Phil Okwedy – Stories by Phone blog

We’ve been so excited to see so many storytelling projects moving online, and the wealth of performance work and projects currently taking place in virtual storyspace. But what about people who don’t have access to the internet? How do we keep working with these groups during lockdown, many of whom are isolated and at risk?

Working in collaboration with PeopleSpeakUp and storyteller Phil Okwedy, we are supporting this Llanelli-based organisation as they trial new ways of connecting with older people by sharing and exchanging stories over the phone.

We’ve asked Phil to share with us how the project is going…

How do you like to digest a story? Are you primarily a listener? Or, someone who might close their eyes the better to savour the words or see the story in your minds-eye? Or, is it physical presence and connection that is most important to you?

Before lockdown such questions would have seemed forced, if not false, to me. After all, we were all in the same room back then, able to access story using all our senses, as and when we wished.

But during the first few weeks of Stories by Phone – a project which uses a mixture of individual old-tech phone calls with some participants and small group Zoom sessions with others – these were a few of the questions I found myself thinking about.

Recalling my own childhood and the rich aural experience of Listen with Mother on the radio – Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin… – I worried that our leap to embrace video calling might, in fact, be a backward step when it comes to storytelling.

I started to convince myself that it is better to mimic that radio experience of having just the voice to focus on during a phone call rather than what I saw as the distractions offered by Zoom: Where do you look when you want to make eye-contact?  What is that picture on your wall? Those books on your shelf?

However, it seems that so far my questions and worries have been forced, even if they are not exactly false, as they have not been shared by the participants.

By whatever medium they have received the stories, to date they have all led to further conversation & connection and all have reported that they have enjoyed them, valued them and are hungry for more.

Like the stories themselves, the listeners have turned out be very adaptable. One participant receiving phone calls reports she values the space they offer for her to visualise the story without distraction and that it helps her to bring similar stories to mind. On the other hand, some in the Zoom groups say they really value the sense of connection they feel from being in the same virtual room, and that the stories are richer for being able to experience the physicality of them.

So, no matter how we might prefer to digest a story, it would seem we adapt to circumstance and value what the particular medium has to offer.

Except, of course, like the stories themselves, it isn’t as simple as that because in one of the Zoom groups, a participant digested the whole story without ever glancing at the screen but stretched out, with eyes closed, in perfect bliss.

Phil Okwedy – June 2020

Phil Okwedy website

People Speak Up



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