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Virtual walks in real places

Virtual walks in real places 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: 

  • Which re-told story has stayed with you? What was it about it that made a connection to you? 
  • Which of the walks have particularly stayed with you? What is it about them that you remember?
  • What are the stories you remember from childhood? Where did you learn them? Who told them to you?
  • If you have a favourite fairy tale, is there anything you would change in it?
  • Who do you know who is a good storyteller? What are the qualities that make them good?
  • What folk songs do you know? Is there a favourite one? Do you know why you like it?
  • Think of woodland you particularly love, or have a strong memory of - imagine walking through it and describe what you see, paying attention both to sensory reactions and physical description.  When you get to a place you particularly like, stop there and spend a while focusing on all the elements that are there - what does focusing on this evoke for you? When you've exhausted that place, keep walking till you come out of the wood. Notice how you feel afterwards.
  • Imagine a walk through somewhere that seems like an archetypal fairy tale forest - what does it look/sound/feel like? 
  • Where is the nearest bit of woodland to you? If you can, visit it and spend some time paying it attention - what are the trees? Are there many different types? What do you notice about it? What is happening to the trees at the moment?  
  • Research mycorrihza     
  • Research the last glaciation and its effect on Scotland

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.