Dance-offs, trivia, cocktails: Australians get creative with virtual catch-ups

Article by Larissa Ham /
The Sydney Morning Herald /
March 28, 2020 /
Click here to view original /

Can you really have a social life while in social isolation?

Absolutely, say some of Australia’s most imaginative folk, who are trying to brighten their angst-riddled days by filling their social calendars with everything from virtual trivia nights, to “nice-olation” cocktail parties, dance-offs, DJ sets, book clubs, poker games, baking sessions and birthday bashes.

House-bound Australians have been finding solace in apps such as Zoom, FaceTime, Instagram and House Party, where they can hang out on video with friends and family in their pyjamas – before maybe settling in for a movie together on Netflix Party.

In Melbourne, Koel Wrigley usually attends trivia nights each Wednesday with her friends at a city bar. But they decided the venue’s temporary closure wasn’t going to stop the questions flowing.

“Someone just said ‘hey guys, what do you think about doing the trivia from home’, and everyone jumped on and thought it was great. Now we’re going to take turns hosting it,” says the Parkville resident.

While they would usually compete as a team, this time they were up against each other, via Google Hangouts. “I definitely felt like I was still keeping connection with my friends … we had had a really good laugh.”

13-year-old Alexia is learning tik toks and vlogging for YouTube while in isolation.

Meanwhile in Sydney’s Randwick, Anya Haywood and her three daughters are doing a combination of karaoke with friends via Zoom (cue: Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off) and dance routines on TikTok.

At the time of writing, 13-year-old Alexia hadn’t left the house for four days.

“It actually hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would,” she says. “TikTok’s really addictive, so all my friends and I do fun dances, and just send TikToks to each other.”

University of Melbourne sociologist Dr Lauren Rosewarne says with our online and offline lives having become so integrated, 2020 is “perhaps the best time for this [crisis] to happen to us.”

We’ve already been socialising differently for two decades, Dr Rosewarne says, and technology has gained a “heightened importance” during the pandemic.

“We like the option of doing things that have been taken away from us… It’s a nice moment in creating collective experiences.”

She says while we can’t allow ourselves to forget that people are suffering, “everyone one of us still has to get out of bed in the morning”.

Board games are in hot demand, but now the players are in different houses.

At Katrina Pratt’s place in Kew, Melbourne, she’s setting up a Monopoly contest on FaceTime between her five-year-old son Charlie and his 11-year-old cousin.

“Charlie’s desperately missing interactions with his big cousins,” says Pratt.

“I thought Monopoly was good because everything’s the same and it’s more about the roll of the dice. We’ll just have two board games going, mirroring each other on the screen.”

Pratt and her sister-in-law might then break out Cards Against Humanity later in the evening to keep themselves sane – perhaps with a few sundowners.

Elsewhere, Christina Chiodo and her friends have held a “nice-olation” cocktail party.

“I said costumes are encouraged but not mandatory. We probably went a bit further than most of our friends – we had fairy lights behind us and got out the good cocktail glasses,” she says.

Primary school teacher Kerry Lomas is filming funny videos and sending them back and forth with friends and family, including a puppet show, dress-ups and dance tutorials.

And author Jamila Rizvi is holding bake-offs with hundreds of members of the Quarantine with Jam and Clare group on Facebook.

Book clubs around the country are also going virtual, with Kate Hague and her friends taking their usual event to Zoom.

“It was great because it meant we could see each other, sip wine together and chat. It was so exciting to see their faces,” she says.

“At crappy times like this you need friends so much more than usual. Just half an hour laughing and chatting with them has the power to make my day.”

And when we’re out the other end of the crisis, University of Melbourne Associate Professor Shanton Chang hopes we’ll be back to clinking glasses in real life. “The best thing we can do once this is over is to see each other physically.” But, he says, “this is a good thing for now”