Carnival coordinating typically begins about a year before the event, with plans rarely detouring from longstanding traditions. That is until this year.
When COVID-19 emerged with a vengeance last March, and persisted throughout the year, it was clear Carnival 2021 wouldn’t happen in typical fashion. School administrators and Carnival leaders from the Junior Class, however, were resolute about maintaining traditions in whatever ways could be safely organized.
What unfolded in early February 2021 was a completely reimagined Carnival that included drive-through pickup events for malasadas, mango chutney and more; an online art gallery; Drive-Up Movie nights; a virtual Variety Show; and children’s games prior to the weekend of festivities. “The Junior Class introduced many new activities this year and took Carnival sales online,” Carnival Coordinator Taryn Yano ’99 Kabei said. “The pandemic encouraged a spirit of innovation that I hope will continue to endure through future Carnivals. They truly embraced the process and were able to create such an incredible experience during an otherwise difficult time.”
Just prior to the first drive-through pickup, President Mike Latham ’86 gathered the student leaders for a brief pep talk. “This is a historic moment,” he told them. “People are going to remember you guys – what you did this weekend, what you did today, what you did for your Class, and what you did for the School. And that’s something you should be really proud of.”
With that, the students confidently marched down Piper’s Pali, donning their “Out of this World” Carnival clothes, to kick off the weekend of revised festivities.
Because of State and School pandemic protocols, Carnival couldn’t be held as a public event, with thousands of people descending on campus, and throngs of alumni reuniting to work Carnival shifts. In pandemic-impacted times, the safest scenario was for current students and their families to attend from their cars, and for transactions to take place through virtual platforms.
Student Co-Chairs Ye Won Ham ’22 and Tate Goodman ’22 took the lead in envisioning what could transpire under such limiting circumstances, and as plans were laid out, fellow juniors, parents, staff, faculty and volunteers worked tirelessly to bring the event to life.
First, during the week preceding Carnival, students from kindergarten through grade 5 were invited to play games that juniors had set up on Chamberlain Field. Grouped by cohorts, they played Basketball, Ring Toss, Golf, Menehune Strongman, Frogs in the Lily Pond and Fish Swish. They also took part in a Scavenger Hunt.
Next up was a series of Drive-Up Movie nights, which took place over Carnival weekend and two nights later for the Class of 2021. From their cars, attendees watched a screening of the seniors’ Variety Show and the Disney movie “Wall-E,” while enjoying teri burgers, gyros, noodles, malasadas and popcorn. As families drove through the campus to park on Middle Field, they waved to the juniors who were lined up to greet them. “It was crazy to see everyone lined up and celebrating what we have accomplished,” Ham said. “The excitement for what was about to come really was the thing that fueled us to keep going. A year’s worth of work was leading up to this moment, and it is probably something I’ll never forget.”
The drive-through pickups involved Punahou families picking up malasadas, Portuguese bean soup, mango chutney, gyros, hulihuli chicken and more. Along with Carnival food, drivers made their way through the various pickup stations to retrieve plants and other goods from White Elephant, O-Men and Pa‘ani that were pre-purchased online. A Splat Trap was also set up, with Latham, various deans and teachers as the targets.
Meanwhile, this year’s Carnival Art Gallery was presented virtually for the first time, with more than 1,000 works of art created by nearly 300 Hawai‘i artists.
Overall, Carnival 2021 grossed more than $1 million to benefit the School’s financial aid program, Goodman said. “I’m thrilled with this outcome and even more thrilled with the way our Class – with the support of Punahou alumni, staff, parents and other volunteers – was able to come together,” he said. It would have been easy to just cancel Carnival this year, Ham said. But with the help of hundreds of people, Carnival still brought people together during a time when it seemed impossible to do just that.
Kabei say she was heartened by all the positive feedback she received. “I think most people were worried that this would be another moment stolen by this pandemic, so there has been a lot of appreciation and pride in the fact that we came together as a community to celebrate in the same way we have for so many years,” she said. “An alumna driving through campus to pick up her order stated it perfectly – ‘Carnival lives on!’”
One of the biggest hits of this year’s reimagined Carnival was the “Blast In and Out Drive-Up Movie,” which took place over two nights of Carnival weekend, and for the Class of 2021 two nights later. Tickets for the sold-out event were purchased online.
Punahou students and their families parked on Middle Field for a screening of the seniors’ Variety Show, “Tiers for Fears” along with Disney’s “Wall-E.” With teri burgers, gyros, noodles, malasadas and popcorn delivered to their cars, they watched the shows on a big screen and listened to the audio via FM radio. “Our movie night was very successful, and we’ve been told by a countless number of people that they would like Punahou to offer it again,” said Carnival Student Co-Chair Tate Goodman ’22. “So hopefully some form of a drive-in movie might become a new tradition that can be carried forward into the future.”
‘Tiers for Fears’
Although there were no live audiences for this year’s Variety Show, the Senior Class still produced a spectacular show for virtual viewers. “Tiers for Fears” parodied the circumstances seniors found themselves in – being forced to plan different versions of Variety Show correlated to Punahou’s pandemic color tiers. The 45-minute show featured theatre, music, dance, comedy and an original script. Participating seniors attended extensive rehearsals and shoots to create the video, which was available to those who purchased tickets over Carnival weekend.
Variety Show Goes Virtual
It was pre-pandemic when School traditions like Carnival and Variety Show were rolling on as they have for decades. Travis Flazer, Punahou’s technical director, decided it was time to step up and direct the next year’s Variety Show – slated for February 2021. Then COVID-19 happened. “I started panicking in my head,” Flazer recalled. “We had a very well-oiled machine under normal circumstances. But now, this was completely atypical and abnormal. We really had to rethink how everything would be done.”
Producing a show with hundreds of students dancing and prancing throughout scenes is challenging under normal circumstances. During a pandemic, it’s plain terrifying.
But faculty, staff, parent volunteers and students rallied around the project, and “Tiers for Fears” came to life as a spirited, virtual production, offered as a pay-per-view performance and shown during the Carnival Drive-Up Movie events.
Flazer said he and a group of students drafted the script last summer, ultimately deciding to poke fun at the different tiers the School had to designate because of COVID-19. “We thought we might as well just make a parody of this and use it as a strength rather than a hindrance,” he said.
Rehearsals began in August, with video shoots starting later in the fall. The coordination and production were challenging, because Flazer had to make sure health and safety protocols – including mask-wearing and social distancing – were followed. Trained for theatre, Flazer also had to reconceptualize the production for video instead of the stage – all this as a first-time director of the show.
“I gained confidence in myself, and I learned the benefit of really trusting your team,” Flazer said. “I had been conditioned in the past to do things myself. But this time, I just let people do their jobs, and I reaped the benefits of that.”
In reflecting on the herculean effort to bring the show to fruition, Flazer said what he’ll remember most is seeing students having fun and being silly. “I think they’ll look back on it and be happy about it and be grateful that they just got to have fun with their classmates.”
Carnival Raises $337K for Financial Aid
Punahou raised more than $337,000 for financial aid as part of a special Carnival Giving Mission. Although Carnival had to be reconceptualized this year, the Class of 2022 was committed to raising financial aid funds, and the Punahou community responded in a hugely generous way.
The School launched its 19-day space-themed Giving Mission, from Jan. 19 – Feb. 6. Funds raised and matching gifts were celebrated in the form of 10 missions, which corresponded to solar system destinations.
More than 718 alumni, faculty, staff, Trustees, parents and students donated, with alumni comprising 60% of the total donors. Classes with the highest giving participation included 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991 and 1996. Meanwhile, volunteers on the Parent Advancement Council rallied some 300 Punahou families to pledge financial gifts. Parents of the Class of 2024 and 2026 had the highest participation, followed by those from 2022, 2023 and 2021.
Carnival net proceeds, including those from the Art Gallery, Silent Auction, Food, Specialties and Drive-up Movie sales will also support financial aid.
Carnival Giving Mission » $337,216 raised » 718 donors » 31 financial aid awards funded (avg amount $11,000) » Class with most donors: 1986 (42 donors) » 15% of current parents made a gift » Grades with the most parent participants: 9th and 7th grades tied with 60 donors
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