Fresh Mardi Gras scandal: actors paid to march in Parade
- Published: 18 February 2010
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Fresh from allegations that it is putting corporate alliances ahead of community interests, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is embroiled in yet another scandal, with revelations that actors have been paid to pose as genuine participants in the annual community parade, writes Peter Hackney.
The Scavenger has learned that at least six actors – who were not required to be gay or lesbian, or have any community affiliations – were paid hundreds of dollars each to participate in the IKEA float during the 2008 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.
The Eventing Edge, a Sydney-based events and marketing firm, was responsible for finding the performers, according to an email from the company leaked to The Scavenger.
“IKEA is once again supporting the Mardi Gras this year with a great winter wonderland inspired float and are looking for six actors to fill key talent roles in the Scandinavian hot tub,” said the email.
Various requirements were listed, including “a sense of fun”, “ability to act like you have water in a hot tub when you don’t” and “ability to be adored”.
“Costume will be minimal – i.e. towel and Scandinavian blond wig – and shiny glittery stuff,” said the message, which invited actors to a casting call in Rushcutters Bay.
Successful candidates received “remuneration” of $300 each for their “services”.
Eddie Yacoubian, director of The Eventing Edge, confirmed the arrangement when contacted by The Scavenger.
“Yes, we were contracted to find performers for the IKEA float,” he said. “It was just paying people to have fun and promote the brand, there was nothing sinister about it.”
Yacoubian said that while actors were used to “pad out” the IKEA entry, the majority of participants were “probably” community members.
“There were about 60 people attached to the float and most of them would probably be genuine gay and lesbian community members,” he said. “The performers were just peppered among them to make it more exciting."
“A lot of corporate floats do it,” he added, raising the spectre that many more parade participants could be paid performers.
Yacoubian said his company had not procured performers for the parade since 2008, and was unsure what arrangements IKEA had this year.
“We don’t have that account anymore, I don’t know what happens now,” he said.
Asked if New Mardi Gras (NMG) – the company that runs the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – was aware of the arrangements, he replied, “Yes, of course.”
IKEA had a somewhat different take on the matter when contacted by The Scavenger.
A spokesperson for the furniture conglomerate was unsure about arrangements for the 2008 float because the personnel involved were “no longer with the company” – but said the company had not paid any performers.
“Eventing Edge was engaged to organise the construction and staging of the float in the parade and any extra people hired by them would have been paid by them,” said the spokesperson.
“In 2008, 75 IKEA co-workers from around the world were involved in the parade … so we can't really work out what any paid actors would have been doing.”
The spokesperson said IKEA had decided not to take part in this year’s parade, and would instead play a “behind the scenes” sponsorship role.
The news that performers have been paid to take part in Mardi Gras has outraged queer and queer-friendly members of Animal Liberation NSW (ALNSW), who have been refused entry in this year’s parade.
As first reported by The Scavenger, ALNSW’s ‘Sydney Queers for Animal Rights’ float was banned by NMG this year, despite the group taking part in previous years.
NMG’s reason included “space limitations” and claims that ALNSW were “not queer enough”.
That people were paid to be in the parade made a mockery of the excuses, said ALNSW spokesperson Lynda Stoner.
“We’re ‘not queer enough’ but people … who are there to promote corporations are allowed and they get paid for it?” she asked incredulously.
“You’ve got people whose hearts are busting to be part of it, but they can’t, so to hear this is just shocking.”
Stoner appealed to NMG to get back to its roots instead of pandering to corporations.
“Its roots are not about corporations but about inclusion and being open, and being reasonable,” she told The Scavenger.
Noted gay activist and marcher in the first Mardi Gras Parade, Gary Burns, agreed.
“I was there at the first Mardi Gras on that cold night in June 1978 and I can tell you, we did not march so that performers could get paid to dance up Oxford Street, pretending they’re part of our community,” he said.
“These corporate allegiances are not benefiting our community, they’re hurting us. Lots of gay and lesbian people care about animals, lots of them have pets, and they’re being excluded and that’s wrong.”
Burns went on to call for the current NMG Board to resign.
“Mardi Gras has lost its mojo. The people running Mardi Gras … don’t seem to know what it is or who it’s for. They should resign.”
Tobin Saunders, longtime parade commentator and alter ego of iconic drag queen Vanessa Wagner, expressed similar sentiments.
“The Howard years have obviously had more impact than I thought when people are employed to be in our parade while queer people are excluded” he said.
“It’s just dreadful. I’m sure ’78ers who are no longer with us would be spinning in their graves.”
The latest Mardi Gras scandal comes on the back of several others that have generated bad publicity for the festival on a global scale.
Last May, it was announced that the parade and party – traditionally held on the same night – would be held a week apart this year.
Some have claimed the parade was moved to accommodate a gay cruise company sponsoring the festival, Atlantis Events, although NMG blamed it on an “administrative error”.
Earlier this month, the banning of the ALNSW float created world headlines, as did subsequent news that a publication by Australian gay rights hero Rodney Croome was banned from this weekend’s Mardi Gras Fair Day.
Croome’s Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Visitors’ Guide was banned because of a corporate deal between NMG and Events NSW, which forbids any materials that promote interstate destinations at Mardi Gras.
NMG did not reply to questions from The Scavenger.