In a controversial first, last year’s parade and party were split across different weekends. KARL ECCLESTON looks at the lessons
learned by New Mardi Gras in the process.

Like Camilla and Charles, the Mardi Gras Party and Parade were meant for one another. Last year revellers were disappointed when the annual parade and party were calendared on separate nights meaning many — especially interstate and overseas visitors — missed out.

This year all that has changed. Both practical and philosophical lessons were learned from the split and this year Mardi Gras organisers have done their best to once more woo the ‘party faithful’.

Mardi Gras CEO Michael Rolik is quick to point out that the separation of the Parade and Party was not intentional.

“It was always going to be a big challenge. A lot of people put off coming to Sydney in 2010 as a result and we expect a great turnout in 2011. We are delighted to have the Parade and Party back on the same night.”

According to Rolik last year’s split occurred due to an error which “could have been avoided had better resourced and stronger systems of governance been in place”.

Much has been done by Mardi Gras organisers since then to address these shortcomings.

“We have addressed both these issues over the last year and now have key professional staff in place where they were previously absent,” Rolik said.

“We have put a great deal of work into ensuring New Mardi Gras has best practice in governance.”

Organisers also learnt a lot about the importance of transparency.

“Over the last 12 months we have tried to be as open as possible … the results of our forward planning have been very positive,” Rolik said.

“This year Mardi Gras has really gone back to the community and asked people what the want from the parade.”

And organisers have gauged some really strong community feedback.

“We got some really clear answers and have done a lot to address them in the last few months,” Rolik said.

“The Parade is the heart and soul of the organisation and we have got to build it up. I’m confident we’ll achieve this in 2011.”

As for the parade itself, Rolik says there is a lot that’s new about Mardi Gras’s oldest event. This year the creative driving force behind the Sydney Olympic opening ceremony, Ignatius Jones, is on board as Consulting Artistic Director.

There’s also a new workshop in Redfern and a scheme to raise up to $100,000 for Parade entries to help boost the quality of floats and other creative aspects of the Parade.

The Mardi Gras party always attracts big names, with last year’s highlights being George Michael, Kelly Rowland, Amanda Lepore and Adam Lambert. But as for this year’s party’s big star performers Rolik remains tight-lipped.

“There will definitely be some big name stars in town for the Parade, but at this stage they are under wraps!”

Of course Mardi Gras is much more than parade and party. There’s a real spectrum of events this year with some old favourites and new additions.

This year the Mardi Gras Harbour Party is being run as a co-production with promoter Johan Khoury, bringing his programming and production expertise to the iconic dance event.

A number of other firsts at the festival this year include a Harbour Cruise, a Beach Party and the TOP Party at the highest address in town, the Sydney Tower. There are also a number of events making a return this year, affirming their place as festival favourites.

“We’re bringing back the Pool Party at the Ivy, Drag Races at Bondi Beach and the Lifesavers with Pride Beach BBQ which were all popular additions to the program last year,” Rolik said.

There will also be a performance by Emmy and Grammy award-winning actress Lily Tomlin on February 4 and both American writer Armistead Maupin (best known for his Tales of the City novels) and GBLTQ activist Peter Tatchell (who twice attempted a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe) will be appear at the second Queer Thinking talkfest.

The Mardi Gras campaign slogan this year is ‘Say Something’ and Rolik is keen to point out that the organisation wants the community to call the shots.

“We aren’t Mardi Gras. The community is Mardi Gras and the community is the message,” he said. Which is why the organisation is placing a greater emphasis on consultation to find the creative spark which is “the life of the parade”.

Above all, organisers are keen to see Mardi Gras remain contemporary and relevant.

“Every year is an important year for Mardi Gras,” Rolik said. “But 2011 promises to show just how much has been achieved over the last few years.”

The organisers are willing to admit that last year’s Mardi Gras was not the most successful, but if anything it has put them in better stead to deliver a better event.

“Last year was a difficult year, but I think it genuinely has made us stronger,” Rolik said.

“Better at getting hold of talent; better at attracting visitors; better at producing knock-out events.”

And to old and new Mardi Gras-goers alike, Rolik has just one thing to add: “You won’t want to miss it!”

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