Coming to a living room near you

Winnipeggers take things online to bring people together

Winnipeg’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has ranged from a toilet paper hoarding frenzy to a general sense of malaise as students try to navigate online classes, with many scrambling to apply for EI.

Living in a climate of uncertainty, some local businesses, communities and collectives have taken it upon themselves to reach out virtually. With limits on public gatherings imposed by social distancing measures, many have sought creative ways to maintain connections and support one another.

Sarah London’s Instagram Live comedy open-mic began as somewhat of an accident.

Comedian Sarah London's open mics on Instagram Live are just one of the ways Winnipeggers are getting creative online while socially distancing. // Supplied photo

After getting the news that comedy shows in Winnipeg were being cancelled, London hosted her own virtual standup show. Other local comedians began to take part, and, eventually, it morphed into a multi-day COVID-19 Comedy Open Mic.

“It recreates (standup) in a small way,” London says. “You still think you’re part of a group and part of a lineup.”

London has received feedback from far and wide, much of it coming from non-comedians and even strangers. “A bunch of people who I don’t know have messaged me and said ‘oh, this is really great’ or ‘this brightened up my day.’”

Of course, comedy is just one of the many local scenes that have stepped up to the plate to bring accessible entertainment for Winnipeg folks at home. Matt Coppens a yoga instructor at Modo Yoga Winnipeg was recently put in charge of co-ordinating a stream of classes on Instagram Live.

After their international online platform shut down due to a mass amount of downloads, Modo began pushing studios to deliver content at a local level.

“Through all the technical glitches, pretty much every studio across the world started doing live classes,” Coppens says. “I was lucky enough to be in a position at the studio that I could help out with it and start to organize here as well.”

The transition from studio to online has been a learning experience for both Modo regulars and instructors alike. “If people are watching through their phones, then the visual cue isn’t always there. It has to translate over voice,” Coppens says. “I think it will be great for a lot of our teachers, because you need to really describe and use words and language really skillfully.”

For both comedy or yoga, the response from the community and participants has been overwhelmingly positive, according to both London and Coppens.

“I would say 99 per cent of the emails we’re receiving through the studio are from people looking to get online resources for yoga,” Coppens says. “It’s been very positive. People are looking at this whole situation in a very great way.

“I always felt like there was a sense of community in the comedy scene, because it's so small. It's something I felt like I would lose with everything being cancelled,” London says. “It’s been nice to have those social interactions, even though they’re digital.”

London’s COVID-19 Comedy Open Mic happens at @comedy_open_mic on Instagram. Use the promo code “WPG” for a free month of online yoga classes at

Published in Volume 74, Number 24 of The Uniter (April 2, 2020)

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