Jennifer Zeyl

The secret weapon in the arsenal of upstart company Washington Ensemble Theatre, Jennifer Zeyl is the most exciting scenic designer working in Seattle today. Our town has plenty of designers who can give a play atmosphere (and plenty who can leach it away), but no one rivals Zeyl in pure conceptual power. From the rundown walk-up apartment that succinctly and wordlessly defined the word "entropy" in the first minute of Finer Noble Gases to the Astroturf mountain in Handcuff Girl Saves the World that bulged and swallowed up actors in its soft green maw, she has invented as often as she has arranged, and actively conceived as much as she passively evoked. And her work just keeps getting better. Her most recent WET sensation was a wildly imaginative design for Sarah Kane's Crave, which closed last week after an extended run. The audience peered through an opening—with roughly the width-to-height aspect ratio of a Cinemascope film—onto a tiny room with fuzzed stucco walls. With actors cut off at the knees and the forehead, the play's emotional claustrophobia jangled loudly, and the icky-sadistic sexuality of the script took on an extra voyeuristic frisson. And then halfway through, in a scenic coup de theâtre, the enclosure began to fill with water. ANNIE WAGNER

Ian Bell

Actor, director, producer, writer, and impresario Ian Bell has launched or guided some of Seattle's funniest institutions, including Bald Faced Lie (sketch comedy group), the Brown Derby (staged readings of film scripts), and SketchFest (America's oldest sketch-comedy festival). He has acted from the Rep to Empty Space to Annex and was the original caterpillar on the Money Tree commercials. Now Bell has taken over as curator at Re-bar, where he's booked a promising lineup—Dina Martina, A Day in Dig Nation by Collaborator's Michael McQuilken, The Cody Rivers Show from Bellingham, and a few other promising, but unconfirmed, possibilities. Re-bar is the scrappier, scruffier twin of On the Boards—neither venue has a central company, but both do groundbreaking work, are guided by an overarching aesthetic, have devoted audiences, and seem to attract brilliance and bombs but nothing mediocre. "There's no medium speed at Re-bar," Bell says. "If you fail, you fail magnificently. We don't have a mission statement, our audience is like the board of trustees, and there's a rawness to performing there—it can be heady or high concept, but bottom line, it has to be entertaining." BRENDAN KILEY

Timothy Hornor

This supremely talented comic actor has turned in some of the most inspired performances of the past year—unfortunately, your average theatergoer doesn't often make the trek out to Greenwood, where he most often performs. In an otherwise lackluster production of Much Ado About Nothing at Taproot Theatre, Hornor made for one of the best Benedicks I've ever seen. Equal parts bug-eyed bluster and dewy romance, his Benedick generated sexual tension almost single-handedly (an impressive feat, if a regrettable task). As he alternately repulsed and wooed a taciturn Beatrice, he demonstrated physical agility and an admirable facility with the language. A smaller role as the servant Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew this summer proved his Shakespeare talents are in no way diminished when he forgoes leading-man status. And Hornor is often the saving grace in slight or sentimental contemporary shows like Beau Jest and this fall's Last Train to Nibroc. Now if he can just make a break from the Taproot ghetto.... ANNIE WAGNER

Keri Healey

It takes guts and imagination to stage a series of short plays in the IKEA display rooms, and playwright Keri Healey is brimming with both. Originally from Long Island, Healey came to Seattle in 1990 and hooked up with Annex, which she calls her "graduate school." She has written nine full-length plays, but only six "still have a life": Cherry, Cherry, Lemon; Parrot Fever (Or, Lies I've Told In Chat Rooms); High Tide at Three Forks; Penetralia; The IKEA Cycle; and Super Happy Couple Book (which she's still writing). Her plays are tender, humane, and very smart—they indicate a deep compassion for human failures, but a cutting wit that understands that our tragic weaknesses are also comic. And she has no intention of returning to New York. "This is still a good place to be a creator," she says. "We're pickier here, and that's a great thing." What about the complaints that Seattle is too hostile and eager to reject innovation? "People either have moxie or they don't—you can make things or sit around complaining that nobody's giving you the chance." BRENDAN KILEY