It worked! Last year I wrote about considering telling stories remotely, using Skype. I once did a puppet workshop for a classroom on Skype and didn't like it much. I couldn't see the kids very well. I've also coached storytellers on Skype, which is much better. My friend Carol asked me (again) if I would tell stories to her niece and nephew who live in Massachusetts. Carol lives abroad and has introduced the children to me via CDs.
Yesterday, I met the children not in person, but through our computers. I spent about 35-45 minutes with them, telling five stories and one song, with three puppets. Rachel (age 5) and Gabriel (age 7) were excellent listeners. They—through their mother—sent me an e-mail afterwards saying, "I liked skyping with you and I would like you to do it again sometime :) It was fun! The baby was hilarious. Please bring out the puppets again" and "It was really fun skyping and I hope to do it again soon. The baby was funny! Next time, please bring the puppets again."
Here are some thoughts on the experience:
I spent time setting up the environment. First, I moved from my office, which has blood-red walls, to the dining room. I set myself up with the neutral backdrop of the curtains on the puppet room. I wore a green sweater and turtleneck that contrasted with the curtains as well as with the puppets.
It was a sunny day, so I closed the blinds and turned on the overhead light to avoid my face having a vampiric shade. In order to minimize the number of chins I appear to have when the camera looks up at me, I raised the laptop, using thick books.
A few days before the call, I tested the setup with my sister. The day before, I made sure I had added Carol and her sister to my contact list. I didn't want to be messing around with that on the day. I subscribed to Skype Premium so I can have more than one other video up on the screen during a call. On the day itself, I turned off all other computer programs and shut down some of the services running in the background.
Because I wanted to introduce the children to a few of my puppets, I had the puppets out of their bag and ready on the table. I also had a glass of water. I should have put the cat outside, but alas, I had to do that in the middle of the session. Nobody seemed to mind.
Unlike real life, the kids could only see my head and a bit of my upper body. I made gestures higher than I normally would, so my hands would be in the frame. I also slowed the gestures down, as going too fast makes the image blurry.
I was worried about the connection. On Christmas day, my family tried a five-way Skype call and found it frustrating. The audio was garbled and the video didn't work for one brother. Fortunately, the Skype-telling on Friday was clear, with only a few odd voice distortions from time to time. The video was good for the kids and mostly for Carol, but the video of the kids that I saw froze for about the last ten minutes of the 35-minute call.
I wonder if Google+ Hangouts would be better. My sister and I played with that after the Skype call on Christmas. The video was so-so, but the sound was better.
What do I charge for this Skype-telling, you ask? It's for families, not for birthday parties or for schools, and I'm offering it at a low introductory price of $30 for half an hour. Feel free to spread this around—I'd love to do more of it!