This year I’ve become “an expert” in a surprising range of things. I lost all my contracts I’d lined up for 2020/2021 by mid April. Some were frozen, others cancelled. Grieving for the year I thought I was going to have, and grieving for what at the time, felt like the end of my career as I knew it were the first couple of layers of loss I was to face this year.
But I’m a hustler. Anyone who has worked as a producer in the arts is one. So I found ways to make things happen which worked in our strange new normal and I found ways to pay the mortgage.
One of these was dusting off a research project I began in 2017 called Virtual Cuppa. I’d secured a place on Mozilla’s international digital mentoring programme. I was way out of my depth, but the whole thing blew my mind. My project was to create online events that had the warmth and humanity of a face to face meeting.
Firstly, I had to download this thing called Zoom…
Fast forward to 2020. Virtual Cuppa had been paused back in 2017, but now, all of a sudden I needed to dust those ideas off.
From August, I found myself delivering training on how to creatively facilitate online. The imposter syndrome was huge, but actually, when I took stock, this has been a thing I’ve been thinking about and developing for ages. I just hadn’t given it time to fully form until I needed it, and blimey, we suddenly all needed it.
A friend got in touch yesterday who motivated me to write this blog... After the painful restrictions announced on Saturday, compromising her family’s Christmas plans, she asked me for ideas on how to set up a family zoom call which wouldn’t be just a chat, with the loudest dominating and the kids getting bored after 10 mins. It was lovely of her to ask, but it took me a while to realise that of course I had ideas I could share.
I got a bit carried away and bombarded her with WhatsApp with ideas… and then thought they might be useful to others. So, in no particular order, here’s a smorgasbord of ways you can inject a little creativity and laughter into your Christmas zooms.
Choosing your own breakout rooms
I love this new feature! If you’ve got the latest update everyone on your call can choose a breakout room. Here’s a link on how to enable the rooms. You could give all the grown ups a clue, they all go to a separate room and the kids need to bounce around gathering clues to win a prize. Doesn’t need to be kids/grown ups of course. I turned 43 today and would never say no to a treasure hunt.
White board fun
A clever artist in one of my training sessions devised a game of Snake on the zoom whiteboard. Snake, the old nokia phone game is dear to my heart. At one point when I was just starting out as a participatory arts freelance type (i.e. significantly underemployed), I completed snake. Yes, that’s right… I played it so much I got to a place where I filled the entire screen with snake before I died. What a claim to fame! Anyway, I digress.
So you all pick a colour and pen, and start to draw a line and if you bump into anyone else’s line, you’re out. It needs to be treated lightly as the zoom delay means you will inadvertedly be out frequently, so one for a giggle and not for the seriously competitive!
Those of a more determined-to-win disposition should do a bit of whiteboard Pictionary. The quiz master can give them their word in a private chat, and then they draw whilst others guess. It’s really hard to draw well on that whiteboard (unless you’ve got a fancy stylus), so it’s also quite amusing. However, two amazing beadworkers did manage to achieve "Lobster Bisque" at my virtual bead retreat in September, which I’m still chuckling about.
Use what you’ve got
The little rectangles on gallery view with everyone’s cheery Christmas faces are a lovely thing. Yes, of course it would be a thousand times better to be in the same space hugging these folk, but if that’s not safe, then make hay with what we have. The rectangles can now be reordered, so you can still do the Christmas singalong with different parts, get everyone to reorder the right way, record it and you have a marvellous muppet show-esque video to share forever. Musical challenges of finding something in your home to make music with (everyone has a glass they could try the weird rim singing thing, or even a pan and a spoon) and scare everyone’s neighbours with the racket that ensues.
The rectangle also provides a perfect screen for a Christmas themed Generation Game conveyor belt. That’s one my alter ego, Tricia Devine, played at the Animas Christmas Party last week. Find some cheesy game show music on t’internet, share your computer sound, then pass a series of baubles across the screen. Shove everyone into teams in break out rooms immediately after where they need to remember all the baubles.
Then there’s parlour games
A firm favourite in this house is Sausages. I have an inkling that it’s loved so much because I’m rubbish at it, which the kids think is brilliant. One person takes a turn and everyone else asks them questions. They need to answer every question with the word "sausages" without smiling or laughing. The winner is the person who says the most sausages without cracking up. Questions can start easy like "what's your name?" But if someone is good at it you can ramp up the questions "what does Boris Johnson comb his hair with?". If you think some people might feel too pressured to come up with questions you could be the question master and think of some fiendish ones in advance. My youngest managed to destroy an alright run for me with the question “What does Nicola Sturgeon put in her shoes to make her a bit taller?”.
Just a minute would work well too, but you could reduce down the difficulty by playing the Yes No game if that works better. Simply the aim is to not say yes or no and you’re timed for how long it could go on.
Have a staring contest. Do a spot the difference with your zoom background. Tell each other bad cracker jokes. Get complicated and attempt to play Harry Potter Cluedo with zoom participants (that’s in our plans with my Mum who can’t be with us). Go back to basics and have a silly faces competition, after all, what all kids (and some bigger kids like me) really want to do when they can see themselves on screen is do their best chimp impression or silly face, might as well make it a thing!
Whatever you chose to do, I suppose the ideas above are a way of me saying, there’s always a way to bring a little light into the darkness. It is grim, but it will pass and the more we connect with others and laugh together, the easier it’ll be to get through this. Merry Christmas lovelies.