Resistance is fertile

The annual May Day Parade has been welcoming spring for 30 years.

by Greg Corradini

A parade isn’t just a parade when a gaping, 8-foot beast swallows fools and henchmen.

No, then it toes the theatrical line.

Winter is over and the 30th annual In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s May Day Parade and Festival is finally here.

Since 1975, the May Day Parade and Festival has been a vehicle for Twin Cities communities to critique wars (Vietnam to Iraq), to celebrate spring’s rebirth and to recognize workers’ solidarity and roots.

Most importantly, the May Day Parade is a theatrical ritual putting art back on the asphalt, into the streets and everyday lives of normal folks celebrating community.

“It’s a hopeful outpouring of creativity that can be shared with people through the workshops and the ceremony of the parade itself,” said Beth Peterson, interim artistic director of Heart of the Beast.

Peterson said the parade’s framework starts with a community meeting in February. People come together to brainstorm issues that concern themselves, the community, the nation and world.

Pages of ideas and images are developed and artists come together to cull a theme from the list. This year’s theme is “Leap! Into the Wondrous Possible.”

Once rough story sketches are put into place, teams design the puppet styles and the community helpers are brought in to assemble the puppets and masks.

Peterson said the generations that pass the workshop event onto their children also pass on a sense of community.

Dave Hage and his family have been involved in May Day parades for over 20 years. Some years, the Hages have carried puppets in the parade or pushed wagons.

This year, Hage’s son Sam busied himself gluing strips of green and yellow tissue paper to a pinata at the workshop.

“I’ve always admired Heart of the Beast for their work. As pure theater this is the most fulfilling, creative and dramatic visual spectacle. It’s better than Broadway,” Hage said.

“This is a great, sound community commitment,” Hage said, looking around.

Some of the volunteers are first-time fools.

University German literature graduate student Scott Witmer was stitching together bright yellow pants for his fool’s costumes.

One of many fools and henchmen in the parade, Witmer said this was the first May Day parade he ever attended even though he was a professional clown and puppeteer in Vienna, Austria, for seven years.

“It’s kind of a cool pagan thing to do, and I’m a pagan,” Witmer said.

Pagan or not, the gaping-mouth puppet Natalie Lacy painted will be devouring the henchmen and digesting them into its clear plastic body.

Lacy said the great Dustbuster of consumption was working as a larger metaphor, although one left purposefully ambiguous.

“There are strong political ideals at work in the representation, but there is no intended political agenda,” Lacy said.

Tou Cha, staff member at Heart of the Beast, and his helpers were making the third of three crying faces, which are 2 feet by 4 feet, which follow the big-mouth puppet.

In the parade procession the faces will lead a long, white crying river of dancers and grieving puppets.

“This project is about the dispiritedness and loss that people are feeling throughout the world,” said Cha, who has been involved with May Day for eight years.

An island-bound cricket will be riding the wave and sending out his song to awaken the sleeping fool at his feet and people in the audience, telling them to rise.

“This is a fiddling cricket calling out to the rest of the crickets,” Cha said. “This is about the community coming together. Without this, there is no way that the community would come together.”