In 1980 the School of Communication staged a star-studded gala at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall featuring a performance by some of Northwestern’s most famous alumni to raise funds for the Theatre and Interpretation Center — now called the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.
The show, titled The Way They Were (see "Then: A Grand Gala") was co-hosted by Charlton Heston ’45 and Ann-Margret Olsson ’63 and featured Garry Marshall ’56; Jerry Orbach ’56; Cloris Leachman ’48, ’14 H; Tony Roberts ’61; and other notable alumni working in Hollywood and on Broadway at the time. The nationally televised performance — produced by alumni, faculty and students — not only supported the new facility, but helped elevate the growing reputation of Northwestern’s communication arts and sciences programs.
Nearly 40 years later the school is hosting a two-day event for alumni, faculty and students called CommFest 2018 that includes an evening inspired by the 1980 gala.
The festival will take place April 20–21 on the Evanston campus and culminate in a major production titled A Starry Night. The show, billed as “a once-in-a-generation celebration,” will draw many of Northwestern’s celebrity alumni from the entertainment industry. Hosted by Stephen Colbert ’86, ’11 H, the show will feature alumni alongside faculty artists and student actors. Alumni such as co-producers Don Weiner ’79 (from the 1980 alumni production staff) and Dave Harding ’78, and steering committee co-chairs Elizabeth Clark Zoia ’89 and Amanda Silverman ’93 will work behind the scenes. The performance will be held in Ryan Fieldhouse, a new athletics facility on the lakefront.
In addition, CommFest will offer events and learning opportunities around the Evanston campus designed to bring the community together and support plans to advance the school. Festival ticket holders will have access not just to the show but also to acting workshops, interactive art installations, curated exhibits showcasing faculty and alumni work, dance performances, storytelling demonstrations, theatrical showcases, panel discussions and more. Other highlights include an a cappella event and a live debate between prominent alumni.
Reunions also will take place for alumni of student groups such as Waa-Mu, Northwestern Debate Society, Studio 22, WNUR, the Dolphin Show and the master of fine arts program in writing for the screen and stage.
Proceeds from CommFestwill benefit the school’s expanding graduate programs and the future performing and media arts center in Chicago (see “The Performing Arts Expand at Northwestern”).