New Mardi Gras wants member feedback on a new parade night party after being burnt by criticism it failed to consult widely enough on booking the parade and party over two separate weekends.

The additional -˜surprise’ Mardi Gras event scheduled for parade night on 28 February has been in planning for months, NMG chair David Imrie said, and could be members-only. An email was sent to members on Monday.

-œSome of our members felt we hadn’t consulted with them enough on the matter. This is a good opportunity for members to give us their feedback on this particular event, he said.

Imrie claimed the changes were market-tested on 1500 volunteers and 46 parade organisers.

But the announcement last week came as a surprise to a lot of NMG members and the community, generating more than 100 responses on Sydney Star Observer’s website and dozens of letters.

-œEvery now and then we get smacked in the face that Mardi Gras is no longer relevant and people don’t care. I think the healthy debate and discussion about this change shows people do care, Imrie said.

-œWe’ll never know how successful this format will be until we try it, and this isn’t forever more.

-œSome of the conspiracy theories and myths running around are quite bizarre. There are a whole lot of factors to consider and we’ve planned a great season.

A more compact two-week arts festival was one of those decisions. Those involved last season cited the cramped schedule as reason for concern.

-œWe’re not trying to limit people to two weeks, they can put events on whenever they like, Imrie said, adding the new format wasn’t set in stone.

He denied suggestions the decision to move the parade forward was financially motivated to resurrect the Harbour Party from two successive years of losses. Ticket sales for both the official and Harbour parties would likely be helped by the shift, he admitted, as only a quarter of volunteers were buying discounted tickets at present.

Local parade participants from floats such as Twenty10 and the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service cited energy levels and their desire to attend the official party as a reason to support the changes.

A spokesman from the award-winning Lifesavers With Pride float said the post-parade event would be crucial to the success of the altered festival.

-œI think its a great idea as it means that people who go to the parade can go to the party as well, he said.

-œThe downside is the scene would have to make sure a similar (but smaller) event is on to cater for the crowds after the parade, otherwise -¦ the city will be full of people with nowhere to go.

Twenty10 managing director Rebecca Reynolds said the changes were positive.

-œOn a personal perspective, having worked across parade and party, I feel a sense of relief with the change. It certainly is going to be a more managable work load.

-œFrom the perspective of young people, the change brings with it more chance to engage with the different aspects of the Festival, while not losing their attention. In the past, those who have not been able to afford to go onto the party, have felt their night has been diminished, so we hope the change will prevent this.

But interstate visitors told SSO they couldn’t afford to stay for two weekends and would have to choose.
Long-time Canberra float organiser Richard Allen wondered what NMG was thinking.

-œPeople in Canberra can’t afford to have two weekends in a row to celebrate Mardi Gras -” I wish they’d leave it alone, he said. -œI will be there for the parade but not the party.

California resident Mark Bruce intends to stay the extra week but he had booked flights on advice from NMG sponsor Atlantis Events.

-œWe will make some air adjustments here and hope the changes won’t cost too much, he said.

Passengers booked on February’s Atlantis cruise from New Zealand to Sydney were not told of the split events, even though the company was consulted about the decision more than a month ago. Several customers claimed to have been told the cruise operator had successfully convinced NMG to move the parade forward to match the advertised cruise date.

NMG was unable to move the official party forward from 6 March as the venue in the Entertainment Quarter was already booked and the venue was not available on 28 February.

Imrie denied there had been an organising mistake and said he was unaware the NMG sponsor had been telling customers all the key events were on the 28 February weekend.

-œI wasn’t aware of that. Atlantis have been aware of what our programming was and the dates we booked the venue for the party. So I’m not sure how that’s occurred.

Imrie also advised that the NSW Premier’s department had advised NMG against holding the parade on 6 March to avoid major sporting events.

Imrie said he still wants to hear more suggestions on the changes and the parade night event. He claimed they had already received more than 40 responses, mostly positive.

info: You can let Mard Gras know your throughts on the festival change by emailing feedback@mardigras.org.au

Film festival will alter

Queer Screen admits the shortened festival will impact on them, and would have liked more consultation.

-œObviously, having parade day in the middle of the cultural festival has an enormous impact on the way Queer Screen presents the Mardi Gras Film Festival, Queer Screen manager Lex Lindsay said.

-œTraditionally that is our biggest screening weekend.

-œWe will be announcing our festival dates soon and hope our loyal audience understands we will have to run with a different schedule of screenings than they may be familiar with. Needless to say, the quality of the content won’t be affected.

Cultural cut a cruel move

Former NMG board sponsor for the festival and ’78er Diane Minnis was concerned the overall festival had been cut in half from two years ago.

-œI think its counter-productive for everyone concerned, Minnis said. -œI don’t think it is possible to fit everything in and not be crammed.

The festival catered to a diverse range of the community, she said. This would be made harder with a shorter timetable.

-œMore women participate in Fair Day and the arts festival than the party for instance, and a broader range of the community participates in Fair Day and the festival events, Minnis said.

Festival-like events, such as a film night, had been part of Mardi Gras since 1978, she added, whereas the party didn’t come for several years.

Split -˜makes sense’ for parade volunteers

Splitting the party and parade makes common sense, a long-term Mardi Gras volunteer says.

Suzanne Freestone, who has given more than 15 years service to Mardi Gras, said the split weekend would allow volunteer parade officials to enjoy both events without feeling tired and stressed.

-œIt is really going to take the pressure off the parade volunteers, she told Sydney Star Observer. -œMore than 50 percent of volunteers don’t go to the party because they are too tired and exhausted.

-œIt will also be good for the parade though. There are a lot of people who don’t go to the parade because they are at home getting ready for the party. Now they can go to both.

Freestone said she hoped splitting the event would make it easier for volunteers at the end of the parade.

-œAs a group, the parade volunteers latch on to the end of the parade to follow it back into the finale area. We get hundreds of people following us up the route on their way to the party. It can be downright dangerous. We’ve been pelted with bottles, spat on and attacked.

-œThis year was better because we had some police support, but in previous years I’ve been hit over the head, attacked, pushed and shoved. If there is no party to attend, one would think this should ease off.

Additional reporting by Scott Abrahams

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