It seems Asian Fest has always been subject to some disaster or the other every year. In 2019, one poor participant accidentally triggered a fire alarm, sending barefoot performers and audience members alike into the aftermath of a snowstorm. Nevertheless, things seemed back to smooth sailing in 2020. Until, only a few days later, news of a global health crisis broke. Undeterred by the pandemic, Asian Fest 2021 returned in whatever means it could through an online performance. However, with the excitement of returning to in-person performances, 2022 presented a new type of challenge for Asian Fest—a bomb threat.
Initially, everything appeared to be going off without a hitch. In the campus center, taekwondo performers were waiting by the stage for the MCs, Jane Weissberg and Sayumi Baduge, to introduce them. Ironically, the two made an April Fool’s joke that Asian Fest was “canceled”, only for a lockdown announcement to occur mere seconds after. The audience stirred in nervous laughter, assuming it was a part of the harmless joke. However, the announcement did not cease. The MCs looked visibly confused while performers watching from the stairway groaned—I heard my friend complain, ”why would they do a lockdown drill during Asian Fest?” Mrs. Kirtane ordered everyone to their seats and told them to be silent. Quiet spread over the room. When the ‘drill’ went on for far longer than normal, many came to the collective realization that the lockdown might be real.
There was schoolwide confusion as the lockdown state persisted. Siobhan Morgan, a junior and a participant in Korean Modern and Wadaiko, describes her experience in the girl’s dressing room: “The main things on my mind were the fatigue I felt from performing and the confusion everyone else in the room shared. K-Modern had just finished our performance so we were feeling the post-performance high when a police officer speed-walked past. A bunch of us knew we were going into lockdown a few minutes before the alarm went off since we heard the officer say it into his walkie talkie, but we had no idea why.”
Other performers were caught off guard while in the midst of already-stressful situations, such as senior Krisha Anant, an Umbrella Leader as well as Country Leader and Performance Leader for India, describes: “Three minutes before we were scheduled to go on stage, I got a massive nosebleed and ran to the nurse’s office. By the time I got there, the lockdown had begun and I waited it out while trying to stop my nosebleed. I had no idea what was going on outside at the time, but I was lucky to be in a safe place. I found out later that a lot of performers had to hide in rooms without locked doors.”
Tarun Kalyanaraman, a junior, adds on with a perspective from the classroom: “I was terrified because I had no idea what was going on, all I knew was that this drill wasn’t like the ones we had before. I was in math class stuck for an hour and a half, and we were all worried this was a terrible April Fool’s joke.”
Back in the campus center, performers attempted to lift the audience’s spirits during the wait by allowing audience members to try their hands at breaking wooden boards or dancing between Tinikling sticks. Finally, an announcement was given clearing the situation.
Asian Fest resumed as though it had never been interrupted. If anything, performers possessed a new level of energy within them that instantly reengaged the audience. Siobhan recounts, “we were able to bounce back after it to continue giving great performances.” This wasn’t the first Asian Fest that was at odds with a tough situation. As Krisha put it, “if we aren’t overcoming, it isn’t Asian Fest.”
Most notable of all is the RHS community’s reaction to the lockdown, and the student-teacher cooperation that followed. Jenna Benson, a junior who was in the learning commons at the time, comments: “respect to Kirtane for how she handled the campus center. She was able to keep several hundred students calm while the administration had to deal with the threat.” Junior Shriya Dani, Performance Leader for Indian Traditional, reflects on behalf of students in the campus center: “I think it’s super cool how all of us were able to react to the lockdown in a calm but serious fashion. Honestly, I felt the safest I’ve ever felt surrounded by all my peers and faculty in the campus center.”
While the circumstances in which it happened are unfortunate, it is admirable how the RHS community reacted to the potential threat and came back from it. Support for Asian Felt could be felt in waves that day. Junior Nayeon Kim reaffirms this feeling, saying: “The bomb threat could not stop RHS’ support for Asian Fest.”
Graphic: Riddhima Patllollu