Looking For Your Audience In The Lockdown Era
A couple of theatre productions were about to open on the week of the announcement of the lockdown in Manila. Soon after, the Cultural Center of the Philippines cancelled all of its shows and exhibits. Before March ended, malls, and therefore cineplexes were closed as well.
I was a regular at a couple of poetry reading events. Those were cancelled as well. And even my corporate storytelling workshops were postponed, as companies started allowing their employees to work from home.
Like everyone else, artists and storytellers face the challenge of losing their jobs or finding work. Though in other fields, people can find ways to work from home, storytellers must find their audience in order to sustain themselves. But where has the audience gone? They are all stuck at home.
Despite the worldwide lockdowns and quarantines, creative as they are, storytellers have managed to find ways of telling their stories. The theatre communities of the Philippines have found innovative ways to perform online. Various groups and individual artists initiated online readings and performances through Zoom, FB Live, IGTV, and Youtube. One example is the annual Virgin Labfest of the CCP. Instead of cancelling the event, the festival encouraged the playwrights and directors to explore the digital platforms.
Cinema won’t be left behind. Studios have made their libraries available to the public via digital platforms for free. Some classic and indie films, feature length and short, can now be streamed via youtube or vimeo. Poets and fictionists also have made their content downloadable in epub or pdf, also for free. Musicians have started streaming impromptu concerts in the safety of their homes, broadcast over social media.
Storytellers will not be stopped. Not even by a world-wide pandemic. But what about the ordinary storyteller? What about the CEO or the Manager who’s stuck working from home, conducting regular zoom meetings? What about the everyday man who is not a thespian, writer, musician, or filmmaker? Where is his audience if his stage has always been the town hall?
We need to remember that storytelling originated in the smallest unit of the society––the family. If you are still looking for your audience, then look closer. They are at your dining table.
If there is anything that this pandemic has done, it is not making us lose our audiences. It has actually brought us back to our first audiences, and has forced us to rethink, remember, and retell the most intimate ones.
The dining table is the first storytelling stage. Although in prehistoric times, they probably would be camp fires rather than tables. Here, you talk to your family about your day. And you ask everyone else how theirs was. It might be a bit odd to ask this, given that everyone is locked in the same space for most of the day. But our inner lives are probably more vast than our outer lives and there will always be so much to share––books you have read, films you’ve seen, friends you’ve met.
The lockdown has given us all the time in the world to reconnect with our first audiences, our family. And this reconnection should strengthen our cores, making us better storytellers when we face a larger audience like our peers over zoom, or the world in social media. A friend of mine wrote in an article about family narratives forming family identities. This lockdown is a great opportunity to articulate this narrative, enrich our individual inner lives through the sharing of stories, and grow as a storyteller for a larger audience when we go back out to the outside world.