Chicago Blackhawks chairman William Rockwell “Rocky” Wirtz and his wife, Marilyn, are supporting the Northwestern University School of Communication by creating an endowment to fund innovative student and faculty projects in the school’s Theatre and Interpretation Center.

In recognition of the multi-million dollar gift, the center will be renamed the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, in honor of Rocky Wirtz’s grandmother, who graduated from Northwestern in 1924.

For more than three decades, the center has helped fuel the success of Northwestern’s top-ranked programs in theatre, dance, music theatre and performance studies.

It produces, manages, funds and administers the School of Communication’s mainstage performances. It mounts as many as 40 productions each year in the four performance venues within its complex and in the separate 1,000-seat Cahn Auditorium.

The center will be fully renovated next year improving the accessibility and function of existing spaces and creating new classroom, rehearsal and performance spaces.

In addition, the University’s new Music and Communication Building, which is slated to open in 2015, will be adjacent to the Wirtz Center and will house the departments of theatre and performance studies on its fifth floor.

Following the renovation, faculty and students will be able to take on artistic challenges of a broader scope than previously possible due to lack of physical space.

The Wirtzes’ recent gift will support the School of Communication’s high-profile collaborations with professional artists and regional theaters. These include the American Music Theatre Project, which brings music theatre professionals and Northwestern students and faculty together to develop new plays that have their first productions at the University. 

The Wirtz endowment will also provide resources for the School of Communication’s arts programs for Chicago-area children, including Imagine U, and for its graduate programs in theatre directing and design.

“This significant gift builds on the extraordinary generosity of Rocky and Marilyn Wirtz, which has had a transformative impact on the School of Communication over the years,” said University President Morton Schapiro. “Their support has helped cultivate Northwestern’s unparalleled reputation in the performance arts.” 

Since 2009, the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Visiting Artist Program has brought some of the most talented and successful performing arts professionals to campus to work with Northwestern students and faculty.

Actor-director and School of Communication alumnus David Schwimmer was the 2013 Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Visiting Artist. Schwimmer, who graduated in 1988, talked with students in a Q-and-A led by Anna D. Shapiro, the Marjorie Hoffman Hagan, Class of 1934, Chair in Theatre in the School of Communication and a Tony Award-winning director.

“Over the past two decades, Rocky has stepped up to continue the support of his grandmother, Virginia, when it was most needed,” said School of Communication Dean Barbara O’Keefe. “Combined with the new Music and Communication Building and the renovation of the Wirtz Center, the Wirtz endowment will provide the foundation for a new century of innovation in the arts at Northwestern.”

“Throughout her life, my grandmother was a champion for the arts and giving back,” said Rocky Wirtz, president of Wirtz Corporation, one of the nation’s largest privately held and family-owned companies. “It’s an honor and privilege to carry on that legacy along with my wife, Marilyn, and our children and grandchildren, for many more generations.”

Wirtz is a member of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees and has served on the School of Communication’s National Advisory Board since 1986. He received a bachelor’s degree from the School of Communication in 1975, and made his first gift to Northwestern in 1976. Wirtz also is a member of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Blackhawks Charities.

The Wirtz gift is part of We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, a $3.75 billion University-wide fundraising initiative.

Performing arts is one of the areas in which Northwestern will invest its resources most heavily in the coming years.

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