The Boite haven’t stopped hosting gigs since March: Here’s how they did it

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The Boite haven’t stopped hosting gigs since March: Here’s how they did it

Iaki Vallejo (image by Maurizio Salvati) and Ryan Williams
Words by Tom Parker

The Boite will celebrate what has been a tough-but-rewarding 2020 with their End of Year Concert on Sunday November 29.

On March 19, just a week after the COVID-19 crisis caused venue shutdowns all across the country, The Boite announced the introduction of Adapt, Not Cancel, an online concert series that aimed to resuscitate gigs that would’ve ordinarily been cancelled.

As artists were losing shows left, right and centre, The Boite moved quickly to ensure their promises were upheld, and soon enough, performers were gearing up for a different type of gig – a online gig performed in front of a camera and livestreamed across the internet.

Initially conceived as a way of repurposing shows that had been booked for imminent weeks, soon enough, Adapt, Not Cancel would be become something more significant than that. The longer we were forced apart, the more momentum the concert series gained.

Now, Adapt, Not Cancel is a fully-fledged online gig platform that can continue for as long as COVID-19 persists, and then beyond that as we begin to reconceive how our live music industry will look in a post-COVID world.

For The Boite Managing Director Eyal Chipkiewicz, Adapt, Not Cancel came about as a natural fight-or-flight response to the unprecedented situation that was before him.

“My response was immediate: we keep going… I wasn’t sure how but I knew it wasn’t the end of the world. My commitment with problem solving and figuring it out was way too strong to control it,” Chipkiewicz says.

“That’s how “Adapt, Not Cancel” came to be. It seemed like “cancel” was suddenly the most-used word everywhere I looked. Emails were coming in with “cancel” in the headline, some I had to send myself. It was all over the news, everyone you talked to was telling you of another “cancelled” booking. So the disobedient teenager in me called it out: adapt, not cancel.”

Transitioning to the online gig format has presented many challenges for the organisation, but each impediment has been a source for growth. Firstly, the concerns were indebted in artist confidence and while it took The Boite up to three months to refine Adapt, Not Cancel to a point where it was glitch-free, the series has brought people together at a time where they are most isolated.

“The first and most evident challenge we faced was getting the musicians on board. For many, the first reaction was to withdraw. Others were hesitant but gave it a go. And of course, there were a few brave, adventurous souls who jumped into the pool with us,” Chipkiewicz says.

“We couldn’t really assure anyone that the event would be perfect, because we were learning as we went ourselves. In fact, I think it took us about three months before the first concert [went] without a glitch. But I think we did a good job at communicating that in those circumstances all we could expect was to give it a good try and that whatever happened, cancelling was an even worse plan.”

Standing here eight months on from the inauguration of Adapt, Not Cancel, The Boite has presented 53 shows, hosted more than 80 workshops and choir sessions, and provided paid work for over 350 musicians and techs as part of the concert series.

To create and deliver something of such magnitude can only occur through the hard work of a unified collective. Alongside Chipkiewicz, Adapt, Not Cancel wouldn’t be possible without the support of Programming Director Therese Virtue booking the shows.

Then there’s Harmonic Whale, the Melbourne tech gurus who were crucial in making the conversion to the livestream format possible. They were also tasked with upholding The Boite’s technology and production values – one that prides itself on the natural instrument sporting only minimal, if any, amplification.

Virtue and the Harmonic Whale crew are two members of a small team The Boite had assembled to bring Adapt, Not Cancel to life. It couldn’t have worked without the contribution of all those involved.

Some of the artists that have performed as part of Adapt, Not Cancel include the likes of Linsey Pollak, Oscar Jimenez, Iaki Vallejo, Avaye Rood, Zulya & The Children of the Underground, Miyama McQueen-Tokita and Ryan Williams in a special collaborative performance, Sarita McHarg alongside Melbourne Amplified Strings, as well as Anne Norman.

For revered sitarist McHarg, the biggest challenge in adapting to the livestream format lied in fostering the artist-audience connection, something which usually comes organically in the live setting. McHarg has also come out of the process with some new skills.

“Well first of all, I thought, how will I communicate to people online. It’s not the same as going to a live gig and feeling the energy of the people,” McHarg says of the livestream gig format.

“I had to also become a videographer and sound engineer in some sense, because I had to learn how to set up the video and sound for my online gigs, which wasn’t easy.”

On Sunday November 29, The Boite will celebrate what has been a profound and edifying 2020 with their End of Year Concert – a music marathon from 2pm to 8:30pm that will broadcast livestreamed performances and pre-recordings by many of the artists who were part of the The Boite’s program this year.

“All in all [as part of the End of Year Concert] we have 32 acts with over 20 different cultural heritages represented,” Chipkiewicz concludes.

“Throughout the afternoon, there will be short conversations with the musicians about what the year has meant for them. And we will be fundraising for The Boite’s 2021 activities, which will be no less vibrant or adventurous but hopefully less freakish and apocalyptic.”

The events of 2020 have exposed society’s concerning trajectory, and while there is much to lament, it’s also important to honour the trailblazers who have persevered and persisted.

The Boite could have easily called the year off and sat things out until 2021 came around but they haven’t earned their reputation as Victoria’s most celebrated multicultural music organisation for nothing.

So Adapt, Not Cancel was a go, and how much better the local music industry has been for it.

The Boite’s End of Year Concert goes down on Sunday November 29 from 2pm to 8:30pm. Watch it for free via The Boite’s Facebook page

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