PechaKucha Night promotes story telling

Retracing a grandfather's road trip across America, recalling a grandmother's inspiration, praising the sense of adventure in a dying mother and highlighting the solace and peace found in a forest.

These were some of the sentiments shared during PechaKucha Night on March 21 at Bridgeport's Barnum Museum, when people were invited to share personal stories in six minutes and 40 seconds, accompanied by 20 images.

Nina Lesiga's presentation focused on how her mother would bake potatoes for her to carry to school to keep warm on cold days while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. She'd “blow smoke rings” with the steam from the potatoes when she ate them.

Later in life, Lesiga began “gifting” baked potatoes to her snowplow driver to thank him, which he found baffling. He said he wouldn't eat them but she kept giving them to him. “He thought it was a practical joke,” said Lesiga, a retired corporate chemist from Stratford.

He eventually told her he'd started eating them but by then, Lesiga confessed to an amused audience, she'd stopped washing his potatoes.

Eleven individuals told stories that ranged from emotional to more scholarly, and humorous to serious. More than 120 people listened intently.

Corinne Speidel of Milford, sitting in the audience, said she came to hear “the snippets of these people's lives that obviously had a profound influence on them.”

PechaKucha Nights began in Tokyo in 2003 as a way for young creative people to meet and network, and now take place in more than 1,600 cities across the globe. PechaKucha means “chit-chat” in Japanese.

John Swing, Barnum Museum assistant director, initiated PechaKucha in Bridgeport after attending the events elsewhere. “It's about people and great stories, and that's something Mr. Barnum would have loved,” he said. “You learn so much about individual's passions.”

The events promote what is called “the art of concise presentations.” It's free to attend or to give a talk, with $1 donations accepted to support the international PechaKucha organization.

This was Bridgeport's fourth PechaKucha Night and the theme was “transformations,” marking the first day of spring. The event also highlighted a new marketing campaign for downtown Bridgeport called “Colorful Bridgeport.”

Kathy Maher, museum executive director, described the PechaKucha concept as “a Ted Talk on steroids” that “brings a broad group of people together.”

“Buckle up,” Maher told attendees just before presentations began.

John Kovalsky described the 2015 car trip he took across the country at age 23, following the same route his grandfather did as a young man 85 years earlier.

He'd never met his grandfather but knew about the journey from a scrapbook his grandfather made of the trip. Kovalsky, an aspiring filmmaker from Bridgeport, stood in many of the exact locations where his grandfather had taken photos for the scrapbook.

“Literally, what he left behind had brought me to these places,” he said, explaining he “felt this powerful connection” to his ancestor during the trip.

Adrian Hincapie discussed the close relationship he had with his late grandmother, who would share stories about life in Colombia when visiting. “I'd mimic her every move” as a child, said Hincapie, an office manager from Bridgeport.

His grandmother worried more than other family members when he complained about a bad stomach ache in the third grade, and a few days later he was in the hospital due to an appendix that burst earlier. He might have died if he'd waited longer to get help. “I wouldn't be here today,” he said of her role in getting him assistance.

Tina Sommers took a trip to Tanzania with her 71-year-old mother as both grieved the death of her father from ALS. They'd been his caretakers through the dying process.

In Africa, mom and daughter slept in tents and marveled at the wildlife. They then took a South Pacific cruise together, dining with the former prime minister of New Zealand without even realizing it at the time.

Returning home, the mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Despite her worsening condition, they traveled to Miami and then “squeezed in Bermuda,” having a blast along the way. Soon after, her mom died.

“She lived life to the fullest. She finished so strong,” said Sommers, an art director from Bridgeport.

Other subjects included the changing role of libraries, being Jewish and playing a Catholic priest in a play, the history of an early black neighborhood in Bridgeport, separating fact from fiction in today's information-filled world, and how magic can expand your horizons.