The Iridescent Robot Storytelling Club, a virtual international artist meetup series facilitated by Almonte-based artists’ space Curious & Kind Inc., is a great example of a creative effort to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to gather virtually as a community and share stories.
When the first case of COVID-19 came to Ottawa, Danielle K.L. Grégoire, owner of Curious & Kind, immediately made plans to close down the physical venue. “I didn’t wait for the restrictions to shutter Curious & Kind. The day we got our first case in Ottawa, I wanted to lead by example,” explained Grégoire, who also facilitates the Iridescent Robot Storytelling Club (IRSC).
Grégoire explained over email how the idea for the Iridescent Robot Storytelling Club came into place: “When COVID-19 arrived here, I’d already been attending shows that had moved online in Seattle, like The Magic Hat. I watched how having a virtual community was helping with people’s mental health, with my own mental health.”
“I wanted to create a space like that,” Grégoire continued. “A weekly, consistent space for people to come listen, and to tell stories. I wanted to make sure it focused on resilience and hope and laughter, so that we had a space [and] a way for the world to connect and recharge for all the work we have to do in our own lives, for the revolution, for the daily grind of parenting, working from home or on the front lines. I wanted to pay performers who’d been losing their in-person gigs. I wanted to connect friends and performers across borders, to bring us together. The Iridescent Robot was created after a month of research and trying to gather performers, and making sure that there were safety protocols in place.”
“I wanted to create a space like that. A weekly consistent space for people to come listen, and to tell stories.”
I’ve had the pleasure of watching a few of the club’s shows, which run on Thursday evenings via Zoom at 8PM ET. Each show features several storytellers, all sharing true and personal stories from their own lives. I’m impressed by the wide range of stories, from schoolyard bullies to hiking adventures to cherished moments with one’s children—sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes both at the same time.
The storytellers are skilled, and although the stories feel heartwarming and uplifting, listeners are also left with the sense that the stories have multiple layers to reflect on. It reminds me of when families and friends would sit around a campfire or fireplace and tell stories as the main form of evening entertainment, as well as valuable inter-generational knowledge transfer.
Dawn Xanklin, an Ottawa-based comedian, is a repeat performer at the club. “Performing for the Iridescent Robot Storytelling Club has been a fantastic experience,” Xanklin said. “I encourage storytellers—at every level—to share in this wonderfully supportive space. As a performer, I especially love sharing space with tellers whose experiences may be different than mine. One of the things I love about this show is that it attracts storytellers with diverse experiences and backgrounds. Everyone has a story.”
It was interesting to hear some of Grégroire’s observations about running these shows virtually, as opposed to in person: “I like the virtual format because it is more intimate, and there is less stress for me, personally. Gathering a whole bunch of people in a space is wonderful and lovely, but it tends to be expensive and folks often feel like they have to stay for the entire show. Virtually, people can pop in and out, they can use the restroom, they can eat food they don’t have to pay for. The IRSC is by donation only, so even if you don’t have cash, you can come.”
In fact, Grégoire has noticed how folks who may not normally attend in-person shows have been able to participate, including people in rural areas without transportation, those dealing with chronic illness, and parents without access to childcare.
“I’ve had folks come who never made it out to a show before, or those who might normally cancel last minute, they come to this show because it means just needing access to a computer or a phone, not needing to leave their bed or kitchen or room (I produce the show from my bed each week), and the folks attending can choose to listen like a podcast, or show their faces for the benefit of the tellers. It’s a low-key, gentle place for people to come hang out,” said Grégoire.
“I’ve had folks come who never made it out to a show before, or those who might normally cancel last minute, they come to this show because it means just needing access to a computer or a phone, not needing to leave their bed or kitchen or room.”
Xanklin had her own insights on the differences between performing virtually and in-person. “As someone used to sharing a story in front of a live audience, it felt strange to not hear laughter or applause because the audience is muted. At a live show, looking from face to face to see reaction happens quickly and naturally; all it takes is a glance away from the mic. In my first virtual show, it took me a few minutes for me to get used to scanning the Brady Bunch–style boxes on my screen for the facial reactions of the audience. I learned to scan the gallery for the more obvious—and less subtle—supportive reactions instead, like people waving their hands or snapping or bending over laughing. Emoticons are fantastic, too!”
The Iridescent Robot Storytelling Club will continue to run weekly shows for the rest of July, and then will go on hiatus for August. Grégoire hopes the club will keep running in some format in the fall. For now, Xanklin will be performing again at this week’s show on Thursday evening, and she gave me a teaser: “I’ll be sharing a personal story about what ‘beginning again’ looks like for my family and for me. It’s a story about what happens when you get to a place that looks like the end of the road.”