The Mystic Krewe of Apollo ball, with its extravagant costumes and theatrical performances, filled the Cajundome Convention Center on Saturday night.
But less than two weeks before the ball, the krewe’s warehouse, a space donated by longtime member Ted Viator, was filled with boxes and buckets of sequins, bolts of fabric and a wide variety of costume accoutrements.
Members were flitting in and out to finish their oversized costumes, some as high as 15 feet tall, including an Aztec god with a giant dragon-like body to an immense heart split in half that came together as the members walked through the Cajundome Convention Center during the ball.
In the midst of the construction was Amy Sweat, an employee of Viator’s landscape firm who doubles as a costumer during the crunch weeks before the ball. Sweat — who admits her name doubles as a pun — was busy working on a giant oval covered in satin that eventually became a Fabergé egg.
“It all comes together at the last minute,” Sweat said.
And so it did at the ball Saturday.
The krewe celebrated its 40th anniversary and each costume represented a year in the krewe’s history.
The Mystic Krewe of Apollo, consisting of members of the New Orleans gay community, began in 1969 “to foster brotherhood, unity and equality” and to celebrate with an annual masque during Carnival.
A sister krewe was established in 1976 in Lafayette, founded by Roland Dobson.
Over the years, the Lafayette balls, which are routinely sold out, incorporate punny and colorful themes, such as “Birds in a Gilded Cage,” “Looking Good!” and “God, Goddesses, King, and of course … Queens.”
Preparation for the one night of glitz and glamour begins in the spring, Viator said, when krewe members choose a theme and the costume designing begins. Since this year marked a milestone anniversary, the krewe decided to honor the past by offering nods to past years’ themes.
Viator, for instance, donned a wildly colorful swimming skullcap and outfit in recognition of the 1978 theme, “The Calendar Girls Ball.” It was all part of the 2016 theme, “Forty Years of Fabulous — Our Ruby Anniversary.”
From start to finish, members participate in the designing, Viator said.
“Everybody does their own costumes,” he said. “They can be creative the way they want to. It’s very much your personality and what you want.”
Once the costumes are decided upon, they are drawn to scale and reduced.
“We try to keep it at 15 feet,” Viator said. “Our ceilings here (in the warehouse) are 15 feet so it keeps it limited.”
Most of the costumes are built on wire frames and shoulder pads that offer structure to the costume pieces that rise above each member’s head.
The large extended pieces are constructed with lightweight products such as chicken wire, batting and bubble wrap, Sweat said.
A snake’s head in this year’s ball, for instance, was constructed first out of cardboard, then accented with other materials.
Even though each member is responsible for creating his own costume, Viator will assist in the process, and Sweat and other volunteers help with the details.
Many times the work requires hours of attaching sequins, rhinestones and fabrics.
Each round green sequin in the dragon-esque piece of the Aztec costume, for instance, was placed on it individually.
“Everybody with a costume has a job, so they come in after hours and on the weekends,” Sweat said. “Each costume takes at least a month to complete. Some guys, they’ll do everything in a week.”
The cost of costumes can get expensive.
A small pack of Swarovski crystals can cost $24 and a bolt of extravagant rhinestone trim about $200.
“That’s where the money seems to go: the sequins, the glitter, the crystals,” Sweat said. “They even put sequins in the boas.”
Almost everything that’s purchased and used can be disassembled, labeled and placed back in the warehouse’s boxes.
Entire rooms in the warehouse contain cloth costumes and boxes of every color and type of sequins line the walls.
“We recycle a lot,” Viator said. “I try to help members keep it at little cost as possible.”
While the costumes are being created, dance rehearsals start around October, Viator said.
A final full rehearsal is held the Saturday before the ball with the dress rehearsal the following Friday.
Two days prior to the big event, massive trucks transport costumes to the Cajundome.
On Friday, the day before the ball, workers spend hours adding massive amounts of feathers.
Like most theatrical events, all the hard work and planning results in a few hours of glory.
On Sunday, after the ball is over, members take inventory, disassemble the costumes and head back to the warehouse.
Time to start planning for next year.