The Show Must Go On: Digital Possibilities in the Covid Era for Writers and Learners
I am sure as a distance learner, you’ll likely be used to incorporating different technologies into your learning experience – I was certainly Zooming ‘before it was cool’ thanks to OCA meetings and I can’t help but notice how many learning tools we seem to be early adopters of. We’re also lucky to have such an enormous library of online resources through UCA, an adaptation that some public libraries have been adopting of late!
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that creative folk are good at adapting to survive, and that we’ve done this in many digital ways. I thought it would be good to document a few of these methods here to round off a very strange year for writers, creative people, and actually pretty much everyone…
- The Show Must Go On!
My first Covid-cancelled literary event was on March 19th this year, and there have been plenty more since! Book launches and literary festivals aplenty have fallen casualty to social distancing and large gathering bans.
In March I was putting the finishing touches to a programme for Sheaf Poetry Festival, an annual festival in Sheffield, but luckily we hadn’t gone to print, and we postponed until November 2020. It soon became clear though that the November event would have to be online, and we thought a lot about how to make the events accessible and entertaining. The festival itself involved a weekend pretty much chained to my desk doing back-to-back Zoom events, but we managed it. In particular we were able to work with poets from a whole host of places, India, the US, Canada and Palestine, without paying for any flights, which we would not have been able to achieve under normal circumstances. Likewise we seemed to find a new audience of poetry-interested people from all over the world.
But it’s not just us – a huge number of literary events have taken themselves online, and some new ones have also sprung up. Whatever you’re into there will be something for you to watch in your slippers from the comfort of your own sofa!
- Access all areas
The discussion on accessibility is one that has been ongoing for years around our literary events – low budget venues in repurposed buildings without lifts and ramps, venues without hearing loops, the expense of BSL interpreters, access for those dependent on public transport, events finishing after the last bus home, for example, all might restrict who is able to share in them.
Online, many of these things can easily be worked around. Closed captions can be added to a video for those who need them (live caption software is increasingly available too) and the share screen function means that even without this, texts can be shared and read by audience members. Online events certainly don’t require navigating stairs or steep streets or going miles out of our way, and we won’t need to pay for a taxi home. In fact the response to the ‘new normal’ of digital events from the disabled community has been overwhelmingly positive, making me wonder why we didn’t do some of these things years ago.
- Create your own content
If your go-to strategy for testing a new piece of writing out is something like an open-mic night, these may have been harder to find online. And with online readings, it’s much harder to ‘read the room’ after you’ve finished – did they like it? Are they clapping (or weeping, or cheering) into their muted microphones?
However, more than ever in these times, there is the possibility to create, edit and disseminate your work using just the technology you have on your computer or phone. You can upload a short video to Youtube or Vimeo and make it known to the world really quickly, as booktubers and spoken word poets have known for some time now. You could try reading a poem, monologue or a short story, or just talking enthusiastically about a book that you like. You can even generate community and find like-minded viewers this way
- Innovation is possible
If the last year has proved anything, it’s that we are creative enough to find imaginative ways to substitute for the ‘in-person’ meetings we’re used to. I’ve given workshops, readings, been to meetings and produced events online, all since March.
I’ve also attended some really innovative events – the poet Kim Moore held a poetry reading in which Zoom polls were used for the audience to ‘choose their own adventure’ through the poems she was reading, and poet and memoirist Abi Palmer has done some online work using film and voiceover, which might be pretty difficult to achieve in a venue without a technician and equipment. I think we have been given an opportunity here to explore the potential of these creative tools. Given time, what more could we achieve with the technology at our disposal?