Sunday, February 20, 2011

More Float Figures

Continuing the account of our walk through the workshop of the Blaine Kern Studios in New Orleans' Mardi Gras World.

Early in the tour, we began to realize the challenge facing the members of the team as they prepared for the annual "parade" of Mardi Gras parades.

I had erroneously thought that there were a few parades in the weekend--maybe, the week--before Mardi Gras, but this was quickly corrected.

Beginning 12 days after Christmas until “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Lent begins, nearly 1000 floats in 54 parades weave through the streets of New Orleans.

(I hope that I remember correctly that our tour guide stated that each parade must have at least 14 floats and as many as 30. And those numbers just refer to the parades held in New Orleans; now add in the numbers for cities around the state and region.)

When we learned that about 75% of the floats in all these parades have been manufactured at Blaine Kern Studios, we understood why the elaborate figures manufactured in the Studios are stored and re-used in succeeding years, sometimes with only minor changes to them.

Each of these parades is organized by a "krewe," which is a social organization. To maintain the status of krewe, the organization must (a) hold a parade, which (b) utilize floats and/or bands (c) have the celebration of Carnival as its main purpose, and (d) hold a ball. If it fails to do any one of these, they are said to be a Carnival organization, club or group. Examples of non-krewe clubs and organizations are: Second Line clubs, the Mardi Gras Indians, Marching clubs, and various other groups.

So when you figure that each krewe must pay for its own parade--floats, marching bands, community groups--there must be a lot of fund-raisers or bank account visits during the year.

And then there's the beads, doubloons, or other trinkets that are tossed to the crowd along the parade route. They are another expense. (I read about the Krewe of Carnivale en Rio Parada: "Lafayette's newest krewe parades with spectacular new floats and nearly 600 riders armed with over 60 tons of the coolest collection of beads and throws." 60 tons!?)

Some krewes charge annual fees, and membership is determined by who can afford the price. These fees or dues can be as little as $20 per person for a small krewe to thousands of dollars for large, elite krewes.

Krewe members have many responsibilities. First, most krewes have some kind of float for their Mardi Gras parade which is built and decorated by their members. The largest and most expensive krewes usually pay professionals for these services. The members of krewes participate as riders on a float during the parade by dressing up in costumes and/or throwing beads to spectators. Krewe members are financially responsible for any items that they throw out from floats, such as beads, candy and even coconuts.

Never having attended any Mardi Gras parade before, we probably were more taken by the characters--human, animal, mythological, and imaginary--than parade-going veterans.

Educational and fun--a good combination.

As we were leaving Mardi Gras World, Kate snapped this photo of the clown with the big head--and the fellow with the very unusual headgear.

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