Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Virtual Storytelling

This Brave New World of Covid-19 is weird….really weird.  It has spawned all manner of creative solutions to our shared limitations and has allowed us to stay somewhat connected while sheltering in place.  Suddenly performers, of all types, found themselves out of work…out of gainful employment…looking to survive in this virtual world far, far away from any physical stage or platform on this planet. And thus…Virtual Storytelling became a Thing.

Having performed in several of these venues, I have come to the conclusion that Virtual Storytelling is weird.

For most of my life, storytelling has involved the gathering of people for the purpose of entertainment. Perhaps the story’s purpose is to educate, sell, convince, or affirm as much as it is to give pleasure. A storytelling event can allow the listener to escape into that “Once Upon A Time” where good conquers evil, incredible creatures and adversaries a soundly defeated, and love conquers all. Good stories create empathy, and allow us all to remember we are all part of the human race, with human foibles, dilemmas, and downfalls. As a performer, I depend on that connection with the audience to deliver the best possible experience. Virtual Storytelling cannot deliver that in real time.

I sit at my laptop awaiting my entrance onto a Zoom Platform.  It’s my turn.  The Camera is on me. And suddenly…I am telling this story to myself!  Say What???   But don’t look at yourself!  Look up! Directly into the camera. Yes, look at that tiny light just above your screen, so the audience thinks you’re looking at them, even though the only thing I can see is me! So, there I am, telling my story with all the gusto I can muster from a seated position.  Seated???  Yup, seated.  The computer cannot deliver a decent performance that would allow standing, or any large movement.  Even the small motions need to be carefully rehearsed so that a hand gesture doesn’t leave a trail or is too much out of proportion with the rest of me making me look like some mythical creature from Loch Ness. And then there’s the added annoyance of that virtual caution from Zoom itself. “Your band width is too low.”  Great! Like I can do anything about that while I’m telling!  That low band width pixelates the transmission, or freezes it momentarily, which does nothing good to the delivery of said story.  In fact, it creates a robotic delivery for a few moments, or minutes, which is the antithesis of what I trying desperately to do!
The story ends.  There is silence. No applause. No indicator of how the story played, how it landed. Oh wait! There is a chat room.  Lots of comments from the audience members to indicate my success or failure.  I cannot read them while I am telling.  I can only enjoy the comments after the fact.  The immediacy of a live performance in front of real people is gone.

So, I am left with a choice.  To spend my time mourning that which is gone from my life, or accept this Brave New World and be glad in it.  I can be grateful for the 21st century with all its technological wonders or commiserate with the naysayers who whine that life just isn’t the same. No it’s not the same.  But it surely beats the alternative!

In the meantime, watch for my next Virtual Performance…coming soon to a computer near you!