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PK Nights offer a community show-and-tell

A closer look at local entertainment series that’s part comedy, part education and all art.

Don’t be intimidated by the name — or the fact that you can’t pronounce it. A PechaKucha night offers an unusual opportunity to learn a little bit about a variety of intriguing subjects in a relaxed environment — all presented by everyday people who are passionate about the topics they’ve chosen.

The next PK Dayton event — there are four per year — is slated for Thursday, May 16, at The Collaboratory in the PNC building in downtown Dayton. Admission is always free, though participants are welcome to toss some coins or bills in the jars to help defray costs of drinks and snacks.

How does the event work?

A PK event offers a blend of informality and structure that makes these evenings special: The strictly observed schedule is referred to as 20x20. Each speaker is allowed to show 20 images for 20 seconds each, a total of six minutes and 40 seconds. Subject matter is up for grabs and may range from roller derby to photography.

At the next event, for example, architecture will be emphasized in honor of Architecture Week, but the audience also will hear presentations on woodblock printing (Andrea Starkey), designing a playground (Parker Hoar) and about the South Park neighborhood (John Fredland).

What are the subjects/topics?

PK audiences have heard Mike Beerbower of Beavercreek offer a humorous take on his “Do It Yourself” projects, Samantha Enslen of Tipp City discuss a photo journal she created at the age of 9 called “The Secret Life of Barbie” and Burt Saidel of Harrison Twp. talk about the ways in which his woodworking projects relate to the loss of his son.

Daytonian Duante Beddingfield gave a presentation on “How to Have Black Friends,” a segment that was chosen for posting to the official international PK organization site. Tracy McElfresh provided a humorous look at her transition from fast-food living to a CSA.

Rodney Veal of West Dayton, who says there’s too much complacency from both performers and audiences in the Miami Valley, offered suggestions for cultivating more demanding arts audiences.

Manasi Kakade, now living in Boston, presented a lively 20x20 on the culture of Mumbai, her hometown. The presentation, filled with colorful slides of India was titled “When in Mumbai.”

“I wanted to make my presentation informative as well as entertaining so I selected a topic that many people can relate to — doing business with somebody from a different culture,” she said. “The topic is not just my expertise but is close to my heart, which brought in the passion in the images and the address.”

Kakade said one of the challenges of being a presenter is timing your speaking to the slides.

“Even one word can disturb the rhythm, so the preparation had to be extremely thorough,” she explained. “I speak regularly at Toastmasters International, but none of my speeches there required as much preparation as this PK speech. It was daunting but SO MUCH fun!”

The event, Kakade says, was a unique experience for her.

“There was a continuous string of people speaking, but not for one second was I bored,” she said. “It was a fun, quirky and educational time. And I presented again — that says something, doesn’t it? “

Kakade was overwhelmed by the response from the audience to her speech.

“The laughter, the applause, was a confidence booster,” she said. “I made new friends and business connections in those few hours. But most of all, I am happy that I was able to introduce my culture to Daytonians who were so open to listen to the new perspective.”

Who comes and where do they gather?

The informal evenings, which attract folks of all ages and backgrounds, are held at venues throughout the Miami Valley. Audiences have gathered at the Dayton Art Institute and The Neon movie theater, The Cannery, The Firefly Roof, Rosewood Arts and Yellow Cab.

Anyone is invited to sign up as a presenter and need only show up on the designated date with his/her slides.

Jamie McQuinn, who manages the magazine and special collections division at the Dayton Metro Library, had been attending Dayton PK nights for a year or two before he took the plunge.

“I love the format. It is a great way to share ideas, projects and concepts while forcing the speaker to make his presentation concise,” McQuinn said.

McQuinn, who has been a collector of map memorabilia for some time, admits he wasn’t certain that his passion for maps would be interesting to the PK audience and was delighted to find that many others shared his love of maps and map memorabilia.

“My name is Jamie and I am a Cartophiliac… I love maps.,” McQuinn told the PK crowd gathered at Sunwatch Indian Village as he revealed his first power point slide of a globe in the shape of a heart. “My fascination comes not just from the factual information they contain – but also the way they make me feel. There is a vast difference between maps that measure geographic features and those that take measure of psychological terrain.”

Though there isn’t a planned Q&A, , McQuinn says he did interact with lots of people after the event, both in person and online. He was even invited to make his presentation to a Miami Valley Zoning and Planning Conference.

“Not because it contained weighty information,” he explained, “but because it is fun. Zoning and Planning professionals like maps, too.” (To see McQuin’s presentation at Sunwatch Indian Village, visit

How did PK nights begin?

Dayton is now one of more than 600 cities worldwide to have a city PK Night. The organization’s origins can be traced back to Tokyo in February 2003 when a group of young designers got together to meet, network and show their work. The name comes from the Japanese term for the sound of “chit chat.”

Jill Davis of Dayton is credited with launching the local nights.

“Despite my shyness, I harbored a fantasy of maintaining a salon, like Madame de Recamier, so I would be surrounded regularly by really interesting people,” she said. PK proved to be her answer.

“I wouldn’t have to be a hostess with charm and wit — or French. I could just coordinate a PK four times a year according to the handshake agreement I signed with the PK originators in Tokyo,” Davis said.

To find out if PK would fly in Dayton, she reached out to two urban activists: Kate Ervin and Matt Sauer, who encouraged her to go for it and offered to get involved. Before launching Volume 1, they visited PKs in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Columbus. Springfield also has hosted PK nights in the past as well.

“The first Volume was on Aug. 27, 2009, at C-space with really terrific presentations from people who had never seen a PK, just loved the idea and jumped in without rehearsal, ready to make it happen,” Davis said.

The Dayton PK immediately asserted its own personality: “unpretentious, intelligent, fun and friendly,” Davis said.

Thanks to social media, the idea took off right away. The first volume attracted 75 people; the most recent numbered 200.

“We haul in the beer and snacks, reach out to interesting people, set up the mic and slide projector and let the evening unfold as it will,” said Davis, who is currently aided by Sauer as well as Shayna McConville of Dayton and Jason Sheets of Kettering. “Interestingly it’s run completely informally, sort of on trust. We pull it together on a shoestring, which I think adds to its gypsy charm.”

She says it’s always super casual and brief.

“It’s the kind of event you can come to after dining out and have time for drinks afterward, which might also be part of its appeal,” said Davis, who added that she was captivated by the “ingeniously simple format that brings people and ideas together in such an open-hearted way.”

You never know quite what to expect, Davis said.

Although there are strict rules for the PK presenters, audience members are free to do whatever they want — chat, drink, text, walk around.

“The Dayton crowd is unfailingly gracious and truly interested in the presentations,” Davis said. “But it’s up to the presenters to be so interesting and compelling they earn the crowd’s attention.”

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