Here Comes the Sun

Help! I'm trapped inside a giant ant! Are you wearing clothes underneath that kale? What's that baby doing in the birthday cake? Tales of myth and magic from Minneapolis's May Day parade.

--David O'Fallon, co-founder of Powderhorn Puppet Theatre


2. The First Waltz

Gayla Ellis

The puppet theater was a year and a half old, and we had been creating small shows that toured in neighborhood centers and daycare centers and senior-citizen homes. We'd also started doing these more experimental, adult pieces. We were being supported by a grant from Model Cities, which was federal money being poured into neighborhoods on the edge of deterioration. I felt so grateful, I thought: "Why don't we do something that's a gift back to this community of people that is, in a sense, supporting our existence?" We had taken some puppets outside in March for International Women's Day and decided, "Wow, this is so great to be working outdoors--let's make a parade." May is really the first time you can plan to do something outdoors. Besides, it's one of the holy days of two roots that were already developing as important to the theater: the green root of the earth, and the red root, the blood root, of labor.

--Sandy Spieler, HOTB member, 1974 to present, artistic director 1977 to present


I was part of a group of people [including Spieler] who lived in a South Minneapolis collective called Almond Tree. We'd spent a number of years examining the use of celebration in community. I don't remember who had the idea of doing the parade, but it gained momentum; and it brought together people who were doing theater, people who were interested in creating community with ritual and play, people who clearly had political concerns. I remember going door-to-door to storefronts along Bloomington and down Lake, trying to get $10 or $15 contributions to help cover the costs. I think I got 30 bucks.

--Dan Newman, volunteer 1975 to present, current Heart of the Beast board chair


I came up with the idea of doing a parade for May Day and took it to the New American Movement, which I was part of. NAM grew out of the New Left; a bunch of loosely connected radicals in South Minneapolis started a chapter. I'm sure that first year we just looked like handful of renegade hippies running around Powderhorn Park. I think I walked on stilts in a firebird costume.

--Ray St. Louis, co-founder of Powderhorn Park Puppet Theatre


It was a beautiful day--oh, it was so much fun. We had two accordions and five, six big puppets and a bunch of banners and some smaller puppets. We came into the park, and Ray had made this Maypole puppet, and we put it out, and everybody danced with it. There were maybe 100, 150 people. We did some circus acts, and there were political speeches on the bandstand. That lasted maybe a couple of hours, and then everyone went home. I do remember that it poured that night--a glorious spring rain. It just felt like a wonderful way to welcome in the season, and to see people again after the winter.

--Sandy Spieler


People were looking out their windows or standing in their yards, and they didn't know what to make of it. And yet there was a moment of connection--people do respond. They want to know about it; they want to feel that they belong. And this out of nothing. Out of newspapers and old cast-off lumber and stuff we'd found and scrounged, a theater appeared. That's still amazing to me.

--David O'Fallon


3. The Parade Floats

Being in a puppet, it's sort of a trance. Because you are not relying on your visual landmarks. You're in a dark space. It's a beautiful thing to sink into the movement of it, and let your feet lead you. The type of movement you're doing--especially in the parade--is very repetitious. So even though there's all this sunlight and carnival going on around you, you're in this little traveling meditation hut.

--Laurie Witzkowski, staff and
contract artist, 1985 to present


I grew up in St. Paul. When I was in high school, I spent the night at a friend's house, and we stayed up all night. In the morning his mom said, "There's a parade over in Minneapolis that I think you should see." Much to my horror, my friend said, "Sure." And she took us to the post office on Bloomington and just left us. So we were baking in the sun and getting crabby. All of sudden, puppets started coming down the street. And I saw all the vitality and the children and the art. And I just started crying. I'm 34; that was when I was 17. And since then I've made a point--even if I've been on the other side of the planet--to return in time to see the parade and participate on some level.

--Dhann Polnau, volunteer and contract artist, 1983 to present, director/designer of Anaconda (1990)


I've been in the parade about 14 years. All my life. My mom carried me at first, and we just handed out the tabloid. When I was 11 or 12, I made a dragon with my friend. It had a head and body, and it was huge--probably like 20 feet long. This year, I'm not going to be in the parade. I want to watch it, for the first time. I'll probably be standing near the end, because I'm going to be in the ceremony.

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