If there’s one thing most people have been missing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s human connection.
With physical distancing restrictions in effect for the vast majority of the last year, it’s been difficult to have any kind of deep, authentic conversations with anyone who isn’t a member of your immediate household. Vancouver’s Zee Zee theatre is looking to change that this month, as they move their popular “human library” initiative online for the next four weekends.
Newly titled Virtual Humanity, the annual initiative functions pretty much exactly how it sounds: people can “check out” a human for candid, one-on-one conversations to learn about personal topics like their life experiences, culture and beliefs.
“This past year has been one of both intense isolation and frisson. There has been a severe lack of face-to-face interactions that are not fraught or functional,” explained Virtual Humanity producer Jordy Matheson. “Virtual Humanity creates a digital space that allows for a kind of open conversation and learning. The kind which can be difficult to come by in the intense and polarized online world.”
Until March 28, audience members can select a title from the collection of more than 20 “Virtual Humans”—typically opting for “something that intrigues or confounds them,” according to a release. The subsequent conversations will be deeply personal in nature, taking place in 20-minute increments over Zoom. During these 20-minute “loans,” the human selected will share the true, personal story alluded to in their “title,” all in an effort to break down biases, shatter preconceived notions and build empathy.
The new and returning titles available for borrowing this year include Perspective of a Mixed Man, Indigi-Queer Identities, Two Spirit and Beyond, and I am not a scammer, among others.
The concept of a human library was first created in Copenhagen in 2000, before spreading to more than 70 countries around the globe. It was initially designed as a strategy to end violence, by narrowing the ideological gaps that divide people.
“A great deal of division is created from people not engaging with each other and really listening,” said Matheson. “What makes this project so powerful— radical, even—is that we’re asked to face our differences straight on, literally. There is no turning a blind eye, no resting in apathy. It’s two people sharing something intimate as a means to incrementally change the world.”
Now in its eighth year, the Vancouver-based experience is co-curated by Sam Chimes and Bunny (Daisy Joe), in partnership with the Vancouver Public Library, and this year features a particular emphasis on representation from BIPOC individuals. One benefit of the digital format is the initiative’s newfound ability to welcome participants from outside of the Lower Mainland, to participate as both virtual humans and audience.
When: Saturdays and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. from March 6 to 28, 2021
Where: Online, via Zoom
Cost: Reservations are $5, with organizers asking participants to “pay what it’s worth” after the show