The '06 pack

Some of them dance, some of them get you dancing. Some rock the crowd; others shock the audience. They steal shows and steal bases. You might not be familiar with these 25 New Yorkers yet, but considering the breakout year they're about to have, they won't be strangers for long.

Photo: Dennis Kleinman

Space explorer

Lear deBessonet, 25 | Most young stage directors beg, borrow and steal for gigs in legit venues, yet Lear -deBessonet hustles to work anywhere but a -theater. Since rolling into town a couple of years ago, the Louisiana native has proved adept at finding unconventional spaces for her audacious plays, which grow out of research and improvisation with a corps of nimble performers. For her next piece, Death Might Be Your Santa Claus, about the supersizing of religion through megachurches, deBessonet will utilize a cavernous -abandoned bank at 15 Nassau Street, next door to the New York Stock Exchange. (The show will play February 18--21.) To cajole space from tightfisted Gotham landlords, she explains, "You bang on a hundred closed doors and one of them opens. I've been getting more funding support, but it's still been pretty guerrilla. In most of my shows, I end up standing on a roof holding a clip light over someone."—David Cote

Style guide

Micah Gaugh, 33 | People tend to notice Micah Gaugh's dandyish sense of style. "No one really knew what to think of me at conserva-tory," the Texas-bred -singer-saxist says, chuckling about his time at -Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon School of Music. "Not only was I playing all this crazy stuff, I was wearing fur coats and kilts. I ended up getting kicked out, and at the end they were like, 'Why don't you just go be -famous in New York and leave us alone?' " Although it's taken Micah—who uses only his first name —more than a decade of soldiering alongside downtowners like Marc Ribot and Arto Lindsay to get a shot at fame, the dreamy, laptop- enhanced electro-soul on Everything, his Lindsay- produced debut, coming this spring, is poised to take his notes -beyond the underground.K. Leander --Williams

Photo: Meghan Peterson for Redux

Killing joker

Aziz Ansari, 22 | The staggering amount of buzz that surrounded Aziz Ansari last year is starting to pay off for him in 2006. The young comedian will appear on Comedy Central's Premium Blend in February and at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen this March; he also just shot a few scenes of School for Scoundrels, the latest movie by Old School team Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong. "I hope I don't get completely cut out," Ansari half jokes. Just in case, he's coproducing his own short film project, "The Illusionators," on the side. "I just try to keep putting out good stuff," he says, "and ignore all the hype."—Jane Borden

Photo: Meghan Peterson for Redux

Battling Brooklynite

Daniel Goldstein, 36 | Daniel Goldstein is not a fan of a certain headline-making local land developer. "Bruce Ratner has left a trail of broken promises all around Brooklyn," he says. Harsh words, but not surprising given that Goldstein's Prospect Heights home sits in the path of the bulldozers that would clear space for Ratner's proposed Nets Arena and high-rise complex. But while most other residents facing the effects of eminent domain got bought out by Ratner, Goldstein, a freelance graphic designer, got organized. He's a founder and steering-committee member of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the group leading the charge against the projects—and he's practically made fighting Ratner a full-time job. "People think this is a done deal," Goldstein says. "Far from it."—Ethan LaCroix

Photo: L. Bernberg

Campaign trailer

Rachel Boynton, 32 | To hear Rachel Boynton read off the titles of her ginormous DVD collection—"Man with a Movie Camera, The Sorrow and the Pity, Crumb, Burden of Dreams, Roger & Me, I could go on..." (and she does)—is to hear the zeal of a true documentary enthusiast. That passion is apparent in her eye--opening debut, Our Brand Is Crisis (showing at Film Forum in March), which follows with impressive candor the 2002 Bolivian presidential election from the perspective of several highly paid American consultants coaching candidate Gonzalo Snchez de Lozada, a.k.a. Goni. "Any campaign, whether it's to elect a presi-dent or sell a product, is all about the win," she says. "Above all, I -really wanted the film to unfold like a great -adventure."—Joshua Rothkopf

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

Elusive author

Heather McGowan, 37 | Brooklyn-based writer Heather McGowan doesn't spell things out. "I like that the reader has to put things together and see around what my characters are saying," she says of her second novel, Duchess of Nothing, which comes out in March. Narrated by a nameless woman who has decided to educate her boyfriend's young brother, the book is full of gaps. But as you start to guess what drives this intense character, her strange hopefulness becomes gripping. "At first you think she's rather gruesome," McGowan says, "but as you go along, you begin to see that her insistence on resisting love might prove to be beyond her."—Michael Miller

Shape-shifting scribe

T Cooper, 33 | T Cooper used to make girls swoon as a member of the drag-king group the Backdoor Boys. Nowadays, she channels her fascination with gender-bending, pop stars and personal identity into her novels: the 2002 indie hit Some of the Parts, and her latest, Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes, a tale of Jewish immigrants and an Eminem impersonator. Having been picked up by a major publisher (Dutton), Cooper says her promotional efforts should be more comfortable this time around. "I won't be crashing on friends-of-friends' couches as much and having to hit up my folks to borrow their RV for the road trip."—Les Simpson

Warped warbler

Stephen Lynch, 33 | He's an outrageous songwriter whose cult-fave comedy albums contain twisted odes to deformed babies and accidental anal pene-tration. Yet only Stephen Lynch's boyish tenor is on call for the musical adaptation of The Wedding Singer, starting previews on Broadway March 30. Lynch, who plays the title role, has no desire to add jokes to the score. "It's a whole different sensibility from what I do," he says. And he's avoiding any Adam Sandler affectations, "which is difficult, as the movie's on TBS 118 times a day."—DC

Public figure

Rochelle Steiner, 40 | "I've always worked in the public realm," says Steiner, the new director of the Public Art Fund—the people who brought Jeff Koons's Puppy to Rock Center in 2000. True, the L.A. native has spent her career in museums, but now her turf is 320 square miles. "I'll continue working with artists, helping them extend their reach," she says. Plans include an installation by Sarah Sze at Doris C. Freedman Plaza and an Anish Kapoor sculpture where the puppy stood. Steiner will also focus "on projects beyond Manhattan, even beyond the city itself."—Andrea K. Scott

Photo: Darren Crawforth

Determined dancemaker

Maria Hassabi, 32 | Maria Hassabi's Still Smoking, opening in April at the Kitchen, is partly inspired by the notion of baroque; along with using six dancers and costumes by the fashion collective ThreeAsFour, the -choreographer has designed an extravagant set. "I won't know if we're going to pull it off until we're in the theater," Hassabi says. And while she literally still smokes, the work's title, originally just a joke, contains a message for critics of the dance scene: "This art form is supposedly not taking us anywhere," she says, "but we're still doing it."—Gia Kourlas

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

Comic everydude

Kal Penn, 28 | There's a joke in the trailer for Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle that refers to Kal Penn as "the Indian guy from National Lampoon's Van Wilder." But since that modest little comedy about two stoners became a surprise hit, Penn is no longer just playing goofy ethnic--sidekick parts. Even though he's reprising his character in the upcoming Van Wilder sequel, the West Villager will appear in three other 2006 releases: the Tinseltown satire Man About Town; Mira Nair's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake; and a little summer movie titled Superman Returns. "I play one of Lex Luthor's main henchmen, and I think that's all I can tell you about the movie without getting myself killed," Penn says, laughing. "I feel incredibly fortunate to have gone from a small, personal film like The Namesake to this big-budget franchise movie where I'm hanging out with supervillains, all in the space of a year." Who says humping a giant bag of weed onscreen won't open doors?—David Fear

Photo: Yuam Greenberg

Postmodern lover

Corey Dargel, 28 | This Texas-born composer attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music before landing numerous prestigious commissions. Closer in spirit to Morrissey and Merritt than Schubert and Schoenberg, Dargel has been playing his deceptively simple electronic art songs and candid, intel-ligent -lyrics in clubs such as Tonic and Joe's Pub. In the pop and classical realms, Dargel says, "What I find missing are songs in which text and music have equal creative weight. That's what I wanted to tackle." Less Famous than You, Dargel's debut, is due in April on upstart British alt-pop label Use Your Teeth.—Steve Smith

Queens royalty

Stuart Suna, 50 | Thanks to Stuart Suna, head of Silvercup Studios, Queens has a major coming attraction. He's wrangled Lord Richard Rogers to design a new complex, Silvercup West, that will add apartments, soundstages, office space and more. "Long Island City's been on the cusp of 'happening' for more than 20 years," Suna says. When the city clears permits for the project later this year, this perennial "next Williamsburg" might finally be ready for a star turn.—Alec Appelbaum

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

Major networker

Mike Birbiglia, 27 | "I've pretty much become a Comedy Central employee," says the thinking-man's stand-up comic, Mike Birbiglia. He's joking—but he's not far off. The network's record label will release his debut album, Two Drink Mike, on February 7; his second Comedy Central Presents special begins airing that week; a network-sponsored national college tour, "The Medium Man on Campus," kicks off in NYC that month; and, if all goes well with the script he just turned in to development execs, his TV series will go into production later this year. All this after a busy 2005, when Birbiglia shot the lead in indie film Stanley Cuba (due out this year) while also touring and performing regularly at the Comedy Cellar. "I'm hoping '06 is a little more reasonable," he says. Doubt it.—JB

Lyrical Realist

Miguel Mendez, 30 | "I've been making music by myself lately," Miguel Mendez says—efforts that resulted in last year's My Girlfriend Is Melting, which he recorded in his bedroom. Despite the trippy title, the album's warm folk-rock songs are full of everyday epiphanies—themes that will continue on his next record, which he recently finished writing. "A lot of my inspiration comes from dudes like Dr. Dre and N.W.A.," the California native says. "Songs that are like, 'Two in the morning, got the Fatburger.' If you ignore that stuff, you're missing what's right in front of you."—Mike Wolf

Crucial curator

Matthew Higgs, 41 | "I think we had a successful year," says Higgs, director of White Columns, the city's oldest alternative-art space. "We put White Columns back where it belongs—at the center of things—by involving as many artists as possible." Higgs, who moved to New York in late 2004 from San Francisco's CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, is an artist himself, as well as a prolific writer and a Turner Prize juror. He's also a Brit, which may explain why he's expanded the nonprofit's New York--centric focus in shows like the recent "Open Walls," which spotlighted work from Los Angeles, San Francisco and London alongside the good old homegrown.—AKS

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

Horn-blowing headmaster

Paul Thompson, 35 | Trumpeter Paul Thompson earned a master's at Cal Arts, has composed works for orchestra and scores for film and television, and used to bop around L.A. with Black Eyed Peas and Me'Shell NdegOcello. But his current job—as the principal of the newly opened Urban Assembly School of Music and Art in Fort Greene, which is affiliated with the likes of BAM, Pratt and Jazz at Lincoln Center—is his most challenging gig yet. "I've tried to integrate my life as an artist into the school," says Thompson, who grew up in the Bronx. "We aren't a conservatory, and students need not have prior arts knowledge or experience. We use the arts as a vehicle toward personal expression and as a means of making subjects stimulating that students might not have found relevant in the past."—Soren Larson

Photo: Meghan Peterson for Redux

Soul saver

Rich Medina,36 | "Putting a record out is a humbling experience," says Rich Medina, who released his debut album, Connecting the Dots, in October. "You're breaking a piece of yourself off and hoping it reverberates." The DJ and spoken-word poet—a resident spinner at APT, Triple Crown and his own Afrobeat-based Jump N Funk affair at S.O.B.'s—needn't worry; the LP is a beautiful blend of old-school social consciousness ( la Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield) and neo-soul sheen. This year, Medina plans to spread the gospel. "I think I already have the ear of people who follow me, but now that the congregation is down, it's time to seek out new members to turn on."—Bruce Tantum

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

Gutsy gourmet

Sascha Lyon, 33 | You might think that Sascha Lyon has a huge ego. He did, after all, work with Daniel Boulud at Daniel and move up the Keith McNally ladder—at Balthazar and Pastis—to the title of chef de cuisine by age 28. Now, he's not only opening his own restaurant, he's launching a 10,000-square-foot mega-eatery and bakery in the Meatpacking District. Still, he's no megalomaniac. "I figured I'd open a little place and get started, then build a name for myself and just get by," he says. "But the space dictated what this restaurant has become." Next month, Lyon will start serving American fare at the Bar Room of Gansevoort St. on the first floor, even fancier cuisine at Upstairs at Sascha on the second floor, and baked goods at the adjacent Sascha Bakery. Is he competing with neighbors Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mario Batali? "No, not even close," he says. "Those are icons." But Lyon is now -officially in the game.—James Oliver Cury

Photo: John Sciulli/

Bright young thing

Abigail Breslin, 9 | Before her knockout role in last fall's harrowing indie Keane, East Villager Breslin -already had three movies under her tiny belt: Signs, Raising Helen and The -Princess Diaries 2. The rare child actor who's not cloyingly cute, Breslin should hold her own against Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell in Little Miss -Sunshine, one of a trio of films she has scheduled for release this year. Playing a beauty-queen hopeful, Breslin will surely score high in the talent competition.—Melissa Anderson

Photo: Paul Kolnik

Perfect partner

Jared Angle, 25 | Angle was promo-ted to principal of New York City Ballet after a performance in November in Denmark. "The Queen was there that evening, so she's my good-luck charm," he says, laughing. A born partner and NYCB's greatest hope since Jock Soto retired last year, Angle says the art of partnering is "not like this magic that happens that you can't explain; you have to know what all the possibilities are for what could go wrong." He might make mistakes, but you never see them.—GK

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images Sport

Prized prospect

Lastings Milledge, 20 | Unless the Mets deal him for some big-name star, center fielder Lastings Milledge should arrive in the majors by late summer, joining Jose Reyes and David Wright as part of the team's exciting homegrown foundation. The Florida native, rated by Baseball America as the 11th-best overall prospect in 2005, is a blazing base runner with staggering bat speed—but he'll have to shift to left or right at Shea to accommodate high-salaried veteran Carlos Beltran.—Darren D'Addario

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

Sundance darling

Jeff Feuerzeig, 41 | This local filmmaker rightfully won the Director's Award at Sundance last year for The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a stunning documentary about the singer-songwriter-artist of the title, who has long endured manic depression. In his artful -biography, Feuerzeig manages to debunk major -misconceptions about Johnston. "People see him as some sort of idiot savant," the director says, "but Daniel is always the smartest guy in the room." The movie will be released March 31, and Feuerzeig plans to spend 2006 work-ing on his next picture, a mix of narrative and documentary about Chuck Wepner, the New Jersey club fighter who shot to fame after knocking down Muhammad Ali during a championship fight in 1975. "It will be like The Devil and Daniel Johnston crossed with American Splendor," Feuerzeig says.—DD

Dramatic igniter

Ty Jones, 35 | Although on Broadway he's a perpetual ensemble member (in Denzel Washington's Julius Caesar, he glowered in the background), Ty Jones takes on much more substantial roles uptown. As one of the regular players at the Classical Theatre of Harlem, this intense actor won a 2003 Obie as the ringmaster in The Blacks, a confrontational revival of Jean Genet's absurdist farce that had some audience members -sobbing. In June, Jones makes his playwriting debut with another racially charged epic, Emancipation, inspired by Nat Turner's slave rebellion. "The Blacks had exactly what I want for my piece," he says of his play, in which he will also perform. "It should be experienced, not just watched."—Raven Snook

Photo: Sonya Kolowrat

Pop convert

Casey Dienel, 20 | Dienel spent New Year's Day moving to Clinton Hill from Boston, where she'd been studying classical composition at the New England Conservatory before "taking a deferral" last May. Even if that's slang for "dropping out," her parents shouldn't worry: Dienel is a magnetic addition to the city's musi--cal landscape, pounding away at the piano while singing her offbeat pop songs. In March, Hush Records will release her debut, Wind-Up Canary, which she recorded in rural Massachusetts. "The problem with classical music is, it's all attitude," she says. "Everybody acts like it's a dead art. And why would I devote my life to anything that's dead?"—Jay Ruttenberg