The kitchen smells delicious. In a cook-along with the Yard’s resident chef Zoe Adjonyoh, we’re making the Ghanaian dish red red (stewed black-eyed beans). It’s one of the first events of Yard Online, the day-long festival from the Hackney Wick theatre. Adjonyoh, founder of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, is a friendly head chef. This is not an easy time, she reassures us, sprinkling some salt into the bubbling pan and forgiving us for using olive oil instead of palm. “Everyone’s just pulling through.”
Yard Online uses what artists have to hand, not just to recreate what we had on our stages before lockdown, but to consider what we could have afterwards. From a discussion of the future of theatre to a post-apocalyptic dance performance, the festival probes at how we watch theatre online, together. With interactive elements and an after-party on video game Animal Crossing, it also tests ways of engaging digitally, in an effort to fill the bubbly pint-sized hole left from the lack of chat, drink and dance that a night out at the Yard normally guarantees.
The team’s problem-solving skills don’t end at how we socialise: when Zoom temporarily goes down across the globe, they deal with it impressively, swiftly switching two of the shows to a new platform, guiding audiences to the right place without fuss.
The shows themselves are a mixture of gentle reassurance, wild physical exertion, and playful audience interaction. Midway through Stacy Makishi’s one-on-one phone call, The Promise, I find myself – at her instruction – sitting on the toilet thinking about grief. On the phone and around the house, she guides a contemplation of all that we’ve lost – people, jobs, certainty. It’s a gentle, buoyant little piece, even if it is a little embarrassing to be overheard repeating affirmations into your fridge by family members not involved in the festival.
In Christopher Green’s No Show, Green takes his time to appear on screen, and when he does, he’s reluctant to perform. We, as his sidekicks, have to help him make the show instead. It’s a somewhat frustrating piece that plays with the idea of what theatre really means, but it excels where many shows fail by managing to use Zoom for genuinely fun and collaborative audience interaction.
In a darker turn, Marikiscrycrycry’s solo dance piece, I’ll Be Lucina, creates beauty from fear. The layout feels like a video game; half the screen filled with movement, half with a scroll of text. Their ripped black costume looks like a bird whose feathers have been torn apart. They tell us about witnessing a murder. It’s set at the end of the world but it’s hard to disconnect from stories today of black bodies being brutalised, and the urgency to hide vibrates through the screen. With a hospital pulse and rustling piano, the sound design by Joana Pope + nineishuman anchors the sweeping choreography. It’s a short, beautiful piece, the end as lonely as it is abrupt.
This festival, like many at the moment, is run on a pay-what-you-can basis. One of the key discussions in the morning’s panel was post-pandemic financial stability, both for freelance artists and institutions. We have to hope that the industry can find a way through this that will support artists, encourage accessibility, and promote risk-taking work while making enough money to keep going. While that’s being figured out, let’s be grateful for the stories pulling us through, and know that red red is very good with a fried egg the morning after.