“That’s not a moon.... It’s a booth!”
The brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon were all wearing shirts with this phrase — a parody of a famous line from the first Star Wars film — on Saturday, as they prepared for their booth to be judged. Storm clouds loomed on the horizon, and the fraternity’s booth crew was ready to throw a tarp over their masterpiece at the first hint of rain.
Carnival’s 2006 theme was “Another Time and Place,” and Sig Ep went with a Star Wars theme for their booth. The fraternity had to select their theme six months ago, in October. From among a half-dozen choices, the brothers selected Star Wars. With that, a booth was born.
The path from October to the awards ceremony on Saturday afternoon was a long and arduous one. Sig Ep’s booth chair, Travis Brier, a junior electrical and computer engineering major, estimated that approximately 8585 man-hours went into the design and construction of the group’s booth — at least 568 of which were his own.
“We probably spent 10 hours designing it,” said fourth-year architecture major Coleman Rusnock, one of Brier’s right-hand men. “Travis spent about 80–90 hours on Autocad,” estimated Rusnock. Brier had to teach himself how to use the professional computer-aided design program before he could create a virtual replica of the fraternity’s booth design. While Rusnock designed the booth, Brier made sure the design would stay practical. “It’s good to have an engineer grounding you,” Rusnock said. “I did a lot of artsy drawings — perspectives with details. Travis would take that and put it into usable building plans.”
Meanwhile, third-year architecture student Brian Kish began work on the group’s pièce de résistance: a huge, scaled-down version of the Millennium Falcon. It has become a bit of a tradition for the fraternity to roll out an intricate part of their booth, a “trump card,” as Brier called it, at the last minute. Last year’s booth, “How Rock ’n’ Roll Works,” featured an 18-foot guitar that was unveiled at the last minute.
Kish didn’t build the Falcon alone, though. Just like every other piece of the booth, dozens of brothers pitched in to help. Over spring break, on St. Patrick’s Day, the brothers spent 12 hours cutting arcs out of $2000 worth of three-quarter-inch plywood. They mounted a saw blade on the end of a 16-foot lever arm and cut more than 200 individual arcs for use in the Death Star dome. “It was the best St. Patty’s day I ever had,” Brier said.
That dome became one of the most distinguishing characteristics of their booth. Since Sig Ep had secured a corner plot on the Morewood lot, the massive 1200-pound dome was immediately visible as patrons walked onto Midway. “No one has ever done a two-floor dome completely,” commented Brier.
There were reasons for that, of course. During Move-On on April 14, the dome proved to be one of the hardest parts of the booth to relocate to the Morewood lot. That evening, down the road, another fraternity was loading their booth piece-by-piece onto a flatbed truck. The brothers of Sig Ep were crowded at the top of the hill waiting to move their booth. From amid the crowd, a brother shouted out, “That’s cheating!” Another shouted, “Weak!” In a few minutes, the brothers of Sig Ep were manually guiding their massive booth down the hill and across Morewood Avenue, using only a large platform on casters.
A walkie-talkie crackled to life, and Sig Ep’s escorts from the Carnival Committee gave the order to start moving the booth. Brier, at the head of the crowd, shouted, “Let’s go!” With that, the brothers began their descent down the hill. Spotters shouted out directions as the mass tried to move in sync, making sure they didn’t get too close to either curb.
The gate to the parking lot between New House and Mudge was a significant chokepoint. The booth and its carriers had to slow to a stop and rotate. “We’re going to rotate counterclockwise!” shouted Brier, making an exaggerated hand motion high in the air. “That was clockwise!” shouted another brother, and Brier quickly corrected himself: “We’re going to rotate clockwise!” The brothers made it through the gate and onto their designated plot in the parking lot.
As the brothers marched across Morewood Avenue, they began singing John Williams’ famous “Imperial March.” They were determined to make a grand entrance, and as a reward once they finished the move, Brier revealed that their R2-D2 model was full of cans of Red Bull to keep the brothers working.
Later that night, the brothers finally managed to move the dome to the Morewood lot. With fewer than six days until Carnival opened, their booth still needed lots of work, and starting that Sunday night, the brothers started working on the booth 24 hours a day. Brier, as booth chair, remained on site as much as he possibly could.
“The last five days of being awake were pretty rough,” said Brier after the awards ceremony on Saturday. Even with the brothers working constantly, their booth was not quite finished by 3 pm on Thursday, when Midway opened. Each booth is allowed four hours of “down time” to remain qualified for judging, and Brier made the decision to take two hours of down time at the start of Carnival to finish painting one final room and putting in the finishing touches.
The extra time was well worth it. Brier guessed that between 2000 and 3000 people went through their booth in the two and a half days it was open. The booth’s three games were likely to thank for much of the traffic — the booth featured a TIE-fighter shooting gallery, complete with an articulated chair and joystick; a “force push” game, which used a webcam to sense the movement of players’ hands; and a surprisingly difficult Star Wars trivia game. Junior computer science major Chris Deleon programmed the shooter and the trivia game; senior computer science major Tommy Nourse said the shooter was “our best game ever.”
Sig Ep’s incredible dedication to detail was exemplified by a replica of Han Solo frozen in carbonite. To create the effect, the brothers coated senior mechanical engineering major Derrick Steigerwalt in plaster gauze and made a mold of his face. “When we pulled the mask off he was in a lot of pain,” said Rusnock. “He lost 12–13 eyelashes. His eyes were all caked over; he couldn’t see.”
It all came together when Brier, Rusnock, and Kish stood on stage in the Main Tent on Saturday afternoon and accepted their first-place trophy for fraternity booth. “You don’t even know how many all-nighters went into this,” said Rusnock during tear-down on Sunday.