Mardi Gras will rise to the occasion

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras staff, volunteers, stakeholders and supporters at the official 2021 Mardi Gras launch at the SCG on Sunday, 8 November, 2020. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

The 2021 Mardi Gras Parade is definitely on. It’s an exhilarating statement in an atmosphere of postponements, cancellations and uncertainty. Of course, it won’t be quite the same – but then Mardi Gras never is, writes Rita Bratovich.

“This year, we had to make some tough decisions. As the year wore on it became clear we weren’t going to be able to hold the Mardi Gras Parade in the same way,” said Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger during the official launch for Mardi Gras 2021 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Sunday.

“And that deeply saddened us. Oxford Street is the home of Mardi Gras and will always be the home of Mardi Gras.”

However, there was never a suggestion that the show would not go on.

“In our minds, cancelling the Mardi Gras Parade was not an option,” said Kruger. 

Consolidating all the creativity, resourcefulness, and ne’er-say-die perseverance that is endemic to the organisation, Mardi Gras came up with a brilliant pivot: hold the event in a stadium. 

“We chose the [SCG] as it’s close to our home on Oxford Street and big enough to hold 23,000 people while abiding by our Covid-safe plan,” explained Kruger. 

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

It will be a ticketed event with strictly limited numbers and every health and safety standard required at the time diligently adhered to. That said, it’s still going to be one hell of a party. 

The parade floats and performers have not been finalised yet, but some exciting announcements about Mardi Gras 2021 – the theme of which is ‘Rise’ – are expected in the coming weeks.

The parade will be broadcast live by SBS, providing an opportunity for satellite celebrations in other venues, as well as for people to watch from home. 

One thousand free tickets will be reserved for members in the community who are feeling the impact of Covid-19. 

Mardi Gras has worked closely with SCG Trust CEO Kerrie Mather for months to come up with a safe, enjoyable solution. 

“This will be completely new. This will be a step change in the way that we’ve actually welcomed inclusiveness … because I think it’s always been a ground for all the people of NSW,” Mather told the Sentinel

“The SCG has been around since the 1850s and we’ve written lots of chapters in inclusiveness … but this is actually, I think, an opportunity to dial it up a level.”

Mather said many different organisations have approached her wanting to use the SCG for various projects, but this one felt right. 

“When you think about the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the cultural diversity and the inclusiveness that brings, and the excitement it brings to Sydney – I think that creates a new dimension.”

Drag performers at Sunday’s Mardi Gras launch. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore addressed the gathering at Sunday’s launch. She praised the inventiveness of Mardi Gras and the general spirit of resilience within the community.

Moore pointed out that the 2020 parade was the last major event held in Sydney before the lockdowns were announced, adding that the 2021 parade may well be the first major event in what is hopefully a year of recovery. 

“The show is going to go on in 2021 without endangering lives or health. So the City is proud to support you and to fly the rainbow flag above Town Hall once again.”

In his address, state Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich spoke of the many LGBTQI pride celebrations that were cancelled this year, and how next year’s parade represents resurgence. 

“The fact that we have Mardi Gras happening in 2021 means it won’t just be a celebration for us in Sydney, and for our state and for our country, it will be a celebration for the entire world and a beacon of hope for LGBTQI communities around the world.”

Greenwich told the Sentinel he was thrilled to be involved with the event.  

“It’s so important to be able to support the arts and creative sector and to make sure there’s a platform for it, and to see the sector being celebrated.

“And we know that it will also generate tens of millions of dollars for the local economy as well, which is so exciting.”

Asked if he believed this was a sign of things starting to improve, Greenwich replied: “I hope so, I really hope so – and I think that announcements like this are a real show of confidence that they will.”

GALLERY: 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras official launch, SCG, 8/11/2020. Photos by Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

Previous and prospective participants in the parade were also present at the launch.  Brett Solway has marched with the Free, Gay and Happy float every year since 2011. After the 2020 parade, he was already thinking about the next one – and then the pandemic hit. 

“I’m impressed that they’ve come up with the SCG considering the current environment that we’re in, and that the SCG has helped out,” Solway told the Sentinel.

“It’s a little bit different, but that’s what Mardi Gras is about – celebrating difference.”

Apart from obvious things such as no trucks, and the fact they’ll be walking on flat grass instead of uphill on bitumen, Solway doesn’t see any significant changes in the event. 

“And the one good thing about having a stadium is people will be looking down at us instead of having to stand on milk crates to see us.”

The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade will be held from 6pm Saturday, 6 March 2021 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Driver Avenue, Moore Park. Tickets ($15 concession, $20 general, $50 for groups of four) are available now at https://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=MARDIGRA21.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Members are entitled to two complimentary tickets. Enter your unique access code in the password section at the above link to unlock your tickets.

For more information about Mardi Gras, visit www.mardigras.org.au.

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