The Ultimate Guide to Mardi Gras

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The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival kicked off  last Friday.

2019’s theme is FEARLESS, a poignant acknowledgment of the way LGBTQIA people across the globe courageously express who they are. Fearless honours the past and those LGBTQIA advocates, activists and individuals who have stood up for who they are and who they want to be. Fearless is also a call to action for the future, it calls on the LGBTQIA community to be strong, live brave, be proud and unite at Mardi Gras 2019 to celebrate fearlessly.

Mardi Gras Arts CEO, Terese Casu said “This year we bring together over 400 artists, creatives and thought leaders from across the world to join in a truly global discussion of diversity, social justice, human rights and equality.  Being fearless is more than making a lot of noise, it’s also about acknowledging a person’s own vulnerability, and being able to express who they are, even if it’s not bold. We invite everyone to join Mardi Gras this season to celebrate diversity and creativity, and to champion the fearless voices within our community,” said Casu.


What’s often forgotten in the mainstream media are the 100+ community events over 14 days that showcase the talent and advocation in the LGBTQIA world.

Fair Day
Kicking off the Mardi Gras festivities this past Sunday was Fair Day. An out-and-out, full-on fabulous day of fun and adventure where people chilled with a picnic spread, browsed the community stalls while having a dance to the ANZ main stage entertainment.

Pool Party
Cocktails, tan lines and good times… Every year Mardi Gras fills Sydney’s most decadent poolside venue with local friends and beautiful strangers who’ve just arrived from around the globe for an unforgettable Mardi Gras holiday. Pool Party is the epitome of Sydney’s sexy summertime madness. Frolic with style and lap up the atmosphere, perhaps take a dip, get wet and wild, or just check out the talent.

Building on four decades of powerful protest and LGBTQIA celebration, the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is the biggest night of the year. A bustling extravaganza that brings Sydney to a standstill and shines a global spotlight on LGBTQIAlives, culture, communities and creativity.

With spectacular floats, thousands of participants, a veritable smorgasbord of glittering colour and dynamic shape, the parade showcases the glitz and glamour of the LGBTQIA community. On Saturday 2 March join hundreds of thousands of spectators along Oxford and Flinders streets for this fearless celebration of community.

Parade Viewing
Get the ultimate Parade viewing experience with Parade Sideshow and Diamond Club. Parade Sideshow gives a choice of either seated or standing access, each with exclusive access to bars, great food stalls, live screens, bathrooms and sassy hosts providing Parade commentary. Diamond Club at Taylor Square is a cocktail party smack bang in the middle of all the action. Don’t miss a moment, as you mingle at the private bar, gourmet food trucks, or dance to our party-starting DJs.

LGBT Seniors – LOVE Stories
No matter what inequalities might remain, it’s a great time to reflect on some of the hardships of our 78ers and generations before.   Many of the things our community enjoys today was but a dream for many in the Seniors community.    “NSW has a significant older LGBTI population.  In fact, over 100,000 people in NSW over the age of 55 identify as LGBTI and they play a vital and valued role in our community,” Acting ACON CEO Karen Price said,  “But a lifetime of discrimination and victimisation can impact heavily on mental health which, along with issues related to social exclusion, loneliness and financial concerns, are all issues that can impact on older LGBTI people’s quality of life.  LOVE Stories was held at Petersham Town Hall allowing mature members of our communities to come together in a welcoming, safe and supportive environment, where they can share amazing stories and help reduce the social isolation that many others may experience,”.

Presented by NSW’s leading LGBTI health organisation, ACON, and produced by its healthy ageing initiative, the LOVE Project (Living Older Visibly Engaged),  attendees will have the opportunity to explore their creative talents with activities planned (short-story, song and poetry writing, life drawing and musical performances) and share their stories throughout the day.  It will be hosted by broadcaster Julie McCrossin AO and will feature artist Guy James Whitworth, writer Ellen van Neerven and musician Jeremy Brennan. LOVE Stories is supported by the NSW Seniors Festival and the Aurora Group.

The 2019 Mardi Gras Party
After the spectacular Parade, come and enjoy the night with over 12,000 of our newest and closest friends! The Mardi Gras Party is Australia’s biggest LGBTQIA event of the year.





Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 1.50.46 PMOne of Australia’s most pioneering and celebrated electronic acts, PNAU were the first to be announced as one of the headlining acts.  Incorporating a mix of house, funk, jungle, and pop into their music over the years, they snagged the ARIA awards and a U.K. number one album with Elton John along the way.   Flying in from L.A. exclusively for the special Mardi Gras set, PNAU will perform with a full electronic band set-up with guest vocalist.

It’s a very diverse line-up this year, featuring a slew of local and international DJs including: Amanda LouiseBen DraytonBrooke PowersButch le ButchDJ Charlie VillasDJ HamoThe Dollar Bin DarlingsDom De SousaFeistyHipHopHoeKitty GlitterMagda BytnerowiczMatt JaySVETAToy Armada (PH) & DJ GRIND (USA) and Victoria Anthony, Jake Shears  (of Scissor Sisters), Courtney Act, HANDSOME, Paul Capsis and House of Slé featuring special guest Leiomy join PNUA and Kim Petras alongside DJ legends Boris from Berlin’s Berghain nightclub and Late Nite Tuff Guy.

“As the LGBTQIA community continues to evolve into many wonderfully diverse groups of people, the time is right to create a much more diverse queer entertainment program across the entire Mardi Gras Party that represents and appeals to everyone.” said Terese Casu, Mardi Gras CEO,  “With the continuing explosion of international and national queer performers and DJs it is time to feature these amazing artists throughout the MardiGras party.   With over 12,000 party-goers and any one space only holding up to 5,000 people it also makes perfect sense to have live performances in all three spaces,”

The Horden Pavilion has been renamed The Black Palace for this night-of-nights, becoming a seductive and decadent underground world in a heady mix of the Palace of Versailles meets Versace socked in the decadence of the underground Berlin club scene.  The RHI will be transformed into the Neon Playground, a fluro-pop inspired wonderland.  Creative Director Greg Clarke describes  this year’s party, “We are going all-out on the party design, creating three totally different immersive worlds in which everyone can come together to dance, play and be fearless in, and all three spaces feature incredible artists.”

Max Watt’s gets a camp make-over becoming the Powder Puff – a disco inspired beauty salon featuring giant fluffy pink powder puffs filling the dance floor with bursts of pretty white powder as glamorous hosts and personal stylists, the Powder Puff Pamper Poodles give revelers a make-over. Featuring internationally acclaimed DJ legend Late Nite Tuff Guy, and live onstage with HANDSOME (Aus), The Huxleys, the Magda Subanskis and Andy Dexterity. The DJ lineup also includes The Dollar Bin Darlings, Charlie Villas, Hip Hop Hoe and Hamao Tevita.

The Forecourt will feature local legends Sveta and Ben Drayton, and for those up for a more intimate dance experience PJ Gallaghers will feature DJs Victoria Anthony, Matty BixButch le Butch and Rachael Maria Cox.

The ultimate recovery event to close the Mardi Gras festival’s final weekend, Laneway takes place on Sunday 3 March and features the hottest DJs, surprise live performances, an eclectic mix of indoor and outdoor party spaces to dance, strut or take the edge off the night before. All good things must come to an end – and there’s no ending quite like Laneway

Mardi Gras CEO Terese Casu  described the festival program of arts as an exploration of “identity, sexuality, gender, ceremony, social justice, body image, power, fearlessness, vulnerability, celebration and desire.” as the season unveils an explosion of queer theatre, burlesque, circus, music and dance.

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With incredible LGBTQIA artists coming from all over the world, and from all around Australia, the program at Mardi Gras Central is going to truly be something very special for everyone to enjoy.” added Clarke.

BackgorundTTStrictly Kaftan Party was a brand new pool party with a fabulously camp, retro vibe. Hosted at the luxe Ivy Pool Club, guests were encouraged to don their most glamorous poolside couture – with prizes awarded for best dressed.   New Zealand’s comedy music duo, The Topp Twins performed live in concert.

Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite is an evening length choral work by American singer and composer Holcombe Waller, to remember those we have lost and those who have suffered persecution for their sexual orientation or gender expression.

The piece is an emotional and personal work, informed by research into the pivotal gay history from the 1980s through to present day.  Driven by community engagement and input, Waller’s Requiem calls on the community to unite and reflect, exploring the theatricality of ceremony as a means for collective catharsis and cultural introspection around the intersection of religion and LGBTQIA identity.   Special guests at the event include celebrant Victoria Spence and broadcaster Julie McCrossin. Experience this uplifting night of soulful song on tonight,  Thursday 21 February.

For the very first time festival goers can find world-renowned and local queer art under the one roof with the Seymour Centre transforming into MardiGras Central, a hub of cultural wonder and experiences that will be illuminated with a brand new, late-night Festival club.   Courtyard Sessions.001Over 12 nights leading up to the Parade, the Seymour Centre’s theatres, foyers and courtyard will be transformed, providing a welcoming space to share, celebrate and explore diverse queer identities through performance, plus the family and dog-friendly Courtyard Sessions featuring live music, drinks and vintage games at dusk.

Highlights of the Mardi Gras Central program include:
Cult cabaret hooligans and mischief-makers Briefs in a season of their outrageous ‘adults only’ show Club Briefs, a wild romp of disco dancing, circus, variety, and burlesque.

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Photo Credit: Kate-Pardey &Miriam Attwood

Club Briefs is a variety show unlike any other, celebrating diversity and inclusiveness, challenging stereotypes and exploring notions of gender, sexual orientation, race and politics.  Expect a pumping soundtrack of your favourite dance floor hits and ridiculous performances from the Briefs boys, plus a cavalcade of hand-selected special guest cabaret and circus artists.  Club Briefs takes place from Wednesday 20 February – Friday 1 March.

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Johnny Nuriel

Over two spectacular nights (Saturday 16, Sunday 17 February), the world premiere of Bent Burlesque featured the crème de la crème of underground cabaret, music, circus, satire, drag and performance art with a wild and eclectic mix of international and national burlesque acts. Directed by Imogen Kelly and hosted by the award-winning queen of queer cabaret Yana Alana, starring Jacques Patriaque (Vienna), Mr. Gorgeous (New York) Isaiah Esquire & Johnny Nuriel (Portland, USA) from the Vienna Boylesque Festival and with Australian artists Fancy Piece, Jess Love, Rhys Lightning, Trigger Happy, Lillian Starr, Bunni Lambada and the Amazing Ari. Bent Burlesque promises to take audiences on an ever-bending journey into the outrageously fabulous world of queer burlesque.

The official place to party so far every Tuesday through to Sunday of the Mardi Gras Festival, the late-night Festival Club is free entry and features the very best in DJs, drag, burlesque, cabaret, physical theatre, dance, performance art and more.   The rotating line-up of hosts, performers and DJs include the likes of Miss Poodle, Estee Louder, Jonny Marsh, Stereogamous, Charlie Villas, The Welcome Choir, Bunni Lambada, Garret Lyon, Aaron Manhattan and The Huxleys.

Mardi Gras Central is also play home to the Festival’s outstanding line up of theatre, dance and music and features five Sydney premieres. A delicious new interactive cabaret banquet, Cake Daddy explores one gorgeous queer man’s experience of fatness in our body obsessed culture, laying bare the fortitude and fabulosity required for him to live in an image obsessed world.   This Irish and Australian collaboration combines original music across a range of genres from disco to punk, and features Belfast based actor, cabaret singer and theatre-maker Ross Anderson-Doherty. Cake Daddy runs until Friday 22 February.

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 12.36.46 PM.pngThe Butch Monologues comes to Sydney from the UK and presents a powerful and often humorous collection of secret stories exploring sexuality, vulnerability and desire taken from interviews with butches, masculine women, gender rebels and transmen living worldwide. Incorporating true stories from the UK, Europe, USA Caribbean and now Australia, the cast is made up of local butch identities including Ari Burkhurst, Kel Watson, River Heart and Sam King. The Butch Monologues runs from Saturday 23 February to Friday 1 March.

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Photo Credit: Thom Smyth

Also premiering at Mardi Gras Central is The Rise and Fall of Saint George; KING – a new music-dance collaboration between award-winning director/choreographer Shaun Parker and internationally renowned Bulgarian-born songwriter/vocalist Ivo Dimchev; and The Moors a cleverly crafted black comedy about love, desperation, and visibility. Plus an exclusive show from one of the industry’s most prominent musicians, Gavin Rayna Russom, best known for her work as the lead synthesist for New York City dance icons LCD Soundsystem.

“The Rise and Fall of Saint George has already sold-out, and as all of these exclusive Mardi Gras shows only have a very limited number of performances we recommend booking your tickets early, make a night of it and you may even meet your favourite artists over a Mardi Gras cocktail at the Festival Club afterwards.” said Clarke.


unnamedJoin three intrepid playwrights in search of the most wholesome play ever in Project Bestfriendship, an enchanting new production showing from 25 February – 2 March 2019 at the Allan Mullins Studio at The Joan  as part of Q Theatre’s Q Indie Mini Gras season.  This heart-comedy follows three playwrights Ang, Charles, and Eliza who, united by the bigness of their hearts, and their fondness for being nice to people, vowed that they would never view each other as competition.  Fast forward three years to 2019 and the world is a darker and far more cynical place. Troubled by ubiquitous cruelty and a fractious theatre industry, they set out to change the world. Together they take on Sironies (ironic Sirens), the Cisclops (cis male cyclops), the Ghosts of Dead Theatre Blogs, and sixteen modernised Shakespeare adaptations. But will they stay strong, or will the Funding Wizard best them again?

Koori Gras, produced by Moogahlin Performing Arts, is back for another fabulous series of creative cultural arts events featuring local, interstate and international First Nations queer artists, thinkers and communities.

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Photo Credit: Meg White

Not to be missed is Black Nulla Club Night on Saturday 23 February, a night of queer First Peoples performances by leading drag artists, DJs and special guests.

Following last year’s dazzling sold out debut, Sissy Ball presented by Red Bull Music, Australia’s biggest vogue ball, returns with more attitude than ever. Style and precision once again collide on the runway in a celebration of self-expression and identity.

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Photo Credit: Ken Leanfore

Inspired by NYC’s iconic vogue ballroom scene, entrants will take centre stage as they battle for the judges’ attention.  Sissy Ball dips into Carriageworks on Saturday 23 February.

Queer Thinking, Maris Gras’ program of talks, brings together trailblazers, provocateurs and thought leaders to share their stories and discuss a diverse range of topics over the first weekend of the Festival. Day one – Young and Fearless, curated by Charlie Murphy, features topics including the aftermath of the removal of Safe Schools as told by queer students, what it means to be non-binary and the lived experience of queer Iraqis. Queer Thinking.001.jpgDay two, curated by Maeve Marsden, covers the death of the gay bar, LGBTQIApoverty and the impact of colonialism, diaspora and race on the LGBTQIA experience. Queer Thinking will ignite minds on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 February.

Queer Thinking curator Maeve Marsden said “I’m excited to hear the fierce debate that will no doubt transpire among such an incredible line up of opinionated, informed, passionate individuals. My focus with programming was to explore broad issues facing the community as a whole, to focus on activism and the future of the LGBTQIA community as a force for political change.”

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Evie Macdonald Photo credit Danielle Symons – Lisa Freshwater

My Trans Story – The Next Generation is a special Queer Thinking evening event on Saturday 23 February. Last year’s Trans Stories, which focused on the last 40 years of Trans experience, sold out and received three standing ovations. This year, My Trans Story brings together the next generation of trans leaders to discuss their struggles, loves, triumphs and the pursuit of a society that celebrates multiple intersecting gender identities.

From romance to comedies, documentaries to dramas, and everything in between, Queer Screen delivers a huge 26th Mardi Gras Film Festival with an exciting array of diverse films that showcase the LGBTQIA experience.

The 2019 festival will feature a raft of Australian and Sydney premieres from all corners of the globe. Highlights include the hotly anticipated Sauvage, a powerful portrait of a gay hustler on the streets of France that sent shockwaves through Cannes for its unrelenting and visceral imagery.

Mardi Gras Film Festival continues to run until Thursday 28 February.

An action-packed day for the whole rainbow family premiered at last year’s Mardi Gras festival and was a sell- out success. Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 3.58.03 PMFor 2019, Mardi Gras are turning Luna Park rainbow again, giving LGBTQIA families with kids a super exciting day of unlimited rides, plus DJs and surprise performances in the Crystal Palace Kids Dance Party. Don’t miss Luna Park Family Fun Day on Sunday 24 February.

Celebrate Oxtravaganza as retail and hospitality in and around Oxford Street, Darlinghurst offer up a series of one-off events to celebrate the middle weekend of Mardi Gras.   Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 4.03.15 PMCatch any one of a number of shows in a midday to midnight programme at local clubs, bars and hotels. Whether your choice is boutique beer, bookshop browsing or burlesque dancing, Darlo has you covered! With retail activations, live gigs and special offers – all to help raise money for Twenty10 on Saturday 23 February, do and while you are at it, help raise money for Twenty10.

Bigger, better and Gayer than ever, Trevor Ashley’s Mardi Gala returns to the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall for one fabulous night only on Sunday 24 February.   Live onstage with a 12 piece orchestra, this variety gala is jam-packed with surprises, laughs and power ballads, that will have everyone on their feet. Joining “Mardi Gras Royalty” Trevor Ashley is the deliciously camp Rhonda Burchmore, the electrifying Tim Campbell, the acerbic wit of Tom Ballard, Oxford St legends Shauna Jensen and Minnie Cooper, and more surprises!


It’s been a spectacular season so far with a little over a week to go, and for city folk and international visitors there is so much going on and options to celebrate across the city.
It’s also a time also to remember that there are still many who can’t celebrate with us.   In isolated communities where the idea of our community even now, post-equality still sits in stigma.  If there’s a way to let those who can’t celebrate with us due to personal circumstances that doesn’t allow them to, know there are many places for you to connect with our community even if its just with support through places like QLife and ‘Fearless Friends” who continue to advocate for you through the organisations and work they do to create an environment for you to thrive and finally just be yourself.
If we’re going to get real right now, in some pockets of our community, the suicide rate for LGBTQIA youth suicide shoots up 500% in comparison to their peers.  That’s just not on!!!
R U OK‘s float returns this year, and in consultation with the LGBTI Health Alliance will be assembling 40 marchers that will represent the diversity of the community.  They will come from all walks of life and are ready and willing to step up and listen with love embodying this year’s R U OK theme of ‘Fearless Friends”.   Celebrating strength, unity and diversity, these are the things that make Australia Great.  The key message is all about checking in on your mates or loved one in a meaningful way.
Be Safe.
Be Awesome.
Be Fabulous!
Happy Mardi Gras xoxo

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