Martha Lavey

AGE: 54
OCCUPATION: Artistic director, Steppenwolf Theatre

More than any other theatre bigwig in Chicago, this savvy tastemaker has the creative power to introduce gutsy American plays—and their authors—to audiences. Case in point: Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County, which went from Steppenwolf to Broadway to the Tony Awards (it won five) in 2008. Doyenne of a 43-person ensemble with 43 different agendas, “she is the ultimate authority,” says Steppenwolf actor and director Amy Morton.

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Photograph: Anna Knott