Behind closed doors: Blunder in the Burgh?

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Bhangra in the Burgh (BiB) was easily the most heavily marketed event so far into this school year. Hailed as an instant success after its debut last year and proclaimed to be one of the best bhangra competitions in the nation, the second annual running of the show two weeks ago was a huge attraction, not only for Carnegie Mellon, but for the Pittsburgh community at large.

The overwhelming publicity inundating Carnegie Mellon’s campus prior to the competition compelled me to buy a ticket. I felt that it would be foolish not to witness what seemed like a must-see cultural event. Instead, I witnessed first hand just how inefficient student-run productions can be.

When I arrived at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, the venue for the event, many people were gathered outside, waiting to be let inside, even after the show began. Some already had their tickets checked, others were waiting to purchase tickets, and others were waiting for any sort of instruction as to how to get inside the auditorium. In the midst of this confusion, BiB staff members shuffled about, seemingly looking for direction, and unsure of how to admit attendees inside the seemingly packed auditorium.

Finally, anger escalated into physical force as people began to shove in an attempt to enter the auditorium. A security guard loudly proclaimed that the crowd needed to be reimbursed and leave, and the BiB staff set up a makeshift refund booth for those left outside. Disappointed, I walked away.

So what went wrong? Several BiB staff believed too many tickets had been sold.

Tickets were sold at the University Center Info Desk, University of Pittsburgh’s Litchfield Towers, online at the group’s website, and at the door. It’s therefore easy to see how, between these four venues, the BiB crew may have lost track of the ticket count.

However, BiB co-chairman Raunaq Palejwala said that the BiB staff knew exactly how many tickets were sold from each location, and that enough tickets were sold to fill 2250 seats in an auditorium that holds 2370 seats, after taking into account seating members of bhangra teams competing in the night’s event. This seems counter to Palejwala’s next assertion that the few seats left were so scattered that only five people at a time could be ushered to their seats between acts, leaving a significant number of ticket holders waiting in the lobby. He denied that BiB had been oversold.

Palejwala said that the online system used to sell tickets was set to automatically count the tickets that were sold online. To keep track of the printed tickets, he said a board member went to the UC Info Desk each day to inquire how many were sold, and that all the tickets sold at the University of Pittsburgh were similarly counted. After combining these totals, BiB knew exactly how many tickets could be sold the night of the show to stay below capacity.

However, according to UC Info Desk workers and one University Center staff member, Stan Krowitz, data for ticket sales was collected sporadically and unsystematically. Monetary ticket sales were tallied only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by the building supervisor. Furthermore, they informed me that Palejwala had come by on Nov. 12 to obtain the supervisor’s e-mail address — for the first time — to figure out how many tickets were sold from the UC. BiB was held Nov. 8.

Moreover, after interviewing Palejwala, every board and staff member contacted directed all questions to Palejwala. While it may be standard for large productions to insist that only one person communicates with the media, this made it that much more difficult to understand how this student production ended in such confusion.

This article was not written to attack Bhangra in the Burgh. BiB is one of the largest and most successful shows put on at Carnegie Mellon. That a student organization can single-handedly produce a national competition that attracts university teams from around the country, and also serves as a major cultural event for the city of Pittsburgh, is an amazing feat. From all accounts, the show itself went smoothly and all of the visiting teams were treated graciously.

However, for a show of such large extravagance, an oversight such as not monitoring ticket sales and leaving ticket holders disappointed on the night of the event is near inexcusable. If they did oversell tickets, they should say so and apologize; if not, they should explain what happened. Following the disorder of the night and in subsequent interviews for this article, the staff and creators of BiB have further muddled the entire reasoning for the ticketing confusion.

I hope that next year’s show is as successful as the last two have been. It is also my hope that the staff has learned from the mistakes it made this year in order to ensure the same ones are not made in the future. But most of all, it is imperative that the BiB staff effectively and honestly explains what happened to the 100 or so ticket holders who did not see the show or missed a portion of it.