If it's major, it's MAB
It's midnight, and members of the Lemonheads band and road crew are mingling with students after the concert in Mandel Hall. Students on the University's Major Activities Board (MAB) mill about, closing the books on the ticket sales, helping remove equipment from the stage. This is the last of their work in what has been a 14-hour day.
The members of MAB -- there are 11 this year -- bring as many as 10 major performers to campus every school year. They are responsible for booking such popular acts as the band Living Colour and stand-up comic Sandra Bernhard, for example. This year's acts have also included blues musician Lonnie Brooks and jazz singer Jon Hendricks. When rock bands Urge Overkill and Veruca Salt perform at the outdoor show in Hutchinson Courtyard next month, it will be thanks to MAB again.
The students manage to engage such major talent because MAB has built a strong reputation in the industry. "Relative to other colleges, we run an extremely professional organization," said Zach Paradis, a third-year in psychology and anthropology and one of MAB's two talent buyers. "In fact, the stage manager of the Lemonheads told us this was the best college they've ever played. That's really good for us. It's in our interest to build a strong name, and because we get good funding, good training and have a good adviser, we're able to do that."
All board members begin as volunteers, learning the ropes of concert production from older, more experienced MAB members and from Vernon White, Student Activities program adviser, who spent 15 years on the road with national acts before coming to the University. Several College seniors on this year's board have participated in MAB in all four years here.
Although White serves as adviser, the students are accountable for every phase of an event's production. They manage a six-figure budget, select the acts, and offer contracts to and negotiate with the agents of major local and national talent. They promote the event, cater it, supply security, find more than 50 volunteers to help out, and then work all day themselves on "Day of Show." Each member of the board oversees a specific aspect of the production, and the chair ensures they all come together.
"We've got training that nobody else has on their resume," said Cassidy Bowman, a fourth-year student in art and design and MAB's other talent buyer. "We are incredibly lucky to have the freedom we have within the organization. The administration has put a lot of faith in us -- it's just been a gift."
It's also job training. Bowman, for one, anticipates a job at Jam Productions when he graduates this spring. "We work with so many agencies, and you become friends with people," he said. "I've spent a lot of time booking with Jam, and I interned there for six months my third year. It was incredible. If I had not worked on MAB, they never would have given me a chance."
But the experience MAB offers isn't limited to the music industry. "For me, the music was never the drive," said Brandy Saltzman, a fourth-year student in economics and chairman of the board of MAB. "It was working with the people.
"MAB is the real world," she continued. "It isn't just a college club. We're working with people who do this for a living -- the road crews, the managers, the caterers, the band -- this is their life work. We are held responsible and liable when the contracts are signed. To me, the benefit of MAB is the experience you don't really get in classes. We're taught a lot of theory here. I'm taught economic theories and philosophical theories -- especially at Chicago, it's the most theoretical-crazy school there is. But then, in MAB, you get the application. This is when you learn how to motivate people, what they're willing to do, utility curves -- all of that comes into play, and it's real." White agrees. "I tell these students that everything they study -- psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, everything -- this where you apply it," he said. "This is real life. Student activities are a working, living laboratory. Just like we have a laboratory for those individuals in chemistry and physics, we have a laboratory for those people who are going to be leaders. This is where it's happening."
White's general hands-off approach to advising student groups is tempered by an intensive management-counseling program each member of his organizations must undergo.
"The mission of our office is to instill all the leadership and management principles we can in our students," White said. "All of them go through a training process in organizational behavior, group dynamics and organizational communication. They go through workshops on motivation skills. They are trained in certain management skills, and they take on leadership and management roles themselves.
"They have all the rights, authority and responsibilities that an adult in the working world has," White continued. "I'm not here to keep them from making mistakes. That's not what I'm about. If it has to do with safety or security, that's where I'll step in. But if it's a borderline issue on ethics or morals, I'm going to allow them to stumble, because that's the only way they're going to learn. If they don't get a contract in on time or the work done in time, I allow it to go, and they have to accept the consequences. It may be a hard lesson to learn, but life's rough out there and I'm not going to make it any easier from here. It's long-term training. My job is to give them whatever resources they need so they can do the job."
For MAB, the main job is booking shows with the entire student population in mind. "We're here for the students," said Saltzman. "I think that's important. We use their fees to bring them quality entertainment, and although we can't please all the people all the time, we make a conscious effort to try."
Indeed, diversity has become the operative word at MAB meetings. "We decided at the beginning of the year that we wanted to appeal to every taste," said Katie Papadimitriu, a fourth-year student in political science and MAB co-treasurer. "That's what we want to be about."
Knowing that they have provided a good time for as many students as possible is the greatest reward, MAB members say. "There's real satisfaction in being a part of making it happen," Paradis said. "That's what's in it for board members."
Cassidy Bowman agrees. "Looking out at the crowd and seeing that they're having a good time is all I'm aiming for," he said. "We don't get paid, but for me, seeing the crowd happy makes it all worthwhile."
For the volunteers recruited by Amanda Geppert, a third-year student in English, and Meg Hudgins, a third-year student in medieval studies, the payoff comes in free tickets to the concerts, free food and free T-shirts. "We try to keep people through incentives," Geppert said. "This year we've begun to build up a solid base."
It's been a good year for MAB for other reasons, too. "The board has really clicked this year," said Bowman.
"We're all really complementary," concurred Papadimitriu. "One job isn't more important than the others, and we all understand that. That's what makes it work."
-- Carmen Marti