On one of the first chilly nights in weeks, more than 100 people milled around the Paper Tiger on South St. Mary’s Street. The venue’s massive garage doors were left open, letting in the fading evening light and strong wind chill as attendees purchased tickets and drinks. DJ Ernest Gonzales, who was later joined by state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), stood behind a laptop-laden table onstage and bobbed to the beat of his own thumping mix. Behind him, on a presentation screen rippled by the wind, a tiger snarled below the words “PechaKucha.”
Tuesday’s event was the 21st quarterly PechaKucha in San Antonio since its start here in 2011. Past events were hosted at places like the Arneson River and Majestic theaters. But for this evening, organizers decided to really take the presentations out on the town — what better to do when you finally hit 21?
PechaKucha is Japanese for “chit chat,” and take place all over the world. They are unified by their structure — one person in front of an audience, talking about a subject important to them, for a little under seven minutes. Eight speakers of various backgrounds and expertise have exactly 20 slides, with 20 seconds of screen time per slide to share their story, project, passion, craft, or dream with the audience.
Perennial emcee Randy Beamer kicked off the night and cracked jokes about the flowing alcohol and the days when he, too, partied on the St. Mary’s strip. This was my first PechaKucha and seeing Beamer’s persona out from behind the desk at WOAI-NEWS 4 was something like watching my own father admit cheekily to being an 18-year old bartender during “the disco age” – if my father was the suit-clad host of a local nightly news show in a city of a million-plus people.
And really, that seems to be the point of PechaKucha — it attempts to smash the glass between the watcher and the watched, to make real and accessible the people in this city who are doing interesting things. The DJ sampled ’90s rap and some audience members showed up with brightly-colored hair and septum rings that smacked of the newer, hipper, San Antonio, but PechaKucha channels the small-town feel this city has and entertains all generations.
During intermission I approached a pair of women at random and was surprised to learn that one of them, Amanda Bianchi, presented at the Arneson River Theater PechaKucha in the spring.
“I think it’s really interesting that you can get these people who are members of the community,” Bianchi said. “You (might) know them professionally, (but) you get to know more of their personality. I like that aspect.”
When I asked Denise Hernandez, a San Antonio native who works in a local school district, what her favorite moment had been thus far, she also mentioned a personal connection with a presenter.
“I really like Chris Cullum, he’s such a nice guy, too. I’ve met him a couple of times. It’s really fun just seeing him be himself,” she said.
Incidentally, Hernandez was there with a friend and former colleague of mine. Earlier in the evening, I saw another former colleague, who was there supporting presenter, art curator, and Rivard Report writer David S. Rubin. While I didn’t personally know any of the presenters, turns out I went to kindergarten with Randy Beamer’s daughter. See what I mean about the small-town vibe?
The full presentations will be up on the PechaKucha website in the coming days. In the meantime, these are my favorite moments from each presentation.
Chris Cullum – restaurateur and founder of Attaboy burgers
In response to Randy Beamer’s post-presentation question on if he feels like something of a “pioneer” when he opens hip food joints in Eastside San Antonio:
“There’s nothing wrong with dusting it off and letting it be what it is.”
David S. Rubin – independent curator, writer
“Every curator should remember, there are always terrific artists in your own backyard.”
Troy Peters – conductor and music director of YOSA
“Young musicians are the same everywhere. They’re hungry to have their lives changed.”
Brooke Smith – chef at Esquire Tavern
“Just because we have really smart phones doesn’t mean we can’t help another human being out, right?”
Phillip Luna – artist and musician
On why he regularly goes out with his wife of 25 years:
“You don’t stay together if you sit on the couch watching ‘The Walking Dead.’ Keep trying to impress each other.”
Elisabeth Forsythe – bar director at Barbaro
“When people are waiting for drinks, they stare at you… hard.”
And, on what a bartender can be:
“Sometimes they’re a pair of eyes when you just need someone to see you.”
Kelly Edwards – tattoo artist
In response to a question about the worst tattoo request he’s ever gotten:
“I think people get the tattoos they deserve.”
Travis Buffkin – ‘impoverished musician’ and music critic at the San Antonio Current
“This is my worry with music criticism, good people. It further reinforces heirarchies of taste. Bottom line, do not listen to music critics, and I say this as a music critic. Listen to music.”