“Imagine” was the title of the 45th annual International Advisory Committee’s Eve of Nations. And it was everywhere. Advertised lamp posts, plugged at info sessions, posted in hallways, and set up at a booth in the Union for a week or two prior. And I bought it. Well, actually a friend of mine bought it (i.e. two tickets at the booth where students were selling them, and I paid her back).
On the evening of April 17th 2015, we made the pilgrimage to the Lloyd Nobel Center, where we found quite a line (we discovered that the line was for people purchasing tickets at the door and that we could go straight in, but only after much confusion and a good bit of waiting).
Yet for all the hype about this long-standing event, I came out of the Lloyd Noble center that night feeling very… underwhelmed. What we saw there didn’t seem to be “Oklahoma’s largest cultural event” as described. In fact, having experienced the United World’s Culture Night not two weeks prior, I expected a real spectacle. I was not, however, culturally blown away.
But before I begin my fist-shaking, it is quite worth noting that most of the acts were genuine, interesting, and well-performed by student groups and outsiders (including several dance troupes, the Arashi Taiko Japanese drummers, a Native American dancer, and many appearances by the United World).
Unfortunately, the issues I had with the experience as a whole outweighed these good parts. Perhaps my experience was skewed by both the build-up prior and my experiences with other international showcases, but in any case, my grievances:
The Lloyd Noble Center is an 11,562-seat arena. Eve of Nations had at most a few hundred attendees. When I go to a cultural event, I intend to get the atmosphere of the experience not only from the stage and presenters, but also from my fellow audience members. We were so spread out, I may as well have been streaming the event online in my dorm. Even in the front row of the area in which we were allowed to sit, we were (if my perception of distance isn’t way off) several hundred feet away from the action, making it reasonably difficult to see and thus harder to enjoy. From what I heard of some friends afterwards who were willing to pay for dinner, too, or came by a ticket otherwise (Some organizations were giving them out, including OU Cousins) about a fourth of those sitting in the dinner-is-served area were facing away from the stage. And I don’t know how much the organizers paid to rent that place or if it was donated, but an $8 entrance fee to sit several hundred feet from anything happening and having the commotion of an eating audience in-between was not worthwhile.
The Simultaneous Dinner
Dinner and a Show! Lovely, right? Well, for $20, I think I might have done better. Those who got dinner (mediocre, said a couple of my friends afterwards) were seated more closely – a big plus. But those who didn’t? We got to watch everyone else eat. It felt very… I think “plebeian” describes my sentiments accurately. There was even a pretty gate between the audiences, to keep the social classes properly separated.
I joke, of course, but the sentiment remains. While a good idea, it simply didn’t work out.
As far as program material goes, the IAC did not deliver. If I had come for the full spectacle I could have expected from the location alone, I would have been quite disappointed. Each act was good, but they didn’t really flow or mesh, and the dancing was made into a competition, rather than simple expressive and entertaining performance. That and the paper programs handed out were both confusing and inaccurate (though the graphics were pretty). As far as the material from the United World goes, they did a much more condensed version than at Culture Night, and the fashion show I’d mostly seen. The fashion show itself was too long and suffered severe technical problems (mostly timing with a prepared video slide show).
Now, I did high school theatre: I’ve seen much worse. But it was still enough to throw me out of immersion, and when it comes to something like a barely visible fashion show, keeping my attention is already a feat.
Now, I wouldn’t complain so much without offering solutions, and the ones I have are (in my opinion) rather simple ones.
- Do the show in a smaller auditorium, in the Union or elsewhere on campus to cut on price, decrease distance for students, and add a more close-up and personal atmosphere. Simpler is almost always better.
- Make the dinner a separate event or put it elsewhere after the show, or else put everyone in the same general area, a section for dining and one for viewing. I don’t want to be a second-class citizen just because I didn’t want the food.
- Either practice the show’s patterns more as a group (understandably very difficult) or leave room for flexibility and error. So many punctuality problems could have been avoided by replacing the video slide show with a manually operated one in real-time. Meshing performances is again helpful, but difficult. And my opinion: culture is not a competition. Apples and oranges rule here.
- As a side, if an event is not all it’s cracked up to be, don’t say it is. Advertise, sure, but disappointment does not breed continued success. Nor does “tradition” sustain a show.
All-in-all, my fullest praise to the performers and the idea of the event, but its execution left some things to be desired. If Eve of Nations wants to retain its current audience and draw new viewers, it should take some hints from the United World and its culture night.