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2018-19 New School of Communication Faculty

The School of Communication welcomes an exciting crop of new faculty for the 2018-19 academic year, including an accomplished writer-researcher, an alumna and assistant dean, a stage director and movement specialist, an acclaimed screenwriter, and an expert in strategic health messaging. The new faculty represents growth and expertise in emerging fields. Read on for a glimpse into six of our new faces.

Masi Asare

Composer, lyricist, and playwright Masi Asare has joined the School of Communication as an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre’s music theatre program. She will be teaching courses in music theatre studies, vocal performance, and writing for music theatre. She has extensively researched, written, and presented about race, voice, music theatre, and popular singing.

Asare, a performance scholar and voice teacher who earned her PhD in performance studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, is currently writing book, music, and lyrics for a new musical commissioned by the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London.

The work is called The Family Resemblance, and it draws on elements and experiences of her own life.

“It’s a musical about a family a lot like mine, with a black dad, a white mom, and two mixed race daughters,” she said. “In the show, the family is coming together at Christmastime. The daughters are grown up and returning to the family home in Pennsylvania where the parents live. And then what happens is a lot of things don’t quite go as planned…probably the biggest reason is that an African ancestor comes back from the dead, so she shakes things up a bit.”

Asare incorporated many different styles of music, including some written in the classical style of the Akan people of Ghana, the country where her father was born. Asare said she was hoping the new work would offer a fresh perspective on the reality of mixed-race heritage.

“I think mixed-race people are often written as symbols of a better world and racial harmony,” she said. “I wanted to get beyond that, and write about mixed-race people who are three dimensional, simply living their lives and making choices.”

The Family Resemblance was developed at the Eugene O’Neill Center’s National Music Theater Conference in Waterford, Conn., and is currently in development at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. Meanwhile, Asare said she can’t wait to begin work at Northwestern.

“I’m looking forward to so many things: the amazing community of faculty and students that I’ll get to be a part of, the chance to really learn more about and participate in Chicago’s thriving theatre scene, and the change of scenery and the change of pace,” she said. “When I first came out to Northwestern in March and I saw the Ryan Center, that beautiful building right on the water, it just took my breath away. That sense of space and possibility is a rare thing to have—very different from the landscape I’d been living in back in New York.”

She added: “And then I’m looking forward to the opportunity to bring together all these things I love to do that often track in really separate paths. Some people are only interested in my voice work. And some people are only interested in my scholarly work. And some people are only interested in my musical theatre writing. And I feel like at Northwestern I’ll be able to be all sides of myself, and I’ve been welcomed in to do that, and I couldn’t be more excited. So here we go!”

Lori Barcliff Baptista

Lori Barcliff Baptista, the School of Communication’s new Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Advising, joins Northwestern from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was director of the African-American Cultural Center and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Theatre & Music and in African-American Studies.

Baptista earned her master’s degree from Rutgers University and her PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern in 2009, and said she’s excited about returning to her alma mater.

“I’m excited about getting to know our students—who they are, what their aspirations are, what they need to be successful,” Baptista said. “I’m excited to be in an environment where creativity is everywhere. I look forward to collaborating with colleagues and to explore my own ability to share stories.”

Baptista’s research and scholarly work largely focuses on how diverse communities communicate or express themselves through seemingly prosaic, everyday objects—such as what we eat.

“A lot of my research has been about food and identity,” she said. “It speaks to my interest about the ordinary and mundane, and how we don’t often question things like food in our lives, but how food plays an integral role in our identity and the expression of that identity… People make rituals around food, as well as traditions, which can be very performative.”

Baptista said food can also be a way to open the door to talk about culture.

“Food is a way that we can have conversations about culture on an individual level,” she said. “On the northwest side of the city, there’s a large Polish population. Ask someone there about the history of Polish immigration in the United States and you might not get engagement, but if you ask someone about Paczkis around Easter, and you might get a whole conversation about how they might like the strawberry ones, or how they have their mother’s recipe, and you find yourself getting a better understanding of the community, even if you’re not a member of their community.”

Baptista, who will be teaching courses in the Department of Performance Studies, has performed, directed, and produced productions including a solo exhibition at UIC, titled It Ain’t Where You’re From, It’s Where You’re At and The Worms Did Not Die on the Street at the Greenhouse Theater Center. Her publications include “Locked Away but Not Defeated: African-American Women Performing Resilience” featured in The Routledge Companion to African American Theatre and Performance.

Roger Ellis

Stage director, educator, and movement specialist Roger Ellis joins the Northwestern faculty this fall as an assistant professor of Music Theatre. Ellis, who earned a master of fine arts degree in musical theatre from San Diego State University, previously worked as a dramaturge on the boldly reimagined production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

Ellis called the experience one of the most transformative of his career so far.

“This interpretation gave voice to contemporary African-American experiences in America and featured an all-black cast,” Ellis said. “The research and creative discussions I conducted during this process deepened my level of insight surrounding issues of representation and inclusion in musical theatre and American culture at large. This experience helped illustrate the ways in which ambitious reconceptualization of established works can reveal deeper and even more immediate human truths.”

Ellis has worked with companies around the country including the Sacramento Music Circus, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Pace University, Marymount Manhattan College, Tuacahn Center for the Arts, San Diego Repertory, and Gallery Players Brooklyn. As a music theatre specialist with a strong focus on movement studies, Ellis said his teaching is built upon the actor’s visceral connection to the text—affirming both the body and mind as centers of intelligence.

“Drawing upon my experience as a performer and director, I prepare students for immediate entry into the profession, while also providing a foundation for a sustainable and fulfilling career in music theatre,” he said. “The demand for hybridization required in music theatre is one of the medium’s greatest challenges and assets. I am passionate about helping students cultivate the tools needed to express their unique artistic impulses. I use movement as a starting point to help students synthesize the individual elements of the singing actor’s craft, leading to dynamic, physically articulate, and viscerally compelling performances.” Ellis is currently working on a book examining musical theatre performance training through the lens of embodied cognition and movement studies.

Ellis said he’s looking forward to working with faculty and students at Northwestern.

“The vibrant, interdisciplinary, and academically rigorous environment at Northwestern University provides the ideal atmosphere for my interests, skills, and mindset,” he said. “In the classroom and rehearsal studio, my work emphasizes mutual respect, creative inquiry, versatility, critical thinking, and collaboration—all essential practices for civic engagement in our complex world. I see these values authentically reflected in the students, faculty, and leadership at Northwestern. I am thrilled and honored to join this community.”

Tommy Rapley

Tommy Rapley, a Joseph Jefferson Award-winning member of the Chicago theatre community, will be joining the theatre department as a lecturer. He began his career as a member of the Joffrey Ballet, but has since worked in directing, choreography, acting, and teaching.

He choreographed from than twenty world premieres as the House Theatre of Chicago, and others credits include productions at the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago Children’s Theatre, and Writers Theatre.

He directed The Wild Party at the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts in 2015, which he called “an incredibly important moment in my career.”

“The opportunity to lead the graduate design students toward a visually stunning collaboration and to work closely with the undergraduate actors as they crafted their performances was both thrilling and inspiring,” Rapley said. “That experience gave me a taste for just how fulfilling it is to mentor students at this point in their education and ignited a passion to pursue a larger career in academia.”

Rapley said he wants to prioritize collaboration and growth in his classroom.

“I hope to bring an experience in community and a sense of ensemble to my students as they grow as actors,” he said. “The collaborative learning environment I endeavor to establish in the classroom offers the practical technique needed to pursue professional careers as artists, as well as invaluable tools for communication and leadership. My hope is that these tools are also applicable to my students’ varied interests and working situations outside of the arts.”

Rapley has worked as an adjunct lecturer for the past six years and is looking forward to deepening his relationship with Northwestern students and helping them grow and mature.

“This new appointment at NU provides an opportunity for me to carry my students from the beginning of their education all the way to graduation,” he said. “As an adjunct lecturer for the last six years, my time has been almost exclusively focused on teaching the incoming class, only occasionally interacting with them in the halls in the years following. I’m thrilled for the chance to provide more focused and enduring mentorship to my students and immerse myself into the larger community of the University.”

Rapley also has worked regionally with Hartford Stage Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kansas City Repertory, Olney Theatre Center, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Adrienne Arsht Center, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Jeb Stuart

Award-winning screenwriter Jeb Stuart, known for such iconic films as Die Hard and The Fugitive, will join the Department of Radio/Television/Film faculty this fall as a visiting assistant professor.

“I have a tremendous respect for the RTVF department at Northwestern,” said Stuart, whose writing career spans more than three decades. “And my wife is a Broadway producer who grew up in Evanston, so we have a lot of wonderful Evanston connections as well.”

“I’ve also done three movies in Chicago in the winter,” he added, “so no one can say I’m not prepared.”

Stuart, a recipient of the A.B. Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship, earned master’s degrees from Stanford University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His first film, Die Hard celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and was recently inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Stuart said Die Hard was recently screened in Austin, and he was present to witness a new generation experiencing the iconic action movie.

“It was a bit surreal seeing it with a live audience, eighty-percent of whom were not even born when Die Hard was made,” he said.

Stuart is still an active writer with multiple projects in development and production, including an upcoming miniseries for Netflix and a new feature film. Though he enjoys certain aspects of all his projects, he added that The Fugitive holds a special place in his heart.

“I began writing around Halloween, we started shooting in January, and the movie was out in August,” he said. “Every word in the movie was mine, which was gratifying.”

The film went on to be nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Stuart said he’s excited to teach Northwestern students.

“I came into this business from an academic approach, and I always hoped that someday I’d come back to teach,” he said. “I get what it’s like to be a student in a discipline that’s both art and industry and I hope I can be a bridge between both of those worlds.”

He added: “I’ve had over thirty wonderful years of experience in both television and film and there’s very little that I’ve not seen in any genre. I’ve also directed and produced which gives me that additional perspective. Most importantly, I still go in for pitches and have to deal with the same things students will have to do: adapt, be current, and figure out where the industry is going in terms of an art form. I think that’s a very valuable piece to bring to their education in film and television.”

Nathan Walter

Nathan Walter, who specializes in the evaluation of strategic health messages and the development of strategies to correct misinformation, joins the School of Communication’s Department of Communication Studies this fall as an assistant professor.

Walter earned his master’s degree from the University of Haifa in Israel and his PhD in communication from the University of Southern California. Walter’s work has been published in the Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Human Communication Research and Communication Monographs. The Food and Drug Administration funded his latest research, a project seeking to find better ways to debunk misinformation around tobacco use. The project builds upon recent work on narrative persuasion and self-affirmation theory to shift the focus from communication strategies that emphasize guilt, risk, and fear to messages that enhance susceptibility to change by casting people’s self in a positive light. More specifically, this research proposes the use of self-affirming messages integrated into a narrative form to decrease biased processing of e-cigarette-related information and induce change in knowledge, attitudes and behavioral intentions.

In other words, if people encounter a positive message, they are more likely to absorb the lessons and curb dangerous behaviors than if the message was couched in fear or threats.

But despite Walter’s successes, he recognizes that budding researchers, including many of his soon-to-be students, will need to familiarize themselves with failure in order to ultimately achieve goals.

“My most transformative project would have to be my master’s thesis—the very first time I did independent research,” he said. “I had an ambitious idea that involved watching people play video games for many hours. As one might expect, it wasn’t quite the scientific breakthrough I was aspiring to, and in terms of its quality, I probably made every possible mistake in the book.

“On the bright side” he added, “it made me realize that I’m really excited about the process of science— coming up with an idea, being able to translate it into a testable question/hypothesis, and then analyzing the data. Most importantly, this project taught me that failure is a necessary (and even desirable) step in research.”

Walter said he prefers a collaborative approach with his students and hopes to teach them how to be independent thinkers and researchers.

“I have benefited from student-oriented professors and mentors, and I strive to teach and mentor students with the same level of commitment and enthusiasm I have received,” he said. “At Northwestern, I will focus on creating assignments and activities that challenge students to be the drivers of their own education. I hope that students will collaborate thoughtfully with their colleagues, develop practical skills that can be applied in a variety of real-world contexts, and use their voice to help steer the classroom dialogue.”

His move to Northwestern, he said, is thrilling.

“The Communication School at Northwestern is known for its prominent scholarship as well as its commitment to undergraduate and graduate learning,” he said. “I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to teach and mentor a racially, nationally, and socioeconomically diverse group of students. Likewise, I look forward to the opportunity for collaboration with faculty within the School as well as across departments.”

Also joining the School of Communication this fall are Halena Kays and Edward Southern, both assistant professors in the Department of Theatre. Kalisha Cornett and Justin Zullo are new academic advisors.

By Cara Lockwood