Story Time: Confessions Of A Carnival Parade Recreator

The Ashley Morris theme continues with this post. The krewe of PAN had a few more years to run before it morphed into Spank. This was one of the high points of my time in that krewe.

Here’s a self-quote from a piece I wrote for Bayou Brief to set the scene:

“Two years after Ashley’s tragic death at the age of 45, we recreated that march for the HBO television series Treme. John Goodman’s character, Creighton Burnette, was loosely based on Ashley. His rants came from Ashley’s blog, but they made Creighton a vlogger because watching a large man type is rotten teevee. In case you’re wondering, the producers paid Ashley’s family for the rights to the posts used.”

The march in question was the 2006 Krewe du Vieux parade after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood.

It’s time to set the dial on the Wayback Machine to 2/24/2010:

I almost called myself a reanimator but since I lack Dr. Frankenstein’s powers I decided not to. Recreator sounds quite weird enough, y’all. It makes me sound like the Jahweh of re-runs. Or is the proper term recreationist? Probably not, sounds more like Darwin denial to me…

Now that I’ve mucked about with word play, off we go. The Treme filming was something of a clusterfuck, which I know is quite typical. That’s why they call it show business with the emphasis on the latter. If anyone else decides to do some extra-ing, I have one piece of advice for you: do not work your day job if you have a night shoot. I essentially worked a 16-17 hour day, which was kind of like being a junior associate at a New York law firm. I was bone tired when I left. I’d rather be bone idle…

We arrived at Washington Square Park in the Marigny and saw a long line snaking out of the tent. I was a bit confused because we’d been told we would be treated as first class extras whatever the hell that means. Just as I despaired of ever getting out of that line, a chick with a clipboard showed up and said: “Are there any Krewe members? If you are follow me.” So, we got cuts, which I approved of. This episode set the tone for the evening: sometimes we were special and other times we were rabble. I’m not fond of being rabble even if it’s sporadically rousing.

We got in the tent and ran into our peeps: the sub-krewe of PAN. We all had paperwork to do so we could get paid for being told to hurry up and wait. They fed us but tried to reserve one line for musicians only. One of the Krewe du Vieux members glared at the kid with the clipboard and said: “Fuck that. I’m staying on this side of the line.” Said clipboard kid meekly retreated in the face of his righteous indignation as well as his elaborately decorated hard hat. I had Joe Sixpack on my side and it felt frakking good.

The oddest part for me was seeing our new mime, Chris. My dear friend and blogging colleague the late Ashley Morris was the mime in the 2006 parade. Ashley’s spirit hung over the whole enterprise for his sub-krewe mates. Krewe du Vieux and Ashley are synonymous for me.

I joined PAN through Ashley after jokingly asking him “who do you have to kill or fuck to get in.” He laughed and said: “I know a guy.” Despite his reputation for bluster, Ashley was a master finagler and that’s how I ended up in the cold in Faubourg Marigny as an extra last week.

Krewe du Vieux is a home made parade with rough satirical edges. The 2006 parade was an emotionally charged event since it was the first public post-K Carnival event. The overall theme was C’est Levee and PAN’s take on that theme was Buy Us Back, Chirac. It’s a good thing that Black Jacques was still Prez: let’s get cozy with Sarkozy doesn’t pack the same wallop. Anyway, we all dressed up as various Frenchy types: aristos, priests, maids, Breton fishermen and our Captain as Napoleon the First and his wife as Jeanne D’Arc. Now that’s leadership, y’all. <humming the Marseilles>

The float builders did a good job depicting our rickety old float. In fact, too good, as I said before KdV has a handmade, homemade feel to it and this float was slick. A few pictures including our mime and Jeanne D’Arc:


Dr. A took the photos on her iPhone which along with the stage lit streets gives this an eerie feel but 2006 was an eerie time so it fits. Call it Adrastos noir…

The Treme assistant directors’ attempts to manage the KdV people were amusing and, occasionally, infuriating. They didn’t seem fully briefed that we were there because we were the real deal and as such were quasi technical advisers. We didn’t do it for the money: we did it for love of our Krewe and, some of us, out of love for Ashley. That meant that we were quite prepared to bolt when they asked us to do something *extra* ridiculous and it nearly happened when we were finally called to the faux parade route. The AD told us to march in front of our floats, which led to a heated exchange that I gleefully joined in. We *always* march behind our float and when we told the AD that he balked so I said: “We won’t do it but if we did you’d be mocked in New Orleans. So much for verisimilitude.” He relented after a flurry of similar comments from my krewe mates. Score one for the locals.

They preferred that we not drink during the shoot but we are enterprising people and, in the interest of realism, hit the bars on Frenchmen Street. It was pretty weird entering a bar clad in my clerical robe complete with staff and beret. Dr. A was a pre-revolutionary French fop. We look ready for the guillotine, don’t we? Let them eat not only cake but wigs…


The rest of the shoot combined repetition and boredom. It was also cold and windy on the street that night. We had a few more minor run-ins with the AD assigned to us but he eventually realized that we were not normal extras doing it for, uh, extra money. The problem was that by the time he figured that out, the shoot was nearly over. C’est la vie or is that C’est levee?

The biggest problem with the shoot involved the people who were cast as crowd extras. They looked like hipsters at a rave, which is not the Krewe du Vieux crowd at any time but particularly not in 2006. That crowd consisted of hardcore New Orleanians who were back in the city, struggling to rebuild: the hipsters floated in later. Dr. A looked at the crowd and said: “Where are the black families and gay men?” An odd juxtaposition to be sure but both groups are heavily represented in a typical KdV crowd. And the Marigny has a big gay population, which made the gutterpunks and hipster doofi in the crowd even more ridiculous. No drag queens or costumes along the KdV route? Poppycock.

Parading over and over again was dull but necessary. I do, however, think that some of our footage will end up in the show since rumor has it that there *may* be a KdV sub-plot. Additionally, there was a set-up involving Steve Zahn’s character in the crowd. The good news is that Zahn looked more like a normal KdV viewer than the hipster doofi around him.Treme star Wendell Pierce also marched with PAN’s teevee band, the Stooges Brass Band:


Poor Wendell, they made him a trombonist who are the butt of jokes in the horn playing community. It is, however, an easier instrument to fake than some other horns. I didn’t meet Pierce, the look on his face made it clear that he was there to work and not to fraternize with various odd faux French people. I respect that. Me, I was there to mill around and freeze my ass off.

In the end, I’m glad I was an extra on Treme. It was more work than play but I’ll be dining out on some of these stories for years; especially the ones I cannot write about. Juicy, juicy, juicy. But my lips are sealed or is my keyboard is locked? Whatever.

I’m not sure, however, that Treme will be as note perfect about post-K NOLA as The Wire was about Baltimore. Yes, I know it’s David Simon’s show BUT Balmer is *his* town and now he’s at the mercy of research and local advisers. The parade we shot is likely to look like every other Mardi Gras parade ever filmed as opposed to the dignified frenzy (an oxymoron but true) of Krewe du Vieux 2006. It’s a detail and maybe a small one but you know what they say about the details and the devil. Among his local writers, I hope that Simon leans on former Picayune columnist Lolis Eric Elie who knows a great deal about many of the sub-cultures that make New Orleans so interesting as well as infuriating.

Finally, PAN was not the only KdV sub-krewe represented: Spermes, TOKIN and Comatose were there as well. We made a lot of Spermes jokes over the course of the evening; especially over their trademark spermatozoa staffs. I approached my friend, and fellow NOLA blogger, Hammhawk and asked him if they were all now donors since it was so bloody cold. Then we tried cross-breeding a Fleur de Lis with his Spermes, uh, pole:


If you want to see more of Dr. A’s cinema verite pictures follow this link.

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