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Students need to be themselves against the instant feedback of ‘the interwebs’

Alumnus Zach Braff had advice for School of Communication students during a visit May 6: Be yourself.

Braff, who graduated from Northwestern in 1997, spoke to a full house of theatre students in Mussetter-Struble Theater on Monday after a live acting workshop using scenes from his play All New People.

Zach Braff with students. Braff visited campus as the 2013 Hope Abelson Artist-in-Residence, also having lunch with students in the campus’s film society, Studio 22.

Braff is an actor, writer, producer, and director of film and television. He starred in the nine-season TV smash Scrubs, for which he earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for acting and writing. He wrote and directed the hit film Garden State, for which he won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, a National Board of Review Best Director Award, a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack, a Breakthrough Director honor from the Hollywood Film Festival, and a Most Promising Filmmaker Award from the Chicago Film Critics Association.

All New People opened in New York in 2011, and was staged on London’s West End. Most recently Braff appeared in the Disney film, Oz the Great and Powerful. He is currently running a Kickstarter to fund independently a follow-up to Garden State. The project earned its goal in three days.

Zach Braff with students. That’s great fan support, but Braff said it isn’t always that easy, especially in the age of instant feedback on what he called “the interwebs.”

“You guys are going to go out there,” he said to the acting students. “You’re going to be in plays. You’re going to be in movies. You’re going to get reviewed. You’re going to have reviewers say you’re a genius. You’re going to have a reviewer say you should quit. And I just want to come back to students to say: you’re not going to be able to escape it. And now more than ever, you have go and be fearless and be yourself.”

The Hope Abelson Artist-in-Residence Program was established at the School of Communication and inaugurated in 1990 through a generous gift from Hope Altman Abelson.

Abelson was born in Chicago, studied theatre at Northwestern, and became a Broadway producer. Abelson was well known for her financial support of off-Loop theatre in Chicago. With her husband, Lester Abelson, Mrs. Abelson funded such major not-for-profit companies as Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Court Theatre, and the Goodman Theatre. She also helped to establish the League of Chicago Theatres, and her philanthropy extended to the visual arts, music and dance. Lester Abelson died in 1980; Mrs. Abelson died in 2006.

Abelson artists have included playwright Tony Kushner (1995 and 2002), playwright/screenwriter John Logan (2011), stage and film directors Robert Lepage (1998) and Jason Moore (2012), actor and director Brian Bedford (2001), actor, writer, and director Regina Taylor (2009), and actors Cherry Jones (2003), Meryl Streep (2005), Bill Irwin (2006).