Monday, September 02, 2002

One Last Show

I'm at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) in front of Melchor Hall. Today, August 24, 2002, is the fourth anniversary of Anime@Arki (A@A), a group that hosts anime screenings regularly. I'm one of their volunteers. Today might also be the last time I'll ever attend such an event.

It's 11:30 am. The show is one and a half hour away. I remember the first time I was here. It was a normal Saturday and Matthew, a friend who also happens to like anime, was with me. We were both high school students back then and I had read in an email about the anime screenings that were going to be held here. We were at U.P. by 12:30 pm but we didn't know where to go. The campus was huge and Melchor Hall was a needle in a haystack. There were several buildings all over the place and the streets intersected with other streets. The signs scattered around did little to guide us so we had to ask a pedestrian for directions.

Melchor Hall was apparently the building for engineering and architecture students. It was five stories high and students sat at the red steps which seemed to divide the building into two. At the fifth floor was the Audio Visual Room (AVR) where the show was supposed to be held. It was a daunting ascent as five flights of stairs are enough to tire anyone who's used to elevators and escalators.

Even after four years of coming to A@A, climbing up to the AVR is still tiring. I finally arrive at the fifth floor and try to open the doors to the AVR. It opens and the room is cool and dark. Looks like I'm early.

I lean on one of the windows and look down. Sitting on the steps was a guy wearing a white T-shirt and holding a sketch pad. It must be Joel. Joel was one of the first volunteers in A@A. Together with two U.P. professors, they organized and set up the first A@A shows. He also loved to draw and actually came from my alma mater. I found that out when Matthew and Joel saw each other. They suddenly talked as if they were long friends. Matthew then introduced me to Joel. We've been friends ever since.

I went down to see if it was indeed Joel. It was. He was wearing a T-shirt with the A@A logo and was staring at the Sunken Garden which lay in front of us. We began to talk about how this is probably the last show since only a few people have been attending our shows recently. Joel was expecting around twenty people to come today. I remember a few years back when the regular attendance was forty people, and sometimes we'd even reach as much as sixty or seventy.

An hour passes and we decide to go up and set up the room. Fred, an enthusiastic frequenter, was waiting for us. He helps us organize the room from time to time and it's only recently that he's been attending the A@A shows since he was out of the country for several months. A few years back, half a dozen people would probably be waiting outside the AVR for the show to begin. Now, there was barely anyone.

I got the remote to the air conditioner and hand it to Joel. The ventilation is automated and the room quickly cooled. Four years ago, that was one of the problems A@A was facing. The air conditioner was old and seldom worked. In the occasion that it did, it was not cold enough for the entire room. Sometimes, we even had to use fans just to ensure ventilation.

The chairs needed to be arranged. The tables were all on one side so it was easier for us. I drag some of the chairs and neatly arrange them on the other side. We're only using one half of the room in contrast to two years ago when we even had to keep the doors open just to accommodate everyone.

Several minutes later, Ellaine, the oldest volunteer next to Joel, comes by with her ?bag of goodies?. She brings out some Kenny Rogers takeout as well as the prizes for our contest: a Card Captor Sakura artbook, a modeling magazine, and a Rurouni Kenshin figure. We eat, invite people to come in, and start the show.

Before that happens though, Ellaine asks if anyone is interested in joining the Karaoke contest. Only a few volunteer at first but after the initial excitement, a few more join as well. We had six participants.

When the lights finally dim, around two dozen people were sitting in front of the screen, which is just a piece of cloth stretched over a very wide blackboard. The show starts and two people come in. It's our other volunteers, Francis and Mike. Francis is now working for Toei. Mike is finishing his thesis. We didn't expect them to come but they managed to do so since they reasoned out that it was the last show.

The first segment ends and it was time for the break as well for the singing contest to begin. We had a faulty start as the girl who was the first contestant didn't have a microphone. Her voice was drowned out by the music. The second girl sings also without a mike but loud enough so that she can be heard by the audience. They cheer. And then I find out that there's a microphone behind the blackboard.

The contest ends and everyone seems happy. After awarding the prizes, we move on to the next show: Jubei-chan.

It's 5:30 pm already yet we still had several episodes of Jubei to air. That's not to mention that we haven't showed our main feature, Metropolis, yet. Our deal was that we'd end by 6 pm. By 6, Joel shuts off the air conditioner and asks the audience whether we should extend and continue watching Jubei or change and start watching Metropolis. The audience clamors and asks to continue Jubei since we were two episodes away from the conclusion.

A@A officially ended at 7 pm. It was just like the shows we had several years before wherein we'd extend even until 7:30 pm. Walking down the stairs of Melchor Hall in complete darkness is far from recommended. People were exiting and thanking us for the great show. One of them inquired when our next show was. We'd usually announce when the next show was before we'd end. One of us just said to check their email. I couldn't bear to tell him the truth.