By Lizi, The Roaring Girl's Co-Artistic Director, who spent the weekend in a digital room with a couple of hundred theatre and performance folk.
This weekend I have been fortunate enough to attend Devoted and Disgruntled - an open space event run by Improbable to facilitate conversations about theatre and the performing arts. So far it’s been a weekend of meeting new people and thinking about ideas both big and small.
I’m not quite finished processing what it all means to me - partly because I write this mid-way through the weekend, and partly because I will need tome to reflect on some of the greater discussions.
But I wanted to take this opportunity to find the joy in these distanced, digital versions of events that normally rely on everyone being in the same space.
I’ve definitely felt the loss of in-person events, as I know we all have. It’s lovely to catch up with friends via Zoom, or do the crossword with my family over the phone, and to see amazing theatre and live art brought into my living room over the internet. But it’s not the same.
Even this weekend, nourished by conversations and finding both laughter and rage in the discussions, has been amazingly tiring. I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the bubble of social anxiety that pops in my chest as I enter a busy room full of people I don’t know! Though Zoom definitely instills that anxiety within me, I find there’s less relief!
My favourite moments of this weekend have actually been when I had the chance to look around the “room” and peek into the spaces everyone had brought with them.
As the event began, and the space was opened, I sat back, listening, and scrolled through the nearly 300 little boxes on the screen, finding joy in seeing people assemble in this virtual circle.
There is joy in seeing into people’s worlds - their awesome artwork, or loaded bookshelves.
There is joy in spotting a cat wonder through the frame, or a camera pan to reveal a dog. Some of my highlights of this past year has been seeing people’s pets through the screen - and I know I’m not alone. For 5 quid you can get a goat to join your Zoom call, and I honestly think it would make me cry and I’m only a little bit ashamed of that.
There is joy in seeing people’s partners or housemates slide into frame, or wonder past in the background. This weekend I spotted children having their hair brushed, eating ice creams, causing disruptions, and adding their voices to the conversation.
It is joyful to see snippets of normal life in a world that feels so abnormal, and joyful to be let into people’s lives in a way we don’t normally get to be.
The best digital versions of theatrical performances I’ve seen this past year have been those that brought the audience into the space together. It’s lovely to see a filmed version of a show, or listen to it on the radio, but it’s pure magic to see everyone’s faces light up as they're invited to turn their cameras on and watch together. Or to see a flurry of comments and emojis in a live chat in an exciting moment. Or to have that performer invite you to join them - to add you voice, or your body to their work.
And while I will “bah, humbug” about it, and say people are awful, and need some quiet time to recover afterwards, it’s really nice to be in a room full of people. To meet people. I’ve found joy this weekend in shared experiences, and respectful disagreements, in being slipped a private message on the Zoom chat like a note in class, and in listening to voices from across the country, and across the world, as part of one big community.
I wouldn’t have been able to attend this weekend if it hadn’t happened online. It was an unexpected pleasure for me to be able to join in. Digital events carry the potential to be totally inaccessible or massively accessible.
In my experience, D&D events always have accessibility top of mind, and try to be as open and welcoming as possible. This weekend has been no exception. Not only were captioning and BSL interpreters provided, but every participant was conscious of it - slowing down or pausing where needed, reading viewpoints posted in Zoom chat to the room, and introducing themselves with a visual description. There was support for those struggling with the technology, and a wellbeing support officer.
It gives me immense joy that not only can this type of event happen, it can happen in an open and caring way.
Yes, this is a stock image of a laptop and some coffee - my desk is far too messy to share with you all!