The Northwestern community mourns the loss of Frank Galati (C65, GC67, GC71), Academy Award–nominated and Tony Award–winning writer and director and a beloved professor emeritus of performance studies. He died on January 2 at age 79.
“Frank was a towering figure in both SoC and industry and leaves behind a bounty of profound performance work and a legacy that will live on through those he trained and whose lives he touched,” said School of Communication dean E. Patrick Johnson. “He embodied and practiced so much of what we preach in our pedagogy, with his unbounded creativity, collaborative spirit, and playful approach to the rigors of performance. I knew him well as a colleague and treasure my memories of his genius and kindness.”
Galati was born in 1943 in Highland Park, Illinois, but grew up in nearby Northbrook, where he attended Glenbrook High School. A self-described theatre geek, he was cherry-picked by a drama teacher to attend Northwestern’s Cherub program (National High School Institute) in the summer of 1960, an experience he called transformative.
Though he wanted to enroll at Northwestern, he couldn’t afford the tuition and so instead attended Western Illinois University before transferring his sophomore year with the help of a new job and financial aid. He landed in the interpretation department, where he studied under then department chair Wallace Bacon as well as Robert Breen (C33, GC37), Charlotte Lee (GC45), and Lilla Heston (C49, GC58, GC65)—several of whom he had seen perform and teach when he was a Cherub.
“I was having revelation after revelation about story and ‘once upon a time’ and inventing and plot and character,” said Galati in a 2020 interview for the School of Communication. “It really opened my eyes about the potential for dramatic relationships within a story. Not making a story into a play, but letting the story speak for itself.”
Galati was further influenced by legendary acting professor Alvina Krause, who directed him in numerous performances, including two seasons of summer stock. “I’ve been extremely lucky in my life, and I’ve had some unique teachers who were really brilliant and inventive, and she was maybe the most remarkable,” he said. “She believed that if you wanted to be a good actor—or at least a wide-ranging actor, a substantial actor—you had to study history. You had to study science. You had to be able to know something about astronomy; you had to be able to stand with your body in the contrapposto positions of the figures of the Renaissance…. The training was comprehensive, but from Ms. Krause’s point of view, it was sort of cosmic.”
Galati graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1965 and remained at Northwestern for graduate study, earning a master’s in 1967 and a doctorate in 1971. Two years later he joined the faculty of the interpretation department, which in 1984 was renamed performance studies. Galati retired as professor emeritus in 2006.
“Intellectual rigor was the bottom line,” he said. “We on the faculty taught writing, we taught composition, we graded papers. Every single one of the performances that our students gave in class was accompanied by an academic paper.”
One of those students was Mary Zimmerman (C82, GC85, GC94), a future MacArthur Fellow who followed in her mentor’s footsteps to become a Tony Award–winning director and Northwestern performance studies professor. Galati once said of her, “Think about it—I had Mary Zimmerman in class when she was an undergraduate directing her very first scene. It involved a huge white globe that was glowing from inside. (He laughed.) Even then!”
Throughout and well beyond his teaching career, Galati helped transform the Chicago theatre scene into the bold, experimental, exciting hub of collaborative creativity it is today. He was an ensemble member at both Steppenwolf Theatre and the Goodman Theatre and mentored countless area actors, writers, and directors—including many Northwestern alumni and faculty.
Galati was nominated for a 1989 Academy Award for his adapted screenplay of The Accidental Tourist and won two 1990 Tony Awards for adapting and directing The Grapes of Wrath, which originated at Steppenwolf. Additional Broadway directing credits included Ragtime (for which he received a Tony nomination) in 1998 and The Pirate Queen in 2007, and he also staged dozens of high-profile Chicago and regional productions. After retiring from Northwestern, Galati moved to Sarasota, Florida, where he was an artistic associate at Asolo Repertory Theatre.
Galati’s papers are held in the Northwestern University Archives. He is survived by his husband, Peter Amster (C71, GC73).
Louann Van Zelst
Louann Van Zelst (C49, GC51), devoted alumna, former School of Communication board member, and the first female president of the Northwestern Alumni Association, passed away on February 14 at the age of 94.
Van Zelst was artistic, intellectually curious, well-traveled, and devoted to her family and alma mater. Alongside Theodore “Ted” Van Zelst (MCEAS45, GMCEAS48), her husband of 57 years, they established in 1981 the Van Zelst Research Chair in Communication. The endowment provides for an annual lecture designed to increase the understanding of significant trends in the field of communication.
Louann Van Zelst was born on May 2, 1928, and grew up in Chicago, where she attended St. Scholastica Academy. At Northwestern she earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, participated in the Waa-Mu Show (she was a talented ballet dancer), and met Ted. They married in 1951 and spent the succeeding six decades traveling, involving themselves in civic service, investing in and learning about art, and sharing their knowledge with others while growing their family. Van Zelst was at points a Girl Scout leader, a curler, a teacher of ballet to the University of Illinois football team (for improved agility), and a survivor of ovarian cancer.
She is predeceased by Ted and survived by children Anne, Jean (Michael), and David (Cindy); grandchildren Brett, Drew, Matt, Christina, Danielle, Olivia, and Nate; and great-grandchildren Zachary, Elin, and Evan.
John H. Stassen
John H. Stassen (C65), a leader on the Northwestern Libraries Board of Governors and a devoted School of Communication alumnus, died on March 19, 2022, in Los Angeles at age 78.
While a student at Northwestern, Stassen participated in Psi Upsilon and Model UN. He went on to an illustrious law career as a senior partner with Kirkland & Ellis and the principal outside counsel to the Chicago Board of Trade. Stassen joined the Libraries Board of Governors in 1996 and served as chair from 2004 to 2007. In 2000 he generously established the Stassen Family Endowed Fund to be used for the libraries’ areas of greatest need.
A generous supporter of Dance Marathon and Northwestern Athletics, Stassen was active as a volunteer with Campaign Northwestern, the John Evans Club board of directors, his reunion committees, and the NU Club of Chicago before relocating to the Los Angeles area. A dedicated, knowledgeable, and congenial supporter of the University and of Northwestern Libraries in particular, Stassen was awarded emeritus status in 2014 and continued his support long afterwards. He is survived by his wife, Sara Gaw Stassen (C66), their son Dave Stassen (C99), and their grandchildren.
Noah Gregoropoulos (C81), a gifted improv actor, writer, and teacher, died at his Chicago home on December 16, 2022, at age 63. After graduating from the School of Communication in 1981, Gregoropoulos began working in the Chicago improv scene and became a mainstay at ImprovOlympic (now iO Theater), where he taught and directed Adam McKay, Rachel Dratch, Tim Meadows, and other future comedy stars. Gregoropoulos also taught for eight years at DePaul University’s Theatre School and directed at Second City, where his productions included Lois Kaz, the theater’s first full-length improv show.
Also a television writer and actor, Gregoropoulos wrote for the ABC sitcom Dharma and Greg and appeared in a number of movies and television series, including FX’s Fargo and CBS’s Early Edition. But his home was always Chicago and its improv scene.
Beloved by friends, family, and former students alike, Gregoropoulos is remembered as a passionate actor and coach who always encouraged his students and fellow castmates to push themselves every time they stepped on stage. He is survived by his wife, fellow improv actor Linda Orr, as well as brother Steven Gregoropoulos and sister Vilma Gregoropoulos.