Necessity is the Mother of Invention – Seabreeze Leads the Way in Delivering Festival Performances on a Digital Platform
Over the last decade, the pristine Nightcliff Foreshore and nearby venues have played host to one of Darwin’s iconic community arts and live music events, the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival. Picturesque, open-access, family-friendly and multicultural, the festival took full advantage of the geography and sweeping clifftop ocean views to bring to the public a walk-through hive of live music, dance, acrobatics, poetry, sand-sculpture, street art, cultural displays and food. There was something for everyone, and the vibe was always one of community, togetherness and compassion. Funding from the NT Government and sponsorships not only ensured that the event and sideshows could be run smoothly and professionally, but that hard working artists could also receive payment for their performances and works. The 2020 festival was shaping up to be just as good, if not better, than past events.
And then COVID-19 came along.
A rapidly-changing situation. First crowd numbers would need to be restricted. Then further restricted. Then further restricted to the point that no events with people gathering could be held at all. Social distancing. Travel restrictions. A public health emergency. The writing was no longer on the wall for Seabreeze – it was hand-delivered in triplicate. The 2020 Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival could not proceed as a public event.
The Seabreeze Committee had worked tirelessly, as they always did, to bring this festival to life once more for 2020. Plans had been laid. Grant money had been received. Artists had been booked. Tech crews, PA equipment, lighting, food vendors, St Johns Ambulance, Police, Security – everything was in place for the May event – but a viral curtain had fallen before the first song had been sung. What to do?
“We had a committee meeting and ratted out a couple of options, the options being that we go ahead with a broadcast format, which includes television, radio and digital. Or we postpone it or we cancel it. So they were the three options”
It is not in the Territory Spirit to give up. The Seabreeze Committee met on a war footing to see how the situation could be saved, IF it could be saved. The three options identified were: postponement, cancellation, or a brave leap into the untried and untested realm of delivering the festival on a digital platform, with festival performances delivered directly into the audience’s homes. The third option was chosen and the ‘Dreamedia Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival 2020 @ Home‘ was born.
Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival Chair Andrew John Arthur (pictured) spoke with Foldback about the thought processes of the Festival Committee in coming to their decision to press on with the festival via a digital platform:
“We knew we couldn’t do it (the festival) in its usual format. We had a committee meeting and ratted out a couple of options, the options being that we go ahead with a broadcast format, which includes television, radio and digital. Or we postpone it or we cancel it. So they were the three options. Obviously we didn’t want to cancel it. We already had some NT Government money in our bank account so we thought that cancelling it would be tragic for the artists and the arts workers.
We didn’t really want to postpone it because a lot of other festivals were looking at the September-October option of doing their event so we would sort of get lost in the mix. So it was unanimous in the committee meeting that we persevere with a broadcast format – ‘Seabreeze @ Home’ we labelled it. The real priority was that we know that artists and arts workers were already hurting. They were the first to lose their gigs. We also recognised that a lot of them don’t have ABNs and a lot of them were on a real casual basis of employment, going from event to event, show to show, project to project. It meant that Government help was unavailable to a lot of them. With that in mind and also the community distress at being in lockdown was already evident so we made the decision to bite the bullet and push ahead with a variation and it has been extremely stressful.”
“The real priority was that we know that artists and arts workers were already hurting. They were the first to lose their gigs”
Andrew went on to note that Seabreeze has always been a free event for the public, with a lot of revenue for the festival raised from the sales contributions of the local pubs, cafes, food vendors and from merch sales during the festival itself. This of course is not going to happen in 2020.
“I have to say that (the NT Government) stepped up this time. They were really quick to react”
In-kind funding projections against grants have been hit hard as a result, and the committee was forced to turn to the NT Government for variations to their grant funding agreements. Andrew says that the Gunner government has been sympathetic to the festival’s situation and have provided sorely needed assistance to keep the festival on track to deliver on a digital platform:
“I have to say that (the NT Government) stepped up this time. They were really quick to react. They gave us in-principle support for a variation on the Community Benefit Fund grant, which is our main Government income. Then Major Events came on board and provided significant funding through the Community Festivals grants program, the bulk of which will go towards paying artists and arts workers.”
“I think we are going to reach hundreds of thousands (on the digital platform)”
The money side of things was sorted. The operational side of things was a different story however, with the rapidly changing social distancing orders taking a toll on the committee’s best laid plans, and indeed on their stress levels. Says Andrew:
“The logistics crew were constantly having to change how we were going to do it. We were going to start with a closed set on the foreshore, we were allowed to have five hundred people on set – this is going to be great, we’ll still do it in the broadcast mode with that beautiful backdrop but it very quickly changed and went down to ten people and then no people. With constantly having to change to the conditions, the production team stepped up and I believe we have captured some great acts and great footage and we have secured the ability to broadcast on television into people’s lounge rooms which is just fabulous, and several radio stations have come on board which is great. We have had to update our digital platforms as well so we are going with YouTube and Facebook Live and updating our website, so we are covering all bases.”
Andrew noted one good thing in particular to come out of this challenge: “Our reach will be far, far larger than a traditional festival. We had about 22,000 last year to the festival and I think we are going to reach hundreds of thousands (on the digital platform).”
*The end result is that the festival is basically being ‘pre-recorded’ at the premises of major Seabreeze sponsor, Dreamedia, and with Dreamedia’s support at some outside locations around town, for broadcast during the traditional period of the festival in early May 2020. Dreamedia’s technical, logistical and material support cannot be overstated. The stage set-ups, mixing and recording equipment and technical staff are the key to making this effort a professional endeavour, and one that has now set the standard for future operations of this kind. It must also be mentioned that Charles Darwin University (CDU), via their Technical Production lecturer Michael Vernau and his live music production students, has provided invaluable support in location shoot contributions as well. The extended reach that the ‘digitisation’ of the festival will allow for is one that should be able to be easily combined with a traditional ‘live’ festival in future, and the professional relationships formed, along with the protocols now put in place, are invaluable assets to the arts and media sectors in the Territory. We understand that Seabreeze is the first festival to go down the route of delivering on a digital platform.
“We were not sure what was going to happen in two weeks with the lockdown so we started doing the work anyway”
In full disclosure, Foldback Magazine has also been playing a role in bringing Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival to the digital platform. Our Chair Jean-Eddy Moutou, an experienced videographer, video editor, graphic designer and media professional and himself a musician who has performed at previous Seabreeze festivals, has taken on the role of Film Director for Seabreeze @ Home 2020. Having received a call from Ahva Dub (the festival’s Production & Site Logistics Coordinator) when the issue of COVID-19 started to emerge as a problem for the festival, early discussions between the two soon made it clear that a move to a digital platform was a good idea, whatever ended up happening with a ‘lockdown’. This foresight turned out to be correct and the early consideration of having a digital capacity meant that the production and logistics planning started to take shape early, greatly enhancing the festival’s ability to deliver.
Says Jean-Eddy (pictured performing at Seabreeze 2019): “I was asked if I was interested to help Seabreeze develop the videos and all that so of course – I am a big fan of Seabreeze, I have been going since I moved to Darwin. It’s a massive part of the community, a family friendly festival and something I have been part of and love being a part of.
When I was first approached, we were not sure what was going to happen in two weeks with a complete lockdown or not, so we started doing the work (to move to digital) anyway. We made sure that we stayed up-to-date with the news and the restrictions, to abide by all the laws. My role is to make sure that all the pre-recorded video of artists’ performances is recorded properly, the artist feels good and comfortable, scheduling the artists to shoot, develop and set up the stage for the performances, how to make the videos ‘go live’ and the processes for television and radio broadcast. We are working as a team and there is still heaps of work to do in terms of editing. In terms of Foldback’s involvement as a media partner and sponsor, I have been taking photos behind the production scenes of the artists performing, doing short video interviews after the performances and of course Foldback will be both promoting the event prior to and during the festival period and publishing a wrap-up article afterwards.”
Jean-Eddy also wanted to point out that the performers have all been very happy with the way the digital production of the festival has been managed, despite the quick ‘get-in and get-out’ turnaround due to the social distancing requirements, and also they are happy simply to be involved and to be performing, even if it is only two songs or one short dance routine each. Jean-Eddy notes too that health requirements are being strictly adhered to, and that NT Police have even visited on-set to ensure compliance. The mental health of festival staff, volunteers and artists is also being considered, especially due to the stresses involved in pulling off something like this that has never been done before – the team is all looking after each other.
Andrew also wanted to thank all of the committee, staff and volunteers that have put in some very hard yards to make this happen. There are too many to name individually in this text, so below is a list of Seabreeze 2020 contributors whose efforts we should all be thankful for:
So – how does one immerse themselves into the digitised Dreamedia Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival 2020 @ Home?
Project Coordinator Kim Yates gives the answers:
“Seabreeze Festival celebrates the first launch of our Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival @ Home today. You can jump on the website or visit our Facebook or Instagram pages to see what you can expect during our Festival weekend, which runs from 8 – 10th May. Locals can, from today, enter our famous Jetty Art Space and Sculpture in the Breeze competitions, which have been modified slightly to fit our #seebreezeathome theme. This year we have expanded our typical Sand Sculpture competition, which is usually held on Nightcliff beach, to enter any form of 3-D sculpture. We hope someone might be brave enough to sculpt something out of ice!
Over the festival weekend, Seabreeze will be broadcasting through TV – Darwin TV, Channel 41, and radio – Larrakia Radio, Australian Indigenous Radio VAST channel 913, and Hot 100 FM will also be broadcasting a “Best of Seabreeze@Home Music Special” at 6:30 PM Sunday. You can also watch and experience all the festival activities through https://www.nightcliffseabreeze.com. Anyone can find out more about the many festival spaces by visiting the website today.”
Websites and social media pages to visit:
Jetty Art Space Competition Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/220430219394458/
Sculpture in the Breeze Competition Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1069166646800309/
Foldback Magazine looks forward to making the Dreamedia Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival 2020 @ Home a roaring success and we urge everyone to tune in to catch some awesome local talent and to support Territory artists and festivals. We acknowledge the Larrakia people as the Traditional Owners of the Darwin region and pay our respects to Larrakia elders past and present. We are committed to a positive future for the Aboriginal community.”