“If you give a writer enough free time, they’re eventually going to go mad and find a way to express themselves creatively,” Marty Chan said.
For the Edmonton author and playwright, that began with comedic tweets during Alberta’s daily COVID-19 updates.
Chan is in a higher-risk group and started tuning in to Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s afternoon news conferences.
“I knew that 3:30 was my special time with Dr. Hinshaw,” he said, noticing many others were tuning in too.
“Maybe I should just start tweeting to kill time?” he asked himself. “I’m kind of like the warm-up act.”
Albertans seemed to enjoy his commentary.
“Especially when politicians started showing up and taking all the oxygen out of the room,” he said.
Chan likens the activity to pre-pandemic Oscar parties, when friends would gather around and make fun of the appearances and speeches.
So far, his most popular daily update commentary was the day the premier outlined Alberta’s COVID-19 modelling and projections, using graphs and slides to explain the forecasts.
“Where Premier Kenney played the role of an epidemiologist and brought out the power point slides.”
Before he entered the world of children’s publishing, Chan was part of Edmonton’s theatre scene. It was there he crossed paths with Die-Nasty co-founder and actor Stephanie Wolfe.
When the pandemic hit, she reached out to him about collaborating on something fun, funny and creative.
“‘What if we do something where we’re recreating supposed characters who are writing letters during the time of the pandemic?'” Chan recalls Wolfe suggesting.
Letters of the Pandemic are videos posted on YouTube that capture “all different characters from different facets of life.”
“It was a playing ground for the two of us,” Chan said.
Wolfe comes up with the characters and Chan writes the scripts.
“The one I think that’s really catching on right now: Stephanie plays a mom with three kids and she’s had to home school the kids during the lockdown and she might be going off the deep end,” Chan said.
“She’s writing to her kids’ teacher, begging the teacher to come take the kids off her hands.”
Thanks to years of experience in theatre, including improv, fringe festivals and shows at the Citadel, Wolfe has “a closet worth of wigs.”
“I’d sort through my stuff, pick something that would fit the letter,” Wolfe said.
“We both brought our little tricks of the trade to party.”
The pair wanted to use topics that were in the news but wanted to present them in a very relatable way.
Chan found that writing the scripts helped ease the stress and anxiety he was feeling about the health crisis.
“I think humour is a coping mechanism. If we dwell on the doom and gloom in everything that’s going on, it will start to wear on our stamina and psyche.”
“Writing Letters of the Pandemic… allowed me to contextualize the pandemic in a way I could move forward,” he said.
In addition to providing a welcome distraction, Wolfe says the project has given her a lot of joy.
“We both needed an outlet for the frustrations and the social media angst that’s out there,” she explained. “We’re able to shed those negative scales.”