On an unassuming Tuesday night in San Antonio, where a quick glance at downtown’s streets wouldn’t have indicated a special event taking place, hundreds of people gathered at the Empire Theatre to listen to eight speakers share their stories in rapid succession. It was the 23rd edition of PechaKucha San Antonio.
Before attendees took their seats, they mixed and mingled, milled around the lobby, and sampled food from Lüke, Pharm Table, Bakery Lorraine, Say.She.Ate, and other local vendors. The crowd was was in high spirits – not just because of the cocktails that were being served – but because PechaKucha evokes a certain energy, a buzz, an air of excitement and curiosity.
PechaKucha is Japanese for “chit chat,” and was created by expat architects from Tokyo who wanted creative professionals to share their inspiration with the public. Since 2003, more than 800 cities around the world have adopted PechaKucha’s event format where each presenter gets 20 seconds for each of 20 slides to explain an idea or share a story. San Antonio’s first PechaKucha night was held in early 2011 and has been a quarterly event ever since.
“Think of it as TEDx on steroids,” Randy Beamer, the event’s emcee, joked. The quick-witted News 4 San Antonio anchor kicked the night off by welcoming regulars, thanking sponsors, and filling the uninitiated in on what PechaKucha is all about.
With Beamer working the crowd and promising to mispronounce each presenter’s name, newcomers were likely to pick up on the fact that they hadn’t landed in a series of dull presentations amid dead silence. With no prescribed theme or topic for the speakers’ presentations, audience members can never quite know what they’ll be hearing about over the next two hours – and that’s part of the fun of PechaKucha.
Below are some highlights from each speaker’s presentation:
ROBERT VOGT, AUCTIONEER
Vogt initially pursued a career in journalism after attending college, but he’d also spent enough time in the family auction business to make him want to jump into the world of auctions full-time. He traded the beautiful California campus of Pepperdine University for the metal can that is Reppert Auction School in Indiana, and the rest is history.
Engaging the entire theater, Vogt took his audience through a crash course in auction lingo: laced with a heavy Texas accent, he rattled off “fitties,” “honeys,” “a bing and a bong”s and “will ya give me”s – chants anyone that’s ever been to an auction has heard, but never really understood. Dynamic and furiously fast-spoken, his main message was this: “Learn your skill.”
BARBARA RAS, POET
Ras stressed that a creative career can be highly rewarding, but it’s not as easy as it appears. Endless hours of soul searching and brainstorming often precede an original idea, and the table turns again to more mulling and molding of creative content once the initial idea has been born. There’s also the possibility of investing oodles of time and energy in a project only to have to scrap it because it’s been done before.
But then, Ras said, comes that redeeming moment where a seemingly insignificant shopping list of milk, coffee, and bug spray turns into the lyrics of “bugs pray,” which she shared with her audience until the slide’s 20 second limit nudged her to move on. However discouraging at time, Ras encouraged the audience to explore its realms of creativity.
“Choke down the self doubt and get to work,” she said. “Pull the donkey through the mud.”
BRIAN SALMON, DOULA
It should be easy for everyone to have a baby. That is Brian “The Birth Guy” Salmon’s philosophy. A father of two girls, one of only a handful of male doulas in the United States, the owner of BabyVision Ultrasound, a radiology degree-holder with expertise in biology, chemistry, and pathophysiology – the credentials go on and on – Salmon is likely more in tune with the world of babies and parenting than all the audience members combined.
After working with over 19,000 expectant families, this “Dude-La” knows his stuff. After listening to his humorous and compassionate talk on how he helps freaked out moms and dads navigate the world of hospitals and changing diapers, the audience knew it too.
Salmon is now expanding his work on a national scale to help men and women alike connect to the process of bringing new life into this world. Moreover, he sees it as his role to support parents-to-be in seeing their unique birth plan through, come what may.
“You shouldn’t be ashamed of the way you want to have your baby,” he said.
KRISTAL CUEVAS, YOGIPRENEUR
For Cuevas, living her passion to the fullest took some time. After finding success – and unhappiness – in the corporate world, she decided to ditch the daily grind and sell stretchy pants instead. Once she fully committed to chasing her ultimate passion of teaching yoga, she opened Southtown Yoga Loft in 2010.
She shared with the audience the foundation of her passion, covering “yamas and niyamas,” or ethical guidelines and habits for healthy living one can cultivate through yoga. Non-violence, truthfulness, physical and spiritual cleanliness, contentment, and surrender to a higher power are all qualities we can practice on and off our mats, she said.
After the audience collectively cooed at a video of her four-year-old daughter dancing uninhibitedly on the beach in Port Aransas, Cuevas concluded her talk with a short breathing exercise. If you put good out into the universe, it will come back to you; if you demonstrate passion for something, others will share that passion with you, she said. Namaste.
LORIE SOLIS, URBAN FARMER
A proponent and local pioneer of urban farming, Solis said that when we understand what we’re eating, we establish a connection that is universal. Break away from the machine and put down the phone, so that you can connect with what’s going on around you, she added.
Her bottom-up approach of understanding our environment and the steps it takes to nourish ourselves – takeaways from time spent on a Russian shrimp boat and on a farm in Hawaii – spawned the creation of Urban Farm Camp at the Renewable Republic on the near-Southside, a summer camp that teaches kids (and come fall adults) how to do just that. Her intent is to reconnect people to nature, reintroduce them to the joys of being outdoors, and teach them how to master living sustainably and fully through presence and genuine connection.
The symbiotic relationship between food and awareness is at the heart of Solis’ business and mission. One of the most important things, she said, is observing the plants, the animals, and the elements that feed us.
“Observing is a huge part of who we are.”
ZACH GARZA, CHEF
Garza, executive chef at Latin American fusion restaurant Nao Latin Gastro Bar at the Pearl, talked about his education, his career, his influencers, his inspirations, and, of course, his food. But more than anything, Garza talked about moments, how life is broken down into moments, and how these moments are what truly matters.
“We all have an art, mine happens to be food,” he said. He expanded on this notion by citing several culinary events he’s been a part of, where the the food itself, the presentation, the textures, and the flavors should have been front and center, but where the overarching experience that was created in the process ended up mattering more, giving the guests more. Garza sees his calling in creating those moments through food, which in turn has created friendships, life lessons, and memorable moments for him as well.
“Live in the moment,” he said. “Live your art.”
JEREMIAH TEUTSCH, ARTIST
Thanks to his insatiable appetite for all facets and outlets of art, Teutsch’s résumé boasts occupations such as painter, sculptor, political illustrator and caricaturist, chalk artist, set designer, musician, sound designer, puppet maker, prop maker, courtroom sketch artist, writer, art teacher – oh, and matting and framing technician at The McNay – he too, has to eat and pay bills.
The secret to this incredible array of artistic prowess which flashed across the big screen much to the astonishment of the audience? Turning off the TV.
In art, Teutsch argued, focus is everything.
KORY COOK, MUSICIAN
For Cook, the journey to his current position as music director of KRTU 91.7 was paved with good music, horrible jobs, and life-altering acquaintances. His parents, also known as the magic behind the ’60s organ/drums duo “Pebbles and Bam Bam,” inspired him to dive head first into learning instruments and playing music. But before Cook’s current life of performing music, teaching in the communications department at Trinity University, and hosting jazz radio panned out, one of the aforementioned horrible jobs served as a reminder to cut the crap and do what you love.
During his stint in conservative talk radio in Austin, he had an on-air encounter with Rush Limbaugh. “He thanked me for booking a guest on the air and that was it for me,” he said.
As the audience erupted in laughter, the happy-go-lucky Cook acknowledged that there really hadn’t been a cohesive theme to his talk, but that he was happy to have have an opportunity to share his stories and art. That appreciation was felt throughout the Empire as yet another successful PechaKucha concluded.
As though the speakers had been given a theme to follow, the general consensus and overarching theme of the night was this: be aware, be present, connect. Connect with the people around you, with your craft, your drive, your art, your passion, and yourself. Turn off your phone, turn off the TV, and live in the moment.
Full disclosure: The Rivard Report is one of PechaKucha’s in-kind sponsors. Hanna Oberhofer teaches yoga at Southtown Yoga Loft.
Top image: Audience members applaud Auctioneer Robert Vogt as he recites a practice tongue twister. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.