Are Virtual Events Even Fun? I Joined 5 to Find Out Myself

While bored at home with my dogs, I decided to give online events a chance.
July 9, 2020, 11:30am
Bored at home with my dog Iggy. Photo: Miran Miyano

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.

After my university went fully virtual due to COVID-19, I had to pack all my things, say goodbye to my friends, and fly back from Boston to Singapore. Up until recently, I was just quarantined at home, bored.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve watched a lot of Korean dramas, learned how to cook the perfect karaage, became closer to my two dogs Iggy and Taka, grew taller (according to my mum), and have done an excessive amount of online shopping. I wanted to do something else.

I was under the impression that most events had been cancelled due to the pandemic until one day, as I was scrolling through Eventbrite, I realised that a lot of events were still happening. Online. From LGBTQ celebrations to virtual clubbing at Marquee, there were lots to attend.

Eventually, I got tired of just reading about these virtual events and decided to try them out for myself. I was sceptical. How exactly can an online theatrical production be as good as an actual real-life show? Is it even possible to go to an art museum online? What if I don’t enjoy partying from home?

For this experiment to work, I knew I had to join a variety of events. Thankfully, there were a lot to choose from. From an interactive murder mystery via Zoom, to a virtual Star Wars-themed run, I was ready to attend them all from the comforts of my cozy living room. Here’s what I thought.

Supernatural Murder Mystery

My first event was Murder At Mandai Camp: A Supernatural Murder Mystery, an interactive theatre through Zoom. I honestly had no idea what to expect. An interactive theatre? A murder mystery? I wasn’t sure how fun it would be.

In the show, which ran for three nights from June 26 to 28, the audience took the role of lead investigators. Our mission: to identify the vicious culprit of a gruesome murder.

The show was inspired by army myths and urban legends. The story starts when a young recruit is found dead with nothing more than his disemboweled corpse as a clue, during an outfield exercise. Soldiers are suspicious of Lieutenants Haziq and Tan who also disappeared during the middle of the exercise.

The theatre company sent us a Zoom link, where they performed, and a link to a Telegram chat, where they gave us clues to crack the case. There was also another chat group where the audience discussed who they thought the culprit was. In the end, we said who we thought it was on the Zoom call. But we were all wrong. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but let's just say the right answer was unexpected.

The show was such a unique experience, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was also cool that participants could choose to have cocktails by laut collective delivered to their homes.

“This is our first theatrical event that we have ever hosted and planned. It’s unique and a lot of people have expressed excitement for our event,” the show's producer and art director Derrick Chew told me.

Chong Tze Chien, the writer and director, said that the pandemic has pushed creatives to think differently about art.

“[T]he question ‘what is theatre?’ has been going around especially due to this pandemic. Are we able to replicate the same thing as real-life productions?,” he asked.

Instead of simply broadcasting their show online, they chose to adapt to their new medium. Lead actor Bright Ong, who played Lieutenant Tan, said that Zoom calls could be tiring to watch because they lack the energy and human connection you would get in a theatre. The show's interactive nature solved this. They also added lines to the script that would not have been present in a conventional show.

“There has been a norm to digitalise many things. However, I believe the feeling and emotions which are born from attending a theatrical production can’t be simply replaced. But I also do think that virtual productions can create a new sense of emotion and feelings that again, can’t be replaced,” Ong said.

The show was very engaging and was written and produced well. I had a lot of fun on the Telegram chat, where the audience connected and hypothesised, made jokes, and got to know each other while watching the show.

Virtual DJ Party

I also went to an online party organised by Singaporean party collective Ice Cream Sundays and Singapore-based record label Darker Than Wax. They took their collaboration Open Door Online to Twitch on Sunday, June 28.

For six hours, they featured performances by Ice Cream Sundays and Darker Than Wax musicians.

I am personally a big fan of rap (Korean included), R&B, and Japanese rock music. While the music during the event was very different (mostly electronic music), I actually had a good time. Six hours was a bit too long for me, so I tuned in at 2 PM and 6 PM.

A performance that I loved was one by Toppings and Kaye. Toppings showed off his DJ skills while accompanied by Kaye’s EYI (an electronic instrument similar to a saxophone). The combination of these two sounds synthesising was unique and absolutely great to listen to.

Overall, it was a great event with good vibes, and I wish I did play the music for six hours while I was chilling at home.

Online Art Exhibitions

One of the most affected by social distancing policies are museums and galleries, which have been forced to close doors to guests. I wondered how artwork could be displayed and translated online. Alto Mondo, a creative space in Manila, did so by coming out with four virtual art exhibitions featuring Filipino artists.

The virtual exhibitions were accompanied by background music, which allowed me to further immerse into the world of each artwork. My personal favourite was the Meanderings II by Jim Orencio exhibition, as the artworks mirrored the beauty and fragility of nature. I loved it so much I visited the website several times.

The exhibitions are available on Altro Mondo’s Facebook and Instagram until July 19.

“I think the form of virtual exhibition will continue on after this pandemic. People will be able to view and purchase artwork virtually regardless of where they are, more easily. Art will be more accessible. Art is becoming digital,” Altro Mondo Artistic Director Remigio David told me.

“The only worry about doing a virtual exhibition, however, would probably be internet connection. We were scared that the fluidity of the images would be interrupted because networks in the Philippines can be very weak. For now, it has been going pretty smoothly though.”

For me personally, everything went smoothly. The four galleries were all very beautiful, each with its own style. David told me that he hopes to create more virtual galleries of international artists, which I would love to see.

Strangely, I enjoyed the virtual art exhibitions more than those I've attended in real life. Most of the time, popular sections and artworks are filled with people who want to take pictures, which I don't really like. But virtually, I got to see each artwork at my own pace, without being bothered.

Poetry Seminar

I haven't been going to classes for three months but I suddenly found myself in a poetry seminar on June 18.

The Academia Education Group in Singapore hosted the Migrant Worker Poetry Webinar: Literature and Representation via Zoom, which was all about migrant workers' lives in Singapore, and its connection to poetry.

Literature specialist Sarah Lim started by explaining the history and experience of migrant workers in Singapore and followed this up with poetry that reflected their plight. The Zoom call was filled with young students, who are passionate about the intersection of literature and real-life issues.

The seminar provided a really thorough explanation of migrant workers in Singapore. This included examples in media of migrant workers being exploited. There were also discussions on how racist behaviours became more apparent due to the coronavirus outbreak in migrant worker dorms.

“There's not much space for us to talk about the migrant worker issues in Singapore in very constructive ways. I believe literature is a safe space as it allows us to voice out issues that we normally wouldn’t, which is why we decided that a poetry event would be suitable to discuss these social matters,” Lim told me.

This event made me more aware of the effects literature has on people. Literature, especially poetry, allows us to convey our thoughts and emotions towards issues that are often sensitive, and can change people's hearts and thoughts. Overall, it was a great educational event that I am happy I attended.

Star Wars Virtual Run

I had no idea what to expect when I signed myself up for a Star Wars-themed virtual run. How do you even hold a run online? Well, that’s what I tried to find out.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, a Star Wars Virtual Run launched on June 15.

All I had to do was register online through their website, where runners choose to pledge their allegiance to the light or dark side. I chose the light side of the force because Yoda is an absolute king. Afterwards, I had to decide to run 5.4km (May the Fourth!) or 40km. The runs can take place anytime and you can do as many runs as you want to reach your goal.

I chose 5.4km because I have a hard time running for even more than five minutes. I had the option to run (Han)-solo (See what I did there?) or with a friend, to reach my goal, but I've decided to do it all on my own. Once I complete the run, a medal will be sent to my house.

To track my distance and time, I used the MOVE by LIV3LY running tracker, which is available on the AppStore. You can also use Apple HealthKit, MapMyRun, and Google Fit.

I'm trying to meet my 5.4km goal by September 30, when the virtual run closes its curtains. I've promised myself that I will crush those 5.4km and receive my medals by then. The event has been a great motivation for me to stay fit during quarantine.

So what did I find out about virtual events? While we can never capture the same feelings, emotions, and insights from live events online, I've found that virtual events can hold their own once we see them from what they are. To me, they're a great way to make usually exclusive events more approachable, turn local events into global ones, and bring niche topics to a wider audience.

They're great. And if you haven't tried joining one, maybe it's time you do. Especially if you're always bored at home, like me.

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