Historic Gallier Hall (© Baronplantagenet)
2010 Okeanos Queen Martha Dart and Gallier Hall announcer
In many ways this is the most satisfying part of the busy Carnival season. Two of the Carnival balls for which I serve as both manuscript writer and narrator were held this past weekend. There is only one rehearsal left and that won't take place until the week before big day. Mardi Gras is late this year, March 8, and with the exception of that one remaining script, all other manuscripts have been edited, copied and bound. It is an amazing thing this Carnival season in the city of my birth. With the election of new mayor Mitch Landrieu a year ago, a concerted effort has begun to change some aspects of the official functions at historic Gallier Hall, the hallowed former New Orleans city hall. Festooned with ten massive ionic columns that support a large tympanum and named in honor of its famous architect, Gallier Hall is unique in the history of Carnival insofar that every single Mardi Gras parade that has rolled through the streets of New Orleans has passed in front of its official reviewing stand. This makes my job as the announcer for five of this year's parades even more important and not to be taken lightly. In past years the Carnival captains who run the krewes, the non-profit organizations that are responsible for putting on the street parades and holding the various bal masques and massive parties held at area hotels or at giant venues like the Louisiana Superdome or the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center felt taken for granted or in some cases taken advantage of. The attendant costs of having their royal courts appear at Gallier Hall became outrageously overpriced. The amenities were Spartan and the food items offered were oftentimes inedible. After being handed huge bills for what increasingly became a battle ground between city officials and the krewes who wanted to use the facilities, many captains and their organizations opted to move their official parties to nearby hotels that would accommodate their needs more deliberately and respectfully. As it turns out, of the 29 parading organizations who could use the facilities at Gallier Hall to toast their royal courts, only five do so today. Even the mighty Rex organization toasts its queen and royal court at the Intercontinental Hotel, located a scant two blocks away from Gallier Hall. For many years the Rex toast was held at the tony Boston Club on Canal Street, a practice that was challenged by city fathers who in the 1980s questioned its politically incorrect practice of excluding blacks and Jews. The celebrations at Gallier Hall will become more austere and will take on a less raucous tone in acknowledgment that the way previous administrations ran the hall were less than respectful to the parading krewes and in the hopes of luring several of these back to the reviewing stands there in the coming years. In the meantime my work as the announcer for the Krewes of Ancient Druids, Carrollton, Okeanos , Mid City and Thoth will take on a bigger challenge for me to keep the grand tradition alive and well during this very exciting time in the city. Laissez les bon temps rouler.