To begin the series, let’s apply our three The parade
principles — participation, connectedness, surprise — to Pride’s signature event, the parade. (In subsequent issues of Xtra, we’ll look at the physical layout of Pride weekend — what we call the footprint — and programming entertainment.)
Storm the barricades
Given the Pride Parade’s current configuration, barriers are a necessity. Without them, the crush of the crowds along Yonge St keeps pushing people forward into the middle of the street and into the path of giant flatbed trucks. The drivers have especially poor visibility around the perimeter of their trucks; the biggest danger is people falling under the tires from the side. Very risky. In the past, before the barriers went up, crowds on the street slowed the parade to a crawl.
But everyone hates the barriers. They stop onlookers from joining in the fun. They also trap the crowds in those long blocks along Yonge. Some people forego the event altogether because of the crush; others refuse to move for fear of losing their vantage point. That lack of freedom of movement, of choice, is the opposite of a sense of connectedness. People used to vote with their feet when a good float with great music went by, dancing behind it for the rest of the parade. Currently the only limited interaction, the only improvisational surprise, comes from shooting water guns.
Barriers stop participation, trap people where they stand and greatly limit interaction: Three big strikes against barriers according to our basic principles.
So is there a type of parade that can happen without barriers?
Would a wide avenue with buildings set further back alleviate the pressure of the crowds and keep them out of harm’s way? If so, then let’s look at moving the parade to University, from, say, Queen’s Park to City Hall (or vice versa). The staging area could be around Queen’s Park or in the U of T quad. Staging the parade around Allan Gardens is another option, having it move along Carlton to Queen’s Park.
There’s an added bonus to such moves. Currently, all the parade participants, the people who are really into the event — marchers, float fairies, the more colourful community groups — are quarantined for almost the entire day along the Rosedale Valley Rd down to the Don. How cool if these eager beavers could more readily mix with the rest of the crowds at a more central location. It would be another party. Moreover, that kind of interaction would entice more spectators to join in the parade, themselves.
What about getting rid of big floats altogether? Replacing them with smaller sound trucks would return everyone to street level. Granted, this kind of parade would be less of a spectacle from a distance but it would force participants to be more creative — think of the growing number of solo Latino and Caribbean entries in giant Mardi Gras outfits. Or why not replace trucks with sound systems along the route?
Barriers could be an intractable issue; they may be here to stay. No matter what shape Pride takes in the future, some gaudy display is necessary where the most flamboyant and creative members of the community can strut their stuff. If we want to keep a big mobile spectacle like a parade — even with barriers — there must be ways to improve it.
More exciting floats
Right now entry fees for floats are too high. There used to be way more floats from Church St’s bars and other business. While it makes good sense for Pride to tap into the corporate dollar, the fee structure should reflect the value floats bring to the parade, like creative flashiness or teaming up with community groups. We could still avoid the embarrassment of those billboard’s on wheels while encouraging the return of more fanciful floats, like Buddies In Bad Times Theatre’s giant cupcake or Livent’s Fosse float. Other performing arts groups should be encouraged to participate, like Opera Atelier or the National Ballet. Lately, the Mirvishes have been going on and on about marketing Toronto as a cultural destination… so where was the Mamma Mia float or the Da Kink In My Hair float? We need a fee structure that strikes a better balance between pocketing corporate dollars and giving a good show.
More creative forethought
Participants in various Mardi Gras parades and Carnivals in South America and the Caribbean have to earn the right be in their city’s parade either through tryouts or through membership in recognized tribes or krewes. But since we don’t have the same traditions of music and masquerade, that approach would too severely limit the number of participants. Not a good thing. But could portions of the parade be jazzed up by hiring a choreographer or spectacle-minded theatre director? They could come up with set pieces within the parade using existing participants. A little rehearsal goes a long way. Look at the more creative marching components from community groups like Pelau Masquerade and Gays And Lesbians Of African Descent or the dazzle of a corporate entry like the dancers from Back magazine.
The move to a night parade in Houston — mainly to avoid the heat — has resulted in a greater emphasis on showmanship and sexiness.
At the very least, let’s stop the recent tradition of putting the most boring participants — the church groups and those fair-weather friends, the politicians — at the beginning of the parade. Come on people, it’s a parade. Do something.
Mind the gap
If we keep the Yonge St route, then let’s find a new entry point for floats to shorten the huge gaps between floats (and large marching contingents). It seems that the (reversed) S-turn from Church to Bloor to Yonge streets is a problem — especially for the big floats who take those first sharp corners very nervously and slowly. What if floats turned right on Church from Park Rd once they came up the hill from Rosedale Valley Rd? They’d still have to maneuvre around a sharp corner from Church to Yonge (near the CTV building), but they’d have a number of blocks before Bloor to reassemble and pull closer together. To keep that dramatic sense of the parade beginning at Yonge and Bloor, this tightly packed assembly of floats and marchers could be hidden behind an entry arch of balloons. Nitpicking? Yes, but those gaps are infuriating. The crowds are so hungry for entertainment during the gaps that they’ll cheer any old queen in a silly outfit running between the floats — trust me, I know.
Besides the barriers, which may be unavoidable, nothing would give the parade a bigger shot in the arm than solving the gap problem. It would greatly shorten the parade’s duration and keep up energy levels for both participants and gawkers, alike.
DYKE MARCH DOES IT DIFFERENTLY
Unlike the Sunday Pride parade, Saturday’s Dyke March scores high on both participation and connectedness. Being a part of the march is where it’s at; watching from the sidelines is for supporters and queer women who aren’t feeling physically up to it. Well, that and the hordes of leering men jostling for a clear view of the many bare-breasted babes. Last year there seemed to be a wall of men with cameras right where the trucks turned onto Church St to join the marching contingents. Ironically, that tension between the women marching and men ogling may be part of what keeps the event as political as it is; the sense of celebration and community is in stark contrast to the proof that misogyny and homophobia are still alive and well in the world.
For lots of queer women, the Dyke March is the one day of the year when we are all together in easy socializing proximity. I consistently run into old friends and exes on Dyke Day that I don’t see any other time. And because the march is much more freeform than the Pride Parade there’s lots of opportunity along the route for catching up and, conversely, enough freedom to put distance between yourself and the ex you’d rather avoid.
– Julia Garro