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PechaKucha v20: Return of the Presenters

PechaKucha Night Champaign-Urbana will be celebrating its twentieth installment this weekend with an “all-star” edition hosted at the Virginia Theatre.

Invented in Japan in 2003, “PechaKucha” refers to a presentation in which the speaker has twenty slides and is limited to twenty seconds speaking per slide. In a mere six minutes and forty seconds, it’s the speaker’s task to present an engaging and memorable take on whatever topic they’ve chosen to share with that night’s audience.

While the format was originally conceived of as a way for designers to present their work to one another, PechaKucha Nights have since expanded to include topics as varied as the communities putting them on. Local PechaKucha Nights have covered everything from typography to llamas, from extreme couponing to fast-paced sing-alongs to the challenge of “living legendary” with cancer. All a PechaKucha topic requires to be successful is for someone to feel passionately about it and to want to share that passion with an audience.

PechaKucha often leaves audience members with the warm glow of having gotten to better know their community while also giving them thought-provoking ideas to apply to their own lives. Presenter Irenka Carney describes PechaKucha as characterized by “an electric feeling of possibility” experienced by speakers and listeners alike, and many of this volume’s speakers mention having become interested in speaking at PechaKucha after first experiencing it as an audience member.

“I have attended several PK nights,” presenter Kelly White writes, “and I always walk away surprised, moved, inspired, and most definitely entertained. This community has so many amazingly interesting people with such a variety of passions and viewpoints…PK is the perfect way to experience a selection all in one night.”

With a diverse line-up consisting of favorite speakers from past PechaKucha Nights, this anniversary volume is shaping up to be just as memorable as previous installments.



Irenka Carney: Carney’s popular first PechaKucha talk “I Can’t Do Art” explored her changing relationship with science and art over the course of her life. This time around she’ll explore the concept of ‘radical transparency’ as a potentially life-changing philosophy. “Most people will probably find my talk very validating in one or more ways,” she promises, describing her talks as navigating “serious universal themes through a vulnerable but humorous lens.”

AJ Christensen: Christensen’s 2012 PechaKucha talk was titled “Physics and Purpose” and his talk this week will be called “Constructing a Character.” Christensen explains that the two talks are connected. “In the former I talked about how science has helped me find purpose, and in the latter I will talk about using design to create new purpose.” Christensen recalls that he decided to apply to be a PechaKucha presenter “when I realized that PK was just looking for good storytellers with unique perspectives, and that I had a unique perspective.”

Brandon Dohman: Dohman will be speaking at PechaKucha for the third time after presenting on “Burgers” and “Umpiring and Leadership” during previous volumes. “About a year ago I started training powerlifting and quickly found myself enticed with the idea of picking up really heavy obscure objects,” he confides, leading him to the idea for his next presentation, “The Drunk History of Strongman.” His talk will cover not only the history of “strongmen” but also why he personally has been drawn to the hobby.

Judy Lee: Judy initially applied to be a PechaKucha speaker after being encouraged by a friend who thought her Facebook statuses were “fairly entertaining.” In her well-received first PechaKucha talk, “The Secret of Creativity”, Lee shared lessons she learned from her students while working as a preschool teacher. Now a full-time writer and illustrator of children’s books, she has held a variety of other odd jobs (including a stint as the Easter Bunny at the mall!) and will share further lessons learned in her new talk “My Dream Job”. 

Joanne Manaster: Biologist Joanne Manaster is truly a PechaKucha All-Star, returning for a fourth time after delivering well-received presentations at 2010, 2011 and 2013 PechaKucha Nights. This time she’ll share the stage with daughter Amanda as they present on the topic “Do Women See STEM as a Four-Letter Word?” What keeps Manaster coming back? She explains, “I love the challenge of the PechaKucha constraints on time and pacing, and especially enjoy using it to talk about science, technology and space topics with the general public.”

Brian Mertz: Also known as DJ Mertz, Mertz previously spoke at PechaKucha about his vinyl collection and why vinyl appeals to him. On Saturday he’ll visit the subject of “the myth of originality” and how it’s falsely used to justify copyright. “All creative endeavors…began because people took ideas that came before them, and then put their own personal touch on what influenced them,” Mertz explains. He mentions that he owes a lot to Nina Paley’s 2013 PechaKucha talk on copyright and that he is “thrilled and honored” to be presenting alongside her on Saturday night.

David Monk: Well-known locally for his passion for prairie preservation, “the Prairie Monk” will once again speak on that topic for PechaKucha CU. Monk will talk about local organization Heartland Pathways’ attempts to buy land associated with abandoned rail beds to use for prairie preservation and will raise awareness about how the public can help with those efforts. Monk says he’s glad to have the chance to participate again in PechaKucha: “The programs have given the community access to information they otherwise would not have known about.”

Nina Paley:  Cartoonist and animator Nina Paley first presented at PechaKucha in 2013 on the topic “Make Art Not Law,” challenging her listeners to join her in resisting restrictive copyright laws. At this PechaKucha her talk will be titled “My Car-Free Life”. Paley, who has never owned a car and says she “spent most of 2015 obsessed with bikes,” poses the provocative question: “Is there anything more exciting than a bicycling animator ranting about cars? Let’s find out.”

Kelly White: White, who teaches art history at Parkland, spent her last PechaKucha presentation convincingly contradicting the idea that art history is boring. This time White will give a talk titled “Fitting Into This World” that she describes as detailing her “personal ongoing attempt at navigating the assumptions, judgments, and overall discomfort of super obesity.” “This topic can be a bit taboo and it will be difficult for me,” White writes, “but I thought it was too important not to share.”

Ralph Roether: A former PechaKucha emcee as well as the ring announcer for a local independent wrestling promotion, Roether introduced audience members to his love of pro wrestling at PechaKucha Volume 9. This time he’ll present a talk on “Life at 5 Feet”. “The longer title,” he says, “was ‘The Serious but Funny Struggle and Non-Struggle of Living Life at 5 Feet Tall.’” Ultimately he hopes his talk will encourage listeners not to be limited by others’ perceptions of their abilities. Roether is especially excited that this event is at the Virginia Theatre, where he and his wife were married in 2004!

Matt Wiley: In his previous PechaKucha talk, conceived of as a way to “eccentrically introduce [himself] to the community”, Wiley presented “crazy but feasible ways to save the world.” These included creative inventions such as a dresser made entirely of laundry baskets. Wiley’s new talk is about gender bias in popular movies and how writers can use “Gender Bending” to identify bias in their own stories. Wiley plans to use amusing examples of well-known movies with characters’ genders changed to illustrate his points. “It’s going to be super fun,” he promises.

PechaKucha Night Champaign-Urbana Volume 20 will be held at the Virginia Theatre at 8:20 PM on Saturday, February 6th. (Doors open at 7:20.) Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door and can be purchased online.

All photos by Scott Wells, except Judy Lee frogs, used with permission of the artist.

(editor’s note: I claim full responsibility for the article’s title, and yes, I know Return of the Jedi was EIII. It just fit better.)

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