Elisa af Hällström: Strange Times Made Us Find Something New

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


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