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  • Writer's pictureLoren Niemi

Coming to Zoom

There is so very much storytelling on the internets this pandemic year. Storytellers producing their own material or participating in various series on a half dozen platforms, but mostly on Zoom. I could watch stories from across the country and around the world every day of the week.

I have done a few of these with mixed feelings about the results. Some performances are well done but others seem to have a real "I've got a barn, let's make a show" aesthetic. The difference seems to reside not only in the nature of the platform but more importantly who is doing the tech. When the performer does not need to also worry about the sound level or focus, it makes it easier to look at the camera and pretend there is an audience in the room with you. They are of course as disembodied heads in little squares on some/most Zoom feeds, but they are not actually in the room and the energy of "live" is (at least for me) mostly absent,.

Frankly I miss being in the room with a live audience. That energy with is the emotional / psychic dialogue between audience and performer in the moment changes in the virtual / digital world. But whether I am comfortable with it or not, digital storytelling looks to be the immediate future if not the "new normal" for many years to come.

After my book What Haunts Us won a Midwest Book award for "Sci-FI / Fantasy / Horror / Paranormal" fiction, they asked me to record a short reading from it to be used for some kind of a series this fall. More details on that when I get more details. About the same time I was asked by Tom Cassidy to participate in "Dogs Without Cabins" a digital series he is starting that is on YouTube. I combined the opportunity with the Midwest Book folks request to do both at once. What was especially lovely was that there was a live audience for the taping - Tom, his son Hamil (who did the tech), his wife Dawn, local jazz/poetry fusion guru, Ted King and poet, Mary Moore Easter. It made the whole thing more interesting to tell to them than my simply speaking to the camera.

Here is the link to that story: Enjoy.

Later this month, I will be teaching Storytelling for Mission, Values, and Brand at the University of St. Thomas for their Executive Director Leadership Institute. Virtually of course. On a Zoom platform and as prep, I am trying to rethink how to do that - especially the exercises in story development that have been at the heart of my previous sessions with these folks. What are the advantages of Zoom? The ability to have them go to breakout rooms? The ability to have them tell stories with enough visual to let myself and the rest of the cohort see what works. What are the liabilities? That I cannot literally have them walk in pairs to tell / listen to each other's elevator stories. That has always been a critical exercise.

I'm sure there are other pros and cons but the fact is by time I get done with two days of teaching via Zoom, I'll either have a very good sense of what works and a sense of the why and how to extend it, or I'll slink into the sunset muttering about how disappointing it is to not be able to master the format.

Either way, it will be as much a learning experience for me as for them.


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