Real people reporting from the real world: COVID Collections, a short film online at SkirtsAfire

Carol Powder, COVID Collections, SkirtsAfire Festival. Photo by BB Collective.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

As the pandemic grinds on, don’t you find it becomes harder and harder to imagine watching the inevitable outbreak of solo confessional COVID-inspired monologue shows in our collective future? You can conjure them in your mind’s eye. My Personal Lockdown Diary And How I Got Really Depressed: The Play. My Downer Relationship With Zoom: The One-Person Musical.  365 Endless Days And Nights In My Apartment: An Exploration (in detail) Of The Inner Pandemic Labyrinth.

God give us theatre audiences fortitude. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the inspirational Guardian piece on 25 artists who learned to play an instrument during the pandemic. And it was probably quite upbeat.

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INSTEAD, have a peek at the short (25-minute) film that premiered at the  SkirtsAfire Festival, and remains online there through March 31. It’s called COVID Collections, directed by Annette Loiselle. In it, a diverse quartet of “story collectors” have gathered a fascinating  ethnically and professionally diverse assortment of real-life people, all but one non-artists, who relate something of their experiences of a trying year.

Videographer Katie Hudson captures them in their homes, without their masks on, so to speak. And there’s something movingly unfiltered, and in that sense un-artful, in what they have to say about their lives. They don’t muse; they don’t annotate. They simply report.

“This is some sort of test, right?” says one. “Of humanity, right?”

What is it like to be them, day to day? We don’t usually get to meet them, much less find out. There’s a front-line health worker who comes home after every shift and throws all her clothes in the laundry. An empathetic immigrant who works in a long-term care home (“it felt like a tsunami!”), and her daughter, yearning for romance and venturing into online dating. To see them dancing in their living room will warm your heart.

There’s an Indigenous Elder who talks about being surrounded by tragedy and death on the Maskawacis reserve, where the pandemic toll is disproportionately high, related as it is to poverty and crowding. There’s an overworked respiratory therapist, and an empathetic high school teacher who leads her school’s GSA (gay-straight alliance). The kind of online sharing and bonding that supports us can be too risky for the kids who need it most, kids with a secret.

Indigenous drummer Carol Powder, COVID Collections, SkirtsAfire Festival. Photo by BB Collective.

There’s a queer artist whose new life bloomed when they sewed original masks for their friends;  it’s blossomed into a creative career they can’t wait to share during market season. There are thoughts about what is means to be a racialized young person in Edmonton, “an innocence lost.” There’s an Indigenous drummer by an outdoor fire wearing a T-shirt that says “The Best Things In Life Are Cree.”

One vignette is powerfully cautionary. Loiselle’s sister Rachel O’Brien “came through” COVID in the fall, only to discover she hasn’t come through it at all. Every day she feels OK is a day of hope, quickly followed by setback days when she can scarcely breathe. She’s had to quit her job. Complacent people, take note.

One, the only vignette from a theatre artist, is a story of astonishing resilience from actor/writer Lebogang Disele. On a trip home to Botswana with her husband and kids last March, she became separated from them because of sudden travel restrictions. She’s still there; they are still here. Meanwhile, visas have run out. What will she do? She doesn’t know.

The segues between vignettes are works of visual art, assembled by SkirtsAfire curator Stephanie Florence. And there’s original music by Binaifer Kapadia.

None of the people we meet have found the time easy. But all of them have found it a kind of limbo, “an in-between place” that will end. And since they are spokespersons reporting from the real world, this powerful belief feels cheering, and full of possibility.

Find Covid Collections at skirtsafire.com.

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