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Chicago Alumni Take Center Stage
Northwestern alumni get exclusive access to alumni performers and directors through the NAA Chicago Theater events.

A post-performance chat with Lookingglass' David Schwimmer and Cheryl Lynn Bruce.

Photo by Jasper Chen

As a member of the Joseph Jefferson Awards committee — the group that presents the Jeff Awards for excellence in Chicago theater — Melissa Meltzer (C83) has seen a lot of curtains rise on local stage productions.

But even for an audience member as experienced as Meltzer, the Northwestern Alumni Association has been able to enhance the theatergoing experience. Meltzer has been attending the NAA’s Chicago Theater events that showcase plays with connections to Northwestern alumni, giving her entrée to exclusive NAA post-production discussions with alumni actors, directors and company members.

“It’s rare that I’ll pay for a ticket to a show,” says Meltzer, whose Jeff committee membership ordinarily gets her in free. “My motivation to buy a ticket [for the NAA theater event] was the ‘talk back’ afterwards.”

Meltzer joined the NAA audience for the first NAA Chicago Theater event last May, a production of Trojan Women at the Goodman Theatre. It was directed by School of Communication professor and Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman (C82, GC85, 94) and featured actor Kyle Hall (C91, GC95) and costume designer Mara Blumenfeld (C92). Meltzer also attended Homebody/Kabul, directed by Tony Award winner and Communication professor Frank Galati (C65, GC67, 71), in August at the Steppenwolf Theatre.

After members of the general audience departed from each of these productions, the alumni principals and cast members returned to the stage to take questions from the NAA audience and offer their insight into the shows.

“Theater is so subjective — and these productions are so unique and complex in tone — that I appreciated learning more about the process and the directors’ perspectives on the show,” says Meltzer, a one-time Galati student. “There was also a sophisticated, intellectual approach to the questions the audience posed, which brought an added depth to our understanding of the subjects these shows addressed.”

In June, Sally Ainsworth Anderson (WCAS70, SCS97) and her husband, Vincent (G67, KSM89), who are occasional theatergoers, joined the NAA for the production of Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession. Besides seeing the play, adapted from the Studs Terkel novel and directed by actor David Schwimmer (C88), they were interested in getting a look at the new home of Lookingglass Theatre, a company founded by Schwimmer and other Northwestern alumni, in the Water Tower Water Works.

Sally Anderson says she liked the informal feeling of the post-show discussion. “I enjoyed hearing David Schwimmer talk about his interaction with Studs Terkel and hearing how the cast members prepared for the play,” she says. “It made us feel like we were listening in on a conversation between the actors as they talked about their roles.”

Another Lookingglass production, Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings, was the selection for the fourth NAA Chicago Theater night event and was held during Homecoming and Reunions 2003.

The idea behind the NAA Chicago Theater nights grew out of the popularity of the NAA’s Broadway tours, held most recently last winter. During the tours alumni travelers attended such plays as Take Me Out, which earned Denis O’Hare (C84) a Tony Award, and had the chance to meet with alumni actors and theater professionals in New York.

“So much of Chicago theater is tied to Northwestern, we wanted to showcase what our alumni are doing here and expose those who might not normally attend plays to different venues at a discounted price,” says Jay Mastin, NAA director of education and travel programs.

Michele Hogan

Information on upcoming NAA Chicago Theater events appears on the off-campus educational programs pages of the NAA Web site, www.alumni.northwestern.edu/education/theater.

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Last updated  Wednesday, 23-Sep-2020 16:32:11 CDT
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