By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
On a sun-struck May 1 in 1975, a ragtag band of young people--some carrying large papier-mâché faces on poles--turned out of a raw vacant lot in the Phillips neighborhood, sauntered up Bloomington Avenue, and entered Powderhorn Park. Unlike many street marchers in those days, they weren't protesting. They were celebrating. The long winter of the Vietnam War had just ended. And spring--no metaphor, just the yearned-for burst of warmth--had finally come.
A few parade participants--veterans of political theater--were beginning to flex their muscles in a new, old art form: puppetry. Ray St. Louis and David O'Fallon's fledgling troupe, the Powderhorn Puppet Theatre, was modeled after Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theater. Directed by Peter Schumann, Bread and Puppet combined bigger-than-life puppets, a populist perspective, and simple stories that, enacted by the looming figures, took on the power of myth. The Powderhorn puppeteers saw a good fit between that aesthetic, May Day, with its echoes of pagan pageantry and modern union struggles, and Minneapolis. They were more right than they knew.
Next Sunday some of those same people will again parade down Bloomington, as they've done 24 times before. Their faces are lined now. Dancing takes a little more effort. But instead of maybe 100 curious onlookers, they'll have 50,000. Hundreds of volunteers, from infants to elders, will be helping them carry masks and lift puppets. The parade will extend for blocks, augmented by a "join-in section" that welcomes anybody who's not already marching to tag along.
In Powderhorn Park, where a single Maypole was planted in '75, an elaborate ceremony about death and birth will be performed. Eager observers will jostle together, to the point where Sandy Spieler, for more than two decades the artistic leader of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, will envision bulldozing the hillside and cutting down trees to allow better views.
These days the parade demands yearlong planning from Heart of the Beast (named after a phrase by Cuban poet José Marti often credited to Che Guevara). Grants must be applied for and garbage cans gathered. In February and March, the theater invites the public to attend two brainstorming meetings; via discussions about current events--
from Rodney King to a participant's new baby--a parade theme arises. The staff works out a way to relate that theme through images. And throughout April, Heart of the Beast opens its doors to public workshops in which nearly every mask and float and puppet for the parade will be created from scratch.
Puppets are also fashioned there for the goings-on in Powderhorn Park. This ritual reenacting the sun's return has metamorphosed much since shaggy hippies grabbed Maypole ribbons and gamboled: Puppeteers present a tale colored by the year's theme, during which--as one volunteer puts it--Bad fights Good and almost wins. Then the performers and the crowd begin to call for help and, from Powderhorn Lake's small island, a sun puppet (with many brightly clad attendants) is paddled to shore. Its arrival is the cue for the raising of the majestic, very cumbersome, 25-foot-tall and 20-year-old Tree of Life. The crowd sings "You Are My Sunshine." Some May Day regulars will admit that this almost innocent rite means more to them than any other holiday.
Like the May Day celebration, Heart of the Beast has grown exponentially since its tiny beginnings in the basement of Walker Church. Today it is bursting at the seams of the Avalon Theater, its 11-year home on Lake Street. Its paid staff has grown to 14, with a host of regular contract artists. The troupe presents two or three popular main-stage theater pieces a year, teaches puppetry in schools, churches, and small towns, and hosts afternoon and summer programs for children. This summer Heart of the Beast's accomplishments will be sanctified with an exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum, starting June 19, and an accompanying book, Theatre of Wonder: 25 Years In The Heart of the Beast (University of Minnesota Press). Some things never change, however. Heart of the Beast's primary tools are still clay, cardboard, paper, flour, and water. Spieler still directs the unruly process. The puppets still dance for spring. Given the thousands who have created and watched May Days past, it seems appropriate to give the story over to some of those people. The stories, rather: one for every candle on the cake.
1. A Founder's Tale
I had worked with Bread and Puppet Theatre in Vermont, which was the inspiration in a sense for this. Then I moved to Minneapolis and worked with Ray St. Louis in Alive and Truckin', which was, in the language of that time, agit-prop theater. We wanted direct political action: We wanted the war to stop, we wanted Nixon to come down, we wanted to redirect the federal budget from the Pentagon toward schools and houses.
After a while, like lots of radical movements, you burn out because you don't see the change. Alive and Truckin' had gone through its natural life cycle, and people were leaving. So there was this gap, around 1973. We were living in the Powderhorn neighborhood. Ray and I still wanted the changes I talked about, but we were seeing theater in a different way: as a kind of witnessing to the times, rather than direct, overt action. Speaking silence to noise. Going deeper than the social-political arrangements and talking more clearly about the spiritual and human dimensions embedded in that stuff. For those reasons, we found our way into the world of supersize puppets.
--David O'Fallon, co-founder of Powderhorn Puppet Theatre
2. The First Waltz
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.
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.
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.
--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.
--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 there...you 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.
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.
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."
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.
When we get in those canoes and bring the Sun across, it's the focus of 20,000 to 30,000 people: We've got to be together. If it fails, we are embarrassed forever--we are banished from Powderhorn Park. So we usually get up at 7:00, 8:00 a.m., have some breakfast somewhere, then load up the canoes and go to Powderhorn. There, we have some kind of meditation, some group singing, some group silence. The Sun Liner crew is right around 50 people. That makes it a significant circle.
--Loren Kellen, volunteer, late '70s to present
The best moment for me is getting close to shore, and you have 30,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs: "Please come, Sun!" It's not so much us performing as it is being called across. The audience is as much a part of the story as we are.
--Ken Meter, carrying the Sun puppet since the early '90s
8. You Are My Sunshine
I did some research on Powderhorn Park and apparently, during the Depression, they had huge neighborhood "sings" across the city. And the competition was to have as many people turn out as possible. Powderhorn Park had won one year with, like, 40,000 people. "You Are My Sunshine" was mentioned as one of the songs. And I thought, well, here's not only a spring thing, but a historical deal.
--Steven Linsner, Heart of the Beast member, 1975 to 1980
9. Song of the Sore Throat
I've been the ceremony narrator with Jim Ouray since 1984. Up on stilts. There's a historic argument about whether we should be mic'ed or not. As you know, the crowds have gotten huger and huger, and it gets difficult to hear us. I've always thought we should be mic'ed. But we've never accomplished that. And that just shows the simplicity, the organic-ness, the always doing it the hardest way that is the beauty and the tragedy of HOTB. People worry about it growing too big and turning into a Macy's parade. And I just laugh at them.
--Nancy Olesen, staff and contract artist, 1982 to 1992
10. My Favorite Martian
Before they had the volunteer workshops, the puppet theater would rope in anybody that they knew who lived or worked in the neighborhood to help out. At the Foot of the Mountain Theatre would do a section of the parade. The one I remember most was when we became the Blue Ladies of Vietnam. We had these beautiful blue masks and clay pots we carried. The war was over by then, but it was still very present in our minds. So we were just women who wept for the dead. We wore brown robes, and the clay pots made this sort of kunk sound.
--Martha Boesing, volunteer since 1975 and a writer/director for Heart of the Beast productions The Nightingale (1986) and The Reaper's Tale (1989)
I was the first person to have kids within Heart of the Beast. So when Mose was born, the joy of it was really shared by the theater. It was the tenth May Day: The ceremony was a Happy Birthday for the Tree of Life. I was inside the big birthday cake. The smaller Tree of Life opened the top of the cake, and I popped Mose out. He had diapers on, and he was sort of a skinny, scrawny baby. And the Tree of Life held him up, as a gift of life for us all. My midwife was standing in the front. She was really appalled, she told me later. Her impulse was to grab him and run; she was like, "What's that baby doing out here with just a diaper on?"
--Esther Ouray, staff and contract artist, 1980 to present
This is my third year being in the HOTB parade. They came to my school once to do a whole big thing with the school about, like, growing. So we had little planters and raindrops and the sun and the moon. It was really fun. In the parade, I've been a planet--Earth, and my sister was Pluto. And there was one year that was about connecting, and we were in a section with bridges, and you made some kind of animal that was sort of curved, and in the parade you'd go around connecting it with other people's animals. I made a dolphin.
--Alex Sevett, age 10, volunteer
One of my favorite parades was the Ever-Whirling Wheel of Change year. They had a beautiful wheel all painted yellow; it was really heavy, with an axle that people pushed down the road. They had created walls, and each wall symbolized things--commercialism, racism, pollution--and the wheel busted through them. There are images that are absolutely sustaining. It was so powerful to see those walls come down.
--Margo McCreary, staff and contract artist, 1977 to present
The first time I saw the parade, I was blown away. But it wasn't until I was working at HOTB that I knew there was a story line in the parade. The year they had the walls, I didn't know what was going on. And the police thought they were protesters trying to block the parade! So the first couple times they put up the wall, the police were trying to take it down. It was like, "This parade is bad enough as it is, and here these guys are trying to stop it."
--Roy McBride, former festival coordinator, staff and contract artist, and volunteer, 1977 to present
There is a sentiment among some of my colleagues that these objects are really significant or sacred and should somehow be preserved. I, however, am a strong believer in the sanctity of the moment. And I have really enjoyed destroying the floats that I've worked on when May Day is over. Even if I stayed up until five a.m. that very morning finishing the painting. One year, I made this float called the Ever-Whirling Wheel of Change. I was very proud of it. Nonetheless, at six or seven that night, I said to a friend with a big flatbed truck who helps us load up the puppets and stage the floats--I said to Mike, "Would it be okay to run the truck over the Ever-Whirling Wheel of Change?" And he said, "We could do that." So I said, "Back it up!"
--Jim Ouray, staff and contract artist, 1980 to present
11. Humpty-Dumpty Took a Big Fall
When I was there, Sandy was big on artistic vision and not big on how heavy this stuff is going to be when we carry it. If you were one of the people carrying it, that got to be a pet peeve after a while. And if you're a guy doing most of the heavy lifting and performing in some kind of feminist pageant where there's just sort of unidentified evil white male characters--the combination of that would start to be a little, uh, ironic.
The first year that I really got involved, I made these giant puppets. Saturday afternoon, when I finally got one finished, I took it out up 15th to 29th and started walking back down to Lake Street. Suddenly the wind caught me, and I was flying down the street. I thought, "Either I have to run into a wall, or into Lake Street." I decided the wall probably would be better. Luckily, just as I got up on the sidewalk, the wind died down. I ended up cutting holes in the fabric so the wind could get through. But no one had told me that before I got out there.
Last year, I was a four-stilted ant--I think there were six of us doing it on hand and feet stilts. It was two hours from the time I got on 'em to the time I got off. I swear I tripped about 20 times plus.
The audience just loves it when you play with them, so of course I'd go right out into 'em: You put your front stilts out a bit and then bend down on your arms so that the head of the ant almost touches the head of the kid. They didn't know I was exhausted. When I got into the park, I stilted up onto the grass and just collapsed. Of course, once I got there, I realized that the puppet was pushing my face down into the grass, and my arms were up in front of me over my head, my feet were behind me, both sets were on stilts, and I was tied to this puppet. So I'm laying there with my face mashed into the grass, screaming: "Get me out of this thing!"
--Duane Tougas, staff artist since 1990, current technical director
The puppets break down all the time. There was the float that mangled the kid before the parade--you'll have to ask Jim Ouray about that one. Actually all the disasters I can think of were Jim Ouray puppets. He made a big giant wheel that crushed a guy named Richard in a big wind right before the parade started. In the only parade that I didn't see, there was a woman who fell off stilts and shattered both her wrists; I went to the hospital with her, rather than stay for the parade. I became a nurse, so that was kind of a pivotal moment: choosing between a theater that maims people and health care [laughs].
--Greg Leierwood, former staff artist, volunteer 1983 to present
12. Duct Tape
May Day used to break the back of the theater--financially and physically. Luckily, because [festival coordinator] Pablo is on year-round now, we've ironed out a lot of those kinks. At least it supports itself, which is really all we're after. So that come May 15, everyone still has their paycheck intact.
It costs about $100,000 to pull off. T-shirts and all of the paraphernalia that we sell at May Day brings in maybe $10,000 to $12,000. The tabloid brings in around $10,000. The vendor fees bring in about $10,000. The rest comes in through foundations and corporate support. About $25,000 comes from individuals. Our average gift is $50.
--Kathee Foran, administrative and public-relations support since 1991, current executive director
13. Commerce in the Temple
We try really hard to maintain the noncommercial tone of the event, so we ask people not to sell anything. We limit sales to food and to HOTB-related material, which generates revenue. It gets a little tricky. But we just have to say, "This is our party. These 50,000 people are here because of us and because of this event." And if we don't enforce that, we're going to have Mylar balloons, jewelry, and butterflies on every kid's face. There are people who--this is their religious holiday, and these are not religious people. They're hard-core. So I feel some responsibility to that.
--Pablo, volunteer and contract artist since 1982, current festival coordinator
14. Why Theory
Minnesota has been such a people's state. The first Teamsters union strike was here, during the Depression. We had a socialist governor for years back at the turn of the century. We still have a DFL rather than a Democratic party. Paul Wellstone's from here. And May Day is the ritual form of that. Heart of the Beast brings together the politics and the spirituality of it--that the earth speaks, that we are all connected in the web of life, and that we need to know that connection in order to survive.
To me, May Day exemplifies the very reason for theater. It reaches back to the origins of theater as a community ritual, a spiritual ceremony, a celebration which dances between the mundane and the sublime. In some ways, I believe that we puppeteers are a kind of modern-day papier-mâché shamans who show people a magical spiritual world which is at once profound as the sun and as common as ants.
Sandy's dad was a preacher, and sometimes, way back, I'd think, "Goddammit. This is Sandy's church. And I'm not a disciple." In a sense, though, puppet theater is her church, and she is doing spiritual work here. And it's really working. When you watch her directing those rehearsals, when they're like two, three hundred people, you just can't believe it. And people really feel like they're getting something back.
15. More Prosaically
There's people you never see--you wonder if they're still alive. And then you see them walking around the lake on May Day.
16. Then Again
I know a woman who lives on Tenth Avenue by the park; she's lived there 20 years, and she's never been to the festival. She says it's just a big hippie thing. So she tries to go somewhere else that afternoon.
17. The Kale Tale
One year, there was a transvestite walking the parade route in a G-string, showing a lot of booty--probably in the join-in section. So somebody gets offended, they call the Park Board, and it comes back to me. Now it becomes a policy issue. Luckily [Powderhorn Park recreation supervisor] Corky Wiseman and I have a great relationship and it got resolved. Of course, the next year the kale section show up: naked people dressed in kale. This is potentially a big deal. If somebody gets offended, it would be a second complaint, and some kind of non-nudity clause would have to go into the parade contract. This is not a mainstream event: We have lots of scantily clad people saying outrageous things, from the semi-subtle, like "Kill your television," to "To hell with the military-industrial complex blah blah." So I go to the kale folks ahead of time and say, "As a favor to me, be prepared to put on more kale." They were very cool, and nobody complained.
On the other hand, one year somebody in the join-in section spit on the police reservists. Oddly enough the next year, the police reservists--who were donating their time--were not able to attend the event. So from then on we've had to shell out over $2,000 for off-duty officers. That sucks.
18. The Body of the Beast
I love Heart of the Beast; I don't always like their shows. With people's theater, you want anybody who walks through the door to feel like this is home, a place they can find their creativity. This often means that parts of the work aren't so great. If you're really going to commit yourself to doing community people's theater, you have to drop some of your personal daydreams about being the greatest puppetry artist in the whole world. I don't know that that struggle is solvable.
19. The Wheel of Change Ever-Whirling
When I came in, the theater was sort of at a turning point. It had been around for five years, and up to then it had been more of a collective. Those people were sort of dispersing, and Sandy was the one who held onto it and kept it going. It always felt like the theater was on the brink of blowing to oblivion.
--Steve Epp, Heart of the Beast member,
1980 to 1984
To become part of Heart of the Beast in the late '70s was to have an incredible sense of being in a family. Our work and our fun blended together. And sometimes it was hell, too. I left kinda pissed off. It was sad to leave, in a way, but I felt like to get my own voice out there--or even to discover it--I had to go. Sandy's voice was strong. If I'd been stronger...We were power-struggling like crazy back then. We even had somebody come in and do group process. It was a disaster. But I've found some peace around it. And I'm happy as a clam coming back and taking part.
20. The Money Show
The main conflict at Heart of the Beast has always been money. That's true of the arts in general. But it's partly because of how Heart of the Beast got started: It was a political theater, antiestablishment, and it's very hard to get established in the arts without the establishment.
As the theater has matured, the funders in town are no longer like, "Hmmm...are they going to make it next year or aren't they?" We've asked for various program grants, and we've done what we said we'd do when we said we'd do it. All those things build confidence from funders.
Money has changed everything, as far as I'm concerned. It's an institution now. When it started, it was purely a vision. Then, there was HOTB, and everybody did everything. Which in some ways was really crazy. But now there's bosses and people who work for them.
Really if there has to be one thing that changes everything, it's that: Pay. If you're going to start earning wages, then the decisions about work change. Do you take on certain work for its financial advantages, do you write grants, can you continue to do the free work? Is your work your passion or your job? We're always in the midst of this balancing discussion.
21. The City of Lost Children
It's not like there's not other venues for puppetry. Twenty-five years ago there weren't. But I understand that there are now seven puppet theaters in the Powderhorn, Phillips, and Whittier neighborhoods. And many of those people work with Heart of the Beast or come in for May Day.
The parade moved me so deeply that I went and volunteered. I very quickly learned their techniques--it's all low-tech and high magic--and I started my own puppet company, called Dreaming Crow. Heart of the Beast has had many children and offshoots, and I'm one of them. Still, they don't seem to be very interested in us. That's really strange to me. Because to bring that in--all this fresh blood--would be incredible. I just want them to thrive.
Different people need things at different times. Sometimes I too have ideas that aren't followed. In a company of people that has so many different voices, not all of them can be put out there equally at all times. I just think it's great for people to come and go, and to come back again and go again.
22. The Visible Child
The staff was comprised of a bunch of hippies doing their thing, which was a great thing. But visualizing community is not really seeing it or seeing what needs to be done. The outreach program has become more aggressive. I really like the Lake Street Theatre Club Art Bus program, where we hire teenagers through the city of Minneapolis's summer jobs program and Heart of the Beast. They're paid to make puppets and make a show and tour it around to community centers and parks. Then the teenagers become mentors to younger children.
--Elisha Whittington, staff artist, 1991 to present
I started coming here about six years ago. I must've been around nine or ten. My best friend Jonah got me into it. And then I got into it sort of on my own: I've been in one of their plays here. Now I'm a mentor. When I first started, it was kinda hard getting out in front of people, acting. But I like this better than normal acting, because you can wear a mask and hide your face and just do crazy stuff and they won't know it's you, and you won't be embarrassed or anything. Last year I did a big ant puppet, on stilts--you had to wear stilts on your arms and legs. I didn't make the head, but I painted it and made the tail. That was probably my favorite one to wear. It messed up your back, but it was pretty fun.
--Ramon Cordes, volunteer and Art Bus participant
I think I was in eighth grade when I did the May Day parade. I heard about it from a friend of my mom's. She recommended that we go check out the workshops--we live about five blocks from there. So we went and I just started doing it. I was a frog. During the summer after ninth grade, I was with Art Bus. It gave me a lot of confidence, because we did a lot of body work and voice projection. You learn to appreciate just anything you do. Because art is pretty much what you see.
--Choua Vang, age 16, volunteer
May Day is, I think, the best thing the theater does. Because it's on instinct. It breaks down a lot of the theater's...professionalism. It gets on people's nerves--so messy, so loud, so chaotic. It goes back to the basic premise of the theater: You can have somebody who's a craftsperson and then there's an eight-year-old, and they're both making dogs. And they're both in the parade. I hate that word "community"--but you get the idea.
--Alison Heimstead, volunteer since 1989, current staff artist
24. The Beginning in the End
It's getting very big, in my opinion, May Day. More and more people come who don't know what it is. That changes things. It begins to water down the emotional content of the Sun return ceremony. People don't know that the Sun's going to come from over there, so they're wandering around kind of aimlessly talking, and there's a certain degrading of the atmosphere. My solution would be to say, "Go make your own May Day." Don't come here and just make this one bigger and bigger, because eventually you're going to lose what it is you're trying to save. But that's not a majority opinion around here.
25. Between the Worlds
One thing that's astonishing to me is that the very first parade had only 12 puppets and a couple accordion players. You would never think, seeing 12 wing nuts and two accordion players, "Oh, I bet this will be something that 50,000 people will watch." It's amazing how great things start out so humbly. I think about Native American ceremonies and rites and stuff, and often it seems like they've been going on since the Stone Age. But a lot of ceremonies are just things people dreamed of or invented recently. I think about the future, seeing my children and other puppeteers' children at May Day: Will they keep it going?
The May Day parade starts Sunday at Bloomington Avenue S. and E. 25th Street in Minneapolis, circa 1:00 p.m.; it takes approximately two hours to make its way to Powderhorn Park (15th Avenue S. and E. 34th Street), where the Tree of Life ceremony is performed. The best views are available north of Lake Street; sidewalks can get very crowded on the last few blocks. For more information, call In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre; (612) 721-2535
Theatre of Wonder: 25 Years In the Heart of the Beast will run June 19 through August 15 at the University of Minnesota's Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, 333 E. River Rd. (Washington Avenue SE and E. River Road), Minneapolis; (612) 625-9494. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; Thursday 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; weekends 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Closed Mondays and major holidays. Free.