HIGH on the to-do list for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’ new interim chief executive is looking at the possibility of reversing the direction of the iconic parade, so it heads towards and even through the CBD.
In an exclusive interview with the Star Observer to mark her ascension to the top job, Michele Bauer said preparations for Mardi Gras’ 40th anniversary in 2018 were also a top priority and that the current season was on track for a “positive” financial result following last year’s cost blow outs.
Bauer praised her predecessor, highlighting an increase in sponsorship and the handling of the relationship with police following accusations of heavy handedness at previous parties and parades.
“Michael’s done some amazing things for the organisation,” she said.
“When we had the policing problems a couple of years ago he has worked very closely with the police to improve those processes… to the point where complaints are pretty much nothing.”
Bauer, who was raised in upstate New York and settled in Australia 12 years ago, has a background in arts and entertainment.
Previous employers have included New York’s famous Metropolitan Opera, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Victorian Opera.
Bauer says a career highlight was working on the broadway production of Suessical The Musical based on the madcap Dr Seuss children’s books.
She joined the Mardi Gras board in 2012 after volunteering, which included a stint of “sawing things and sticking things” in the workshop.
Bauer acknowledged Mardi Gras had a difficult 2014, recording a $178,000 loss and having to face questions about music choices at signature events.
“It’s no secret we had a loss last year and some of the feedback about Harbour Party was not fantastic,” she said.
“[But] I can honestly say that that has completely taken a 180.”
She added that Mardi Gras “took on board the feedback, made changes and it’s paid off,” citing favourable feedback for Harbour Party and that numbers for the post-Parade party were “way okay” despite a reduced footprint with the closure of the Dome venue.
Asked if Mardi Gras would be able to turn round last year’s loss, Bauer said “the numbers aren’t done yet but it will be a more positive result”.
Bauer was appointed direct from the board following a failed search for a permanent CEO.
“We went out to market, we had a bunch of people apply and some of the choices didn’t work out for various reasons and so the board chose to make an internal appointment for up to six to nine months,” she said.
Bauer would not be drawn on whether renumeration was a sticking point in appointing a permanent CEO or if other board members had stood against her for the interim position.
However, despite the caretaker role, Bauer said there was no time to rest.
“It can’t just be ticking the boxes, we’re moving too rapidly for that,” she said.
“We’re heading towards the 40th anniversary and we need to start planning for that and where we want to be in three years.”
Bauer said she would follow through on Rolik’s plan to look at changing the parade’s direction or even threading it through Sydney CBD streets like the popular St Patricks Day and Chinese New Year parades.
Currently, the parade route starts on the CBD fringe at the beginning of Oxford St and heads down to Moore Park via Taylor Square and Flinders St.
“We are exploring the feasibility of that and exactly would that would entail because we already shut down half the city for Parade so if we turn around what will that do and who will that affect,” Bauer said.
One consequence of reversing the Parade could mean it would open up alternative venues for party.
Was that being considered?
“We have a relationship with the Entertainment Quarter for now but no contract lasts forever,” Bauer said.
“We are exploring what other options there are and how the EQ itself is going to change over the next three to four years and not just them but also Darling Harbour.
“The whole city is going through a massive period of change in the next five years and we will ultimately be affected by that.”
While none of these changes were likely before next year, one change Bauer was actively looking into was how to ensure the Parade reached a larger audience.
While full of praise for SBS’ highlights show, she was aware not all the floats were featured on the broadcast.
“We’d be crazy not to at least explore the option of a live web broadcast,” she said.
However, “legal limitations” such as music licensing regulations, meant it wasn’t a forgone conclusion.
Bauer said she was comfortable with the balance between the commercial and the political at Mardi Gras, noting the focus on homophobia in sport at this year’s parade.
She said Mardi Gras was a “fabulous organisation” which supported a festival that was all about self expression.
“You can cheer about it, dance about it, write a sign or whatever it is that you want to do and we provide the platform,” she said.