Strange Times Made Us Find Something New

In Social Media Theatre Koronankohottamat there are 200 artists, and scores of them write for a living. It all began with covid-19, longing and Hamlet.

In March last year everyday life went out of joint. Events turned virtual, we practiced social distancing and everybody over 70 was was put in quarantine. Theatres closed their doors, gigs were canceled and new ones were not booked. Increasingly, we found ourselves alone. But in that desperate situation something new and unexpected was born: a virtual theatre project that became a phenomenon.

The project had a spontaneous start when theatre director and playwright Juha Jokela had the idea of a monologue video based on plays by William Shakespeare. Koronahamlet Remix, with its 38 performers, was the start of Social Media Theatre Koronankohottamat. Professionally the members were actors, directors, and playwrights, but they also included a dancer, an editor-in-chief, a chief specialist, a foley-artist, a kindergarten child and even a cat. One of them was playwright Anna Krogerus, who at the start of the isolation had found out how much people miss each other.

Inspired by Jokela, and with his permission to use the name, Krogerus continued to run the theatre along the same lines. She wrote a Facebook post calling for people to create poetry videos. In that difficult time she wanted to bring artists together, and in social media things could be written and performed despite covid-19 limitations. As the theme of the first video series she gave 19 Cases of Forbidden Touch. The number 19 she took from the virus. Those were the only guidelines from her, but now it would be possible to explore the strange times with theatrical performances. All videos should be filmed within three days, and each group would consist of a director, an actor and a writer. The performer would decide the subject.

The huge amount of interest was a surprise for Krogerus. In a short time the Facebook post gathered more that 800 comments, both from friends and total strangers. She was approached by screenwriters, authors, directors, actors, dancers, musicians, technical staff and producers. Krogerus randomly assigned the participants into virtual groups of 3–5; in most cases they did not know each others beforehand.

There were a total of 34 poetry videos made, and the public response was overwhelming. After the project had got off the ground, it continued with a focus on different art forms. In addition to poetry, the videos featured music, visual arts and dance. The second series, 19 Cases of Touch by Song and Then Some featured 48 music videos. By August there were also 12 Cases of Touch by Dance and 13 Cases of Touch by Painting.


A Glimmer of Hope

The number of 3–5 minute long videos eventually reached 103. Most of them were made virtually, over the web, some even outside the borders of Finland. In YouTube they have been viewed over 150 000 times. This is equal to the audience of the seventh most popular theatre in Finland in 2018.

Of the videos about fifty are based on a text, and the authors are usually speaking in first person. In works from spring 2020 melancholy and anxiety are commonplace. Sometimes the mood is even melodramatic. In videos from the summer there are glimpses of hope. Mostly the artists are focusing on the same questions. Some prevalent themes are personal welfare and that of their loved ones, loss, the unpredictability of life, loneliness and restrictions. Also love, dreams, seizing the moment, happiness, touch and hope for a better future have been choice topics.

Popular response indicates that viewers have been delighted by the videos, especially by the introduction of theatre into their everyday lives. Also the special attention given to poetry was seen as particularly positive.

When the artists and creators were asked for feedback, they replied that the project gave them something meaningful to do during the difficult covid-19 year. The experience brought together creative people previously unknown to another and taught many of them them new ways of working.


Virtual Art Is Alive and Well

The covid-19 has brought a huge amount of performances available for home viewing, and virtual art is by no means a new invention. Nevertheless, theatre as a live performance is increasingly available over the Internet. Enabled by the web, there have been even leaps over the ocean. The Scandinavian American Theater Company recently commissioned works dealing with life after the pandemic from Nordic playwrights. The series On Future Stories by a New York theatre company includes Storyless, a work by the playwright Saaramaria Kuittinen. The group behind this piece of sound art has already started planning new projects to be created by virtual means. The covid-19 year also spurred Kuittinen to record the podcast Perhe ilman rajoja (A Family without Borders) in ten episodes.

All 19 touches video series by Koronankohottamat are available on their YouTube channel. Some of the videos shall be archived by the Finnish Theatre Museum as a part of their project of documentation and preservation of performing arts, which attempts to capture the special circumstances described by the covid-19 pandemic from the performing arts perspective. Also the Finnish National Library shall as archive content as a special project of the Finnish Web Archive. In October, Koronankohottamat was wrapped up with a public viewing of the videos at the Theatre Museum. The event also included a panel discussion.

The Koronankohottamat Facebook page continues as a stage for professional guest performers on demand. At present theatre company Pluckhouse is producing a series in 42 parts for the page. Meanwhile, Koronankohottamat has set up a new working group to bring theatre to many different spaces – from digital media to more traditional venues. The theatre Kehrä is exploring the accessibility and inclusion of theatre productions.


Social Media Theater Koronankohottamat


The Sixtieth Day

That’s what passes as refreshing change these days.

The sixtieth day.

First sun-rays of morning in a glass of water.

I’m still in my quiet room.

The isolation continues.

The isolation continues.

What would I do without this phone?

I went to the park. Suddenly, I stopped a taxi.

I told the driver, just for the hell of it, to take me to my summer house.

Lady, that’s a crazy idea, said the driver and sped away.

That’s what passes as refreshing change these days.

The route is always the same:

bedroom, kitchen, living room to bedroom via kitchen.

What would I do without a phone?

In the evening I think, maybe it’s OK to wander alone once in a while. To think about past and present.

To always eat the same food.

To look at the battered window frames in the building next door.

To dream about tomorrow.




Playwright and editor Elisa af Hällström writes lyrical pieces with strong female characters. At present she is working on a drama inspired by Nordic mytology and monologues. She has written the libretto for Virgin Mary Oratory, which shall premiere in Tampere in 2022. In Koronankohottamat she was a musician, writer and director as well as a member of the planning group.



Translation: Jaakko Kankaanpää


Anni Kytömäki: An Author’s Responsibility for the Environment


An author works in a field that has long been dependent on logging. Although audiobooks and e-books are on the rise while the number of printed books is diminishing, our words can not enter the consciousness of a reader without leaving a trace in the actual world, the living nature.

In 2020 there are globally approximately as much man-made materials as there are plants, both weighing about a thousand billion tonnes. The amount of plant life would be double, had not the scale of deforestation been what it has.

The human effect on our ecosystem is so great that everybody should be aware of the consequences their actions have. An author, like everybody else, eats, drinks, travels, uses electricity and buys consumer goods. In addition to the inescapable environmental impact of our modern way of life, we might consider the specific strain an author’s work puts on nature – and what could be done to alleviate it.

A book has an ecological footprint we can estimate. Perhaps the most crucial thing to know is that manufacturing a tonne of paper takes about 2.7 cubic metres of wood. If a book weights 500 grams, a print run of 10 000 copies requires five tonnes of paper, which means about 13.5 cubic metres of wood. This is equal to 45 trees measuring 20 centimetres in diameter at chest level.

A typical Finnish forest today has less that 120 cubic metres of wood per hectare. Accordingly, a print run of 100 000 copies would require slightly more than a hectare of logging. However, the wood that is turned to pulp to make paper is usually sourced from the same plots as wood for solid lumber, so in practice logging needed to make a book is distributed to a wider area than these simplified calculations would indicate.

The environmental effect of a single audiobook or e-book is hard to calculate, since such works are usually read or listened to with devices also used for other purposes. The thing to keep in mind is that apparent immateriality might still put a heavy load on the environment. Manufacturing smart devices requires a considerable amount of energy and minerals. For example, a smartphone has about 40 different ingredients, including gold and rare-earth elements. In addition, the data centres crucial to information technology and telecommunications use up huge amounts of energy; globally, before the covid-19 situation, the environmental effects of electricity production required by data centres were equal to those of air traffic. Presently they are greater.

Currently, an author  can alleviate the environmental effects of audiobooks and e-books mainly by favouring eco-friendly energy, by using any smart devices up to the end of their lifespan, and finally recycling them – and by encouraging the readers to do the same.

As to the use of wood there are more options. It is possible to negotiate with the publisher about the paper the books are printed on. An FSC certification guarantees that the forests where the wood is sourced from are not logged as intensively as others. Today, FSC certified paper is widely available.

And that’s not all that can be done to reduce the environmental footprint of a printed book. My most recent novel was printed on paper that was 50% FSC certified fibre, 50% recycled fibre. Paper that would be 100% recycled or treeless and suitable for printing books was not available in Europe. I hope this will change. Manufacturing paper from wood is a rather new invention: we have been making paper for about 5000 years, but using wood fibre for the purpose only 180 years.

The most difficult part in measuring the environmental effect of literature is assessing the way a work might shape the reader’s thought process. I would not recommend writing a novel with some message as your leading idea, but if you have things to say and find out that they are weaving nicely into the plot, don’t be afraid to take a stand.

A novel is an excellent framework where you can ponder the causes and effects of an ecological crisis, from various viewpoints and without pontificating. At best, what is read between the lines reaches out and resonates with the choices and habits of the reader – and naturally the end result is even greater when the message confirms to the reader’s own worldview.

The power of a novel might be at its strongest when the plot does not provide a ready answer. Something in the attitude, intensity or solace offered by the story just speaks out to the reader, moving and encouraging them to strive for a better future.

That is at least the effect my most powerful reading experiences I have had on me.





Kuva: Liisa Valonen


Anni Kytömäki writes books where people are a part of nature, not above it. She is the author of three novels, the most recent of which, Margarita (Gummerus 2020) claimed the prestigious Finlandia Prize for best novel.

Translation: Jaakko Kankaanpää

Electronic freedom of speech and burning books

In China, the first automatic newscaster has been deployed. Guided by artificial intelligence, the avatar learns by “watching” live videos, and repeats news input fed to it, looking amazingly lifelike. Its advantages in comparison to traditional, human newscasters reportedly include its ability to work incessantly 24/7 and react to news items immediately. According to some scientists, the growing use of AI will not put humans out of their jobs, however. Research and consulting company Gartner thinks the industry will grow into a strong employer. So far so good. What is interesting, however, is how our relationship to news sources is going to change. The newscaster has traditionally been a trusted and stable authority, almost a family member, appearing in our living room every evening. Can a robot become a familiar figure like that? And what kind of information will it disseminate?

In international meetings on the topic of human rights, you always hear the same sentence: “Look at what China is doing, because it influences the whole world.” The country has 1.4 billion inhabitants – a fifth of all the people on earth – and the question may be weightier than we tend to think here in the West. So let’s take a look.

China has invested hugely in artificial intelligence, and sees it as a major industry in the future. Investments in automation have produced many wondrous innovations, which make audiences sigh at technological events. At the same time, state control and surveillance have risen to a new, some say totalitarian level. There are tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of CCTV cameras all over the country, and they recognize your face wherever you go. Social media and smartphone communication is closely monitored. The government is about to introduce a system of social rating, which will punish citizens for “bad behaviour” e.g. by preventing them from buying travel tickets.

Control over areas populated by the Uighur minority in China is especially tight. Uighurs are not only closely monitored but also locked up in concentration camps called re-education centres. Leaked documents about those institutions contain, among others, the following sentence: “Freedom is possible only when this virus in their thinking has been destroyed.”

Censorship is also very efficient. Last summer, the search engine company Google gave up its pursuit to enter China’s big markets, because local censorship laws were too strict and heavy for its operational principles. Facebook and YouTube are forbidden. The government keeps the publishing industry under strict surveillance, and all content deemed sensitive – especially political and religious subject matter – is banned. Writers and publishers are imprisoned or just disappear, if they do not adhere to the official policy.

A few weeks ago, something widely publicized took place. The staff of a Chinese public library in Zhenyuan burned books in the street outside their premises. They then sent a report to the Chinese Library Association’s website, saying they had removed “illegal publications, religious publications, and deviant papers, books, picture books and photographs”.

A directive of the Chinese Ministry of Education stipulates that, by the end of March 2020, schools must deliver a report specifying all the authors, publishers, and ISBN numbers of books in their possession belonging to different categories of banned books, and attach a report on purging them. A world power of the digital era is still afraid of traditional books.

How far is China from us, then? Not very. Artificial intelligence imitating thought processes is feeding attitudes and atmosphere to us, too. A political consulting company called Cambridge Analytica was a background influencing force behind both the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum in Britain. The company gathered unsolicited raw information on as many as 87 million Facebook profiles, and utilized it in political marketing. The company went out of business in 2018 after the scandal was made public. But new elections are taking place all the time, and people’s voting behaviour can still be influenced by spreading lies, fears, and apathy, said Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist who publicized the scandal. “We know that Cambridge Analytica boasted of working in more than 150 elections around the world. And we know that on their trail there are many new enterprises, one of which is now working for the Trump 2020 campaign.”

We are also threatened by algorithms which strengthen simplistic arguments. They are like a mechanical form of cognitive dissonance, the conflict of attitudes and known facts one tries to balance within one’s mind. It is a lot easier to lean towards a way of thinking which is often reinforced and not too much of a challenge to the mind. The algorithm presolves our cognitive dissonance for us, and we are left thinking we make choices on the basis of unbiased information.

Digital campaigns have very tangible consequences. Hungarian nationalist party Fidesz which rose to power in the 2010 parliamentary election has made constitutional and legal changes strengthening its control over independent institutions in the country. The government led by Fidesz has started to enforce practices which hamper the activities of opposition groups, journalists, universities, and non-governmental organizations whose views are deemed unfavourable. The administration has also recently declared it wants more control on the country’s theatres, including the right to discharge individual directors at will.

In Poland, the conservative Church and the ultra-right Law and Justice Party have a strong alliance. After winning elections in 2015, the party changed the law so that the administration is able to choose top directors of public media, bypassing independent boards. The Minister of Finance

dismissed several directors and administrative boards of public radio and television stations, and installed new leaders without consulting appropriate independent bodies. Before August, more than 234 journalists in public broadcasting had been replaced, discharged or forced to resign. The media, ever more tightly in the grip of the governing party, campaigns aggressively against sexual minorities, to name but one example. Last spring in a Catholic congregation in Gdansk, a batch of “corruptive” works was burned, including fantasy literature like Harry Potter.

Last spring, a parliamentarian representing Estonian Conservative People’s Party, Ekre, demanded that the Estonian Public Broadcasting company silence journalists criticizing his party. The president of Estonian PEN, Kätlin Kaldmaa, says there has been a major shift in the manner public speaking is conducted in the country. Hate speech has become an accepted means of communication, and is implemented by the government, too.

Also in Finland, the political climate in Parliament has turned hostile, and many representatives find this very oppressive. Here, too, one hears politicians demand that journalists who ask unpleasant questions should be silenced. Here, too, rage and threat campaigns on social media have targeted those who dare speak up. Voices have been heard in local political discourse saying no public financial support should be directed towards modern art, because all public backing should go to classical art which endorses national identity. This art, to be sure, has also been modern in its time.

Yes, knowledge is power. We must look the sympathetic robot deep into the eyes. The digital wonderland has opened up many new possibilities. But behind curtains there are actors promoting their own interests. So far, the so called artificial intelligence is not neutral or impartial. In the worst case it can crucially distort and change our world view, and by doing this, little by little, it subjects our society to a controlling force which is going to be very hard to shake off. Our connection to knowledge will be severed, and silently, in a familiar manner, totalitarianism will creep into our lives.

Veera Tyhtilä is a Finnish playwright and screen writer, working full time since 2006. She is President of PEN Finland, organization for the writers’ freedom of expression

Photo: Laura Malmivaara
Translation: Juhani Lindholm

As the Lahti International Writers’ Reunion was launched fifty-six years ago, it immediately grasped the essential.
Its theme was “The Writer and Prejudice “. Under the loop was society, the international situation, as well as the writer. The same multi-faceted inspection has continued ever since, and the Reunion has grown into a unique institution, a literary writers’ biennale that the general public can come to see and hear for free. It’s a part of the great international network of literature for exchanging experiences, views and opinions. It is a platform for the East and the West, the North and the South, and different lines of thought to meet on equal terms. Writing as such does not free anyone from prejudice, but by barricading oneself only amongst one’s own and closing the doors from otherness one can efficiently secure having more prejudices. The more we have conflicts between countries and interest groups, the more important it is for writers to meet each other, because it is their job to feed people’s imaginations, and to give a soundboard for understanding and appreciating nuances. By looking into the mirror together, they can do much not only for themselves, but also for their respective nations and their co-operation.
This is what the Lahti International Writers’ Reunion (LIWRE) is for.
The preparations for the 2019 Reunion are already under way, and the first outward appearance is our new website. You are well advised to follow it regularly, as we publish both news of the upcoming event, and interesting blogs by writers far and wide. The first one will be by the Estonian author Andrei Ivanov, who participated in LIWRE 2017.
We can now also confirm that the next event will be at the impressive Art Nouveau setting of Lahti Folk High School, the same place where it was in 2017. The venue in the middle of the city turned out to be great for both the writers and the public, and negotiations with the new owners of the building are nearing completion. We’ll meet again a week before midsummer in 2019. Stay tuned!
Juhani Lindholm
Event Manager
Lahti International Writers’ Reunion (LIWRE)





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