School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson will be welcoming Ebs Burnough (C02) as the School’s 2021 Convocation Speaker. Burnough, a filmmaker, writer, producer, and marketing and communications executive, formerly served as the White House’s Deputy Social Secretary and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Senior advisor. Burnough in 2019 made his directorial debut with the documentary The Capote Tapes, which explored the impact of author Truman Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, through new interviews with friends and enemies and never-before-heard audio archives. The film will be released this summer by Greenwich Entertainment.
With sharply funny and deeply insightful stand-up centered on the importance of advocating for one’s own mental health, Maria Bamford, a comedian known for her personal and experimental comedy and her character voice work, gave the annual Van Zelst Lecture in Communication via Zoom on April 30. “I adore Zoom… I’m so afraid to leave this venue. I love the power to mute and to be muted at any point. It’s democracy in action,” she said during the Zoom event, made possible by a generous gift from Louann and the late Theodore Van Zelst. “And I miss the Zoom bombers. I don’t know if it’s happened to you, but it happened to me a view times, and it was so explosive, just like they promised. It stopped at a certain point. I don’t know if the firewalls got too high. I just wanted to give creative support to the Zoom bombers out there. I assume it’s men in their 60s in the suburbs of Denver.”
Despite near-dependance on technology to communicate, work, socialize, and consume, we don’t quite understand what our digital traces are. And given Big Tech’s global dominance and notorious reticence, their exploitation of these gaps poses a serious threat. As much a warning as it was a call to action, Safiya Noble, scholar of technology bias, shared this and more about her research and advocacy during the ninety-minute April 22 Dialogue with the Dean event, hosted over Zoom by School of Communication Dean E. Patrick Johnson.
The School of Communication has a message for those long left out of the dialogue: we’re here, we’re listening, and we’re taking action. In a frank, invitation-only discussion, Dorothy Tucker (C78), Chicago journalism mainstay and the president of the National Association of Black Journalists interviewed School of Communication (SoC) Dean E. Patrick Johnson about his mission to identify and amplify the experiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumni of all underrepresented groups, but in particular those in our Black SoC community. The hourlong April 7 Zoom event, “Elevating Black Voices,” covered much ground, including the story behind the dean’s name, how he wound up at Northwestern more than two decades ago, the challenges of starting his deanship in 2020, the ups and downs of being a Black student at the University, and the central focus of his administration: diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It’s funny how our alumni in comedy want to give back. Case in point: prolific writer, performer, and MFA in Writing for the Screen Stage alum Jen Spyra (GC12) served up inspiration, guidance, and encouragement to the Northwestern community April 9 during a Zoom Q&A session. Sponsored by EPICS and hosted by Department of Radio/Television/Film lecturer, playwright, and performer Eliza Bent, the virtual Q&A touched on a range of topics from Spyra’s time working as a staff writer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to her new project, a book of satirical shorts titled Big Time Stories—which includes a forward by Colbert (C86, H11) himself.
Inside “A Strange Loop”: Creator Discusses Themes and Process Behind the Pulitzer Prize-Winning Musical
Michael R. Jackson, creator of A Strange Loop and the second School of Communication 2020-21 Hope Abelson Artist-in-Residence, spoke about his approach to and inspiration for the semi-autobiographical musical with Dean E. Patrick Johnson, associate professor Miriam Petty, and director Lili-Anne Brown (C95) on February 25 over Zoom.
Dean E. Patrick Johnson was joined on February 18 by Ruha Benjamin, professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, for the second installment of his “Dialogue with the Dean” speaker series. The ongoing series spotlights communication professionals advancing the futures of their fields, challenging paradigms, and promoting social justice. Benjamin’s work examines the social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine—in particular, who pays the cost of tech’s big promise.
Northwestern MFA Stage Design students were among the winners of a special virtual studio version of the Prague Quadrennial, a showcase of the best theatre design from around the world. Third-year students Meeka Postman (costume design) and Joe Johnson (set design) competed in the showcase’s PQ Studio contest alongside entries from around the world, all focused on the staging of 1937 play The White Plague by Czech playwright Karel Čapek. The eerily prescient play tells the story of a pandemic that sends a panic through an unnamed country as it kills citizens older than 45. The government in the play is run by a dictator who uses the pandemic as an opportunity to go to war, rather than to find a cure.
Director and School of Communication alumna Jess McLeod knows well the struggles endured by actors of color. And for more than an hour on Zoom on January 29, as the second featured guest in the new Kelsey Pharr Jr. Speaker Series, she detailed to attendees her artistic mission to correct the errors of flawed institutions.