Keep Calm and Don’t Carry The Coronavirus

Here in Bishops Castle, it is the calm before the storm.  Over the last couple of days, the sun has been shining and people have been out doing their usual things.  But you can feel a breeze springing up, the great ominous cloud looming, birds going silent in the lull before the full weight of the storm breaks.

The dress rehearsal for the school play went ahead yesterday and the shows are still planned for later in the week, everyone was out shopping, cheap paracetamol has sold out everywhere, but the expensive versions and toilet rolls are still freely available. Half my shopping was for a friend who has self-isolated with her children.

Green Road Amy in Motion BLASTGreen Road Lucy gazing BLASTGreen Road Amy Stretching BLAST

We had our last BLAST! of the season on Friday night, Beautiful Lies and Startling Truths, a performance storytelling club that I run with Suzanne Thomas from September to March. With the combination of fear of the virus and our storyteller having to pull out at the last minute, I was deeply doubtful what audience we would have.  Although a little bit down on numbers, we still had a decent turnout and Lucy Wells and I really enjoyed getting to perform The Green Road again.  It was a warm, beautiful celebration of story and a fitting end to our season.  But the signs were still there – one lady came with disposable gloves to pay and is taking all her change home and washing it before putting it in her purse.

At the moment, we are healthy.  My vulnerable relatives and friends are healthy.  It seems unlikely that we will get to go to Belgium to stay with storytelling friends and eat Begium chocolate easter eggs (our first family holiday abroad!), but other than that things are not too bad.  It seems inevitable over the next weeks and months things will change.  I’m facing the prospect of home-schooling and having to buy another computer for my daughters to learn on while all my work is cancelled for the spring and summer.

My project with Duncan’s tapes is the juxtaposition of two very different perspecitives.  Duncan was best by a fire, whether inside or out, storytelling in an intimate and immediate way, often holding the hand of the listener.  My project is to digitise tapes of him telling, listen to them and learn from them – learn the material, from his way of telling, from what he says and his way of being.  The other half is to find ways to share that knowledge in the world we live in now, making the most of the technology that is available to us, without losing the heart of who Duncan was and what he had to say.  So a large part of my project is for me to open up to the digital world, to be open to experimenting with different ways of sharing, telling and talking about stories online – and to learn the skills to enable me to make the most of the possibilities available.  Not everyone has seen this as a positive thing.  I’ve had a lot of storytellers who are very dismissive of what they think I am trying to do – ‘the whole point of storytelling is that it is a live art form, you need to see the whites of their eyes, you need to be in the same space to create that magical world together’.  I agree.  I don’t think that there is any substitute for live storytelling.  But that does not mean that there isn’t room for a whole plethora of other ways of storytelling and talking about storytelling.  I have spent hours and hours listening to Duncan over the last few months, he’s been keeping me company while I cook tea and hang the washing up.  Of course it’s not the same as camping on a beach, sitting next to him with a fire going, listening to selkie stories, watching the tide come in… but it has been a joy to hear his voice again, hearing his wife Linda ask him some of the questions that I wish I’d asked him.  The live version and recorded version of Duncan work very well together, having spent that time with him, I can hear in his voice the exact expression on his face.  I think live storytelling generally can be well supported by recorded storytelling and online performance and discussion.

I was already planning to experiment with live-streaming this summer, I have a series of sharing performances lined up at various festivals that I want to broadcast online as well as live.  Now this seems even more important.  Coronavirus is shining a spotlight on an issue that was already there.  There are huge numbers of people that can’t attend live events for a myriad of reasons: physical or mental health; caring for children or elderly relatives; lack of transport; lack of finance…the list goes on.  As we contemplate the banning, or at the very least, discouragement, of people gathering together and live events, the benefit and camaraderie of online communities will come to the fore.  Live events will still happen, but it will be online.  It’s still very much a brave new world for me, but I’m extremely thankful for the training I’ve had over the last few months and I’m feeling much more prepared than I would have been this time last year. Now, amidst the chaos and impending doom, I can see the opportunities.  Coronavirus is the latest challenge thrown at us, but it won’t be the last.  Our world is groaning under the weight of human population and behaviour.  Our world is changing and we need to change too.

@artscouncilofengland, @ace_midlands, @ace_national, @artyaml, @sfs_uk @scotstoryfourm @EU_SSSA @Stories4Society @BTBStorytelling @GEECStweets @TadHargrave

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