Aside from the usual stresses of culture night planning (like perpetually thinking about money and how to get money and subsequently dreaming of having no money…) the journey thus far has been pretty transformative and quite rewarding.
The end result on the night of January 19, 2015 will be wonderful, no doubt. But it’s really all in the process. For me at least, that means learning many things as I go and continually improving my understanding of VCN. Below I’ve detailed some of these lessons, big and small.
1. The “V” in “VCN” isn’t just a letter
When culture night season gets rolling, it can get overwhelming to learn about all the different CNs. And really, the only thing distinguishing one CN from the next (at least on the surface) is a simple letter or two.
But that small difference is the difference that makes Vietnamese Culture Night distinctly Vietnamese in history and context, as is Thai Culture Night or Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night or Chinese American Culture Night, for example. These are very specific identities tied to very specific shows. (And I highly encourage you to go watch all the culture nights on campus to get the best overall culture night experience possible!)
2. Advocacy for the show can happen at anytime, to anyone, anywhere
At times I feel like a walking, talking personification of VCN. I really love talking about it. But yet I’m still intimidated now when I’m asked, “what is the show about?”
To me, it might as well be phrased as “give me your most polished and passionate explanation of what this year’s VCN is about.”
It’s gotten easier for me to answer this question as time goes on, since all the kinks of the show are worked out and little bits and pieces are refined. The difficulty lies with the historical nature of the show this year, which demands a higher standard of “knowing” what I’m talking about. For the past 4 months, I’ve read articles, talked to family members, and learned more about the Vietnamese refugee experience than I ever have before in an attempt to come up with that one succinct and complete description of the show.
The ultimate goal? To enable every cast member to do the same.
3. OMOH, always
VCN’s role as an awareness platform for various community issues would be fruitless and in vain without one essential component (not that kind of VCN component). Above all else, in my opinion, is the need for compassion—only the most pure, absolute compassion from everyone involved in the production. Without it, the stories we put on stage would feel empty and directionless, like feeling emotions with no empathy.
Consequently it’s become sort of a trend this year (and in recent years) that we approach everything with an open mind, open heart—otherwise known as OMOH.
We make it a priority to develop our cast to not only understand the issues but to be able to advocate for them. Often we find that many cast members personally identify with the issues—be it mental health, LGBT, and others—and it is in these cases where having an open mind, open heart is the most important.
4. Dancers and singers toil away in the cold, dark depths of random parking lots—rarely with complaint
Occasionally you walk by a parking structure and realize it sounds more like a dance or music studio than a place for cars.
Blame the lack of rehearsal spaces on campus. We’re not a university that is particularly invested in the performing arts (despite having a film, theater, & TV school and a dance school with rehearsal spaces that seem very exclusive), so parking lots and anywhere with a vast expanse of space end up being “good enough” for our performers. Instead of being in cozy, indoor mirror rooms or rooms with good acoustics, our performers are gasping in the air of car exhaust and dirty cement.
Some argue that being together with team members in this environment is conducive to a close bonding experience… like being together in a common struggle. Still, I think our student performers deserve better.
5. HOLLA BACK! I got yo’ back
If I am metaphorically the head of the body, then I would accomplish nothing without the body that supports it. I’d concoct ideas and have grand visions for VCN, but there would be no arms or legs to get things moving.
The producers and staff are the people who provide the leadership, expertise, and most importantly the emotional support necessary for this production to happen. Things do get hectic and unexpected emergencies do happen, but we’ve got each other’s backs.
And even the simplest things like having Vietnamese dinners with one another is enough to make all this feel like a “family” endeavor.
6. That said, emergencies happen a lot.
Oh. There’s a funding application due tomorrow?
A fundraising permit needs to be signed?
Another meeting with a manager?
Er, which one? The Royce one, the Events one, or the Ticketing one?
What are academics. What is college. WHAT IS LIFE?! #culturenightlife
7. It’s “night,” with no “s”
We spend nearly 6 months preparing for one night—pretty much just one chance to get it all right.
You can imagine how nerve-wracking it is for all performers involved, and even more so when I sit in the wings on show night and observe everything unfolding on stage from a tiny little monitor. You can never really prepare for a flimsy bench, or doors that won’t open, or awkward microphone malfunctions.
But like all live performances, you do what you can to expect the best and prepare for the worst.
8. We don’t even charge admission, yo.
It’s no secret that the cost of renting school facilities for our production (ahem, Royce Hall) is expensive. There is professional labor to pay and services to rent. But even so, the most iconic building on campus is hardly accessible for student use.
Go ahead and hike up the Royce charges for a Coldplay concert, but to demand the same from just five or six non-profit productions per year organized by students on our own campus? Booooo!!
(*pat pat* Don’t give us your pity. When our GoFundMe site is up and running, we’d much rather have your spare change. Or you know, you can sponsor us.)
Next time: a look at all-cast photoshoot and showcase!