Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Post PechaKucha Blues

Pecha Kucha, pronounced (petsha  kutcha) means chit chat in Japanese. Eddie Selover organizes Petcha Kucha events here in Orlando. I had sketched several of these events in the past and I decided to do a presentation myself. The evening consists of Power Point presentations by about 9 presenters. The catch is that each Power Point slide is on the screen for only 20 seconds and there is no way for the presenter to pause or talk for too long. 20 slides for 20 seconds results in a concise six minute presentation. The original organizers came up with the format because they realized that if you give some people a microphone they might never stop talking about the first slide.

There were just two rehearsals held at the Orange Studio, 1121 N. Mills Avenue Orlando FL, in the weeks before the presentations. I simple picked 20 sketches and then wrote copy about my artistic journey since starting the blog. In theory it sounds easy right? WRONG! Being able to time the talk and knowing the slide is about to change any minute is nerve wracking. I have never given a talk in front of 300 people so this was a big step outside my comfort zone. The same week I had to lecture to a room full of students for the first time as well. When it rains it pours. With the writing in hand I felt comfortable but it is hard to slow down and sometimes pause, so there is time for the slide to change. It is much like driving 100 miles an hour down a highway and then having a traffic light every mile. In the first rehearsal I realized that when nervous, I speed ahead and then the slides never have a chance to catch up. Rehearsals were a supportive, safe atmosphere since we were all walking the same tight rope.

The theme for Pecha Kucha V12 was "Love" in honor of Valentines Day so many of the presentations were intensely personal. Going through this experience, I got to learn quit a bit about each of the presenters.  Our presentations got better at each rehearsal. The group as a whole grew stronger as we gave each other suggestions and feedback.  Becky Lane who teaches public speaking at Full Sail, actually took the time to coach me and give me pointers right before the last rehearsal. Based on her suggestions, I removed titles from each slide and instead added a sentence about the person or place pictured. I was writing these notes on the script only minutes before doing my rehearsal run through. I tripped up on a couple of notes that literally made no sense.

On presentation day, February 7th, I rehearsed in my studio all day till the timing clicked into place. I kept adding words or deleting them till the flow was just right. I felt confident but nervous. I had to get to the Orange Studio two hours before show time. I  ran out of the studio and drove several miles in the rain before I realized that I forgot my script which was sitting on the desk at home! I quickly did a 180 in a panic. David Russell of Sac Comedy Lab had us do warm up exercises. We stood in a circle and threw Zip, Zaps, and Zoops at each other. It was a good way to get us to bind together and laugh.

I was the eighth presenter being sandwiched between Carolyn Moor and Kristen Manieri. Each of us got up to the mic for a sound check before the audience arrived. There was a computer monitor about three rows back in the center isle that would show the slides. My voice echoed and bounced around the room. Before me was a sea of white empty folding chairs. Since it was raining, I hoped no one would show. We had to be sure to stay right on top of the mic. I adjusted the mic and it slipped free of the stand and crashed to the floor with a loud thud. Well, that is what rehearsal is for. It better not happen again. One more thing to worry about.

The event was sold out. 300 people crowded into the folding chairs. Emily Empel gave an inspiring talk about how Orlando needs to find a quirky, creative and inspired future. Max Jackson talked about love and the human brain. He spoke with a machine gun fast delivery offering so much information that it was almost hard to keep up. He had memorized his entire talk. It was impressive and daunting. I was strictly "on book." I had to read what I had written on 8 1/2 by 11 sheets that were stapled in the corner. Being visual, I needed to see each sketch beside my words. Carolyn delivered an incredibly honest and emotional roller coaster with her story of love, loss and strength found in supporting others. I had to wipe away tears, and I heard Kristen equally moved beside me. In the end, her story was uplifting and showed how people become stronger when they care about each other. It was a hero's journey.

I was still choked up when I stepped up to the mic. "I love to draw," I began. I started off on a good footing but after several slides, I glanced up at the monitor and instead saw a young woman  three rows back who looked a bit like Caroline, but with jet black hair and straight bangs. I realized after a moment that it was Carolyn's daughter. I wondered what she thought of her mom's presentation. As these thoughts rattled through my head, I flipped forward in the script by mistake. I was not in the moment. I improvised a bit as I re-found my spot. I was getting close to panic mode. I might crash and burn. Then I spotted a woman seated in front of Carolyn's daughter. She smiled at me reassuringly. That smile saved me. Everyone seated in the room wanted me to present this material well. Back on track, I delivered the rest of the talk with confidence.

Kristen Maneri's presentation seemed flawless. She had so much on the line letting the crowd know how she and her husband saved their sex lives by marking Tuesdays and Saturdays on the calender for evenings of intimacy. Her advice to also schedule romantic date nights to nice restaurants is being worked into my own calendar. My wife Terry wasn't able to go to the presentation. She was seeing a client down in Miami. She did see a rehearsal and on that evening I finished the talk with, "I couldn't do what I do without the love and support of my wife Terry." It is very true. But, partly because of the lost time in my stumble, I left the final line off.

I have never stood in the front of a room full of people clapping. That kind of validation is usually for the performers I sketch. When I stood in line with all the presenters, for the final bow, I felt so proud and happy. It was a euphoric feeling. Then, as the crowd dispersed, people kept coming up to shake my hand and tell me about creative projects that might interest me. Caley Burke spoke about a NASA Tweetup event I should document, Roger Gregor told me about a children's book he wrote that needs an illustrator, Carynn Jackson offered an opportunity to document the Winter Park Paint out. I had put business cards and posters on a table and only a few cards were left behind. Emily told me that her goal, in being a presenter was to find one new friend. That thought made me happy. That should be my goal anytime I try something new.

The first two rows were full of friends and family of Carolyn's. They enveloped her in loving support. Kristen's husband held her close. I suddenly felt alone. Swami World Traveler asked where Terry was. When I told him, he said, "That's kind of ironic considering the evening's theme."  He suggested I join him and a friend at a new restaurant a few blocks away on Virginia. I needed to go out and sketch to clear my buzzing head. My calender showed an event by Kitchy Kittens at the Caboose in Ivanhoe Village. It was drizzling as I drove over to look. The Caboose is a real smoke filled dive bar and nothing was happening inside so I decided instead to go to Washburn Imports, 1800 N Orange Ave, Orlando, FL. In the back of the huge antiques shop is a bar called "The Imperial". I ordered a raspberry flavored beer and sat at a round table with two other men who didn't mind me joining them.

They talked about the one in a million chance that a friend of theirs had found the perfect girl. I felt hollow as I sketched. This sketch outing was a self inflicted exile. The road less traveled. I identified with the guy standing in the middle of the room, sipping his beer and wanting some human connection while I hoped for some sketchable drama.

The two guys at my table left and they were replaced with a birthday party of three couples. The birthday girl wanted to see what I was up to and she complimented the sketch. One guy said to me, "Hey, I recognize your sketches, I've seen them online. Great work." We introduced ourselves and then he returned to the ongoing conversations and I returned to the sketch. Is this what my life would be like, quick exchanges with people who know OF me, but who aren't really friends? Working alone in a crowd usually doesn't bother me. But I had just rubbed shoulders with some of the most brave, honest and inspiring people I have ever met in Orlando. This is what actors must feel like every time a show ends. When I got ready to leave the Imperial, I used the men's room. When I came out, I noticed a couple kissing passionately on an antique couch removed from all the bustle near the bar. That could be such a good sketch, I thought, but no, I have my sketch already and I have to work in the morning." When I got home, I couldn't sleep.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Emily said...

I've been waiting for this post! Love your two lines: "I have never stood in the front of a room full of people clapping. That kind of validation is usually for the performers I sketch." You usually get the online kudos. Comments, likes, Tweets and resposts...

Mary Ann de Stefano said...

Beautiful post, Thor.

You should imagine 300 people clapping every time you post a sketch here! And thanks for the Charlie Chaplin reference. Good thing there were no monkeys at PechaKucha.

Thor said...

Emily, thanks for tweeting up this post. So much better than clapping. I could also hear the whoots and cheers of fellow presenters who has survived their presentations. I'm amazed that often twice as many people read what I put online every day. Since I can't see them, it is easier to pretend they aren't there.

Mary Ann, You didn't see the monkeys on my back! They were there!

Unknown said...

Great post, Thor!