Associate Director for Wilson Commons Student Activities and Programming Melissia Schmidt has served much of her professional life in the Student Activities Office and currently serves as an adviser for entertainment groups, which includes UR Cinema Group, UR Concerts and Campus Activities Board.

Schmidt sat down with the Campus Times to answer questions about her job and what she expects from Meliora Weekend 2009 when CAB brings comedian Bill Maher to campus.

Take us through how last Meliora Weekend went, and what you’re expecting for this Meliora Weekend.

Last Meliora weekend was wonderful the combination of Anderson Cooper and the back-to-back Stephen Colbert shows that was just such an amazing combination of things. For me, working with Stephen Colbert was just one of the best experiences of my professional career here. He was so fun and so easy to work with. He wanted to deal with things himself. He was sending me e-mails and leaving me voicemails.

This year is going to be just as fantastic. Having Steven Chu on campus, somebody of his stature, and that he’s an alum is a wonderful opportunity. Bill Maher is going to be really interesting to work with. I think people are going to be excited, and I hope that we can accommodate as many people as possible. It’s always challenging because our venues are so small and tickets sell out really, really fast, so it’s sad when students and others get shut out of events that I know they would want to attend.

What determines which artists or comedians are brought to campus, and how does the general process work?

For CAB and Concerts, the process is basically the same. Each one of those E-boards puts together a list of potential people and they’ll table in Wilson Commons or in Douglass or in Danforth doing surveys. There’s a Web site called Concert Ideas which we use as a reference point.

The students will then just go compile all of the data that they get from the surveys and then that’s who they’ll try and go after. And then at that point, it gets challenging because it’s easier said than done. With bands it’s really challenging because you don’t get an answer quickly. There are so many factors that come into play when booking a band on campus.

And then they also try to take [genre] into consideration. This year, they made a decision well in advance to do a hip-hop show and try to do something that they have never really done before as a ticketed event, and it was hugely successful. We sold out with 700 seats in advance.

Comedians and speakers, whole other ball game, because they are far easier; you are dealing with one person either they can come or they can’t. You’re not dealing with an entire entourage or an entire band.

Are there initial names yet for Winterfest Weekend?

I actually have an offer and just put it in for Stephen Lynch, so if he says yes, then we’re done. If he says no, then we’re going to move on to John Oliver from ‘The Daily Show.”

What are some of the most ridiculous demands you have ever received, and who has been the most easy going?

The comedians are just great; they love working with the college population and they are always willing to take pictures with students and do a meet-and-greet.

The speakers in general, they are kind of that middle, you-don’t-really-know-what-you-are-going-to-get. Spike Lee was really demanding. Really interesting personality.

The bands are hands down the most challenging and demanding, because you are dealing with so many different personalities. You’re dealing with tour managers, road managers, sound guys, the band themselves, the agents, the manager, the publicist.
If you are lucky to be working with a band who has their stuff together and all those people are talking and communicating, that’s fantastic. But that rarely happens. What happens is, you hear one thing from the agent and then the tour manager calls and tells you the total opposite, and then you talk to the band and they know nothing because nobody told them anything. It’s just a nightmare.

The Fabolous show was one of those kinds of experiences. We kind of went in totally blind and thank god everything worked out pretty well.

Another artist had a category called ‘medicine” in his rider. He [asked for] cough drops, Tylenol and one ounce of high grade weed. So then of course I take my big red pen and write ‘No! No! No!” You cannot buy drugs or alcohol with University funds. They all ask for alcohol. They all ask for extravagant things.

What are the most difficult parts of your job?

I like having everything organized. Everything is deadline-driven, so if you don’t have everything done and ready to go, it’s not like you can say, ‘Well, I’ll just table that for next month.” No, Yellowjacket Weekend has to happen this day and then you know it’s going to be Meliora Weekend and there’s a concert and then a speaker. Then it’s Boar’s Head and then it’s Winterfest. There’s always something.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is working with the students who just do such amazing things on this campus. I’m kind of micromanaging and doing the administrative pieces and helping [the students] get through all of that, but at the face of it all is the students. They’re doing everything and they are out there making all of the plans. They are doing such amazing things and [the majority on] campus [doesn’t know] that they do all of these things. You hear from students all the time, ‘Oh, I just thought these things happened.” Well, they do, but behind the scenes there is a student organization, who months on end, dedicate all of their free time and and resources into making these things happen successfully so that it looks like they just happened. It’s constant, and there is never down time for them. They just work endlessly. And that’s what makes it fun: working with such great students who are really dedicated and want student life to be so vibrant.

CAB’s budget is about $200,000. Is that enough to work with?

CAB has been pretty lucky, they have been able to do quite a lot with the money that they get on a regular basis.

If they had more they would spend more. Strong [Auditorium] holds 975, the Palestra holds about 1,700, Douglass holds about 700 when you clear it. So the structure is really challenging because as student life grows and [the number of] students grows, the structures are not necessarily growing as quickly. So I think it would be wonderful if down the road we think about how do we grow student life when we look at venues or performing arts centers to be able to accommodate more tickets on sale and morestudents and simply do more.

What about Eastman Theatre?

Since I have been here I have yet to do an event at Eastman Theatre and not for lack of trying. It’s really challenging to get because it is in use by the RPO all of the time. It’s in use by Eastman and it’s in use by promoters. It’s really hard to get dates without displacing who is supposed to be there. It’s not the kind of venue where you can just throw anything in there, it’s got to be Eastman appropriate. Whenever there’s an opportunity I would love to do something over there.

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