David Dobrik, Binging With Babish, Steve Aoki — these are just a few of the guests who have made appearances for UC Santa Barbara students in the past two months.
But with the campus left deserted from the coronavirus pandemic, the headliners have traded the usual Thunderdome and Embarcadero Hall for more unconventional venues: Zoom rooms.
For the Associated Students Program Board (ASPB), the UCSB organization responsible for securing talent and putting on shows during the year, shifting in-person performances to digital spaces to comply with the state’s stay-at-home orders did not come easily.
“The cancellation of all spring events — it was honestly pretty devastating,” Kiyomi Morrison, a third-year communication major and the commissioner of the ASPB, said. For Morrison, the biggest losses were the now-postponed Warm-Up and Extravaganza concerts held annually during spring quarter.
Once the Program Board knew these concerts couldn’t be facilitated during spring quarter, they looked for imaginative solutions, according to Morrison.
“At the end of the day, we have to really focus that our base mission is providing entertainment for students, and we can think creatively about how we can do that,” she said.
To make up for spring quarter shows and events that had been pushed back or cancelled, Morrison said ASPB decided to invite high-profile speakers for Zoom events.
The process proved to be hectic, Morrison said.
“We kind of just got thrown into this and started having to plan events really fast, versus [having] the previous quarter to plan these events,” Morrison said. “We were planning these events as they were happening.”
But despite having to move quickly, securing the talent was relatively straightforward.
“These are all speakers that I would say that we couldn’t probably bring during the normal year,” Morrison said. But the virtual nature of the events sometimes made convincing the guests simpler — the usual costs and hassles associated with traveling, staffing and paying for a venue would not be necessary, she added.
And because performers in a frozen entertainment industry no longer have the assurance of steady pay, they have become more flexible with their schedules, according to Morrison.
“Their whole livelihood was basically doing events, so I think that now they’re honestly looking for these types of gigs.”
The transition to Zoom, however, was not not completely smooth. For the first few gatherings, Morrison recounted one instance of Zoombombing and difficulties ensuring that event attendees were not from outside of UCSB.
“Some of the small issues aside, I think it’s been great and I think that people have really come together and worked hard to make these events flow,” Morrison said, adding that all ASPB members have begun to moderate events.
Morrison pointed to the Binging with Babish event as one instance of success this quarter, where the titular YouTube personality offered viewers a behind-the-scenes tour of his filming locations — a clandestine opportunity that students wouldn’t have received had the show taken place in person.
“It was our first time doing a big virtual event with an outside talent using this new webinar platform,” Morrison said. “And everyone was just so nice and wonderful and wholesome. It was really sweet.”
From that first event, the ASPB has hosted events ranging from a talk with comedian Eric Andre to a night of painting with rapper Lil Yachty, complete with a question-and-answer session.
When UCSB eventually transitions back to on-campus instruction, the ASPB will likely dial back the frequency of high-profile visits, Morrison said.
“It’s wanting to use students’ fees in the best way possible,” she said. “It would be harder to bring in the talent that we are bringing — we’re able to do this because of this kind of new situation and because the costs of it are a lot different.”
But when UCSB switches back to on-campus learning, Morrison said that the ASPB won’t forget the difficulties they overcame.
“One thing I think [the pandemic] taught us: to be really appreciative of this opportunity that we have on board to book events for students,” Morrison said. “I don’t think we realized until it was gone just how much we love doing this.”
“But how you can deal with setbacks like this, issues like this — if you can figure out a way through it, you can make great things happen,” she added.