Kristoffer Pahle Pedersen, Expert Digital Storytelling JAZZMONTOR AS Norvegia
FROM PLANNING TO PLAY
It has been more than two and a half years since I landed at Otopeni for the first time. After a tip and a few advices from a colleague in The Arts Council, Norway, I applied for a travel grant, got it accepted and came to Romania, a country and a people I knew little about.
I knew some of the stories about Ceaușescu, I had heard about Romanian orphanages, Dracula, Transylvania and seen Romani beggars on the streets of Oslo. That was about it. I was basically blank. I knew nothing. Driven by curiosity and a possibility to work in a country I knew little about I first came to Biblioteca Nationala a Romaniei to meet up with possible partners.
Since then I´ve learned so many things. I´ve learnt about Romania, your people, dreams, songs and landscapes. I´ve learnt a lot of new words, seen myself and seen Norway in a new perspective. And all along the way I´ve met a lot of wonderful people.
The ones I have worked with and the ones I have talked with. All over Romania I have made new friends and I´ve learned something from them all (and that´s not just an empty phrase).
From our first discussions in Bucharest till the last ones we had in Oslo talking about possible future projects: this project we´ve been doing together has been amazing!
And what a way to meet a country and its soul: through working with people, their personal stories, their memories, history and dreams on a level like this. Since we started this project together, I have spent at least sixty days in Romania. These sixty days have changed me, they way I look at my self and my history, the way I look at Europe in general and of course the way I look at Romania especially. What a long, strange trip it´s been.
Every project has some of the same elements: a planning phase, an implementation phase and an evaluation phase. After that, the idea behind the project should start living its life on its own.
The planning phase is where the most important decisions are made. One of the most interesting things about a planning phase is that you make all of the most important decisions at a time were your level of knowledge about the project and its elements is at its lowest.
Of course we all had experience, the ability to plan ahead and to make both A, B and C-versions of a plan, but still, and especially in an EEA-project like this you´re locked to your application, initial descriptions and decisions from the very first phase.
This makes careful planning even more crucial, especially when we are planning for something that is new for us all. Luckily we did a thorough job in the beginning.
In this project I think we started wisely when we together made a plan for execution, implementation and securing our work. From the very beginning we discussed different possibilities, outcomes and ways to use the mix of knowledge, people, infrastructure and experience. ANBPR had the structure, organization and infrastructure, Jazzmontør had the methodology and Replika had their physical theater, their writing and performing skills as well as the experience with political theater right from the streets. All of these elements were important building bricks in this project, and I´m left with the impression that we all got heard.
Along the way I felt like we were respecting one another and that we had a good dialogue. We set up our project in such a way that it was possible to use both our experience and personal characteristics to the full when we needed them. For me, that´s the sign of a team that works well together.
Our project was tailored to fit ANBPR, Replika and Jazzmontør, its institutions and members, and was based on a mix of knowledge, experience and personal drive. As I´ve been doing digital storytelling in Norway and Europe for almost ten years I felt I had enough experience to foresee, plan for and execute a lot of the things we could encounter along the way.
After working with schools, museums, prisons, researchers and more I´ve seen a pattern that goes through all of the different institutions and people, I know that no matter where you are you´ll meet a lot of the same challenges, and you´ll meet a lot of the same personalities.
ANBPR knew their libraries, staff and members, so we could handpick the ones best suited. Replika had been doing similar types of plays earlier, by picking up social and political issues in the Romanian society and questioning them through theatrical plays.
THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
In my opinion one of the main challenges was the subtle cultural differences. Both on a personal and institutional level there are differences, which can be quite unpredictable. A lot of things appear to be the same, and we´re making the same appointment, but words can easily be interpreted differently in Romanian and Norwegian. «We´re starting at nine o´clock» means in Norwegian terms that both participants and facilitators are there at least ten minutes earlier and that we are beginning at nine. In Romania a lot of people share that interpretation, but a lot of people don´t. For a lot of people nine o´clock means between nine and ten. That took me some time to adjust to.
The basic methodology and workshop is based on how we do it in Norway, on what you can call a Norwegian mentality. As we knew this could be a challenge, we planned for a pilot part of our project, where we had a first go on the methods, ways of working and workshop model.
Being Norwegian I planned based on what I´ve learned in Norway. I made a workshop plan for the librarians to follow, which was extremely detailed and demanded focus on structure and timekeeping. My thought was that if you´re doing something for the first time it is often best to have a clear structure to follow. At our first workshop it took me no more than three minutes to see and understand certain cultural differences which made my plan look more like a suggestion than a map to follow.
Romanians are a little different from Norwegians. They emphasize different things, have a different way of working with authorities and – after doing all these workshops and met all these people, I have the feeling that our school systems are making us different types.
It cannot be the school system alone, of course, but as a workshop in digital storytelling resembles school work in a lot of ways, and especially when we are making stories with a given topic – Diversity in arts and culture – we are putting our participants into a school setting and by doing that triggering their school behavior. At least that´s my theory.
IN ROMANIA, EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN PACE
At our first workshop we started more than twenty minutes late. I was very surprised by this, and tried to discuss the matter with Anca, a librarian from Sibiu. She explained to me: «Kristoffer, in Romania everyone has their own pace.»
This was my first experience with the time differences and different cultures. In Norway people are usually ten minutes early when it comes to things like this. In Bucharest we missed half of our participants when the workshop started and it was early very clear that my schedule was more of a suggestion than I first expected. Some of it was of course traffic, buses being too late and we being at a place far from the city centre, but still – I learned that in Romania there are a greater diversity in time keeping than in Norway. What made this even more of a surprise was that my project partners from ANBPR had been on time and accurate, so I wasn´t prepared for this.
THE PERSONAL DIFFERENCES
In every place there´s different people. Here too. ANBPR hand picked librarians to have responsibility, and they were picked on background of their personal abilities and interests. This meant that we had someone responsible to trust in every city, and it meant that we knew who we were working with. Or – it meant that Ioana and Ana knew them, and that was good enough.
As hosting a workshop and running a project like this on you own is very much based on personal interests and skill, it is utterly important that they’re capable of inviting people, hosting a workshop, reach goals, lead a group, fill out forms and generally exceed your comfort zone on a daily basis.
Some had previous experience, some were picked on background of interest and yet another on background of drive and ability to plan and execute.
This meant that we had a team in these four cities with fairly different people, acting and hosting workshops in their own ways. I think that was great, and that these differences are the best start for further work, as they are collecting a number of experiences, working with in individual ways and completing one another and the project as a whole.
I was very lucky with my partners in ANBPR. Ioana and Ana are hard working, reliable, flexible and structured, which is a must in a project like this. The project was complex with a lot of different people, places and elements, so the fact that we had someone with overview and a personal relationship with every librarian was crucial to this project. Ioanas and Anas personal characteristics have been vital for this project and it´s success.
They´ve been listening from the start, both to me as a partner, to the librarians in charge at the different libraries and have been a very good catalyst between the Romanian bureaucracy and the not so bureaucratic Jazzmontør. They´ve taken us all seriously, they´ve been both demanding and forgiving, and they´ve showed an implementation capacity which is highly impressing.
THE FOUR CITIES
Bucharest, Cluj, Sibiu and Braila. Very different cities with very different librarians in charge. Contrasting stories and workshops coming out. It is always interesting to see how people adapt and shape the workshop and methodology after their own preferences, needs and knowledge.
This was emphasized in our first TOT-workshop (training of trainers-workshop), and the results were astounding. In Sibiu they were diving deep into the Roma culture, in Braila they were working with kids and a lot of schools, Bucharest did both the seniors and the public offices and Cluj had a very interesting mix of youth, grown ups and elderly.
When traveling around from city to city and workshop to workshop it became clear to me how big the personal, regional and structural differences are. It´s a world of difference between being a librarian in one of the smaller towns around Sibiu than working in a branch library in Bucharest.
The small, classic library in Braila is a very, very different workplace from the massive, modern library in Cluj.
They´ve got different participants, different departements and different kinds of contact with their audience.
As I mentioned earlier, I find this a great strength, as it adds up to the cultural diversity part. In my opinion we should have diversity both in the internal execution and external results.
MANAGING A PROJECT LIKE THIS
Working in an EEA-project like this can be demanding for someone not very fond of bureaucracy and stamps. At first it was a little fun and exotic, but that feeling disappeared fast. It seems like the framework and rules we´re working under is more limiting than rewarding, but thanks to massive work from my partners in ANBPR we managed to pull this through.
The amount of reports and paperwork is nothing but ridiculous and damaging as the focus on almost every task in these projects has to be on paperwork and reporting first and then the actual task next. Coming from a more open and trustful system in Norway this has been a shock, and is clearly something that frightens people from doing these kinds of projects. I personally get the feeling of being met with suspicion rather than trust. Not from my partners, but from the system.
It seems like the default setting is that everyone is a scoundrel, so the system is set up in such a way that only people and institutions with extreme form filling capabilities is able to pull it through.
This is a great shame, as I know there is a lot of great talent being wasted in filling out forms or not even trying to apply for these grants.
THE DIFFERENT RESULTS
On the other hand, and the reason I´ve been doing this is the love for the stories, the love for the subject and for this way of working with people and institutions. One of the most rewarding aspects with a project like this is to see how it spreads and how the initial thoughts are being picked up and carried further. I can only speak for myself, but my hopes and thoughts for the project has been fulfilled at some places, at other they´ve exceeded my expectations or just confused me, as something else than expected has happened.
This trip is built on hopes and expectations. We had a plan, but the plan had a lot of unknown factors. How would our audience respond, how would the librarians pick up our thoughts and how would Replika work with the stories and translate them into a play and story of their own? These things were our common concerns.
For me personally I wondered what Romanian county libraries looked like, I had no idea what equipment we would meet, what kind of knowledge librarians and participants had up front and what to expect from their way of arranging an facilitating things.
Ioana and Ana obviously knew a lot of things I didn´t, and I came with some knowledge they didn´t have, but you cannot plan everything on a theoretical level. Some things are just impossible to know before you´re in the middle of it. Like how the translators will work, what your participants know and how well prepared the librarians would be.
When looking at the project now when we´re in the end, it seems to me that most of the things worked. Digital stories were made, deadlines were almost kept, we all learned a lot, and the theater play was written, performed and was well received.
From our initial meetings to our first workshop, from our twenty-day tour to the original play – this has been an adventure, and I really hope that this is the start of something bigger than this single project. It seems to me that we managed to pass on some of the methods, some of the spirit, some of the form and some of the potential I believe digital storytelling has got.
My journey started on a workshop like this, and this project might be starting someones journey, just like my own. Who knows what will happen, but my hope is that we´ve collected some important memories, passed on some methods and planted a few seeds that will grow into something big and beautiful.