Every year, usually just before Christmas, Australia’s gay and lesbian community starts gossiping. That same gossip dominates conversation at nightclubs, dinner parties, community gatherings and online chat forums.

It’s predictable and exciting, entertaining and amsuing. We are talking about the Mardi Gras party performer rumour mill.
This year we’ve been treated to a bevy of rumours fuelled by half-truths, assumptions and guesses, not least of which is Kelly Rowland, thanks a seeming information leak on her website.

Of course Kylie Minogue is up there — as she is every year. And there is still a handful of people out there who push the Madonna appearance. Even Barbra Streisand rates the occassional mention in some circles. But with performers like Whitney Houston, George Michael, Tom Jones, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga all touring around Mardi Gras Festival time, the 2010 rumour mill is working so hard it is almost burned out.

Though she won’t give anything away, New Mardi Gras’ head of events, Katrina Martin, said the rumour was all part of the excitement and build-up towards the party.

“I think the rumours are part and parcel of the build-up to the Party — they always have been. I enjoy the speculation, it’s fun and of course it’s even  more fun being in on the secret,” Martin said.

“I think some people put emphasis on a ‘star’ performance, but I think most people value the party for many reasons beyond that.
“It’s often magical to catch that ‘star’ moment as a partygoer, but there are many other highlights during the night.”
But with rumour comes expectation. And with expectation comes pressure — and the pressure to deliver a party that tops previous years’ is one staff and volunteers can’t help but feel.

“Mardi Gras always has pressure to deliver and if we didn’t have expectations placed upon us there would be nothing to aspire to,” Martin said. “The best creativity is born from certain pressures — a little like the best diamonds.”

Of course the Mardi Gras party has attracted some big names over the years. La Minogue has performed twice, as has her little sister Dannii. We’ve also had Jimmy Somerville, Jimmy Barnes, Deborah Cox, Tina Cousins, Thelma Houston and the Village People.
In recent years Cyndi Lauper, Olivia Newton-John and Natalie Bassingthwaighte have added their names to the illustrious roll call.

But for Martin there are three who rank up there above the others — although for different reasons.

“Kylie was great both times she performed – the feel of the crowd was incredible and she was a delight to work with for everyone,” Martin said.

“I also loved the famous Jimmy Barnes show because the crowd was surprised and then went right with it — it was a hoot. Of the New Mardi Gras era, I’d say Cyndi Lauper was fabulous.”

Of course, long before we even start gossiping about the whos and whens, the team at New Mardi Gras has been hard at work pulling together lists of possible performers for the event.

“It commences really with a wish list and research on who might be available or around at the time,” Martin said. “There are many ways it happens — sometimes artists express an interest before we even ask. Other artists are harder to get to, through the maze of agents, record companies and management … and then you discover some guy you know dated their makeup artist and suddenly you’re in.”

And choosing that performer?

“Usually someone with a great voice or a great song that resonates with our crowd — of course iconic performers like Kylie have been perfect,” Martin said.

“What rules artists out is simply not being good enough. It’s much better to focus our efforts on producing a great show if there is no great talent around.”

Behind the scenes, Martin and her team work frantically to pull the production together. Like every other live show — there’s no miming at a Mardi Gras party unless you’re a drag queen! — there’s more to a show than a performer and song choice. Staging, lighting and sound are all areas that can make or break a show.

“Shows, like many things we do, are a combination of volunteer and professional talents and energies. I think this is the secret ingredient — the frisson that results in something special,” Martin said. “We use volunteer and professional dancers, we have talented people on our working group who are artists professionally but donate their time.

“In production areas we most often use professional people, but again we are able to give volunteers the experience working alongside professionals in the industry. I’ve seen many volunteers inspired toward a career of their own in production after volunteering.”

After a couple of years of announcing the key performer New Mardi Gras has restated its policy of not releasing performer details ahead of the party.

“The rumour mill is already buzzing away — as well it should,” former NMG CEO Anna McInerney said.

“2010 sees an unprecedented array of talent coming to Sydney on or around Mardi Gras and obviously we’re talking to all the people you’d expect.

“Speculation and anticipation about major acts has been one of the unique things about the party in the past and we think that it’s time to return to that formula. We’re going to keep you guessing until the very last.

“It’s like Christmas presents. Much as you desperately want to know what you’re getting, it’s actually much more fun if it’s kept a surprise.”

New Mardi Gras marketing manager Damien Eames must create an atmosphere of hype and buzz around the party to drive ticket sales — without telling people one of the key ingredients.

“This year it’s all about selling the surprise. I think that’s a really magical part of the Mardi Gras party brand of old and I’m delighted we’re bringing it back,” he said.

Given how central the rumour mill is to creating hype around the party, New Mardi Gras could be forgiven for fuelling some of the rumours itself.

“I think the rumours help get people excited, but I think people get their ticket for a whole mixture of reasons,” Eames said. “It’s hard not to start a rumour if you work for Mardi Gras. I can’t mention an artist without one of my friends taking it as a sign that he or she is appearing.”

Of course the proof of a good party comes when it’s all over and the community starts talking about their experience. For Martin that means a full 10 hours of enjoyment — not just 10 minutes of starstruck gay and lesbian heaven.

“I always hope the revellers go home smiling and satisfied with their whole night. I hope they’ve spent a wonderful 10 hours being entertained, they’ve caught their special moment and they have lots of stories to tell,” she said.

And how will they know if they did a great job?

“There are a lot of dry old ‘performance indicators’ to use some weasel words … but I can say that you can actually feel it. You can feel instinctively at the end from the vibe of the crowd whether it was a good one.”

So have a little Faith people, the party is going to be a great one if you Wanna Dance With Somebody and perhaps even Step Back In Time and have your own Love Story. But watch out for the Paparazzi on your way in the door.

info: The New Mardi Gras Party will be held on March 6 at the Entertainment Quarter.

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