Thoughts About Celebrating Storytelling in the Virtual World

It’s been four and a half months since sheltering-in-place began, and within that time, I’ve had experience of both taking part in putting together virtual events and attending virtual events. Enough time has passed to where I have a general opinion of them and how they are conducted; particularly in the case of events where the celebration of storytelling is involved.

For instance, last week I watched several of the virtual panels put together for Comic-Con @ Home. Never had I expected to find myself a. attend Comic-Con for free and b. attend more panels than I did when I attended Comic-Con in person four years ago. I enjoyed all the panels I tuned in for. They were all great and fun to watch. The fact that you can watch a majority of them on YouTube whenever you want is great for those who were unable to watch them at the time they went public.

My only complaint about the experience is the fact that all of these panels were pre-recorded. Not a single one of them was done live, taking away the element of interaction between panelists and audiences. Usually with most panels, there is room near the end for audience members to ask the panelists questions. With the case of one panel who gathered questions from fans ahead of recording, none of the others did anything to compensate for that vital element of what makes a good panel.

I don’t know if the arrangement was due to lack of time on the organizer’s end, but I don’t think lack of resources have anything to do with it. The decision was made early enough to cancel the in-person convention to where I believe they could have had livestreams of, at least, some of the panels. It just felt strange to take a Friday off from work, just to watch a bunch of panels that I really could have watched whenever I wanted.

My thoughts transcend virtual events that aren’t exclusive to ones I’ve either been involved in or attended. It also goes to events I tried to attend too. Just this past week, I tried getting tickets to a few films that are part of a virtual program for a film festival. This film festival – which shall remain nameless – has in-person programming going on, but that’s all because it’s held in a country where the number of COVID-19 cases is primarily sparse compared to here in the U.S. As it turned out, I couldn’t get tickets to the virtual program because I do not live in the country said film festival is taking place in.

That right there makes no sense to me. This film festival is located in a pretty small country. Why create a virtual program if you’re only going to limit it to people who reside there, rather than use this as an opportunity to draw in the largest audience possible (that audience being, well, the world)? Wouldn’t it also make sense to give people internationally a chance to check out their programming, when in a non-pandemic world, it would be nearly impossible to do so unless you happen to be in the country during that time?

As you can see, when it comes to how these virtual events are being held, there is obviously a lot of room for improvement. While the ultimate goal of these events is for people to virtually come together to celebrate storytelling, I believe the fact of the matter is that no matter how a virtual event is executed, nothing is the same as having it in person. Nothing will beat having a room full of audience members, watching panelists speak in-person, and ask them burning questions near the end of time. Nothing will ever come close to sitting in a movie theater full of people, watching one of several films programmed for a film festival.

It’s so funny that many of us have ultimately had to learn how to have such events online, even though many of us were already doing so before the pandemic and the technology to do so has existed for quite some time now. I think it just goes to show that regardless of what generation you are a part of or how tech savvy you are, nothing will ever beat the celebration of storytelling than by having them in the flesh. My hope is that by this time next year, that norm can at last resume.

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