New Group for Alumni in Entertainment Is Formed

Alumni attending the LA Entertainment Network get-together

Top l to r: Adam Szajgin, Adam Polanger, Jeremy Browne, Jeff Bielat, Elyse Landolfi, James Crosby, Jillian Eldredge; Bottom l to r: Steve Laddin, Tori Wechsler, Richie Carvill (grey shirt) Caitlin O'Kelly-Moriarty

Friday, October 11, 2013

Last year Stephen Laddin ’09 (communication) and Tori Wechsler ’10 (hospitality and tourism management), who both work at Creative Artists Agency in LA (Laddin in the comedy department and Wechsler in the music department), attended a movie night put on by the LA Alumni Network. “There was a good collection of interesting people in many lines of work and we had a good time,” Laddin recalls. “Even so, Tori and I thought it would be really cool to have a group in the area that would benefit UMass alumni in the entertainment industry. We didn’t see this as competition with the existing group, but rather a complement.”

Fast forward to February 2013 when the two began trying to get something official going.  Laddin first contacted his mentor and thesis advisor Erica Scharrer, chair of the Department of Communication. He explained how he was hoping to create an affinity group, not only for alumni to work and link together, but also to feed internship and networking opportunities to students interested in the field. “USC, UCLA and Syracuse have very strong groups like this. Why not UMass?” says Laddin. “It’s really important to get to know others in the industry and to keep the door open for new faces.”

It didn’t take Scharrer long to get back to Laddin with an introduction to another LA alumnus, Adam Polanger ’05, vice president of post-production for Gurney Productions (the maker of the television hit “Duck Dynasty” and Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”).  He too had been in touch with Scharrer, hoping to find a way to get more UMass Amherst interns into the pipeline.

The two of them hit it off immediately. Laddin and Polanger reached out to Kevin Fleming in Career Services. “He was enormously helpful, giving us all kinds of pointers for moving things forward, like starting a Facebook page and sending us to the Alumni Association to work on getting official status,” says Laddin. The green light to start the UMass Amherst Entertainment Alumni Network came in May.

Polanger, Laddin and Wechsler quickly got to work, reaching out to alumni in the entertainment industry and planning the group’s first mixer. The event, held in August at the rooftop of the Hotel Wilshire, “was definitely a success for an inaugural effort.  Everyone who attended bonded right away,” says Laddin. “In fact, we even discussed plans for the next get-together, which will be a ‘Home Away from Homecoming’ party on October 26, the day of UMass’s actual homecoming this year."  “Since most of us probably can’t make it back East for the occasion, we’re creating a way for west coast alums to get together and celebrate in honor of our Minutemen!” says Wechsler.

Be sure to check out the group’s Facebook page for upcoming events and internship opportunities. And as Laddin says, “It’s really awesome to see how this group is developing. It’s all about connections, so let’s keep it in the family!”