Have you seen Josh Gad reading children’s books on his twitter account? Or maybe you’ve watched Betty White reading her favourite, or you’ve tuned in to hear David Walliams reading from his World’s Worst Children collection? It’s not just stars doing this either, authors and illustrators are making waves with something social media is calling #operationstorytime.
We’re living in strange times that have really thrown our creative lives, and yet, quick problem solving and improvisation are part of the standard performer’s toolkit. As I social distance at home with my daughter, I’ve seen so many resources thrown her way, which is a relief as I hear that I’ll be potentially homeschooling her for term 2 and 3. These are coming in various forms, many prescribed curriculum-based, looking like what you can find on Pinterest any average non-bunker-down-day. However, amidst these are creatives going out of their way to reach out to young imaginations; making sure kids aren’t missing their daily dose of inventiveness. There are dance and orchestra, and even live streams of musicals, but the highlights for me have been the book readings. I’m bookmarking them on Instagram, Facebook and web browsers. I’m scheduling appointments with live readings from IGTV. And I’m straight out watching them without my daughter.
The level of performance ranges from that you would expect of big names like Gad, White and Walliams to those just learning new technologies (who else now has Zoom on their resume?) so they can read to us from their homes. Let’s get this straight, we’re not talking audiobooks here. There’s no reading in your PJs, the visuals are on! Readers who are beloved performers, writers and illustrators of beloved books, invite us into their previously private spaces and generously share with our children (and us) the magic of storytelling.
As performing arts lovers, we know that storytelling is at the heart of everything we love – drama, comedy, opera, ballet, dance – there is no theatre without the story. But what if the theatres are closed? What if you can’t perform right now? Operation Storytime offers a new way forward. And that’s just what we need right now.
Young people have always been our future audiences, and while we might be feeling helpless and overwhelmed, this is the perfect storm for engaging young people in story telling. Operation Storytime offers a contemporary format of delivering stories to little minds at home (with parents in need of a time out) with performers doing the readings, whether they be famous like Josh or Betty, or favourite authors like David Walliams, or even new faces like performers trying new skills. Some stories are readily available, delivered right to their iPad, others have scheduled times, just like seeing a show at the theatre. When the theatre doors are open again, little appetites will be hungry for more storytelling and we can continue the conversations with them from the stage.
I don’t know how many of you are parents and have had to try your hand at reading Dr Seuss at the end of a long day to a wriggly child (hand me my Helpmann already), but I hope many of you have fond memories of being read to. Maybe by a family member, maybe a teacher or a babysitter, or even quite recently by Josh Gad. If you have experienced being either the reader or the audience, you would have to agree that there is an art to it. The more art in the storytelling, the more the the story comes to life and the audience revel in the reading. It’s indulgent and inspirational, but there’s not just inspiration here for little ones, but for performers too. When was the last time you had to do a reading? What if you had to do it from the confines of your home? I’d love to know which book you would choose. What could you do with your reading to make it unforgettable? Let me know in the comments below.
Prolific writer Mac Barnett has created Mac’s Bookclub. Here you can join him in a (wine) glass of milk and your most comfy tuxedo. He has a nook against his bookshelf and is joined by his trusty hound and special guests. It’s inviting and fun, but also reassuring in its routine and familiarity as you check back in.
How would you go airing your vulnerabilities? What if you’ve never live-streamed before? Would you just jump in, or maybe you’d try it out a bit first? I followed the journey of author-illustrator Emily Gravatt, who over the course of a few days and the process of trial and error landed a successful method. I was so proud to see her finally reading her book Tidy from her couch with her adorable, but interfering pooch Dilys, with her head in the shot.
Thyra Heder has a different approach, while you can watch her reading her books you can also check out her performances too. Heder is an author-illustrator who created the children’s book How Do You Dance? She’s a regular visitor to schools, asking tiny students How do they dance? and encouraging them to perform their moves. A frequent poster on social media, she steps up the pace, inviting people to suggest great dance tracks and then sharing herself dancing along, it’s not choreographed and she often narrates the dance. You can also follow a tutorial to make a zebra mask and then dance in that. If you want.
These creatives share insight into their private spaces; studios, kitchens, couches, pets and roommates are entrusted to us. The sharing is also uncompensated, well, financially anyway. We know right now that times are tough for the arts industry. That’s what makes these performances so generous. They are inspiring the future generations and keeping them connected. They might be aimed at kids, but you just never know, you might find the inspirational material here for your next production; or the salve to help you escape into another reality, as only the best kind of storytelling can.