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.

--Wastewi Gonzalez, volunteer


Last year we were wheeling these big floats down 15th Avenue to get to the parade line, and little kids started popping out of their houses--"Look! There's a parade!" It felt like the real May Day parade. There was the sense that, yes, I live here every day, and every day magical things can happen right outside my door.

Gayla Ellis

--Beth Peterson, staff artist, 1989 to present, current associate artistic director


May Day seems kinda quaint when you don't live there. Even if you're only 20 miles away. But when you live know, the drumming starts at dawn.

--Curt Sloan, Heart of the Beast member, 1976 to 1980


4. The Builders

There's nothing I've ever experienced that compares to the rush of humanity that gathers in that theater for May Day workshops. Two hundred plus people from all walks of life, elbow deep in clay and imagination, all willing to accept the reality that this piece of cardboard is in fact a bird's beak, and that scavenged bed sheet is its wings.

--Andrew Kim, contract and staff artist, 1992 to 1998


The public workshop space here at the theater starts out really empty: Just the tables and people's individual signs for their sections. And then it just grows and grows: First you have these projects that are in halfway stages. By the end of four weeks, the place is completely packed. In the last week, everything makes these dramatic jumps to being colored and sparkly and shiny. That transformation in such a short period of time is amazing to me.

--Susan Hirschmugl, former Heart of the Beast AmeriCorps worker and staff artist, 1996 to present

Everyone talks about the deep meaning May Day has, and it does. But it's also just such a wonderful charge. Making art is an erotic activity anyway. And then making art in spring about spring with hundreds of people--oh my god, there's nothing like it.

--Laurie Witzkowski


5. The Music of the Spheres

I'm always in the band--"Your Community Band." I love it. We fluctuate yearly on how many notes we hit, but we rock. The whole front row has been there for a while, and we have dance steps and all that. Mike Sommers always yells out these crazy fragmented poems, and it's great to see these stunned faces looking back: "What'd he say?" I've called business trips short, and come home from vacation: I'll do anything to get back for May Day. Because, basically, I'm just not good enough to hold my spot. And the year wouldn't be complete without that rite.

--Kevin Kling, Heart of the Beast member for The Circle of Water Circus (1983) and volunteer ever since


6. The Giving Tree

Sometimes I feel a force takes over--a third force, it's not me and it's not the puppet. Other times, I feel like I've got a big piece of cardboard that I'm carrying around. Some puppets just seem to be bird nests for energy. It's not the artistry. They just have a tangible, palpable vitality to them. The Tree of Life puppet is like that.

--Dhann Polnau


The first year of the Tree of Life puppet, some of the theater staff brought it in. The next year, we were asked if we'd put a crew together to do it. And we've done it since. The crew takes care of it. We've done a lot of structural modifications over the years: The center pole used to be wood. That was too scary--there was too much stress on it. Now it's aluminum. We just got done refurbishing for the 25th year. It's lucky it's so far up in the air. It was starting to look pretty tacky.

We use about 14 people to get it up there. Several of those people are spotters. Then there's one person holding each arm, and then a rope on each arm. There's five people on the center pole: You plant the front pole, and someone lifts from the back, and once that starts, there are two people in the front who pull. Then the back person has to be ready to pull, once it's up. It takes a lot of concentration to make this puppet happen safely and well. My fear is always the headline that reads: "Tree of Life Kills Three."

--Dan Newman


7. The Sun Also Rises

It's all about the Sun return; the rest is decoration. It's the return of spring; it's wonderful communal energy that you can feel.

--Jim Koplin, volunteer, 1982 to present

I've been involved with the flotilla since the Sun first rose. That was maybe 1984. Jim Ouray and I built the first raft out of truck inner tubes and plywood. It was hard work getting it across the lake, especially with a strong headwind, but we did it. Over the years we developed our flagship, the Sun Liner. It still has a plywood deck, but we have it painted now, and we have plastic barrels for flotation, and some wood. Back in the early days, we had just four paddlers; now we have eight, and a streamlined float that can do doughnuts. Last year the Sun Liner had a crew of 18: the paddlers plus ten drummers, hornblowers, and Sun puppeteers.

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