Socially Distanced Ducks

This was an online collaborative project with Harleyrae Parkes-Bright and Alisha Springall. These are the set of rules we were given:

  • You must stay 2m apart
  • You may not touch each other
  • If you have touched a particular surface in a particular spot, your partner must wait 24 hours before touching that same spot (unless you both wear gloves)
  • You can be in the studio or online
  • You must think about how/when/where the work will be seen by an audience safely

Despite technology keeping us all connected during lockdown and while we’re socially distancing, there is something very special about getting a personal letter in the post. It can just be a note, but the excitement of opening the envelope and reading the message is slightly different from getting a message electronically.

Perhaps it’s the process of writing, posting and delivery that makes it feel more personal. More time and thought has gone into it, so it also shows the person cares. It’s seldom we revisit emails or texts, but I feel it’s a bit different with letters. They’re tactile and we can pick them up at anytime and read. People don’t write letters as before, perhaps this is what makes them so special. This was the initial thoughts for the piece.


This project reminded of New Perspectives theatre company’s Love from Cleethorpes, which is a six-part postcard drama delivered to audiences’ homes. It was specifically created in response to COVID-19 and our socially distanced times. It’s the perfect way to reach their audience.

Responding to the brief

  • Letters take 24-48 hours to be delivered, so this solves the issue about not touching a surface for 24 hours.
  • We’re at each other homes so we’re more than two meters apart.
  • There is no chance of us touching because this was all done online.
  • The video would be posted on Vimeo, so the audience would be able to see it safely from their computer or mobile phone screen.

Thoughts about what we could create

  • Passing  letters to each other via the computer monitor and recording it.
  • Writing positive letters, to cheer each other up at this bleak time.
  • We could write and read the letter in between.
  • Seeing the person’s emotional reactions when they write, read and respond to the letters

The best way to write to each other more naturally was by email. I sent Harleyrae a message. It was difficult to know what to say at first, but then a friend’s photograph of ducks standing in a row came to mind. It’s a sweet and fun image, and something nice to share. The ducks look like they’re socially distancing.

copyright Stuart Bell

My letter to Harleyrae:

Hello Harleyrae, how are you? I hope you’re keeping really well and in good spirits. I know there’s only so much walking we can do, but I went to the park yesterday and saw some ducks standing side by side. They really knew how to do social distancing. Sadly, I didn’t have my phone so couldn’t photograph it. I just wanted to hello and to let you know that I’m thinking of you. Lots of love, Priti x

Harleyrae’s response:

Hello, it’s so great to hear from you!🙂 I am well thank you and it seems like you are too.

But, yes of course there’s a lot of walking to do. I am taken from surprise that ducks were standing side by side😮. However it would of been so cute to photograph that then maybe edit the photo on adobe photoshop💛. It’s a shame that you didn’t have your phone otherwise that would of been interesting🙃.

I’ve just being doing some drawings on the day times but working in a takeaway shop in the evenings till late at night😩. I worked at a takeaway shop called perfect pizza🍕. I had been there for 3 years, and it’s been very very busy over lock down😭. But I got dismissed, because my mom told the manager to go F off as he was rude taking my moms order😬. So since then I’ve been pissed off and frustrated because I didn’t know what to do😒. I thought 💭 the only solution for me is going back to university as I missed the vibe and the atmosphere of positive energy🙂I’m looking forward to go back once this lock down is over🤩

It was nice to hear from you Priti, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. Take care, hopefully to see you very soon.


My response to Harleyrae’s letter:

Hello Harleyrae, it’s so lovely to hear from you and to hear your news. I did think of you when I saw the ducks, and wished you were here. Yes, they were very cute and so sweet. Those ducks could teach some of us a thing or two!! At least they’re doing their bit to help.

I can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear your news. I don’t know how you managed to work on your drawings during the day and then work in the evenings, especially since it has been so busy during lock down. I didn’t know you’ve been working at Perfect Pizza for that long. The manager needs to go on a customer service skills course. I’m so sorry it ended like that, I really am.

I know things are incredibly difficult and uncertain at the moment. I really hope you are okay and you have everything you need. Yes, coming back is definitely the best option, and we’re really looking forward to seeing you again. I know the restrictions will still be there, but we’ll make the most of it. I can’t wait to see the drawings you’ve been working on.

We’ll have to celebrate your return. Perhaps we can have a video call and have a good catch up. It feels as if I haven’t seen you for ages. We can enjoy a drink together too 🙂 Until then, take extra special care of yourself and keep safe and well. See you very soon. Lots of love and hugs, Priti x

Creating the video

I experimented to see if I could create a letter box effect using cardboard pieces and taping it to the webcam. It worked. Harleyrae found it difficult to get the same effect on her camera. Thomas suggested creating a filter to create the same effect and then insert as a layer in the video editing software. Perfect.

Harleyrae and I created our videos separately. What seemed like a simple task proved to be quite hard and I needed many takes.

Harleyrae sent over her videos, but they were in sections and her voice couldn’t be heard when she wrote and read her letter. Working remotely did make things very difficult when it came to creating the videos. There were some issues with communication.

Time was against us and due to other commitments, Harleyrae was unable to re-record her videos, so I had to use what I had. Fortunately with the video editor, I was able to make smooth transitions between Harleyrae’s short videos.

I thought Hareyrae’s position on the screen being much higher, might be problematic with the filters with the letter box effect, but to overcome that, I changed the positions of the filter so that the letter box effect was towards the top of the screen. This worked really well.

Bottom gradient filter
Top gradient filter

I created the title page, spacing the text to suggest social distancing. I thought it would be lovely to have the photographs of the ducks at the end since they were the inspiration for the initial conversation. They are also apt because the communication was between two socially distanced friends.

Title slide
End slide


  • Working remotely did make it more difficult and it was more time consuming, especially with emailing back and forth. It’s much easy in this respect when we’re working in person, communication is much better as well as being able to share ideas and thoughts more freely.  I felt the screen was a barrier.

  • Not having met each other in person beforehand also made it  harder.I was worried not hearing Harleyrae speaking while she is writing wouldn’t work, but it worked really well when I put the video together. It felt like a very private moment especially with her whispering the words. We don’t know what she’s writing, and it’s only when you hear my response that it becomes clearer. I think this worked much better than if we heard Harleyrae speak. It was a very happy accident.

  • The letter box effect worked well too. I initially thought that the letter box needed to be at the same level so that the video would be consistent, but I was wrong. I feel it worked better and made it a bit more interesting having it at the two different levels.

  • It was difficult to convincingly give the impression that the letter was coming from the screen/through the letterbox.

  • It was a challenge putting the edited videos together, using the filters and getting the transitions right. The most time consuming work was making the videos and editing, but I learnt a lot with both processes.

  • Two days were spent working on the piece and I think with this in mind it worked out really well. It would have been great if we were able to come together in person. I feel there probably would have been more ideas generated as we would have been able to bounce ideas off one another more easily.

  • We complied with all the rules, and the letters express the effects of lockdown and social distancing, so I feel with this in mind it worked.