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Krewe of 'tit Rex 

Will Coviello on the littlest parade of all

click to enlarge titREX2010.jpg

It's like looking through the wrong end of a telescope, but spectators may notice that the microkrewe 'tit Rex has whimsically appropriated many of the Carnival conventions of Uptown. (The actual spelling of the name has replaced the "e" in Rex with a schwa — the phoneme symbol indicated by an upside down e.)

  The four-year-old krewe draws on local Mardi Gras traditions. New Orleanians of many generations remember making shoebox floats at Carnival time.

  "As far back as my parents generation, kids made shoebox floats in school," says 'tit Rex cofounder Todd Schrenk. "You'd glue some doubloons to them, or some toy soldiers."

  The artists, teachers and others who fill the membership of 'tit Rex seem to have more refined craft skills than school kids, and their miniature floats are often artistically inspired. In the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl year, Jonathan Traviesa made a gold field strewn with king cake babies painted as vanquished Indianapolis Colts players. Fabric and mixed-media artist Gina Phillips reinterpreted Alice in Wonderland in miniature. To illustrate the title "Small Victories," Shrenk built an ant hoisting a breadcrumb like a trophy.

  Besides the petit pageantry, spectators at Saturday's parade can enjoy many of the parade conventions of regular sized krewes. Throws often include beaded bracelets, tiny cups, hole-punch aluminum doubloons and acorns painted like coconuts. The group has moved its official reviewing stand, called "Gallier Small," so the nearly 30 floats will be presented at the Ping Pong Ball at the parade's end. And fans of the group have been doing their part as well, lining the route with miniature review stands and ladders.

  "Last year, one person brought a Barbie who was lifting her shirt for beads," says Jeremy Yuslum, a krewe cofounder and board member.

  But even if imitation is the best form of flattery, the small krewe's name caused a big problem. In fall 2011, members of the Rex organization contacted the microkrewe about the use of its registered trade name.

  "I was shocked and bemused," Yuslum says. "I almost thought I was being punked."

  Some of the 'tit Rex founders met with a lawyer from the Rex organization.

  "We tried to amicably resolve our concerns with regards to the copyright issue and their use of the name Rex," says King Logan, a spokesman for Rex.

  Both sides describe the meetings and correspondence as friendly, and both say they want to find a mutually agreeable solution, but it is unlikely one will be reached before the tiny krewe parades Saturday. Rex offered to license the use of its name to 'tit Rex, but the krewe rejected the offer. Yaslum says the proposal included an admission of copyright infringement and went on to define the small krewe in ways members deemed restrictive. Logan says the offer proposed various points but a legal agreement was not drafted. The group altered its name by replacing the e with a schwa and offered that to Rex officers as a solution.

  "We tried to honor what they wanted and maintain the identity of our parade," Schrenk says.

  The proposal has not yet been considered by Rex and won't be until after Mardi Gras, Logan says.

  In the meantime, the issue has spilled over into the parade. The 2012 theme is "Napoleon Avenue Complex."

  'tit Rex's board of directors chooses an overall theme, and then each member/floatbuilder chooses to illustrate it however he or she wishes. Some have taken up the issue, and a preview of a couple floats shows satirical depictions of Uptown Carnival and some of its sacred cows.

  Ironically, 'tit Rex was created to be anything but similar to Uptown Carnival and super-krewes. Members hatched the idea on Bacchus Sunday in 2006 in a discussion of the ever-larger super krewes. They pondered taking Carnival parades in the exact opposite direction: going small. Even though they came up with the name that night, the first parade didn't happen for a few years. In 2009, Traviesa, a member artist of The Front gallery, notified the others that he had reserved a room in the art space for the krewe's first floats. With a deadline at hand, several prospective members created floats. An eight-block route stretched from the Bywater wine shop Bacchanal to the St. Claude Avenue gallery.

  The name 'tit Rex reflected various ideas. It referenced the old-line Carnival krewe as well as T. Rex, the massive dinosaur. And it fit with the Cajun country diminutive — instead of John Jr., a namesake son might be called Petit John, or 'tit John (and there are alternate spellings as well). The krewe registered with the state as a nonprofit, and it has donated leftover funds to Roots of Music, Yuslum says.

  The parade has drawn enthusiasm from prospective members and spectators alike. And growth is an issue for the krewe. In the second year, the route stretched to more than 20 blocks, which was an epic haul for some of the floats. The group has capped membership to limit the parade to 30 floats. And although it didn't make a rule, it asked members to resist any urge to make the floats bigger than shoebox size as they became more elaborate. Whether the krewe has to accept any other changes remains to be seen.

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