The Mardi Gras party has got to change, punters say, and they’re not the only ones. The reason it needs to change is simple: Fewer people are interested in going.

The 2005 party attracted 19,000 people, a massive dance event by anyone’s standards, but a big fall from the 26,000 people who attended in 2001. And the poor turnout at this year’s Sleaze party -“ 6,500 people attended, 2,500 fewer than expected -“ has New Mardi Gras concerned about the crowd size at next year’s Mardi Gras party in March.

So why aren’t as many people going any more? In the past few weeks a number of experts have shared their thoughts in these pages. Some have said the gay and lesbian community no longer felt the need to come together and celebrate as one, as they did in the days when AIDS, visibility and discriminatory laws were enormous concerns for everyone.

There’s lots of discussion about what we should do with the party, Marcus Bourget, New Mardi Gras chair, told Sydney Star Observer in October.

It doesn’t have to be the be-all-and-end-all mother of all parties, but it is a huge tradition to have the Mardi Gras party at the end of the parade, so there still is a place for it. We just have to reassess and re-evaluate it, he said.

It’s a very special event. But it has to make economic sense.

There had been talk of making the party smaller, Bourget said, but there were no plans to move it from its current home at Fox Studios.

I don’t think it will be a lot smaller, but it’s going to be a lot tighter, a lot sexier, a lot glitzier and a lot more focused. I think it will have a lot more energy and dynamism to it. It has the potential to be really young, new and exciting. We have to make sure it’s a sexy party people want to come to.

Tim Duggan is the man behind the hugely successful Fag Tag parties, held at a different venue every month -“ usually a hip straight establishment. The idea is to give partygoers bored with traditional gay venues a new experience. Duggan also hosts the regular DTPM parties at Tank.

The Mardi Gras party has a very important place in our scene, but it desperately needs to change or it’s going to die, Duggan said.

Every year it’s the same. Stage goes here, musical style is this, DJs are this -“ yawn! I love Mardi Gras but I’m bored with it because it’s the same year in, year out. That’s why people are heading in droves to alternative parties like Fag Tag and DTPM, and Mardi Gras should be seeing this trend and should do something about it.

Mix up the musical style, hire some new DJs, perhaps even look seriously at a new venue. Straight promoters have been throwing phenomenal events at Homebush for years, so why doesn’t Mardi Gras? If it doesn’t evolve with the times and try something different, it is going to die and that will be a huge shame. You’ve got to take some risks to achieve success.

Stephen Craddock, organiser of Big Queer Nation, Homesexual and the man who did the marketing for this year’s Sleaze, said there had been a general softening in the market for large dance events.

It seems people are going to smaller venues, firstly because they don’t get lost and lose their friends, and also because it’s more intimate. The big huge scary halls can really put people off, as can the price of the parties, he told the Star.

Jay Myers, who each year holds the spectacular Azure party on the shores of Sydney Harbour -“ a sell-out every year -“ doesn’t agree there’s been a shift toward smaller parties. He believes people turned away from Mardi Gras parties due to a fall in production values, but that the problems had been rectified.

I think it comes down to production quality. The last Sleaze ball that was held had excellent production. There were some production issues in the past, but it’s clear Mardi Gras has dealt with that. It appears to me that Mardi Gras has considered the issues, and judging from last year’s party they seem to now have gotten it right.

But Duggan said he believed New Mardi Gras was a long way from getting it right.

Mardi Gras should also be looking at the trend toward boutique events to see how they can fit their party into it. If people want customisation and more choice, how about a Fag Tag and DTPM and Toybox room at Mardi Gras? Rather than running away from these alternative parties, Mardi Gras needs to look at the reason why they are successful and should embrace them, he said.

Mardi Gras is a very important institution, but it needs to evolve and adapt with the times in order to sustain that importance.

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