Here he comes to save the day! Party-producing superhero Mark Baker turns it out for his annual Gay Days Orlando roster of revelry.
by Matt Kalkhoff

Here's the situation: Dr. Octopus and his evil band of henchmen have stolen the Statue of Liberty and are demanding the unconditional surrender of New York City as ransom. Your assignment for the Daily Bugle is to document this story of a lifetime on film. So you don a pair of 3-D glasses and set out onto the streets in an experimental 12-passenger motion simulator called The Scoop to watch Spider-man battle his archenemy while traveling through a whirling vortex of three-dimensional special effects. Your adventure culminates when a bad guy pushes your vehicle off one of the buildings, sending you spiraling down 20-stories before Spider-man rushes to catch you and save the day.

This may not sound like your typical Circuit party experience, but then again, there's nothing typical about Gay Days weekend in Orlando or any of the parties Mark Baker produces. Living in Orlando since the early 80s, Baker has utilized the experience and creativity he gleans from his television production day job to create some of the most unique and spectacular events the Circuit has ever seen. What else would you expect from someone whose motto is: Beyond belief is where this party begins!

This year Baker has lined up seven major soirees during the weekend - spanning from Friday, May 31st into the early morning hours of Monday, June 3rd - which will feature massive spectacles, fantastic settings, and the turntable talents of DJs Abel, Don Bishop, Lydia Prim, Tracy Young, Barry Harris, Brett Henrichsen, and Susan Morabito and performances by party divas Circuit Mom and Power Infiniti. With just a few weeks left before the magical weekend commences, we caught up with the party powerhouse to discuss his Midas touch, the inspiration behind building better bashes, and why you shouldn't dare miss this year's Gay Days weekend.

How did you get into promoting parties?

I was working for Disney in show production. Then I got into directing TV commercials. In 1996 I went to my first circuit party and I was like, I can do that. Gay Day weekend was just starting to get going as far as the big parties and we had the opportunity to do a late-night party at [Friday's] Front Row [Sports Grill].

What it your philosophy behind making a good party great?

Circuit parties have become much more entertainment-oriented as gay people have integrated into the mainstream of society. When we design the parties, we think, What's the best thing we can do that the audience will find most entertaining for the amount of money they spent.

Do you go to other parties to check out what's going on?

I do a little bit. I always like to double-check what we're doing against other parties. I think that the market is kind of saturated, and some parties that are not so good are seeing a drop in attendance. I think if you want to compete in the market or keep your market share, you've got to produce something that's bigger and better for people so that they want to keep coming back. Whatever your attendance is this year is more based on how a party was last year and what people said about it.

You've maintained a great reputation and that definitely helps.

We spend a lot of time and energy making it the best it can be. We go through tons of ideas for parties. I always ask myself, Are the people coming to this party going to find this entertaining?

How do you go about choosing the DJs?

That is one area where you look to other parties - reputations, what people are saying, what's the buzz about DJs. For Gay Day weekend, DJs who have more of an up, brighter sound really work better.

You've worked with Abel for the Colosseum parties since the beginning and he's back this year, right?

Correct. He's back this year. That fits in the adage of: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Every year there's the new kid on the block, the new hot name that's come up. But Abel's been around for a while and if you ask anybody who's come to the Colosseum parties - whether they've cared for Abel's playing at other parties - every year he just blows everybody away with the music.

Why did you move the party to Friday night?

The only problem with the Colosseum party is that at Hard Rock Live we maxed out at the 3,500 person capacity last year, but we had 5,000 people trying to get in. So we thought that by moving it to Friday, we could still handle our audience. The great thing about the Stars party [at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure] is that the maximum capacity is 6,000. So now we've created an event that can handle the Sunday night crowd. It was strictly a numbers thing.

When a nearly round-the-clock schedule is offered, like during Gay Day weekend, what do you think the party promoter's responsibility is for his or her guests in terms of health and safety since many people try to attend all the parties?

We've got MedEvent. This is not just for circuit events - we do other types of events during the year from art festivals to whatever. This is probably from an insurance standpoint - because as many people as you may have at circuit parties, you can have an art festival on a hot summer day and people pass out from heat exhaustion. At special events, you have a lot of people there and you have to have the appropriate medical staff to deal with the situation. That's true at any special event.

The circuit has come under a lot of fire from the mainstream media recently because of certain health issues. That obviously affects your job - how much do you worry about that? And do you think the circuit's in jeopardy or that everything's sort of leveling out?

I think that people are tending to be a little more responsible. I think that's affected the parties we do - the type of music we choose is very up, the shows we do are very up and the locations have very fun things to do. We really have not had any major problems. But as a promoter, do you worry about it? Of course you worry about it. I mean, you take all the precautions you can and you have people there on standby so that if there is a situation, you've got the resources to address it immediately. Yeah, we have ambulances on standby, but we also make sure all the cables are taped down. We address all the safety issues at any special event, not just the health stuff.

How many people work for your production company?

In Orlando, we hire really great special events people who have worked for a lot of theme parks - they take the week off and come work for us. We hire a production manager, a technical director, production assistants - it's on a per-project basis and it's always expanding. We have a project manager for each of the parties. We probably have like 15 people who work for us during that weekend managing the events. They're not people that do other jobs like realtors or something else during the week - they do special events all the time, that's all they do. With Hard Rock Live, they've got the door staff and bar people and they manage the venue. We're just there to put the shows up, to make sure all the technical stuff works and to interface with their company.

What should excite people about the Groove parties?

The Groove is an amazing nightclub at Universal Studios. It's part of the CityWalk complex which is also where Hard Rock Live is. It's one of the most beautiful nightclubs ever built. It's a daytime event at a really bright, architecturally cool nightclub with balconies that overlook CityWalk.

How about the Colosseum Party on Friday?

It's a hybrid circuit party with shows that interconnect. With my background in television, I thought of doing it like an entertainment show with a script for the entire night. So we rehearse it, we work out the flaws and then we perform it for people. It's a different way of doing a party - it's a more thought-out entertainment experience. It's also been voted best circuit party of the year on three years in a row. We've come up with some brilliant new ideas for this year that are going to blow people away.

And Magic Journeys at Arabian Nights?

We're moving the main dance floor into the performance stadium so the party's about four times as big as it was last year. We've got a 5,000 sq ft dance floor plus a huge area outside. The event is organized to comfortably hold 4,000-5,000 people.

This is the first year for the Stars party, right?

Yes. It's hosted on Marvel Superhero Island at Islands of Adventure, which has the most amazing thrill rides. The rides will be open until 11:00pm. We'll also have an amazing fireworks show at 9:30pm set to circuit music. Afterwards, people can head over to the 22,000 sq ft Soundstage 54 for the dance party.

Everybody over the years has gone to Universal and said, We want to do a party at Islands of Adventure or on Universal property. In the past, Universal has not been receptive to doing any third-party promotions. Last year they had a management change and decided they were interested in doing an event. They came to me and said, Listen, we've talked to everybody and you have a really good reputation. Everybody's come to us [asking to do a party], but what we'd like to do is offer you the party first at Islands of Adventure. So we worked with their Special Events Department and came up with the Stars party.

Are you affiliated with the Reunion parties at the Hyatt Hotel?

I'm not affiliated with the guys, I mean, they're my buddies from Tampa. We had actually gone to the Hyatt when we were looking to move the late-night parties closer to the Disney area. The Hyatt had a great space, but they said, You know, we're really not interested in 2,000-3,000 people who are not hotel guests showing up on our property at 3:00 in the morning. In the meantime, some of my buddies who had done Reunion in the past [also] contacted the Hyatt. They said, We'd love to host your group, but we've talked to the guys over at Arabian Nights next door and they would love to host your parties.

Let's talk about the other events that you do, like during Winter Party in Miami. It must have been very different for you to work with a non-profit party's limited budget?

With a benefit party, the budget is so important because the goal of the party is to raise money for whatever the group is, whether it's DHRF [Dade Human Rights Foundation], or in the case of White Party, Care Resource [White Dreams at the Miami Seaquarium]. So are your budgets more limited? Yes they are. And that was one of my only concerns when we started to go into that area - I know what people expect of me. [So I asked myself], If we start doing something with a limited budget, can we live up to our reputation? It's always a struggle, but with non-profit groups, companies are usually willing to give you a break on how much they're charging you. So a lot of times, we're able to do some pretty cool stuff that doesn't cost nearly as much.

What about other events during the year in other cities?

We've certainly been approached. I've really been careful about choosing projects where I thought that we could do something really cool, something really different from what we've done before. My real job is directing TV commercials. It's a full-time thing, but it's usually two-week projects, so I can stop doing that for a while when the parties are coming up. It's nice to do other things so that when I come back to doing the circuit parties, it's fresh again.

I do freelance work for a lot of different companies - [commercials for] Disney, Universal, McDonalds. I also do shows for Nickelodeon. I was doing this one show - a pilot for Fox TV - kind of an updated version of Unsolved Mysteries. It didn't get picked up, but during the course of doing that, we did a lot of stuff with liquid nitrogen and special effects that I had really never been exposed to. So I got a really good handle on pyrotechnics, liquid nitrogen, all the special effects stuff that they used in the show. Of course, while doing all that, you go, Gosh, now that would be a really cool show for one of the parties.

Any chance you'll do something up here in New York?

Maybe. We've been approached. I'm just waiting for the right opportunity.

Do you have a website?

Yeah, it's

Would you ever want to make this more of a full-time job or do you like things the way they are?

I kind of like the balance of it. I like doing the parties because they're really fun for us, but it's nice to go off and do other things to keep yourself kind of fresh. It's enough of a full-time job already, but I really like the other things that I do, too.

© 2002 Matt Kalkhoff
This article was featured in the May 3, 2002 issue of NEXT magazine and can be found online at