Photo by Nicholas Bone
As reported in my previous post, we began our first development week on Sara Maitland's book Gossip from the Forest in the week the lockdown began. We had already planned to work slightly differently because of the travel restrictions that had been introduced the week before, but Boris Johnson's announcement came immediately after we had finished our first day so more adaptations were needed.
On the first day, the three of us who lived in Edinburgh had met in a studio to work together but had kept physically distant within the space. Our colleagues in Glasgow all connected with us through the video-conferencing app Zoom and we read through the first chapter of the book. The difficulty we quickly discovered was that having the laptop far enough away to get three people each sitting 2 metres apart into the same frame meant the microphone didn't pick our voices up very clearly, so then we had to take it in turns coming closer to the laptop to speak. One of the shortcomings of video-conferencing is also that it requires a different sort of attention to just being all together in one place, which becomes tiring after more than 90 minutes or so, which combined with screen-fatigue meant that we stopped our virtual rehearsal after the read-through and set a time to talk again. The three of us who were in the same room (me, Kirsty Law and Kirsty Eila McIntyre) then spent time working on some pre-prepared material - Kirsty L had written a song and playwright Martin O'Connor (at home in Glasgow) had edited together some material from the chapter to work with. The three of us spent time working on combining this material and made a sound recording to share with the others. We then had a discussion about how we were feeling and decided that we should work separately for the rest of the week, something which that evening's lockdown announcement would in any case have forced us to make.
On Tuesday, I sent out a list of questions and tasks for people to choose from. They were all connected to things in the first chapter, or to questions we had discussed, and included:
We shared images on a Pinterest board and collected written material in a shared folder; we had two further group video-calls where we talked about walks we'd done and other things that were on our mind. This is all the sort of thing we would have done face-to-face in the studio, though it feels more like intense preparation for something that will actually happen at a later date. We're lucky that technology makes some of this possible - video-calls, shared drives, high-speed broadband - and that it's either free or relatively cheap to use, but we're working towards something that will take place as a shared experience in a single place so I feel the lack of being together, however much I'm enjoying the work we're doing. This is a challenge for everyone who works in or who goes to see live performances, and I'm sure I'm not alone in worrying about how and when we will be able to do this again. As someone said to me recently, "This is hard when your work is all about bringing people together in one place to experience something." Will things be so changed after "all this" is over that communal events like theatre-going will become unimaginable? I really hope not, I hope that people will feel the urge to come together and share a live experience together in the same place - I know that I'm missing the community of watching live theatre and live music. I'm also loving seeing fewer cars on the road and being able to hear birdsong all day, so the challenge is going to be how we rebalance and hold on to all the things we've gained while finding ways to recover what we've lost.