Booth is back! CMU orgs build full-size booths for first time since 2019

From the beginning of the building process over a week ago until the opening of Spring Carnival on Thursday, booths designed by organizations across campus brought a little extra life to Midway. In accordance with this year’s Carnival theme, “Ad Astra,” booths represented a wide range of ways to perceive space and the stars. Ranging from the literal — Phi Delta Theta’s “The Martian” or Kappa Sigma’s “Star Wars” — to the abstract, like Alpha Phi’s astrology-themed booth “Phinding Your Fortune” or Kappa Alpha Theta’s “Soul,” booths showed off the creative and technical skills of organization members from Greek life and other student organizations like Singapore Student Association and Astronomy Club.

Each booth displayed a myriad of design and construction work, including intricate murals and decorations as well as technical aspects like sound elements, lighted signs, and even computers set up for gaming and other attractions. Students spent hours preparing each booth both prior to “move on” and during the almost week-long stretch of actual construction in the College of Fine Arts parking lot.

Booth Chair and architecture fifth-year Carly Sacco spoke with The Tartan about this year’s Booth competition. “The categories for competing are Blitz, which are 18 feet by nine feet, and then this year everyone else had to do a one-story which is 18 feet by 18 feet. They each get to design and build it pretty much however they want to. They're supposed to have a game and a prize as well,” she explained. The one-story booth is novel for Carnival, which normally hosts two-story booths, though safety considerations were changed this year to account for the lack of experience building when the last few Carnivals were canceled due to COVID-19. “Our biggest challenge was the level of inexperience,” said Sacco.

This year’s Carnival is the first held fully in person since 2019, meaning that most students at Carnegie Mellon have never experienced a Carnival. When it came to reviving Carnival traditions, students who attended Carnegie Mellon three years ago were left to guide their organizations based on what they remembered from their experiences during their first year. Though Booth standards remained the same, some organizations observed an adjustment period, which had warped with lack of use. When asked by The Tartan, members of Phi Kappa Theta noted that “it was a little bit challenging just having so few people who knew what Booth looked like. ... Just getting people on the same page in terms of expectations was a little bump in the road,” and that “getting the classes that hadn’t experienced Carnival excited for it was a little bit challenging.”

Sacco added that, in addition to the inconsistent skill sets and presence of students new to Booth, some materials, like wood, that had been used in years past had warped with lack of use. “I feel like they were working with less-than-ideal materials,” she said, “A lot of the conditions were less than ideal to [build] in — it snowed during move-on. ... The wetness was really difficult.”

To the detriment of many, move-on week also posed a significant challenge in the form of sporadic rain and low temperatures. Members of organizations like Alpha Phi noted that the weather made the build process slightly unpleasant, though students continued to work throughout long, cold nights to get their booths done on time. “They already felt like they were battling the odds,” said Sacco, noting the dedication put in by organizations to get their booths done despite the many challenges.

Because booths take such a significant effort, many organizations require their members to dedicate time to building and design. Members of Delta Gamma commented that “a lot of us didn't know how much time to allocate,” but that “it was really nice seeing people who hadn't done Booth in a long time come together for the sake of building something … it was a lot of hard work but it was nice … being with all of your friends and staying late, pulling those late hours and knowing that all together you have the work ethic to put something [like this] together.”

Their hard work paid off, with all booths ready to open on the first day of Carnival, something that’s “very rare” according to Sacco. Some changes from the pandemic era created new opportunities for organizations as well. The concept of the “Doghouse” or a miniature booth, was something that was introduced during COVID-19, but remained present this year. Sacco said, “I thought it was a nice way to keep something from the pandemic,” adding that it allowed more organizations to get involved with the tradition despite lacking the time or human resources of larger organizations. Despite the challenges of starting afresh after a break from Carnival, a member of Phi Kappa Theta said that they had “the opportunity to push into new territory and have murals on every single wall, which apparently was something that wasn't [normal] in the past.”

Because booths have so many different components, from artistic to technical, students from all areas of academic life can contribute their unique skill sets to the build. A member of Delta Gamma commented, “I liked seeing what I'm learning in class come to fruition. I’m a civil engineering major, so this is exactly what we do. I know that a lot of upperclassmen used parts of their majors to make parts of the booth, like the sign outside, the girl that made it is in mechanical engineering. It was cool to see everyone grow into their majors. It's comforting to know that what you learn in class can be applied to real life.”

In the end, all of these carefully crafted components are judged by Booth alumni and Spring Carnival Committee members, as well as a panel that includes John Holmes, Director of the School of Architecture's ArchSHOP, Dylan Vitone of the School of Design, Vitone's daughter (who tested Booth games), Carnival advisor Andrew Greenwald, and Marelyn Maces and M. Shernell Smith of the Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Booths are judged and ranked with first, second, and third place awards within their respective structural and organizational categories — Fraternity, Sorority, Independent, Blitz, and Doghouse — as well as being evaluated by a separate panel for their environmental and safety considerations.

Though it was her first time on the executive board for SCC, Sacco reflected that she “felt welcomed with open arms and got to help the organizations create what they wanted to do, which was very rewarding.” Despite challenges, the tradition of Booth has been revived for many future generations of Tartans to enjoy.

The 2022 Booth results are as follows:

1st: Sigma Phi Epsilon (“Treasure Planet”)
2nd: Phi Delta Theta (“The Martian”)
3rd: Delta Tau Delta (“Mario Galaxy”)

1st: Delta Gamma (“Rick and Morty”)
2nd: Kappa Alpha Theta (“Soul”)
3rd: Kappa Kappa Gamma (“Yellow Submarine”)

1st: Asian Student Association (“Despicable Me”)
2nd: Taiwanese Student Association (“Big Hero Six”)
3rd: Fringe (“Percy Jackson”)

1st: Singapore Student Association (“Singapore Airport”)
2nd: Astronomy Club (“Lifecycle of a Star”)
3rd: KGB (“Sneaking into the Houses of Hollywood Stars”)

1st: Undergraduate Student Senate (“Guardogs of the Galaxy”)
2nd: Habitat for Humanity (“Starry Night”)
3rd: Latino/a Graduate Student Association (“Bodega”)

Other Awards:
Chairman’s Choice Award: Kappa Kappa Gamma
People’s Choice Award: Kappa Alpha Theta
Merchandise Award: Taiwanese Student Association
Safety Award: Delta Delta Delta
Environmental Award (Blitz): Singapore Student Association
Environmental Award (Other): Taiwanese Student Association