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Video: Northwestern Alumni Heather Headley, Brian d'Arcy James, and More Prep COMMFEST 2018

Dozens of stars from the entertainment world and as many as 3,000 alumni and friends of the school will gather April 20 and 21, when the School of Communication at Northwestern University hosts CommFest 2018, the school's most ambitious, high-wattage reunion gathering to date.

The celebratory weekend is designed, in part, to showcase plans to launch a new MFA in acting degree. The new program will operate out of Abbott Hall, 710 N. Lakeshore Drive on the Chicago campus. The location also will be the site of a new media arts center. The initiatives will strengthen the School of Communication's connection to Chicago's cultural production nucleus and enhance its visibility as a national leader in arts creation, education and inclusion.

CommFest culminates Saturday, April 21, 8 p.m. with "A Starry Night," a variety show starring the school's celebrated alumni working in film, television and the stage, performing with faculty artists and students. The show is emceed by "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert ('86, honorary degree in '11).

Alumni performers and presenters include Daniele Gaither ('93), Ana Gasteyer ('89), Kathryn Hahn ('95), Heather Headley ('97), Marg Helgenberger ('82), Laura Innes ('79), Brian d'Arcy James ('90), Richard Kind ('78), Stephanie March ('96), Tony Roberts ('61) and Kimberly Williams-Paisley ('93) with a video appearance by Seth Meyers ('96, honorary degree '16). Check the CommFest site for an up-to-date list.

The weekend also provides a rare opportunity for faculty and staff to reacquaint alumni with what they know and love about the school and discover areas of progress since their student days. To that end, a full CommFest schedule of workshops, showcases and reunion parties have been planned.

Finally, recognizing that student careers are launched through hands-on production experience and relationships forged on the job, the CommFest weekend provides students opportunities to work on the planning and production of the weekend, from assisting with script writing and coordinating volunteers, to chauffeuring the celebrity alumni and performing alongside them. Notably, the "A Starry Night" set, stage, and lighting were designed by students in the School of Communication's MFA Stage Design program.

The CommFest production team is headed by Don Weiner ('79), producer of the new "Showtime at the Apollo" and "So You Think You Can Dance?" and co-producers Dave Harding ('79) and RAC Clark ('78). The creative team includes head writer Shelly Goldstein('79), music director Doug Peck ('03) and stage director Peter Flynn ('87).

Leading the CommFest 2018 steering committee are David Lefkowitz ('78), chair of the School's alumni advisory board, and event co-chairs Elizabeth Clark Zoia ('89) and Amanda Silverman ('93). Zoia and Silverman both have professional backgrounds in television and communications; Lefkowitz's career was in law. Keebler Straz and Madeleine Kelly, student members of the Dean's Advisory Council, are serving as CommFest student co-chairs.

"We are building on our history of leadership in the communication arts and sciences and extending it as we develop programs that are tailored to the new realities of media, performing arts, and human learning and development," said Barbara O'Keefe, dean of the School of Communication at Northwestern.

"The CommFest weekend will showcase not only our past success in educating students and helping them succeed but also recent developments in our facilities, research and curriculum and exciting initiatives planned for the future," O'Keefe said.

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