Universal Orlando Resort has been celebrating Mardi Gras for 20 years. And one particular person has been a part of this grand celebration for more than a decade.
Team Member Lora Wallace was a dance-captain-turned-show-director during the first years of this colorful party and has been at the helm ever since. I had a chance to chat with her about the evolution of this grand celebration and her favorite memories over the years.
BC: How did you first get started here at Universal Orlando and its Mardi Gras celebration?
LW: I started as a singer/dancer at the Beetlejuice show in 1996, and then I became a performance captain for dance, which lead me to choreograph Halloween shows like Bill and Ted and parades. Once I started choreographing for the shows, I was guided into the parade route which led me to my first Mardi Gras in 1998. When I first started working with Mardi Gras, I was a dance captain and motivated the performers each night to have fun!
BC: How long have you been a show director for Mardi Gras?
LW: I became a show director for Mardi Gras in 2000, so it’s been about 16 years of show directing. This year, I am assisting Jason Horne, who is “Mr. Mardi Gras.” We always help each other when we’re working on different projects.
BC: Where did you find inspiration as you created each float?
LW: I have been to New Orleans about 5 times and have worked closely with Kern Studios, the amazing Mardi Gras float builders. We get to go in their warehouses to find inspiration from the props and floats that they’ve created. The different krewes from New Orleans also offer us inspiration; each one has their own flare and attitude. One krewe had gold leaf everywhere, which started us off with glittering our floats here at Universal Orlando. When we first glittered the King Gator float in our parade, we were so excited because he looked so real and it gave him a pop!
BC: What’s it like seeing Mardi Gras evolve to what it is now?
LW: I remember when we used to run two parades a day, every day. We also didn’t have a big concert series. We had a few concerts on Fridays and Saturdays, but it wasn’t the big names you see today.
I also think we’ve become smarter on what the floats look like and how the balance of what the floats represent. Back when we first started, we would think if one float is Broadway-themed than we would just throw anything New York on it. Now you have a theme and a really nice flow to each float and you can clearly identify it. And the parade has gotten sexier, which is great!
BC: What are your favorite memories while working on Mardi Gras?
LW: I remember we did a color year. We did floats in all different colors, and we had these big men in pink tutus dancing around in the streets. It was hilarious!
Another favorite memory is the year we did seasons. We did all four seasons as floats. The parade started with a sun float and ended with a moon float. Each float had a tree in the back to represent the season, and it was the first year ever that we added scents to the floats. For fall we added an apple pie scent and the winter float had a minty, pine scent. It was beautiful.
BC: What’s your favorite part about this year’s event?
LW: I like the Oktoberfest float a lot! I think those costumes and the characters are incredible. I love all the costumes this year, but there’s something about that Oktoberfest float. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up with a dad that liked polka or how we went to the Oktoberfest all the time. Our team hit a home run this year with the costumes and floats.
BC: When you first started at Universal, did you see yourself where you are today?
LW: I always thought I was going to be a performer for the rest of my life. I never really considered anything else until I started getting the opportunity to direct and be a performance captain at Universal Orlando. I realized how much I liked it and how there is more to being in entertainment than just performing.
What I love most about being a show director is directing the talent and inspiring them to perform. I love to sit and watch the guests watch a show that I got to help develop and create those characters that people are portraying on that stage and see their reactions.
I never thought I’d end up doing this and I’m so honored. It’s a very fun job and we work with a group of people that loves what they do.