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New program takes students behind the curtain at Steppenwolf

As part of a School of Communication initiative to address the concerns and desires of the undergraduate community, a new program is taking students to businesses and organizations to learn more about the jobs communications professionals do.

Leadership Journeys, part of the school’s EPICS (External Programs, Internships and Career Services) program, offers opportunities for students to meet Northwestern alumni where they work and network with them and other members of their organization. The first Leadership Journey took a group of 35 students into Lincoln Park on Oct. 15 to tour Steppenwolf Theatre.

A visit to Steppenwolf was a natural first destination: several Northwestern School of Communication alumni work there, including artistic director Martha Lavey (C79, GC86, 94) and casting director Erica Daniels (C91). Anna Shapiro, associate professor in the Department of Theatre, is a member of the Steppenwolf company and produced her Tony Award-winning play August: Osage County there before it went to Broadway.

Steppenwolf production manager Al Franklin led the students on a tour of the physical theatre which ended with a panel discussion on “Top Things to Know about Pursuing a Career in Professional Theatre” with stage manager David Schmitz; marketing director John Zinn, who is responsible for all single ticket campaigns, creative (imagery and copy) and supervises events, group sales and the subscription campaign among other duties; and Kimberly Senior, who served as program director for Steppenwolf’s Fifth Annual First Look Repertory of New Work.

Freshman theatre major Nick Day attended the event and said Senior in particular, had interesting insight during the panel, advising students to “be extremely fierce and go after what you want, 100 percent of the time.”

Day said hearing about the day-to-day operations of the theatre was both fascinating and eye-opening.

“Though they do really amazing things there, they have people working there from all walks of life, and the theatre has struggles and difficulties of its own,” he said.

After the panel discussion, students had the option to purchase discounted tickets for Steppenwolf’s production of Detroit, an off-beat comedy about “what happens when we dare to open ourselves up to something new.”

Day saw the show and raved, “It’s a challenging script in how it is at once hyper-realistic, peppered along the way with bits of surrealism and symbolism, and in the final act it completely goes off the rails into really broad-stroke metaphor, and absurdism. The acting was uniformly fantastic, and the set was great.”

Plans are underway for another Leadership Journey excursion that will take students to the United Center to visit the world champion Chicago Blackhawks NHL team on March 4, 2011.