What makes it a party for you? On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, the SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund (QNF) hosted the first of its online Queer Nightlife Talks asking this question. QNF asked attendees at this public forum who frequent local queer nightlife what would draw them to an online or future coronavirus-safe in-person event.
The event served as a community brainstorming session with a wealth of ideas shared on how to best produce events that would meet the needs of Bay Area queer culture as they struggle with the realities of the pandemic.
More than 75 people attended with Angel Garfold of QNF and Honey Mahogany of The STUD facilitating. Media outlet 48 Hills co-sponsored the event. The audience was actively engaged in the discussion both verbally as well as in the robust sidebar chat that took place throughout the event.
QNF is all about sharing. Our mindset is information or resources that can benefit anyone in queer nightlife should be readily shared for all to use. So, in the interest of ensuring that the ideas and comments that arose at the forum are offered to the entire community as useful feedback, we are summarizing the night’s proceedings here.
We hope current and newcomer event producers can use this information to make their events successful and appeal to a wide swath of the Bay Area queer community. We believe that by brainstorming, sharing ideas, and working together, we can all be more effective and evolve more rapidly to foster local queer nightlife as we adapt to the challenges COVID-19 presents.
The following summary coalesces the most frequently-raised ideas and comments into high-level thematic categories. However, in the interest of providing the community with a thorough reporting on the night’s happenings for those interested in the greatest level of detail, you can find a public Google document that contains extensive notes taken from the 2-hour discussion – questions, comments and ideas.
Angel explained that the QNF has reworked its mission. The QNF remains committed to providing resources and opportunities to promote and support those in queer nightlife in the SF Bay Area during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also embracing even greater diversity and inclusion.
Amid the reality of donor fatigue and a longer than anticipated pandemic, QNF will be awarding smaller grants for emergency needs like food and medications, and creating new opportunities for queer performers and artists to be paid for their work.
QNF will explain more about its revised mission and objectives in a future blog post.
The next online QNF Quaran-Tea Dance party was announced. It will be Sunday, September 20, 2020. 4pm-7pm, viewable on the QNF Twitch channel.
There was a lot of discussion about the various online platforms used with Zoom and Twitch being the most mentioned. The censorship on these platforms and others is problematic, especially for some types of queer content audiences want. One new, smaller queer platform, Joie de Vive was mentioned that does not have such restrictions. There appeared to be consensus that our community needs platforms that better suit our needs and perhaps even owned by the queer community itself.
The Zoom breakout room feature is not being used enough, and doing so might encourage more intimate conversations and meeting new people.
The range of technological backgrounds and skill sets for those attending events as well as those looking to produce events ran the gamut from total beginner to advanced and this disparity is a problem. Everyone agreed anything that an increase in the collective technological skills of the community would be welcome.
We need versions of online platforms on which we can easily sell tickets to watch a performance or event behind a paywall.
Online Events – What People Like
The most mentioned benefit of online events was accessibility and ease of access. For those with a disability or who are unable to afford more expensive queer events and venues, online events offer a welcome ease of entry.
More than one person joked that it was nice not having to get dressed or put many clothes on to attend.
The creativity possible and artistry on display with online presentations such as with drag shows was mentioned often.
Being able to experience a wider range of queer events because of the ease of online access is a plus.
Event platforms which provide chat functionality encourage interactivity and community.Not being able to see people in Twitch as one can with Zoom (if cams are turned on) was a downside of Twitch.
The flattening of geography and global reach of online events not only broadens the audience but provides the opportunity to book talent from across the world.
Online events can provide access for the more introverted or those dealing with social anxiety, and could serve as a bridge to eventually make them feel more comfortable coming to in-person events they might not otherwise attend. This was another vote for continuing the online experiences post-pandemic.
Online Events – What People Don’t Like
The novelty of online events has begun to wear down and producers are struggling to make money during online events. If producers can’t make money, will they have the incentive to maintain an online component once we can return to venues?
Having audiences split between Twitch, Zoom, Facebook, and so on, is problematic. People join on one platform and wonder if they are missing out on the other.
The technological savvy needed to attend events, and certainly to produce them, are hurdles.
Certain event attendees want some dedicated casual time after an event. They do not want the online event to shut down right after it is over. In lieu of holding the event open, the concept of “raiding” into other channels on Twitch or announcing during the event that they hope someone volunteers to host an after party was discussed.
Discussions about money fell into a few categories.
Online events were doing well with donations in the beginning, but some of that is trickling off. One of the reasons may be that people don’t have the money right now.
The ease of being able to tip performers or donate to events and producers via Venmo, PayPal, or some other easy mechanism is a big plus. Venmo was mentioned most often as the payment app of choice. Having Venmo or other payment information prominently displayed during an event or performance was encouraged. Patreon was another suggested support mechanism discussed.
One of the realities of the pandemic is that those venues and spaces opening for gatherings outside have a financial barrier built in. To have a drink at a bar, you need to buy food, which makes the cost prohibitive for some. In-person events with limited attendance to ensure safety also often have a high price tag associated with them. It is important to continue to take financial challenges into consideration as future events are planned.
Many of the solutions for events inside bars and venues would cost a lot. Would these places absorb these costs, or would they be prohibitive?
Since a lot of online events are donation-based, people who can afford to pay more sometimes do and those who are unable to pay can still attend. This is especially an issue now that so many are not working.
Financial accessibility has been a big plus for online events for which you do not have to pay a cover. Most events have had a request for donation, but no one is turned away for lack of funds.
Performers should be paid for their work to the best ability of producers. This can be tricky since many events are entirely donation based.
Online Event Production
It was agreed that, for now, online events are the predominant form of event gatherings to which we must all adhere. That said, there was consensus that the wider the array of event offerings, the better.
Some of the types of online events suggested were variety shows, competition shows, DJs sets, drag shows, talent contests, open mics, fiercest webcam background contests, comedy shows, dancer performances, and live music.
Many mentioned the desire to have streaming events happening at different times throughout the week instead of just on weekends to draw in more people.
Attendance has started to go down dramatically at online events. Is that because of the good weather, online fatigue, or something else?
Many expressed enjoying the ability to sit and passively consume entertainment while others said they would like to see more interactivity with the event encouraged.
A lot of people are on Zoom events but not using their cameras, and that decreases the sense of communal engagement. While it is understood some are not comfortable on camera, increasing face time can increase a sense of community.
The ask is heavy for online production. The stress of online production is a different ballgame from real life production. Everything goes through one single conduit and if anything goes wrong with the stream the whole event is over.
There was a huge consensus that the community needs as much online production skills and resources development as possible. Skill share classes and mentorships would be welcome and QNF mentioned we are considering just such projects in the future. Shared production facilities, perhaps created in venues that are currently closed, could become production studios available to the community for free or at low cost. Partnerships could be forged that share expertise and resources.
In general, the technological savvy, infrastructure and staffing expertise for online events was considered one of the greatest hurdles to a more diverse set of producers creating events.
In-Person Event Production
People seem ready to go back to in-person events, but only once they are truly safe. Some have a lower threshold of safety requirements than others. While some would consider events in the near term that responsibly social distance and maintain reasonable safety protocols, others were hesitant to attend anything in person until the pandemic is far more resolved than it is today.
It was assumed throughout the discussion that we would not be going back inside bars and venues anytime soon. So, most of the discussion centered on using outdoor spaces for events.
Outdoor spaces with lots of air seem to be the only way to go for now. The more space and moving air, the better.
While there was a lot of great discussion about how to host live events, the legal city and state mandates that prohibit any gatherings of size must obviously be adhered to. It was acknowledged that many of the ideas being offered for real time events are for the future and not for the near term.
Safety protocols such as at the door rapid testing, presenting test results for entry, door temperature checks, drawing circles or designating spaces on the ground, creating physical barriers between pods of attendees, and creating physical barriers people wear like makeshift hoop skirts or certain types of costumes were echoed throughout the event. Mask usage could be encouraged by having a best mask contest.
Karaoke bars were mentioned as a configuration model where you each have your own individual room with perhaps no more than six people per room. That solution contains people well but would still depend on ventilation in the space too.
One thing we learned from the recent Black Lives Matter rallies and protests where people spent hours in close proximity, often shouting, was that since almost everyone wore masks it does not appear a spike in transmission was linked to those events. Distancing did not happen at the protests, but masks did. So, if masks stay on and you are outdoors it can be quite safe.
A challenge for real time events is not just spacing people out in common areas, but rather handling situations like entryways and bathrooms where people will inevitably need to share the same air space with others simultaneously or shortly after others are present.
Some events by their nature enforce social distancing. Flagging (flag dancing) or moving bicycle parties were one way to build in distancing into the nature of the event itself. Properly spaced silent discos and other creative approaches to gatherings were discussed. Perhaps drive-in shows?
Providing free masks upon request for all attendees was both a good safety measure and ensures those who forgot a mask will be protected.
Alcohol and substances spawned a lot of discussion. It was agreed that once people consume alcohol or their substance of choice, their discernment of what is safe or not often flies out the window. The need for safety monitors was paramount to making sure attendees practice safe distancing, wear their masks, and wear them properly. Do we enforce one or two drink maximums when alcohol is served?
One attendee cited a UK news report that scientists discovered that drunk people are not capable of socially distancing.
Certain types of events will lend themselves better to social distancing than others. Shows that pods of separate audience members can watch or lounge environments with chill music that foster staying in one place versus dancing and moving around were considered ideal right now. The future of nightlife in the short term is seated, at tables, or with people separated by some physical or logical barriers.
For outdoor dance parties, the spacing may have to be more than the norm since people are being highly active and likely projecting droplets as they dance. Masks will help in this regard.
Burning Man participants were mentioned as highly creative at developing unique events and configurations, and that we should tap into that creativity and experience.
When we are ready to do outdoor events, we should look to the infrastructure we already have in place locally such as McLaren Park, Garcia Amphitheater, and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. There are a lot of outdoor spaces that might be free to use (but you do need a permit, which might cost money) and could possibly be sponsored by bars and organizations within the city. We should work with the city to help us with the resources that are already available.
We can get creative with rooftop parties, parties at the beach, and so on.
Speaking of the city, working with our local San Francisco Entertainment Commission, the Department of Public Health, the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors will be important to make sure the community’s queer nightlife culture needs and ideas are taken into consideration when making policy.
Many felt that at the current locations where bars and restaurants are serving in outdoor areas the enforcement of the rules and guidelines were lax. Some places are doing a better job than others. An example was people sitting at tables not actively drinking or eating unmasked for extended periods of times and not being told they were in violation.
Once our local weather turns chilly again, will people be willing to be outside and might this hurt attendance?
Valencia Street, when it is closed off at certain times for gathering, was mentioned a few times. Social distancing does not appear to be happening and some do not have masks on at all.
Someone brought up block parties with perhaps a reserved or progressive system in collaboration with the bars. If there are block parties with stages or screens, the emcee should constantly remind people to keep their mask on when not actively drinking or eating. Maybe we could create a progressive block party associated with various bars so all the bars can benefit and help keep them in business.
The concept of “party pod,” a small group of people who hang and go out together, was a common theme for real time engagement. However, someone mentioned that the reason small groups are recommended is that then it is easier to track if there is an outbreak. So, it is not necessarily safer for people within pods, but if someone does test positive it makes contact tracing easier. But yes, pods do limit exposure and it is a good way to survive this pandemic. Nothing is zero risk. It is about risk reduction. It is not likely any of the solutions discussed during the evening will be 100% safe until there’s a vaccine or if you’re home alone doing only online events.
Our reaction to the pandemic is very much behind Europe and North Asia. They are looking at a lot of ways to deal with the pandemic a little bit post where we are at nationally. It is a good idea to look to them and see what they are doing as far as trying things out and seeing what is working or not.
Will venues need to require those entering to provide accurate contact information for contact tracing if there is an outbreak and how do we ensure that the information provided is accurate?
Hybrid Event Production
Even once the pandemic subsides, many would like to see the online component of events continue because they offer important benefits.
As an example that illustrates what many envision as a hybrid approach to future events, post-pandemic one could produce a party in a club that could also provide a link for real-time viewing or a pin drop at an outdoor location if people wanted to meet up and dance with people.
Once we can go inside again, the costs to promoters due to reduced capacity, socially distant events are exceedingly difficult if not impossible to sustain.
Whether it was online, in person, or a hybrid, the need for a greater variety of events was often mentioned.
We might need to start with combination events. Those not comfortable joining in person can watch from home. Maybe you have a lottery. A small number of people get to attend the in-person event, and there is a virtual element to the party that people can watch and chat. Eventually you make this hybrid mindset part of the culture.
Perhaps offer some sort of incentivized engagement like an online scavenger hunt and the winners can go to a real time party.
If there are any questions about this summary or if you have an idea for a topic for a future Queer Nightlife Talk, contact QNF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For another insightful take on how local Bay Area nightlife culture is attempting to adapt to the times, check out the Party Radar: Necessary conversations in a time of nightlife consternation article on 48 Hills.