Convert To Outlines
Text can be converted to shapes using Type › Convert Text to Outlines from the menu. This will turn each character in your text into a shape. You can then edit the individual paths and points as you could any other shape.
However, do take care with this approach. Do not vectorize long strings of text as it will significantly slow down your document.
Converting a simple string of text into outlines results in many small subpaths and calculating boolean operations on this is really, really expensive. If you have to, split the text into as many text layers as possible, and convert those one by one.
And because you can apply gradients and everything else to text already, often there’s no need to convert them in the first place.