The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is the second largest free public event in Australia (after Sydney NYE).
But unlike NYE, and many other events, the Mardi Gras has not missed a beat.
In 2020 the parade and associated events were wrapping up when the event industry was shut down on 13th March.
In 2021 and 2022 the parade went ahead at the Sydney Cricket Ground, while most of the other parties and events had to be cancelled.
This year the event was restored to its spiritual home on Oxford Street and all the associated events returned.
ASE took the opportunity to go behind the scenes of Mardi Gras with the Director of Programming and Operations, PJ Gahan.
PJs interest in events started as a volunteer in a number of Sydney theatres. While working in the Box Office at the Sydney Opera House he approached the Stage Manager for the SSO and asked if he could shadow her during a performance. When a short term vacancy came up she recommended him for the job, he stayed with the SSO for four and a half years.
Other jobs included work at Sydney Festival, Vivid, Destination NSW, and more.
Working on various festivals gave him a taste for big events and he soon found himself in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan for the ceremonies of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts games followed by the Invictus Games ceremonies at the SOH in 2018.
In 2019 he started with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras as a Production Manager, went on to be a producer and then into the current role of Director of Operations and Programming.
A couple of weeks after Mardi Gras and Pride had wrapped up I sat down for a chat with PJ – the interview is wide ranging and an insight into the workings of this iconic event.
The 2023 parade was watched by over 250,000 along the route and featured 208 entries and 12,500 participants, assisted by over 200 volunteers and staff.
10,000 tickets were sold for the After Party which featured over 50 performers.
The 2023 Mardi Gras Festival featured eight major events spread over two weeks.
There were over 300 events for Sydney World Pride which was run in conjunction with Mardi Gras.
Thanks to PJ for generously giving of his time for this interview.
This video includes photos by Trevor Connell and from various sources including the Mardi Gras website – photographers include Ann-Marie Calilhanna, Ashley Mar, Lexy Potts, Paulo Faloni, Dream Syndicator, apologies to any I may have missed.
I photographed the Sydney Gay + Lesbian Mardi Gras throughout the 1980s and 90s. One day I’ll get to scan thousands of slides – in the meantime here is a slideshow of the 2023 Parade