life is a cabaret… our response to the mardi gras rebranding

Much has been said over the weekend regarding the Mardi Gras rebranding, the new logo, and the new name. I won’t hyperlink to the articles, blogs and facebook comments; if you’re involved in our community, you’ll have read them for yourself.

blackcat productions has submitted a number of events for Mardi Gras, under the banner of a month-long season of queer cabaret, blackcat lounge. We have spent the last months busily programming the season and were looking forward to Friday’s launch with much excitement.

On seeing the renaming and rebranding, I’ll admit we were disappointed. We’d signed on to the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and the news coming out (‘scuse pun) was that the festival was to become a generic celebration of all love, not a queer event.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some love. And I’m all for the wider community participating in Mardi Gras. Just not at the expense of a celebration of queer culture, queer activism and queer history.

To me, it seemed that the renaming wasn’t the problem; ‘gay and lesbian’ was not inclusive of the GLBTQI community and so deserved to change. I’ve long thought it needed replacing with ‘queer’ or ‘GLBTQI’ or another term which better respresented the wider ‘not-straight’ community. The problem, I think, was the justification for this name change, and the media, which sensationalised that Mardi Gras was ‘going straight.’

It seemed that in order for Mardi Gras to be for everyone, it needed to be about everyone, and needed queerness erased from its title, an assumption we jumped easily, in light of recent years’ increased corporate sponsorship. This message was further bungled by the inclusion of ‘gay and lesbian’ in the organisation’s name – if we’re trying to include everyone, why aren’t we?

I think, in general, people get confused about notions of celebrating difference and diversity, and not everyone agrees on how this should be done. For some, equality means being accepted as ‘the same as everyone else.’ For others, myself included, equality means getting the same rights, and celebrating what makes us different.

I like being different. I like that my community is different. I like learning from, and celebrating communities which are different to my own. I love that wonderful modern buzz word, diversity, and I think naming our differences, and sharing them, can be a beautiful thing. I think Mardi Gras’ activist history is inspiring and should form the basis for the events. Not ‘let’s all be happy together’, but ‘what can we strive for to make our community stronger’? I want to be constantly striving for more equality for our whole community, not saying, ‘well things are pretty good for most of the gays now, so let’s just have a party’.

I also think that renaming the event to ‘include everyone’ forgets that non-queers are already involved! Our General Manager, Phoebe, worked for Mardi Gras for years, and happily works with me on producing work which furthers the careers of queer artists and queer culture.

The acts we’ve booked for blackcat lounge include artists from all persuasions, including straight artists. Our criteria were that the act had queer themes and queer artists at the helm of the creative process.  For us, our straight collaborators’ willingness to be involved in queer art and music was a wonderful sign of change. Not one of them suggested we remove ‘queer’ from the event title so they could feel included.

So, yes, I am not thrilled about the Mardi Gras rebranding. But that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to this fabulous festival, and the events we’re putting on (the parade is a different matter, but blackcat isn’t involved in that, so I won’t blog about it here).

I have been attending Mardi Gras since I was 7 years old, as a child of lesbian mothers, then a teenager discovering their own sexuality identity, and now as a queer woman involved in the arts industry. I have shared Mardi Gras with my family, friends, lovers, colleagues and countless friendly strangers and I’m not ready to give up on it yet!

Our ‘alphabet soup’ of a community is a huge and diverse family. And families fight. Especially at Christmas time, and let’s face it, Mardi Gras is our very own Queer Christmas.

We hope that we can move forward from this, and we’ll be watching Mardi Gras’ response to the community with curiosity and hope.

We don’t claim to have all the answers. We do, however, claim to have programmed a wonderful month of queer cabaret and live music. We hope that by participating, by engaging with our own audience, by communicating our concerns to Mardi Gras and by hearing their response, and by thinking through our own views on diversity and activism, we’ll be able to contribute to our community and learn more about it.

What do you think?

x Maeve, Artistic Director


7 thoughts on “life is a cabaret… our response to the mardi gras rebranding

  1. To me it seems like Mardi Gras have decided that it’s easier to get a new core audience than figure out why they are losing their actual one. I think that Mardi Gras have been treating their cultural festival for last few years quite poorly and have not been giving that festival enough attention. To me the festival is the really important bit of Mardi Gras and yet they seem to have never really understood that this is where we are going and that this is where we will see ourselves represented. Instead Mardi Gras, it seems to me (and this is just my opinion), has baulked at supporting a cultural festival which to my mind could be as significant to this city as the Sydney Festival. Mardi Gras appears to be grossly out of touch with queer performers and artists and uninterested in finding the vein of truly important work that should be presented. It’s incredibly disappointing to me that Mardi Gras now will go even further to botch up the chance at a truly important cultural festival in this country.

    Why is it important though that queer culture and art be given such a forum? Can’t queer artists and queer audiences perform and see shows in any context? Yes and they do. But the great and significant thing about Mardi Gras is that in that time these performers are doing it AS queer people. There’s an identification there that I feel is so important, especially for younger people. That Mardi Gras has treated its cultural festival as the sideline to its party and parade and now has chosen to water it down further says so much about its understanding of its own place and role.

    Yes inclusion is important, but as one person said to me I don’t think members of the queer community enjoy the place in our society that would warrant giving up this festival.

    Finally, I would also like tender my utter disgust that Mardi Gras waited until their entire program was finalised before announcing this. My cynical side says this decision was made once it was clear more advertising dollars could be made this way. I feel Mardi Gras is like that ignorant, arrogant upstart throwing their weight around, pissing people off and alienating them. So oblivious, so convinced they are doing the right thing that they can’t begin to understand why people seem to ignore them. Rather than taking a good hard look at why they might be losing their core friends they just find some new ones. I think of that as burning bridges. I think it’s shameful. But perhaps this is really the start of a new era as Mardi Gras purports, by which I mean this really opens up the way for some young up-and-comers to re-imagine a queer cultural festival for this city. I think it truly could be something very important and relevant, two things the current Mardi Gras appears to have given up on. If it’s mach II incarnation ever really worried about them at all.

    I do hope Mardi Gras’ ideas about inclusion work out. I think in many ways this idea of segregation is largely over. yes, like most people I see that when I go out but I’m not sure that’s what Mardi Gras is or ever was. I am really looking forward to the blackat lounge season and Mardi Gras in general, as usual, in spite of Mardi Gras the upstart itself.

    • Hi Maxine,
      Thanks for your feedback. It is indeed disappointing that we didn’t know about the rebrand before the launch! Hopefully Mardi Gras will listen more after this PR kerfuffle.

      It’s good that people are so passionate about this festival and the responses show our community’s diversity and energy, which is good. I agree with you as well about the cultural festival being where the ‘meat’ of Mardi Gras currently sits. I got sick of the parade years ago!
      x Maeve

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