Monday, August 27, 2007

Another Year Down: Folklorama Epilogue

I can't believe it's been over a week since Folklorama ended, another year that is a faint memory which is bad for me as I try to recall the highlights for the week. It was stressful during the week leading up to Folkorama, but all the hardwork put forth by the dozens of volunteers paid off. Overall, the attendance increased slightly from the year before, the same can be said about the bar and food sales which also took in more cash than last year (we're talking only a few hundred dollars more). The overall mood and atmosphere this year seemed more in control with little problems, this could be in part because it was the second year at Sisler or maybe the planning was more efficient. The topic of Pavilion venue will of course come up in discussion, do you think we should stay at Sisler? Our numbers are down significantly from Tec Voc two years ago... is location a problem? Too far from other Pavilions, any chance we can return to Tec Voc or score a prime location in the St. Boniface area?....discuss!

Immediately after the doors of the Pavilion closed Saturday night (August 18th), the Volunteer party took shape. Food was prepared and catered to feed the volunteer's that stuck around for the evening, as well as delicious cakes wonderfully created by Pastry Chef extraordinaire, Sumi. It's become a tradition the last few years to entertain ourselves with a goofy session of karaoke. Technicalities prevented the sing-a-long from taking place, so as a consolation the stage lights were aimed at the floor for a dance. Continuous dance music with it's mix of disco, classic rock and everyone's favourite social tune, "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" played as a group of us jumped, hopped, spun and stumbled our way through 2 hours of non-stop sweaty wholesome fun. I must admit it was a hell of a lot of fun, I've never danced that long before, especially without the influence of many beers. We were caught on film (watch the video clip), so there's proof that I was dancing, though Sumi said that wasn't "dancing" I was doing.

If I summed up the week of Folklorama, I would say it wasn't too bad, in fact it was kind of enjoyable. It was a pain in the ass bolting from work straight to the Pavilion, but almost everyone that volunteered did, in reality I didn't have to do too much. I wasn't dancing, singing or playing taiko drums on stage, instead I stood around, sat around, got nervous sometimes, ate cheezies and had a great time being around the performers and seeing friends and family. I have it in my head I hate doing this, but when I really think about it, it's something you're brought up to do. I can't think of a year when I wasn't involved, be it as an Entertainment co-coordinator, stage light/soundman, security, ambassador or setup and take down. I remember those gruelling days back at the Buddhist Church basement in the 70's, Sargent Park arena in the 80's, the Cultural Centre tent and Tec Voc school. We have it lucky now, almost luxurious if you compare the conditions and the amount of work to make a hockey arena or a basement look Japanese.

Sumi and I discussed what we could have done differently or tweaked to make the entertainment more enjoyable and diverse. A few things came to mind for next year; modern dance, more visual for the singer possibly dancers or musicians, both dance groups (Kaede/Aurora) performing same night, a second singer? If you watched the show or were part of the show, your comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Any ideas for next year? I know that there are already discussions about a Sushi bar for Thursday-Saturday after the late show with possibly some karaoke.
I guess that's it for Folklorama 2007, once the week started it was fun and I loved being there. I had little sleep all week, getting home by 11pm then writing on the computer until after 2:30am on some nights. I didn't care if I was tired and wired, it kept me interested and involved and that's what life is all about, right? I want to thank our wonderful performers, Hinode Taiko who played 3 shows a night for 7 days..Wow! The stunning Kaede and Aurora Dance groups who provided the beauty and colour to the show. The talented Shayna Paulicelli whose voice is amazing and the Judo and Kendo Martial arts groups that energized the pre-main stage shows with excitement and loud action.

Special thanks to my cohort Sumi Saito, who kept me in line (and from being a "lazy ass") and provided me with much inspiration throughout the week. Hidden behind her upbeat cute persona, she has a wickedly sarcastic sense of humour that is refreshing and hilarious. I'm looking forward to working alongside her again next year. Enjoy the rest of your Summer!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Last Night!

The final night of Folklorama is always bittersweet, on one hand it's finally done, the volunteers that have been here all week can now get on with their lives. Some people revolve their holiday time around Folklorama week while others work 8 hours at their paid job and 5 hours free at the Pavilion. I like to think of the last three days as the home-stretch, usually the most profitable for food, bar and attendance, but also the stage show is running smoothly without worry of any problems or glitches...well, almost.

Again, like the previous night during the dance (Kaede), the music cut out for a couple of seconds (Ha! I wasn't doing the sound), this time the music stopped and when it returned it continued from where it stopped, so it kind of screwed up the dancers. For some reason which we'll have to analyze, the attendance was the third lowest of the week. This is odd because the previous three years the attendance ranked 1st or 2nd for the week, by comparison there was at least 400-500 less people this Saturday than the last three. The same can be said for the bar and food sales which also ranked Saturday as it's third lowest for sales. I'll try to answer or at least theorize why the results were so disappointing this year in the "review" later this week, your opinions and input would be greatly appreciated.

Final Night Ramblings:
-We had duo-rookie emcee's tonight, Stacey Matsumoto hosted the first and second shows, while Jesse Miki did the third. I was more than pleased by both of their MC skills and this could be a preview of some of our new hosts for next year. Stacey seemed like a seasoned pro who was at ease with the microphone and was unfazed by the tongue-twister text written by Hinode Taiko. I really like Stacey's mannerisms and how she throws in a little extra tidbits. Jesse claims to be able to "wing it" and his improv skills definitely come in handy doing this kind of job, but the real skill he possesses is charm and charisma. He brings a much needed enthusiasm to the show and keeping the crowd attentive is his forte.

-I Noticed that Shig didn't perform the Taiko piece (the second song in their set) where he solos on the wood block, for the final show of the week. It was really too bad because I heard this was probably his last Folklorama...what! Shig retiring from Hinode? (Sumi, is this true?)

-Behind the scenes, food was being prepared for the after-Folklorama volunteer party. I heard a rumour that next year they might throw a party (social-style) a week or two later so everyone that volunteered can share in the fun, instead of just the people that volunteered Saturday. Might be a good idea, but do I want to think about Folklorama still in late August?

-Between the 2nd and 3rd shows, Sumi showed me how to cut a cake. Yeah, I know it doesn't sound like a big deal, but it requires some skill and expertise...coool. It would be the equivalent of me showing her how to cut a double mat for picture framing, something that requires some talent, but for me is a piece of cake.

-Shayna was flawless again and Carol got her flowers.

Sorry for the slow post, I got home super late after the volunteer party on Saturday and I wasn't in the mood to think about Folklorama on Sunday. For the next post I'll include some pictures of the volunteer party and stay tuned for the "wrap-up" blog post for the week at a glance review...exciting isn't it?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

There's Nothing Better To Do On A Friday Night?

The week is winding down, but the attendance continues to climb with an increase everyday so far. Traditionally Friday and Saturday's are the best days for the amount of visitor's walking through our doors. Though the numbers aren't in yet, Friday's first two shows were very packed and I wouldn't be surprised if we had one of our best nights this year. I think the organizers have to be feeling pretty good about how smoothly things have gone because I haven't heard many complaints or horror stories from any of the volunteers, though I have avoided visiting the kitchen. Tons of credit must be heaped upon Hazel Saito who took on the "thankless" task of coordinating the food for the Pavilion. I haven't got the full story about the drama of the kitchen, but I know that sales have been great and she has managed to pull together a team of workers who have dedicated their days to cooking. I know Sumi has spend her days off volunteering in the kitchen and without others like her this Pavilion would have failed.

Friday's Random Gibberish:
-Last night for Aurora, does that mean the dancer's won't be at the volunteer party? Actually a lot of the dancers (Aurora and Kaeke) volunteer in other areas of the Pavilion. Lucy was presented with some flowers from her ladies, as predictable as it was that's always a classy gesture. Do you think Carol will receive a similar token of appreciation?

-I can't say enough about singer Shayna Paulicelli, it's great to have her sweet voice complimenting the visual beauty of the dance groups and the primal urgency of Hinode. Not only is she a gifted and accomplished vocalist, she is also one of the nicest persons I have met. As I said in an earlier post watch for her in the future!

-Hopefully no one noticed a difference, but I took the soundboard/lighting chair for the 9:45 show. Ryan who was substituting for Karel had to do sound for another Pavilion, he couldn't find anyone to cover for him so I was thrust into action. I wasn't too worried because I have some experience as I did this job for a couple years back at the tent (early 2000's?). The trick is to not confuse the soundboard with the light board and prevent any dead air, fortunately there are only four lights per side and only two sound channels being utilized. My only gaff was when my hand grazed a electrical cord plugged into the power bar and the sound cut out during one of Aurora's dances. I thought I hit the volume slider or hit the stop button on the CD player. After about 10 seconds of panic (and with Lucy breathing over my shoulder) I touched the cord again (loose plug?) and the sound magically returned. I was told after the dancers kept dancing and when the music returned they hadn't missed a beat. Other than that it was fun...and No, I don't want to do sound next year.

-Stay tuned for Saturday as we have a pair of unscheduled mystery emcee hosts. It's probably not a secret, but I'll tell you later.

-There's a possibility (depends when I get home) there won't be a report posted for Saturday until sometime Sunday ( if or when I get up), because of the volunteer party. The good news is that I'll attempt to take a lot of smile!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Media Circus

The Japanese Pavilion has definitely attracted a lot of media attention in the last few days. Yesterday it was the Winnipeg Free Press Folklorama report, today it was A-Channel and Global's turn. When I awoke this morning (7:30-ish, I only average about 5 hours of sleep) I turned on the TV, at the foot of my bed and who was on my screen, but Hinode's Shig Saito. He was demonstrating some drumming techniques to Adrienne Silver from A-Channel. I scrambled to find a blank VHS tape, but I was too late. I did have a chance to record the Kaede dancers as they gave a sample of a fan dance. All of this was filmed before Tuesday night's show as opposed to last year when all the Folklorama segments were filmed in-studio. It sure the hell beats going to the Fork's at 6:30 in the morning. I have yet to see Tracy Koga from Shaw TV, who is busy with more Folklorama spots that can't be seen on our television, because we subscribe to MTS TV.

Thurday's emcee for the show was Global Television's Connie Tamoto, which makes my job easier as Connie speaks into a microphone for a living and is very comfortable on stage. Global was also filming for their own Folklorama segment and Sumi was interviewed. I think she talked about Kimono dressing (?) and this will air on Friday's 6:00 and 10:30 pm news. Of course, I won't be home to watch it, but if you can figure out your VCR's timer, please record it for me and maybe I can post it.

Thursday's Random Observations:
-Tonight was the last night for Judo for the Martial Art's portion of the show. I spoke to a few people tonight who were happy they happened to come on the night Judo performed. Maybe next year Karate will return, I know they favoured the longer format so they could have time to demonstrate their moves.

-Anyone else notice how cool it is in the Gym and outside? This is about as ideal as it could be for the performers and I noticed Green tea sales are picking up...second thought, this might not be a good thing

-Kaede danced three consecutive dances (which includes the crowd participation ONDO) for all three shows. Is it too much dance? I think the show is more interesting when Shayna sings, it provides a better balance and more variety. Any ideas or suggestions for next year (I don't know if me or Sumi will be back) are always welcome.

Took my first peak into the Cultural display room and was amazed how crowded it was. If you're a guest, it's a good way to talk to some of the people involved in the different interest groups in the Japanese Canadian community. The small stage provides demonstrations for Kimono dressing, tea ceremony and flower arranging.

I've been eating a lot of cheezies for my supper break between shows. Don't get me wrong I love cheezies and they tasted pretty good dipped in stew gravy yesterday, but either all the volunteer food gets eaten quickly, someone's hoarding food (probably saving all the good stuff for Taiko) or my timing is really bad. I did fry up some perogies and eggs when I got home so all is good.

Only two more nights!!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We're Halfway There!

Yes, the second week of Folklorama is at it's halfway point with only three more nights after tonight. The first two shows were filled to capacity with Sushi once again selling out before the second show. I'm sure the larger crowds will continue as the week wears on as many visitors are trying to squeeze in as many Pavilions as possible before Saturday. I probably said this last year, the second half of the week flies by quick and in some sick way I secretly feel sad when it ends.

Wednesday Observations:
-Tonight the Aurora dancers performed a gorgeous dance that I always enjoy watching. It's the one with the long silky fans that ribbon and sail gracefully toward the audience (see photos). It is elegantly performed by Aurora's most experienced quartet, Mitsuko Miyamoto and the Saito's (Sumi, Keiko and Kim). When I watch the four of them together, I experience some deja vu as I still fondly remember when they danced together during the years when the Pavilion was held in the tent in the Cultural Centre's parking lot. Our entertainment consisted of Aurora, Kaede, Hinode and Martial Arts demonstration between the 3 main shows....hmmm sounds familiar, Shayna replaces the older ladies that sang and some (not all) of the faces are different.

-Shayna continues to shine, it's amazing how quiet the crowd will get when she sings. Everybody wants to hear her and her voice really does seem to mesmerize the crowd. Wish she could have sung every night.

-Anyone read the Winnipeg Free Press Folklorama coverage in Wednesday's paper? The Japanese Pavilion is on the bottom right hand corner of the second page and a large colour photo of Hinode is featured. Sumi told me when she got up this morning and read the paper and saw the photo it put a big smile on her face :) She deserves to smile because the entertainment on the main stage has been well received and...entertaining!
Here's a sample:
ALWAYS popular, this pavilion offers a wide variety of cultural activities to try. Take a stroll through the Japanese street market, have your name written in Kanji, or try origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. The pavilion features martial arts demonstrations of judo and kendo between shows, so the entertainment is nearly continuous.

* HIGHLIGHTS: Hinode Taiko, the impressive Japanese drumming group, is as thrilling as ever. The Aurora dance group performs several graceful, elegant dances and encourages audience participation.

-If you missed it you can read the article on the Winnipeg Free Press website, as well they posted some live video of Hinode Taiko.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hey! Where's The Food?

It must be disappointing attending a Folklorama Pavilion with the expectations of trying some of ethnic cuisine. Sushi has been becoming as mainstream as Pizza in the past few years, new sushi restaurants have been springing up faster than you can say Superstore, with many of these so-called "authentic" Japanese delicacies. I think Sushi has replaced the wrap as the "in" fast food. There was a time when the Japanese Pavilion was one of the only places to find Japanese food, (Ichi Ban seems about as authentic Japanese as Olive Garden is Italian) and how times have changed. We ran out of Sushi during the first show and sold out all the good food by the end of the second. What the hell? Since Sushi is catered in this year, we are sent only limited numbers, we could be selling twice the amount if we had it. I heard there was a some chicken left and if you're a big fan of white rice you were in luck. Does anyone actually like that vinegary salad-cucumber?

Day 3 observations:
-The Kaede Dancers debuted tonight with the ever entertaining Carol as their instructor. Their pink outfits are very striking and they stood out beautifully from the black backdrop at the back of the stage. Carol grabbed the microphone during their audience participation ONDO, it was a different dance than Aurora's and it's name totally escapes me. Trying to learn this dance confuses even the dancers with way too many steps to comprehend and it confuses matters worse when Carol tries to communicate this to the audience. This could only get more entertaining or painful as the week wears on.

-Biggest crowds of the week so far...okay, it's only Tuesday, but if past history is correct there should be an upward rise of attendence every night, usually peaking on Friday or Saturday. It doesn't hurt to have 5 bus tours in one night. With two of the tours during the last show, it sure filled up the seats more the two previous nights.

-Marli Sakiyama was the emcee tonight and will return on Friday night. She ad-libbed a fair bit which is fine with me, she wanted to inject a little bit of herself into the already well written script. Her best line was, "If you continue to use flash photography during Hinode Taiko, the judo guys will come over and flip you"... or something like that? It was hilarious, especially coming from her.
-Wednesday will be the first night of all-repeat performances, meaning Aurora, Shayna, MC Art and Kendo have all performed at least once. Should be an easy night for me, I was going to skip out after the first show to see the Wilco concert at the Burt, but it was cancelled yesterday. I'm still pissed about it. I've been looking forward to the show for months as Wilco is probably in my personal top 5 (I've seen them 4 times already).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tell Me Why I Don't Like Mondays?

Monday is usually one of my favourite days because it is my day off from work, (Sunday of course is my other day) but Folklorama week means no time to sit on the deck with a drink in my hand. I spent some of the day picking up and buying things for the stage, which of course is my responsibility, so I'm not complaining. At least I had time to update this page (the previous post) while I had a piano tuner over to...tune the piano.

Monday's show again went without any problems, it feels like after the first show everything seems to run on cruise control. The 6:45 show was visited by the "Folk Arts Council Inspector", who has a 5 page checklist of standards and procedures (sponsors, signage, displays...etc.). My only concern is that the show starts on time and ends on time before 7:30. The first show of the night with a different emcee than the night before could be problematic, but for an ol' pro like Keiko Saito, everything went smoothly and on time.

Mondays' observations:
- Martial Arts tonight was Kendo, you know the art of stick hitting. I suppose it's a combination of fencing, jousting and samurai fighting complete with body armour and a steel cage helmet mask. Always entertaining and the loud screaming sure draws attention to the stage.

-Shayna Paulicelli is back again this year with many accolades and accomplishments since last year. She played the lead in Grant Park's production of "Ragtime", performed in the Fringe Festival and she was crowned Italian Idol in their singing competition, it was even worth a mention in the Winnipeg Sun. I believe bigger and better things are in her future, so enjoy her at our humble Pavilion while you can.

-The ONDO proves to be a popular feature, many audience members are jumping at the chance to get on stage and make an ass of themselves...okay, it's me that's looking like a fool, I'm sure Sumi will continue to mock and laugh at me throughout the week, but I promise I will master this dance! Problem is there will be a different Ondo tomorrow with the Kaede Dancers. My apologies to Alex Allen for stomping on her foot on the backwards step.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Hot First Night

When the Folklorama planning committee was deciding on the venue this year our choices were Sisler High School, where it was held last year and Tec Voc where it had been the previous 2 years. T.V. had a large restaurant-sized kitchen and it had a excellent quality theatre equipped with all the state of art equipment we need. The knock against T.V. was it's lack of air conditioning which meant the theatre got uncomfortably hot for the audience and performers. The choice of Sisler (for me anyways) was popular because of the cool air conditioned gym which accommodated the food, bar and the main stage entertainment. Last night the AC was mysteriously absent which meant a stuffy sweaty gymnasium. It's not like it was sweltering hot outside, fortunately open doors provided some relief from the heat. Seeing the members of taiko sweating on stage for 3 shows reminded me of the Tec Voc days.

All that aside, I thought the show went off without any major hitches, all three shows were under the allotted 45 minute time period and the flow of the show worked well. I was pleasantly amazed by how well the Ondo/crowd participation dance went. The members of the Aurora dancers invited VIP's and members of the audience up on stage (and at the sides of the stage) to learn a simple circle dance. Last year when we tried to get people up to dance to Eijanaika the response was lukewarm at best. Last night the stage was overflowing with guests and I would say it was a surprising success!

Some other observations:
-thought the lighting could have been a little lighter, though when Aurora danced their kimonos shimmered as the light seemed to bath them in a beautiful moonlight effect.
-Judo before the 2nd and 3rd main shows worked well, it gave them more time to demonstrate their sport and with Wayne providing commentary it was informative for those who were interested. Too bad there wasn't much of a crowd before and during the 3rd show, hopefully it'll pickup during the week.
-Hinode had some new pieces (to me at least) and having them close the show with 3 consecutive songs wraps up the show on a high. I know Pam is gonna give me shit for all the flash photography in the crowd, but the best I can do is have the emcee mention it. So far no one from Hinode has given Sumi or I any grief about the stage or lighting, but the week is early.

I saw a peek at the numbers so far and it seems first night attendance is it's lowest since 2004. Food will be the biggest issue since some of the dishes had to be tendered out and our costs will be higher. If we can maintain last years $ (which was significantly lower than 2005), I think we'll be satisfied. The absence of sushi at the end of the week will be a killer, I guarantee it.

Monday's show will be similar with Aurora dancing again, but with singer Shayna Paulicelli returning for a third year, to add some sweet music to the show. Supposeably the temperature is reaching a high of 29c, so if the air conditioning isn't repaired by show time, expect good beer sales.

Before The Storm Or Waiting For The Llama

Yes, it's that time again, Folklorama 2007! Every year I dread the days leading up to Folklorama week at the Japanese Pavilion. I am the co-coordinator (with Sumi) for the entertainment portion which means, deciding which groups will perform, making a schedule everyone can agree on and making sure there will be a stage and sound/light system. Two years ago the stage and lights were built into the venue at Tec Voc high school, here at Sisler we get an empty gym. Last year, Chris took care of the stage, lights and sound from start to finish and he was also there every show as our sound man. This year his friend Ryan is filling in, I believe Ryan assisted last year with the setup so he is familiar with the venue. The problem this year is that we had to pick up the stage from MTYP with our volunteers and a rented truck. The day the truck was available and the time someone would be at MTYP and the time the stage had to be at the school was more difficult to coordinate than expected. I felt somewhat guilty as I had to work that day and I couldn't skip out because we were short staffed that day, fortunately there were barely enough strong bodies to finally get the stage there. The morning of dress rehearsal (Saturday), I received some panicked phone calls at work, "how come there's no walls on the side of the stage? come there's no curtain on the side of the stage? we need a backdrop....etc.. I spend the next half hour calling stage companies and thinking of a temporary solution with my co-worker. Needless to say by the time I arrived at the rehearsal most of the problems were resolved or would be taken care of before the show. Ryan knew someone that could provide the stage cove-walls, we borrowed some shoji screens from the Culture Centre and he picked up a black backdrop. Really, let's no need to panic, yet!

Last year I posted a night to night review of the main stage show, this year I may format it a little differently. Every evening after the show, I'll write a quick review as well as some personal observations from my notes that I'll be writing during the breaks, kind of diary style. If someone impresses me or catches my attention in some way, I may tell you about it, but if someone is pissing me off or just annoys me, I won't be afraid to blow off a little steam on this blog. This could be a good behind the scenes report, so if you have any gossip or better yet, rants, let me know. Last year I came into the week feeling kind of negative, but as the week progressed everyone involved in the Pavilion relaxed their attitude which actually made the week quite enjoyable.

I know this year it's been stressful for Sumi, she takes things to heart and that's what I love about her, she really cares about how people perceive our community. She has worked hard in so many ways, apart from the entertainment, she is arranging the catering of the volunteer food, helping out in the food prep room and dancing four nights. Working alongside Sumi makes me realize I have no right to whine about long hours and extra work, we need more people in our community that has her passion and gumption.