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In the Heart of the Beast’s yearly May Day celebration goes online

The puppet theater is taking a year off of its annual parade for a full day Facebook Live event May 3.

Live music filling the air, masked figures, 10-foot tall puppets making their way down the street and crowds of people gathering to welcome the summer season — this is what you’d expect to see on Bloomington Ave. the morning of May 3. In the Heart of the Beast’s annual May Day celebration is a Minneapolis tradition. 

For the first time in over 40 years, the puppet theater company is moving the event online.

“Chrysalis MayDay” is the title and theme of this year’s virtual affair. From 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., In the Heart of the Beast will be hosting a Facebook Live event with a range of activities including a morning grief and healing meditation, an artist panel and community singing.

In the past, preparations for the event took place throughout April. While COVID-19 brought the cancellation of nearly all spring and summer events, the decision to cancel the physical MayDay event was made much earlier. 

Junauda Petrus-Nasah, MayDay council facilitator and co-founder of In the Heart of the Beast’s partner organization Free Black Dirt, said that the choice to cancel the parade and host a quiet MayDay celebration was made back in September 2019.

“We had already committed to doing something not like we ordinarily had,” Petrus-Nasah said. “We were really wanting to have the community and the Heart of the Beast organization start doing some work that was more internal and actually deepening some conversations on some of the wounds that have impacted the theater for years, specifically for artists of color.” 

Free Black Dirt is an artistic partnership formed by Petrus and Erin Sharkey. During their first year as facilitators for the MayDay council, the two wanted to take a year to reflect on major problems surrounding the theater community and the In the Heart of the Beast organization itself.

“We were experiencing a lot of resistance from the community when we were like, ‘Hey, we want us to take a chrysalis year. This is a year of doing some healing work.’ MayDay, for all of its beauty, has been very dysfunctional,” Petrus-Nasah said.

As a response to artist recognition, representation for people of color, and artistic differences, the group planned to use the year off to thoughtfully redesign the process. 

In preparation for this year’s virtual celebration, in late April, In the Heart of the Beast held virtual art workshops hosted by local artists, ranging from creating stamps to papermaking. The local artists Serita Colette, Graci Horne, Mike Hoyt and Ifrah Mansour will return during the event for a 12:30 p.m. panel to discuss their individual work and share the crafts that thousands of people have been making art from home. 

“The workshops have been really great. They’ve been a really intimate peek into these artists’ artmaking practices,” said In the Heart of the Beast’s interim co-executive director Claire Curran.

Following the artist panel will be “Free Black Dirty Talk” where Sharkey and Petrus will be discussing pressing topics and goals for the organization. The day concludes with audience members sharing pictures and memories from MayDay’s of years past, and lastly a community sing.

Although the parade and gathering will have to wait a year, In the Heart of the Beast brings MayDay to participants at home.

“It’s been really exciting,” Sharkey said. “It really felt like we got to do our chrysalis. It’s like we get to do actual labor inside of our cocoon and create something beautiful.” 

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