This week has been a rollercoaster – nail-biting, terrifying and exhilarating – now I’ve stepped off, my legs are a bit wobbly, but I want to do it again!
I have dived headlong into the world of Zoom – hosting three very different events.
1) Taking The Tradition On(TTTO) a storytelling chat show – every Tuesday at 8pm.
As part of my ACE bid I was planning to do 3 interview based podcasts – I’m really pleased with the one I did with Helen East, but doing any more is not feasible for the foreseeable future…so I came up with the mad idea of a storytelling chat show!
I can still meet storytellers to discuss storytelling, Duncan and swap stories, I just have to do it virtually. I’ve hosted two so far – one with Nick Hennessey and one with David Campbell – and both have been fascinating. It’s been wonderful to make the space for focused conversation and ask all those questions you want to ask, but somehow never find the time.
However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing! I’ve set up a YouTube channel, ‘Taking the Tradition On’ where you can see David Campbell’s interview, but it took me 10 days to enable the live feed and so unless you were there live to see Nick, you’ve missed it! I had been really looking forward to interviewing Duncan’s son, Jimmy Williamson, a fantastic singer/songwriter and storyteller. Unfortunately, he was unable to take part at the last minute, just one of those things, but I had a terrifying 20 minutes while I worked out what to do! The marvellous David Campbell, cool, calm and collected as always, agreed to take part a week early, having never been on Zoom before and with no practise at all! So, he wasn’t lit brilliantly and could have been louder, but it didn’t impact on what he had to say…though I apologise in advance for the terrible joke at the end!
Like all the summer festivals, Get A Word In Edgeways has had to cancel the festival on Wenlock Edge, but instead they’ve asked me to host a spoken word concert on the second Thursday of every month…and there may be more plans for the actual weekend itself!
Considering I hadn’t even heard of Zoom this time three weeks ago, it was a huge leap. My learning curve is now vertical! We had a whole host of poets, storytellers and authors.
It definitely wasn’t perfect… and I still can’t figure out how to successfully screen share, but everyone was inspiring. Performing online is a new experience for most of us and we’re all still working out how to do it – I was really impressed by how relaxed and how well everyone came over. I, on the other hand, was not relaxed! Three hours of making sure the spotlight was on the right person, keeping roughly to time, that I didn’t accidentally unmute someone just at the wrong moment. The worst bit was the powerful and moving performances in the last hour, that made me cry – and then have to introduce the next artist… on the other hand, it’s a great compliment to a performer. What is great about performing online at the moment is that it is not slick and polished. I love the informality of everyone in their homes, making do with what they have, with heart and rawness coming out in their performances. I think we need to show our human fallible selves at the moment more than ever, to reach out and connect – and those are the things that are drawing me in online.
From September to March I run a regular performance storytelling club on the second Friday of the month, with my partner in crime, Suzanne Thomas. This year, we’ve decided to run a summer online season.
I really wasn’t sure this would work… people paying to listen to storytelling when there is so much free stuff online?! But I had an inspiring conversation with Janet Dowling about the nature and community of clubs. I suddenly woke up to the fact that, of course, BLAST! is not just a performance, it is a community – and that many of our regulars live alone and are coping with the reality of 12 weeks in isolation. Putting BLAST! online would be an opportunity for everyone to meet up virtually, to share a live performance at the same time with everyone else, catching up chatting in the chat bar and a sense of camaraderie. We also need to establish paid performance venues online – it takes just as much work and talent to perform online as it does live – and that should be acknowledged and appreciated. There is a sense of commitment when you a buy a ticket to an event. People approach and value the event in a different way, they turn up and listen with intent.
It was an experiment – and it worked. Nick Hennessey, our guest, was mesmerising. We sold 46 tickets, a few more than we do normally! We had a lovely mix of our regular BLAST! crowd and listeners from all over the world, who wouldn’t normally get to hear Nick tell. A big feature of BLAST! usually is cake – and they didn’t let me down – we all brought cake to eat and swapped descriptions of what our halftime treat was! So, we’re going to keep going, with Sheila Arnold in May and Liz Weir in June. Hopefully other clubs will follow suit – and we can establish a network of online clubs in the same way that there is a circuit of live storytelling clubs – each with their own atmosphere, ethos and in-jokes.
All these events had a very different feel, but astonishingly they all worked!
The one thing they had in common was that they were all live. Taking The Tradition On will be streamed to YouTube, but the other two are solely live events – you turn up, watch with everyone else or miss it. The live nature has been really important – and I’ve been amazed at how intimate it can be online.
Did things go wrong? Definitely! One time, I couldn’t get the screen to focus on the right artist; in the break at BLAST! I happily wittered away, reading out people’s comments on the chat bar, with no idea I was on mute – and there are so many things I need to learn how to do. Did it matter? I don’t think so… it would be better if I didn’t make mistakes, but all this is so new, I’ve decided to be kind to myself. Everyone is learning at the moment – it’s a good time to do it and we’re all in the same boat. Audiences are willing to be generous and forgiving – what matters is if we can make a connection, capture the heart of what good storytelling is – take us out of ourselves for a little while, forget that we are watching through a screen and fall into another place for a little while. It won’t be the same as an event where we’re all in the physical space – how can it be? But if we embrace and accept that difference, perhaps we can make something just as powerful, maybe even more intimate and something new.
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