My Year of Mardi Gras: The TV Show?!?

POTENTIAL GAME CHANGER

Yoda Pat Pontificates While Bartending at Two Tony's (Or Demonstrates How a T-Rex Eats Red Gravy!)

Yoda Pat Pontificates While Bartending at Two Tony’s
(Or Demonstrates How a T-Rex Eats Red Gravy!)

An interesting wrinkle cropped up last week while I contemplated my future and the future of this blog. Since Mardi Gras I have pondered whether to stay in town and double down on my writing aspirations or move back to Florida and move forward compiling my adventure as a memoir. Although returning would feel a little like a retreat, I have deeper roots and more therapy opportunities in Florida (and I certainly need to refill the coffers after my year-long adventure!) Whatever I decide, I will continue to blog and participate in Mardi Gras. It’s just a matter of focus and priority. I intend to stay connected, marching in Chewbacchus and rolling with Morpheus no matter where I live; frequent down I-10 have become old hat by now. The question is whether to continue to make New Orleans my daily reality or return it to the status of my favorite escape from real life.

My lease ends this month and my roommate is reuniting with his wife so the pressure of the decision has increasingly weighed on me considering I’ll be homeless in two weeks. Perhaps it would be easier just to move back to Florida, go back to work, and resume writing on the side.

Just when it seemed cut and dried, though, my friend Yoda Pat sent me a Facebook invitation that could change everything.

AN EXACT ECHO

I initially glossed over the event invitation as I often do (Facebook invitations have gotten out of control), but a week later Pat texted asking if I’d gotten it. He has followed the blog from the start serving as my local cultural ambassador, so when he learned John Sanchez, brother to oft-blogged about singer/songwriter Paul Sanchez (formerly of Cowboy Mouth), was co-producing a reality series based on Mardi Gras he knew it would be a perfect fit. When I asked if it was legit, he assured me he has worked on projects with John before and that he was a stand up guy, much like his musician brother.

When I went back and looked at the invitation I did a double take. It sounded like they aspired to do via film what I’ve attempted to do the past year in writing:

ATTENTION ALL MARDI GRAS KREWES!

Reality TV Producers are looking for BIG PERSONALITIES who are active members of their Mardi Gras krewes.

New Orleans has the most unique culture in America, and Mardi Gras is the epitome of that uniqueness. Most of the world knows of Mardi Gras, but they don’t know the REAL Mardi Gras!

We are two Producers, one from New Orleans, one from Los Angeles, and we are developing an unscripted/reality TV show about Mardi Gras told through the voices of the people who live it. We want the real story – complete with the trials and tribulations of balancing family and job with the drive to create the best Mardi Gras possible. You can be a seasoned veteran or you can just be getting started – but you have to be passionate!

As I read it again it felt too good to be true. This goal to tell “the real story” and show the world the “REAL Mardi Gras” was an exact echo of what I’d spent the past year trying to achieve. I knew I had to give it a shot.

There was only one problem: As I read I was packing to drive to Florida for the week on my way to West Virginia for my mother’s 70th birthday the next weekend.

DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER I-10

Taking My Reality TV Essay Test

Taking My Reality TV Essay Test

Immediately my mind began racing. I hate to change plans and, worse, break commitments, but I’d already committed to several things that coming weekend including a concert and promising to help set up and man the grill for Aimee at her daughter’s 14th birthday party. I had options since there were two different audition dates, but either way would involve a sacrifice—either breaking my weekend commitments and leaving after Sunday afternoon’s interviews or returning Tuesday night to audition and then turn around and drive back to Florida again Wednesday before departing Thursday on another long drive to West Virginia.

Either way, I was sure I had to go—this was too perfect a culmination of a year’s financial and emotional investment to blow off.

The logical thing would have been to postpone the trip, but I was looking forward to catching up with friends and didn’t want to leave Aimee hanging at the mercy of a gaggle of teens, so despite being a little sick of the back and forth I hurried my packing and departed Thursday night instead of Friday morning so I’d have a couple of days to rest before driving back.

HYPOCRICY & REALITY TV D-BAGS

If you follow this blog regularly I can hear you screaming “Hypocrite!”

Arrest As The Cameras Roll

Arrest As The Cameras Roll

For the rest of you, I’ll just admit that this is an ironic development considering what I wrote after my ride with Krewe of Morpheus. For this parade VH1 had paid to enter a float so they could film the cast of one of their reality shows. This float just happened to wind up in front of the one I was riding on (the first general rider float), and as we waited on Tchoupitoulas to start our procession past the Carnival crowds police suddenly swarmed the VH1 float and pulled off all the riders. As one of them was subsequently arrested and shuffled around by police as the cameras followed, rumors raced from float to float that they had gotten in a fight and police were threatening to shut down the entire parade. (Someone ‘in the know’ called me after reading my blog post and stated that the police couldn’t shut down the parade and denied our delay had anything to do with this incident, but thus were the panicked rumors).

The VH1 float was pulled from the lineup and rolled empty at the end of the procession, garnering criticism in local media by perplexed parade reviewers. They didn’t know that this ghost float was the result of what looked like a staged publicity stunt. Their ire should have been aimed at the selfishness and ignorance of these self-involved douchebags who had endangered a year’s worth of our hard work and anticipation.  So as I documented my experience afterwards I wrote about the incident:

I want more than anything for my writing to someday be noticed, yet I’d rather spend fifteen hundred years in obscurity than have my fifteen minutes as a reality TV douche bag. Don’t even get me started on this cultural blight.

Oh, how the worm has turned, as I suddenly found myself making a 1200 mile round trip to audition for a reality show about Mardi Gras! Granted, I’m not a fan of reality TV and don’t even have cable, and in my defense this project doesn’t sound like it is aiming for the lowest common denominator and promoting crass stereotypes like VH1 had. Having a local from a prominent family like John Sanchez gives it some homegrown legitimacy, and per the casting call, the intent is to dispel stereotypes and tell the real story. Of course, we all know about that road to hell with its good intentions, but if the producers stick to their guns the project will certainly be worthy (if likely less popular).

Yet though their intentions are good, they’re also not fools. They were up front in saying they were looking for big personalities and dramatic stories. I’ll have to let you judge the former, but I’ve certainly experienced plenty of the latter this past year!

NOT QUITE AMERICAN IDOL

Leigh At The Musician's Union Hall

Leigh At The Musician’s Union Hall

I’m a very private person so as I contemplated the reality of what I was considering I was as nervous at the prospect of succeeding as of failing; nevertheless, I sucked it up and made the nine-hour drive back on Monday afternoon.

To help pay for the extra gas I took back a few home health visits Tuesday morning that I’d asked another therapist to cover. I intended to leave by 3:00 for the 4-7:30 interviews to beat the crowd, but by the time I worked out, cleaned up, and made something to eat I was running late (as usual). It was almost 3:30 when I stepped outside. Just as the rain began.

The drizzle turned into a torrential NOLA downpour as I wove my way toward the Musician’s Union Hall on Esplanade, and I only own a flimsy dollar store umbrella so prayed the line wouldn’t stretch outdoors. As the already thickening traffic slowed even more I cursed under my breath, though I still arrived at five minutes till.

I had visions in my head of American Idol-esque crowds awaiting a chance to be on TV, but instead I was the first one to arrive at this meager little building, with a friend from Chewbacchus who had agreed to come for moral support pulling in behind me.

As we walked inside a lady at a folding table piled with muffins and orange juice had me write my name on a legal pad with the number 15 printed in large font and then stand for a mug shot. Fifteen. Apparently not many hopefuls had shown up on Sunday (and only two people would trickle in behind me by the time I left an hour later.)

SO YOU’RE PAT’S FRIEND?

Noting the lack of a crowd Leigh, my Chewbacchus friend from my K.R.A.P. sub-krewe, decided to join in and we were both handed four page questionnaires marked with our number. My hand soon began to ache as I worked to embellish the answers to the detailed level requested. I hadn’t expected an essay test! The form prompted candidates to describe “in detail” the krewes we were involved with, what about Mardi Gras attracted us and inspired such an outpouring of time and passion, our family and relationship situation, how involved we were in our krewes, how much we spent on it, and if there was a stressful side to Mardi Gras. (Yes!)

I crafted my answers for about twenty minutes before I was called in as the first interviewee. The two producers—John and Susie—quickly introduced themselves as I was guided to two chairs in front of an umbrella lamp and equipped with a microphone. As the camera operator worked on me I handed out business cards for my blog. I’d sent an email the previous Thursday with a link, mentioning that I was a friend of Pat’s, but hadn’t heard back. John glanced at the card and asked, “So you’re Pat’s friend?” I nodded. “This is the guy that sent that email last week,” he said to his partner. At least they’d gotten it!

As I settled into my chair, Susie—who was conducting the interview—explained she would be out of view of the camera so I needed to answer questions in complete sentences, restating the question.

I was nervous and felt as though I was rambling from the start, but Susie was relaxed, natural, and friendly (the exact opposite of the stereotype of an L.A. producer despite the scale of the project) so I gradually calmed down…if just a bit! The conversation began with me stating my experience and interest in Mardi Gras, but when I started talking about the blog she seemed genuinely intrigued and the conversation progressed naturally from there. When I commented that I did a double take upon reading the project description while thinking, That’s exactly what I spent the last year doing, only in print instead of TV! she nodded and agreed. We also fell into a back and forth discussion about the layers of Mardi Gras and how this complex cultural event is often seen with cartoon simplicity by the outside world. When I mentioned that the blog got a big bump in interest when Chewbacchus garnered national media attention we opined on how this is perhaps a reflection the rise of ‘nerd culture.’

Despite relaxing, I still felt like I was rambling uncontrollably and forgot to restate the question several times, forcing me to stutter and backtrack. Overall, though, I left feeling good about my performance.

GTL JIC

Gym.-Tan.-LaundryDespite going in feeling it was a long shot, I left feeling I’d done a pretty good job of pointing out how our projects were kindred artistic spirits. Still, feigning interest in candidates is their job, so I have no idea what my odds truly are; I’m trying not to get my hopes up. And even if I get chosen, there’s not guarantee the project with get made and aired, per the impression I got when I asked them how the process works.

Once they choose participants and create compelling character sketches they then have to seek funding from a production company, make the show, and then try to sell it to a network. Susie looked hopeful when she said executives in L.A. sounded interested when she discussed the idea, but it was implied that the lack of advance funding meant there were certainly no guarantees. I’m sure TV executives are good at feigning interest, as well!

GTL logoDespite the gas burned and two extra travel days I’m glad I went through the process, even if I don’t hear back. At a time when my journey seemed to have stalled it has given me renewed hope (however false that hope may be!) This opportunity seems tailor-made for me and dropped into my lap as if by fate just as I was about to give up and move on. But even if it is yet another false lead, it was a great experience and a great story to perhaps bring closure. And having gone through the process without making an ass out of myself makes me much more likely to pursue a similar opportunity in the future, even it doesn’t seem so custom-made. So succeed or fail, I’m grateful for the experience.

But I have to end there. I need to run so I can Gym, Tan, and Laundry.

Just In Case . . . .

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