharpest designers in New York. Just this year he has created costumes for Dry Powder, The Layover, and Eclipsed, for which he also designed scenery. His most recent project is the Sutton Foster-led Sweet Charity, where Ramos proves that a little lavender dress can have a much bigger impact than any of the more extravagant costumes on display. With a keen eye for color and a shrewd sense of how a character would shop, Ramos adds layers to every show he touches.

Josh Groban stars in Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, which is directed by Rachel Chavkin.
(© David Gordon)

8. Rachel Chavkin
If Rachel Chavkin was intimidated by her Broadway directorial debut on Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, she certainly didn't show it: Along with set designer Mimi Lien, she completely upended the layout of the Imperial Theater, constituting the most radical Broadway scenic choice in recent memory. Her staging is just as gutsy, with actors enveloping the room in a way that feels authentic to both the musical and its new environment. It's a gamble that seems to have paid off (if the healthy box office reports are any indication), but big risks are nothing new for Chavkin: she has brought the same amount of courage and rigor to Hadestown, Small Mouth Sounds, and her work with the TEAM. We're so glad she's leading the way to the future of live theater.

Laurie Metcalf played Annie Wilkes in Misery on Broadway.
(© David Gordon)

9. Laurie Metcalf
Among those who caught the camptastic screen-to-stage adaptation of Stephen King's Misery last season, there was near-consensus that Laurie Metcalf's brilliant portrayal of Annie Wilkes was the one redeeming aspect of the show. A character that could easily have been a gruesome cartoon became layered, complex, and even funny in Metcalf's exhilarating portrayal. She is an undeniably smart actress and we cannot wait to see her play Nora in Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2, which is set to open on Broadway this spring.