Booth on Midway
Bright lights shine from the looming Ferris wheel, and small cars spin around in circles, kids screaming in delight. Large white tents of alumni activities dot the green next to enclosures of games typical at state fairs, rife with enticing displays of stuffed animals. The place smells of greasy food, and massive balls of blue and pink cotton candy call to people walking past the windows.
This is Carnegie Mellon University’s Carnival Weekend. This is when students get two days off to relax and enjoy the spring weather, countless alumni from classes decades ago to recent graduates come back for reunions, and families from the Pittsburgh community come to our campus for a fun day.
But one of the most anticipated events of Carnival that students are excited for every year is Booth. Lined on Midway (also known as the CFA Building parking lot), these wooden boxes of different sizes, colors, and themes are a highlight of the weekend, a project that students from fraternities, sororities, and many other campus organizations work hard on, often late into the night before the grand opening on the Thursday of Carnival.
This year, Midway looked as it always does, off to the side of many Carnival attractions, but buzzing with people lined up to check out what great creations students have made. This year’s Carnival theme was Planet Earth, a vague concept that found limitless expression in the booths.
Most organizations went the movie and pop culture route, using movies that had some relation to the Earth, many of them Disney IP. Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Lion King booth was a polished creation of several staircases, wide, detailed murals of the nature scenes from the classic movie, and countless decorations from papier-mâché bugs to favorite quotes in fancy calligraphy. Of all the booths, this was the most complex and realized, and I could really see all the hard work they put into it.
Continuing on the Disney movie track, independent organization Fringe’s booth was made in the theme of Lilo and Stitch, connected more broadly with Hawaii. While the Planet Earth connection is there, I think a more effective direction could have just been the Hawaii/surfing/ocean route, rather than recreating scenes and details from the movie. However, the booth was really beautifully made, and I could tell the people behind it really love the movie.
Another booth that took after a children’s animated movie was Kappa Alpha Theta’s Madagascar. While it was clearly inspired by the movie, the choice made sense because the movie is about the place of Madagascar and the animals that live there. Like nearly all the booths, this one boasted wonderful colors and paintings, including a large mural on the back of the box of several characters from the movie. Kappa Alpha Theta's Madagascar won first place in the sorority competition.
Next door was Taiwan Student Association’s Animal Crossing, based on the popular video game. While the theme took me by surprise at first, the decision to focus on animals was an inspired choice. With the outside designed like a blue and pink retro van next to a white picket fence and flowers and the inside adorned with scenes and characters from the game, the booth was a particular hit with kids. TSA's Animal Crossing took first place in the independent booth competition.
Alpha Phi also took a movie that had a direct connection to the theme: Winnie the Pooh, or the 100 Acre Woods. Like all the booths based off of these nostalgic entities, this one also conjured a cute vibe that really catered to the young children visiting the booth, with a “Pin the tail on the donkey” game on the exterior patio of the booth.
Phi Delta Theta’s booth was the first on the left of Midway, a clean-cut booth with colorful tiles of blue, green, coral, and yellow that made up the famous house from Up. The theme was Paradise Falls, the fictional destination of beautiful rock formations, forests, and waterfalls from the movie. The booth also had a game that took after Flappy Bird, this time challenging users to keep the house floating.
Asian Students Association’s The Lorax booth found a perfect marriage between a beloved Dr. Seuss book that is instantly recognizable with the Planet Earth theme. With cut-out characters glued to painted walls, stumps of old cut down trees lining the halls, and a room filled with decorations of the famous fluffy pink and orange trees, the booth truly recreated the visuals of the book (and movie adaptation).
Service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega’s booth, designed as scenes from The Jungle Book, was a welcome concession stand, selling carnival staples like funnel cake, hot dogs, and burgers, with the proceeds going to charity.
Two fraternities, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Delta Tau Delta, presented beautiful booths based on Coco and Spirited Away, respectively, that were quite impressive in their attention to detail and commitment to recreating the movies. However, of all the larger booths, and the booths inspired by movies, these two were the biggest head-scratchers in terms of their relation to the Planet Earth theme. Regardless, I enjoyed exploring the booths and seeing the hard work that my fellow students put into them. Ultimately, SigEp's booth won the fraternity competition.
Midway also features Blitz booths, smaller booths that are often just as interesting. Like the Lorax booth, the American Society of Civil Engineers took the technology and environment themes from the Pixar movie Wall-E to decorate their booth, which won the Blitz competition. The booth was filled with intricate piles of layered ripped newspapers and hanging multi-colored CDs.
The Astronomy Club’s Roswell, New Mexico, took the alien conspiracy theory to a new level, with a wall full of maps and photos and headlines. Finally, Kappa Sigma’s Italy was painted pink on the exterior and relatively sparse on the inside; the organization sold pizza with the proceeds going to charity.
In one of the more abstract booths, Alpha Epsilon Phi took on The World Wide Web, creating a booth all about the internet with walls painted with memes, social media logos, and tech symbols. While I’m not sure this was what the theme was originally intended for, I do concede that the world wide web is an integral part of the world today, and technically connects all of us on Planet Earth.
Two sororities decided to design their booths relating to the ocean: Alpha Chi Omega’s California Beach and Delta Gamma’s Great Barrier Reef. Both chose eye-popping pastel colors to stand out in the Midway lineup. In California Beach, the front of the booth was like a front porch of a beach house, with beach chairs and sand. At the end of the path into the exit, the booth incorporated empty water bottles and statistics about pollution. The Great Barrier Reef was decorated with several large reefs made from paper and foam.
Next to Delta Gamma was Delta Delta Delta’s Pompeii booth. With green vines, gold coins, and a funny gold bust in the likeness of President Jahanian, this booth leaned into an Ancient Rome aesthetic inside, while the outside highlighted the volcanic ash that led to the downfall of the city.
The Student Dormitory Council’s Atmosphere was unique in that it wasn’t based on a movie, book, place, or historical event. It instead incorporated an interactive game about the weather. Decorated with paper planes and hanging clouds against a sky-blue backdrop, the booth was one of my favorites this year.
Every year I’m always shocked to see what my fellow students can design, build, and create in a week, in the middle of midterms and projects during the final stretch of the semester. All the booths were amazing, and I’m sad that they have to be torn down every year. But that’s also the beauty of Booth, that each year something new and different is made, and we start all over again.