Suidoosterfees is an important annual festival in the South African calendar, and specifically for the Cape Region. It usually includes comedy, cabaret, and musical contributions including well-known, classical folk songs and other popular pieces. It also usually includes original theatre productions. In consideration of the restrictions imposed by Covid-19, Suidoosterfees used a combination of a drive-in format as well as a small theatre to host performances at the November 2020 edition of the event to overcome the constraints of lockdown restrictions.
Future Festival South Africa is working with the organisers to understand how the audiences and contributors have experienced the new formats.
For the drive-in events, a maximum of 150 vehicles were permitted, and 50 people were allowed to attend the live theatre events in person, which were also projected onto big screens for viewing by drive-in audiences.
The Future Festivals research team facilitated an online audience survey of the 2020 festival, which was filled in by 72 people: 54% were First-Time Attendees and 46% Repeat Attendees.
In general, the results were overwhelmingly positive: 81% of those who had been before said they enjoyed the drive-in event, and 13% said they preferred it.
In terms of reasons for attending, 65% were attracted by the drive-in format, and 43% wanted to experience a cultural event as the lockdown eased towards the end of 2020. 54% of First-Time Attendees were attracted by a specific artist or performer.
On an overall one to ten rating scale (where ten meant “excellent”), 97% of attendees gave the event a rating above 5, with 64% giving it a rating of nine or ten.
85% of attendees said they would definitely like to attend future drive-in events, 14% said they might attend, and only 1% said they did not want attend drive-in events in the future.
One question in our survey invited respondents to make suggestions for the next edition of Suidoosterfees, taking as a starting point the possibility that social distancing measures will still be in place for the 2021 festival.
The most frequent type of response was simply to praise the 2020 festival, with comments including “Was a fantastic experience!” and “Everything was perfect and the event was very well organized”.
A small number of respondents made suggestions related to Covid-19, with contrasting opinions on whether social distancing measures should be increased or decreased. One respondent, for example, suggested that audiences should be able to dance and applaud outside their vehicles, whilst another suggested more people should wear masks. However, it was a very small minority of responses that addressed these issues. Other suggestions included new ways to market the festival next year, an improved food offering, and improved sound quality.
Following the festival, we had the chance for a brief focus group conversation with the festival team. They described the challenges of planning and delivering the festival this year, working around the clock to make it happen. Whilst a festival is always a huge undertaking, 2020 was of course an exceptional year in which the Suidoosterfees team had to work out the logistics of a socially distanced drive-in experience.
We asked whether they had considered other ways to present the festival, and whilst an online version was a possibility, given the levels of “screen fatigue” people are experiencing the organisers were keen to put on a live event. The drive-in format comes with specific additional costs, and a reduction of ticket sales due to decreased capacity. But although this would be a challenging model to sustain, with the involvement of partner organisations providing sponsorship and support in kind it is “doable”.
The festival team was pleased with how much audiences liked the drive-in experience, including several attendees who told the organisers it was “something really nostalgic and nice for them to do”, and asking that the format be part of the next festival. The festival team enjoyed that audiences were so supportive of the event – including showing their appreciation by flashing car lights and hooting car horns.
The organisers were also delighted that the artists seemed to enjoy the format. Some artists expressed gratitude that the event happened at a time when so many other events had been cancelled, and some commented that playing to a drive-in was a “first time experience” which was enjoyable in itself.
Reflecting on the festival as a whole, the Suidooserfees team are pleased they were able to put on the event in this way. Although some drive-in movie screenings have taken place in South Africa during the pandemic, this was a rare opportunity for audiences to see and hear live acts – from the safety of their vehicles.