20/20 Visions

20/20 Visions

“Pecha kucha” means “chit-chat” in Japanese, but it takes a bit more than chit-chat to pull off a PechaKucha presentation. The concept is simple: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. The slides are on autopilot, so there’s no turning back, which is part of the challenge and part of the fun.

The brainchild of architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, who claim to have invented the format “because architects talk too much!”, PechaKucha began in Tokyo in 2003 and has spread to 1,000 cities worldwide, including New Haven, where it first found a home in 2009 at the now-closed Ninth Square restaurant Bentara. The Elm City held its 35th installment, themed “Winter Can’t Stop Our Vibe,” to a packed house at Lotta Studio on February 7. Admission, as always, was free.

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The New Haven Symphony Orchestra presents Mozart's Paris

The coffee bar just inside Lotta’s front door was doing a brisk business before showtime, and pay-by-donation beer and wine were flowing as strangers introduced themselves and neighbors said hello. The back of Lotta’s newly reconfigured, wide open space was dominated by a giant white screen, with about 100 folding chairs lined across the floor and backed into every corner. JoAnne and Matt Wilcox, who took over running the event about three years ago, had their slides cued up and their enthusiasm revving for a seven o’clock start.

Lotta Studio co-owner Mistina Hanscom stood off to the side, surveying the crowd with a pleased smile. “To see everybody in here having a good time with something that you’ve worked so hard at… is beautiful,” she said. “I love the age range that the events here pull. There’s this beautiful bridge between young and old, and it doesn’t seem to matter. All of these people are coming to these events because they’re good and inclusive and open and interesting.”

Isaac Bloodworth kicked off the evening by sharing an artistic work-in-progress that addresses issues of racism and representations of black people, which he said he hoped would make members of the mostly white audience “uncomfortable.” He was followed by Linda Marchisio, who shared a poetic travelogue of family trips to New Hampshire, in search of the elusive moose. So goes an evening at PechaKucha, lurching from one subject to another, often with nary a connecting thread. If you need more time to digest what you’ve heard, don’t worry. BEER BREAK (emphatically listed in all caps on the program taped to the wall and on the screen itself) is coming—a long intermission for conversation, questions and, not least, beer. You’ll know when it’s time to return to your seat because long-timer Tim Kane will get up and calm the crowd with a mellow trumpet interlude.

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The Promising Scholars Fund - The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

The PechaKucha international website describes the fast-paced yet laid-back events as spaces where “people can show and share their work in a relaxed way.” New Haven’s winter edition, like many PechaKuchas, was heavy on the arts, with Briah Luckey’s art therapy for moms, Zoe Brookes’s Trenton Circus Squad (with Westville roots) and Dan Gries’s computer-coded art joining Bloodworth’s opener. “Work,” as PechaKucha calls it, can also mean “hobby” or “passion,” as in the presentations of high school students Jessica Lipinsky and Jessica Edwards, who participated in last summer’s Site Projects comic art bootcamp, Marchisio’s travelogue or Maza Rey’s talk about her love for the hip hop band Wu-Tang Clan. It might also mean paid work that has nothing to do with art, as in New Haven Independent reporter Christopher Peak’s presentation on school segregation in New Haven.

“This is my first time doing it, so I was incredibly nervous. But I did it… and I didn’t pass out, so obviously it turned out pretty good,” Lipinsky joked afterward, admitting she could have rehearsed a little bit more.

“There’s a choreography of thought that goes into condensing a lot of information into 20-second bits,” presenter Maza Rey agreed during the break. “Afterwards I was completely exhilarated. I felt very supported… People I’ve never met before have been coming up to me like, ‘Hey, that was a great talk,’ and it’s a really great way to build community.”

That reaction is exactly what JoAnne Wilcox strives for with every PechaKucha. “We’re all about community, and the idea of bringing people together to share stories always had an appeal to me,” she says. “I really think a lot about the way that New Haven needs to tell its own stories… I’ve been trying to push that more and more.”

In the PechaKucha spirit of thinking on one’s feet, JoAnne filled a last-minute gap in the program with a crowd-pleasing surprise. The Regicides, an improvisational comedy troupe from Broken Umbrella Theater, wrapped up the evening by gamely ad-libbing a PechaKucha with slides they’d never seen before. Then Matt appealed to everyone present to put themselves out there next time, albeit with prepared slides and a crafted presentation.

Storytelling, he suggested in closing, is not just for the audience. It’s for the teller, too. “We need to hear your story almost as much as you need to tell it.”

PechaKucha New Haven

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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