Students, alumni celebrate 50 years of A&O Productions


Alex Schwartz/Daily Senior Staffer

Old event posters from A&O’s archives at the Norris University Center. Members of the organization’s past and present combed through the documents in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

Alex Schwartz, Monthly Editor

Hot coffee, hot water, six styrofoam cups, six tea bags, one pint of milk, one pint of cream, four fresh lemons, six spoons…and two pints of Kentucky bourbon: So read the list of green room items Bob Dylan required in his contract rider when A&O Productions brought him to Northwestern in 1991.

This and other documents, laid out on tables in the Norris University Center’s Northwestern Room on Friday afternoon, transported A&O members past and present through the organization’s rich history in celebration of its 50th anniversary. Current board members and alumni flipped through old event posters, promoter passes, contracts and campus media coverage, sharing stories about how they created these experiences for their fellow students.

On a table lay a ticket for Jerry Seinfeld’s 1990 visit. A&O alumnus John Nieman (Weinberg ’90) worked to bring Seinfeld and other artists and speakers to campus in the late ’80s.

“Each one of these offers and pictures and telegrams and contracts — they all bring it back to life,” Nieman said.

Eyeing the typewritten legal jargon, autographed flyers and yellowing copies of The Daily arranged around the room, some students found themselves surprised at how many legendary celebrities their predecessors brought to campus.

Founded in 1969, A&O was originally an alternative body for campus entertainment that didn’t revolve around Greek life. In observance of its semicentennial, Annie Parker, development co-chair for A&O, said she spent a lot of time looking through the organization’s archives in its Norris University Center office.

Alex Schwartz/Daily Senior Staffer
A list of green room items Bob Dylan required in his contract rider when A&O Productions brought him to Northwestern in 1991.

“I ended up coming up with just a ton of different documents and stuff that I really wanted everybody on A&O to see,” the Weinberg senior said.

Bob Nissen (Weinberg ’71, Kellogg ’75), the second-ever chair of A&O, reached out to Parker earlier this year to organize a Homecoming event for the organization’s alumni. Tracking down folks from the early days of A&O was no easy task, but current members helped find their emails using the Northwestern alumni directory CATalyzer, Parker said.

Nissen, originally a swimmer when the Dolphin Show was still an actual water show, was one of the co-chairs who took the show out of its aquatic infancy to produce the first Broadway musical in the Dolphin Show canon, “Mame,” in 1970. The following school year, he was appointed chair of the newly formed A&O board and brought Woodstock legend Richie Havens to perform in McGaw Hall — which now holds Welsh-Ryan Arena — that February.

“My experience on A&O board was really special,” Nissen said. “Just having the opportunity to get up on stage in front of 6,000 people and introduce Richie Havens — my line was, ‘From Woodstock to McGaw.’”

During his remarks at the reunion, Nissen displayed a letter the Dean of Students sent to then University President Robert Strotz in 1971, responding to the A&O board’s plans for a “Spring Thing” festival that year (Nissen rejected the name “Spring Fling” as a relic of the ’60s — this was, after all, a new decade). The dean urged the president to oppose the weekend of performances, carnival rides and free food on the Lakefill because “the University is not in a position to be part of and sponsor a rock festival.”

But the A&O board convinced administrators that Spring Thing would not be Woodstock 2.0, and Nissen said the event was hugely successful. Parker said she loved hearing stories of how alumni worked with big-named talent of yesteryear to produce a wide variety of events.

“It honestly was just amazing to see…how the role of A&O has changed over the years,” she said.

The first chair of A&O, Steve Nisenbaum (Weinberg ’70), could not be in attendance but sent his regards in a letter.

Touching on the power of student organizations throughout Northwestern’s history, he wrote, “I think the energies and spirit of students asserting themselves and expressing themselves in so many diverse activities and organizations is the truth of A&O.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @alexpshorts