The deadline for parade entries is only three weeks away, but New Mardi Gras creative committee members Phillipa (Pip) Playford and Ron Smith say there is plenty of time to come up with new ideas. In fact, Playford and Smith say the time is ripe to reinvigorate the parade and get back to our fabulous roots.

We kind of need to hearken back to early Mardi Gras techniques that don’t involve a lot of steel and don’t involve a lot of huge budgets -¦ basically create more of a people-oriented parade rather than one with big floats, big expensive entries. And that’s fabulous, Smith says. A parade veteran who marched in the original 1978 protest, Smith worked on classic entries including Imelda Marcos’s shoes and Fred Nile’s head on a platter. Artistic director from 1986 to 1988, Smith eventually left the organisation disenchanted.

One of the horrible things that had happened to Mardi Gras was that it had turned into so much of a produced, big-budget event, Smith said.

Pip Playford agrees. As an artist, designer or participant, Playford has been involved in every Mardi Gras parade since 1989, winning the individual costume prize for her Cowdyke costume in 1995, as well as designing the poster in 1992. As excited as she is about the possibilities of renewal and change possible since the collapse of old Mardi Gras, Playford is aware that the community at the moment is feeling a bit bitter and twisted and angry.

There’s a lot of negativity out there from the general community saying, oh well, what’s the point? Why do you have to have our own events or whatever? said Playford.

We do have to have our own events, because we’ve got a completely different culture and that needs to be celebrated, and we need to celebrate it with our own people. And that’s a really good thing! We don’t want to be homogenised.

Smith pipes in. It’s the one opportunity for most people to make their dreams come true -¦ so many people are obsessed with old movies, or whatever weird fantasy they have, and kind of imagine making the big movie, being the Busby Berkeley and it’s never going to happen. This is the one chance it can.

For Playford, the parade has played a huge role in realising such fantasies, and reclaiming any number of labels. She was one of the first to hit the golden mile dressed as a human-sized lemon, and in 1991 created The Fish That Joan West Selects. A school of lesbians wearing fish masks and occasionally wrapped in newspaper, the group held signs including Tuna Turner, Marlin Dietrich and Stop the Batterings.

It’s your stage for the night, adds Playford. You can do whatever you like. That’s a pretty amazing opportunity. The straights have tickertape parades and they all love it. They all hanker to get into them, if they’ve, like, put out someone’s fire in the bushfires. We’ve got Mardi Gras every year, where we know that we can completely take over.

Whether it’s an individual entry or a marching group, Playford and Smith both agree that entries don’t have to cost a lot of money. Everyday materials from shopping bags and polystyrene cups can be transformed with a little imagination. Smith says that it’s about turning shit into a birthday cake, then adds, with considerable heresy, that it doesn’t even matter if it looks like shit.

It’s also about the experience of working with other people, insists Smith. The whole bonding experience of working with other people. Even if what you produce is shit, at least you’ve had that bonding thing.

I was pretty well estranged from Mardi Gras for the last 15 years -¦ [but] this is an opportunity to rediscover community cultural development. Which Mardi Gras was and can be again -“ Australia’s leading community cultural development organisation. And I think the community demands that -¦ They want a voice and they want the Mardi Gras organisation to basically be a facilitator.

They want them to organise the security and the lighting and the whatever. But they don’t want to be told what to think or how to dress. They don’t want a gay government.

Smith and Playford hope to be available at the workshop premises at Erskineville on most weekends, and New Mardi Gras are currently seeking a workshop manager and volunteers to keep the workshop open as often as possible until 1 March. The pair are also keen to be on hand to offer support and encouragement.

Applications for parade entrants can be downloaded from the New Mardi Gras website at and applications close on 7 February.


Keep it simple

Ron Smith Don’t hesitate to use fluoros and glitter and metallics and all that sort of thing but keep them pure -¦ There’s a classic thing of getting a reflector and then putting a jewel shape on top of that, and then sticking cellophane over that and then putting glue over that and sprinkling glitter on it. And then spraying that gold. People really do it. In the end you have -˜brown’.

Pip Playford Think about a strong visual impact. Try and not use lots of different materials, try and use maybe one. Or one object that you would repeat and repeat and repeat.

Keep it cheap
PP Shop at Reverse Garbage [142 Addison Rd, Marrickville], Spotlight [stores at Bondi Junction, Liverpool etc.], two-dollar shops and supermarkets.

RS There are cheap tricks like recycled shopping bags. Everyone can sit down and you can shred the shopping bags or tie knots in them or you can make hair out of it, make pompoms or get chicken wire and weave it into the chicken wire.

PP You could make huge pompoms -“ you know what the impact was at the Gay Games, the visual impact of that. Walking down the parade, even if you’ve only got 10 people who’ve got huge pompoms and they’re doing formation stuff and whatever, it could look really fabulous. You look at parade entrants and you go, -˜Oh wow, they’ve used polystyrene cups.’ It’s something everyday that you take for granted, but then when you put it into an artistic context, it has a whole new life and it’s really fabulous material.

Keep it dry
RS Things like feathers, fabric, anything that absorbs water is risky. Make it waterproof, make it light -¦ The only major thing that Peter Tully ever made in the parade, it started at the Art Gallery and it got to the corner of the cathedral, where it collapsed and was dragged up Oxford Street, because it was all made out of fabric and it all absorbed water and it was raining. It was a huge chandelier with hula hoops and fabric and it didn’t even make it halfway.

PP As long as you can get to the end of the parade. Well, maybe don’t do it completely out of rice paper, even that’s pretty strong though!

Keep it high
RS Really try and get height. If there’s a shortage of floats, you really want height. We want height and we want noise.

PP If you’re going to have something with height, try and build it off your shoulders rather than on your head. You might make something that’s incredibly fabulous but it only comes to life with a human being in it. So if you’re walking up the parade route and you can’t actually move very well, it’s going to look pretty lifeless. You’ve got to make it quite lightweight.

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