By Lydia Jupp
COVID may have taken our usual Mardi Gras celebrations from us, but it certainly won’t be taking Oxford Street. Oxtravaganza is back for a fifth year, and it’s bigger and better than ever. The event usually only runs for one day during the lead up to Mardi Gras, but this year the festivities stretch out for a whole two weeks, bringing us drag and cabaret shows, art walks, and the best of local pubs, restaurants and retail.
But it’s not just limited to Oxford Street. There’ll be Oxtravaganza events branching out across Bourke, Stanley, Foley and William Streets as well- a true celebration of everything that makes Darlo, Darlo.
“This year, there’s no parade on Oxford St, no international tourists, probably minimal interstate tourists, and no big name acts coming to town,” says Festival Director Lorraine Lock. “But we see this as an opportunity – lets employ local performers, we’ve got plenty. Let’s get locals to come out and support local business – see a show, have a beer, buy some sequins. And let’s own Oxford St and show what we can do in a big practice run for 2023 when we host World Pride and the eyes of the world are upon us.”
Starting on Feb 19, Oxford Street will be buzzing with dozens of different events, all spaced out over two weeks to ensure as much social distancing as possible. Saturday Feb 27 will be a highlight of the fortnight, with enough to keep you busy all day long. Stores along Oxford Street will be offering discounts and in-store promos in Shop Till U Drop, with plenty of entertainment including vibrator races, wrestling demonstrations, and the naked barber cutting hair on the street. Or you can join in on Meet Me On Stanley, where you can take part in some art walks in the afternoon before cashing in on the special drink and meal deals later in the evening. Meanwhile, there’ll be Drag Queen Story Time for families in the morning, the Miss Oxford St Pageant for up and coming drag queens, and Lifesavers With Pride doing a car windscreen wash along Foley Street with some cheeky entertainment and a bit of eye candy.
The rest of the fortnight will see events like Darlings And Dissidents, a QR code led art walk along Oxford Street where you can learn about the rich local personalities and histories of the area, a photography exhibition along the Rainbow Crossing, and the Oxtravaganza Lounge at Stonewall with shows, writer’s talks, drag, DJs, live music, and more.
“I’m excited to see some of the shows at the Oxtravaganza Lounge– there’s so much new and exciting talent around. Cabaret Oxtravaganza and Bona Varda will sell out fast!” Lock said. “I want to try an art class with Queer Lyfe at Ching-a-lings. Their theme each month is draw, drink, discuss – getting creative having a drink and in-depth discussion sounds like a lot of fun!”
Although COVID has changed our usual Mardi Gras parties and parades, Oxtravaganza has actually benefitted. Organisers decided to stretch the event over two weeks to ensure everyone was COVD safe, rather than pack everything into one day like they have in previous years. The response from the community has also been been very good, Lock says she imagines they’ll keep the two weeks even after the pandemic has passed.
Things will still be very COVIDsafe, even with the low numbers New South Wales has been recording in the last few weeks. Every venue taking part will have a COVIDsafe plan and sell tickets where possible to ensure numbers are compliant with government restrictions. Live shows are currently restricted to one person per 4 square meters, but as long as numbers stay down, it’s likely the government ease those restrictions very soon.
Even with over 100 businesses participating, Lock is confident that everyone will do the things needed to keep the community safe.
“I’ve found everyone is very aware of their COVID responsibilities – we all know that we have to have each other’s back and we will do the right thing.”
Feb 19-Mar 7. Various Venues around Oxford St & Darlinghurst. For more info head to: www.oxtravaganza.com