NEW ORLEANS — Charles Bendzans sat low in a chair at Mardi Gras World early this week, carefully painting a fleur de lis on the chest of Endymion’s most recognizable character.
With less than five days before the parade was set to roll on its traditional Mid-City route, the artist had little time to finish the project.
And thanks to the Super Bowl’s weeklong run through the city, the time crunch was even more pronounced.
Not that Bendzans was worried.
“We’re used to it. We do a lot of stuff besides Mardi Gras,” the 20-year veteran of Kern Studio said, before adding, “Ten years ago, someone scheduled a huge high-end parade in California for us to build during Mardi Gras season. It was like the Mardi Gras that never ended. And ever since then it has been easy.”
It seems little fazes those working inside the giant warehouse along the Mississippi River, especially this time of year, when 40-hour weeks turn into 60-hour weeks and eventually 90-hour ones.
The NFL and the New Orleans Host Committee took advantage of New Orleans’ unique tourist attraction, booking several events at Mardi Gras World. That included an extravagant media party along with an official NFL event on different nights.
But it’s not like this caught those working for Kern off guard.
Far from it.
The 2013 parades were sketched by the time the 2012 season was over. Alex Sherrod, a prop builder for the float maker, is one of the first to see the designs for the following season’s parades.
Working towards 2014 won’t start until late next week, however. NFL parties or not, Sherrod has too much to do to worry about whether there’s a time crunch or not.
“Worked Caesar last weekend so not only am I sculpting, once I’m done with all that, I’m embedded in the parades just making sure that the product that the krewe is paying for is what it was when it left the warehouse to when it’s on the parade route rolling down the street,” said Sherrod, who has been with Kern for five years.
Still, the NFL did make life interesting for at least one krewe.
Orpheus uses the main building at Mardi Gras World as its float barn. While the parade’s stars sit in the warehouse during the year, it’s also where work is done to change their designs. Using recycled pieces, artists work on painting different part, fixing tears and re-arranging the floats to match that year’s theme.
Only this year, the floats never remained in a constant spot. They were moved around to make way for the parties and each day, artists found the floats in unfamiliar parts of the warehouse.
“It was stressful,” Julianna Lanni said. “It took away a lot of our space. They moved a lot of floats around.”
Not that Lanni was bothered much – “I’m from Baltimore, so I was really excited,” she said.
Derek Franklin, who has been the artistic director for Orpheus for nearly 15 years, was hustling around the warehouse Tuesday, searching for other artists and finding cans of paint as he hurriedly tried to finish the parade before its Monday roll.
While he’s happy to have the big game in town, the extra stress it added this year was palpable.
Nevertheless, Franklin, like Lanni, found the positives outweighed some of the negatives.
“It was an explosion of color,” Franklin said of how the floats were used as centerpieces to the parties. “The lighting on the floats, it was a kaleidoscope of color. … (The visitors’) eyes widened. Their jaws dropped. That’s really nice.”
It’s not just the float makers, however, that have been affected by the NFL’s presence in town.
Plush Appeal, which provides Mardi Gras krewes with throws for their parades, has had to come up with solutions to logistical issues in loading the floats.
“Typically even float that would load on the streets we’re loading on different streets this year because of the logistical problems,” said Alyssa Fletchinger, vice president of Plush Appeal. “Floats that would rent out parking lots to be loaded in those, they’re not being able to do that. The trucks getting around with the traffic was problematic.”
Still, Fletchinger was happy to have the Super Bowl in town and said that the company was contracted for licensed beads among other products for the week of the big game.
And besides, while loading the floats is one thing, last week didn’t put her behind for this season. The heavy lifting there already was in the books.
Like others who work in the industry, her sights are on the future.
“We’re always working on next year,” she said.
Added Sherrod, “It’s wonderful. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”