THE signature women’s event at Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has been cancelled just two weeks out leaving 400 attendees in the lurch and forcing the organisers to refund around $40,000 in ticket sales.

This morning, emails were sent to all ticketholders for Women Say Something’s Cirque de Femme event, which was due to be held on February 27, saying the evening was off.

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Cirque de Femme was to feature a gala dinner, cocktail party, stage productions and “a dynamic discussion forum unlike any other” according to publicity.

Speakers confirmed included actor and comedian Magda Szubanski, human rights activist Dorothy McCrae-McMahon and health advocate Professor Kerryn Phelps.

It was due to be held at Fairground Follies, an event space featuring old fun fair rides and mechanical museum pieces, in the Sydney inner-west suburb of St Peters.

However, organisers have said a number of concerns with the venue gave them no choice but to cancel the entire event.

“Obviously everyone in Mardi Gras and women’s group is disappointed and gutted and we know our audience will feel disappointed too,” Women Say Something founder and artistic director Steph Sands, said.

“This is a unique evening on the calendar which a lot of women look forward to.”

The former Mardi Gras chair said the event had sold strongly and the cancellation was a last resort.

“There were issues with the venue and the development application that were beyond our control,” she said.

Sands added that concerns, which included the site’s allowed capacity, came to light several weeks ago and the team “looked at 45 other venues to see if we could pick up the show and bump it in somewhere else”.

But the cost, particularly in a year where Mardi Gras is trying to turnaround its financial position, was prohibitive.

When contacted by the Star Observer, Craig Robson of Fairground Follies said they had not received any notification of the cancellation and it was the venue’s understanding the event was proceeding.

However, Robson did not confirm if the venue had the correct development application in place to allow the event to occur at all.

Sands, who thanked the small team of woman who had organised the event, said all ticketholders would get a refund or could swap their ticket for Harbour Party, Mardi Gras Party or the Parade Side Show viewing area.

Last week, Cirque de Femme was still listed on the Mardi Gras website but the $99-per-head tickets had sold out.

It is understood Mardi Gras would cover the refund costs while the organisation looked to recoup up to $40,000 in fees already paid to Fairground Follies.

Women Say Something was founded five years ago with regular events held throughout the year. It is the only Mardi Gras production to have left Sydney with an evening held at last year’s Midsumma festival in Melbourne.

“Not doing this event is really disappointing but it doesn’t mean Mardi Gras isn’t committed to women,” Sands said.

She said the festival’s women’s committee ensured women’s voices were heard and this was reflected in programming choices.

Other Women Say Something events, such as those aboard the all-female Olivia cruise, would continue and Sands said she was hopeful elements of Cirque de Femme could be rescheduled for later in the year.

Mardi Gras chief executive Michael Rolik said it was “incredibly disappointing” that the event was cancelled.

However, he said “there is still much for women to enjoy at this year’s Mardi Gras from Fair Day, to Harbour Party, our wonderful cultural festival and of course Parade and Party and we look forward to celebrating with all our communities this festival”.

(Main image credit: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

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