Lu’au coordinators discuss going virtual, low participation rates
Updated: May 4
At the virtual Lu'au event: traditional Hawaiian dances done by members of WU. By Anushka Srivastav.
Willamette University’s annual Lu’au will be hosted online this year, according to two of its coordinators: Shione Mochizuki (junior biochemistry major) and Jarin Kobashigawa (class of 2020 economics major, class of 2021 MBA grad). The entertainment portion of the Lu’au will premiere as a [livestream on the University’s official YouTube channel] at 7 p.m. on April 24th. Though the convenient link may suggest otherwise, putting the event together was not without its frustrations this year. Mochizuki and Kobashigawa shared their experiences coordinating the Lu’au during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the Hawaii Club didn’t have a Lu’au at all, though they had briefly pondered a virtual event. When asked why those plans fell through, Kobashigawa said: “it was around March when everything started to get a little chaotic, and we were thinking about pivoting to doing a virtual Lu’au, but the timeline was just so short. It also kind of seemed like maybe having a Lu’au wasn't the thing to do at a time when all of these problems were arising.” Kobashigawa said that things were better this time around: “We definitely had more time to plan this year, so we had a better idea of what to do.”
When asked what the cultural significance of Lu’au is, Mochizuki said, “I’m actually not sure what the traditional Haiwaiian significance is, but Lu’au means party, which is basically what it is today. It’s just a time of celebration where people gather and eat Haiwaiian food, and there’s lots of entertainment in the form of dancing, like hula dancing and Tahitian dancing, and also singing.” Kobashigawa then gave two reasons on why the Hawaii Club likes to bring the event to Willamette. The first is to offer a cultural learning experience: “Not only do we like to share the culture of Hawaii, but we also try to tie in a bunch of educational parts into the show, like what different sayings mean, or what traditions take place in Hawaii, and how to respect that aspect of the culture,” he explained. But the other reason is more about giving the community a chance to relax at the end of the year. “We try to make it really fun for everyone. It’s just a wholesome environment where everyone can relax and forget about everything else outside of the world,” he said. Mochizuki shared his sentiments: “I just really appreciate the sense of community-building that the Lu’au brings, not only with Willamette, but also the surrounding community. It’s all about that aloha spirit.”
But the events of the Lu’au will look a lot different this year, according to Mochizuki: “Usually at the Lu’au we serve dinner, and there’s a country store where we sell things imported from Hawaii, like snacks and other goods. This year we are collaborating with Goudy to make up for the dinner that's going to be missed for Lu’au day. They’ve offered to serve Hawaii-inspired foods. And to make up for the country store, we weren't able to get a lot of stuff, but we're also giving out goodie bags. That will all be available for students the day before Lu’au just to get them in the mood, so Friday the 23rd.” Mochizuki went on to say that a big part of the traditional Lu’au is showcasing the dances, which is where the virtual aspect comes in. All of the dancers recorded themselves doing the choreography, and they will be a part of the livestream on the 24th. According to her, there was one unexpected benefit to this model: “The good point of doing it virtually was that we were allowed to contact alumni, including the class of 2020, and even as far back as 2004. So they’re all participating in the Lu’au this year as well, which is something new and exciting that we’re doing.”
When asked how it was getting participants and resources during COVID-19, the coordinators said that it was more difficult trying to rope people together than it was to access the necessary materials. In particular, Kobashigawa said: “It was pretty difficult to communicate what we were trying to do, and then get students and alumni interested in participating, because everything was going to happen virtually. Shione had to do the dances by herself and send the video, and then it was on the dancers to record themselves and hand in the footage. We ended up seeing people drop out throughout the semester, it was very low levels of participation relative to last year.” Mochizuki agreed that it was a smaller group than normal. She said: “we usually get volunteers to get stuff set up, to help us cook food and whatnot, and we have different committees with different leaders, but there was none of that this year.” For reference, they typically get around 50 dancers and committee members working with them; this year, however, they only got around 15 students to participate, and only in the dancing. Alumni helped by making up another approximately 15 dancers. Though it was sad for them to see the drop, Kobashigawa said: “I can’t blame them because everyone is exhausted looking at their computer screens by this point, and the Lu’au was just one more thing for them to do.”
Mochizuki gave one hypothesis as to why this decrease in participation occurred. She noted that: “There were no first-timers. Everyone who was involved had experience either with Lu’au or with dancing, and we think that a lot of it has to do with us not having a Lu’au last year, so students didn’t know what to expect.” She wants to assuage some of these hesitations by emphasizing its typical impactfulness: “We usually get around 700 students, families, and Salem community members attending,” she said.
Mochizuki mentioned that they are hoping to keep the tradition alive next year with an in-person Lu’au. Kobashigawa said: “I'd be very interested to see how the community will react to what I hope will be a normal Lu’au. I think the event would be a good way to end next year, to bring the community back together.”