One of the Minneapolis’ most beloved festivals is upon us this weekend, ready to welcome the spring and rejuvenate the spirits of the city. For over 40 years, the MayDay Parade and Festival, put on by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, has used art and beauty in a joyful day of puppetry, ritual, and community.
When executive director Corrie Zoll took over the organization last September, he was, understandably, a little afraid of the fest, which each year draws over 50,000 people to Powderhorn Park each year.
“I was worried I was going to do something that was going to break MayDay, or do something that would make it not happen,” he admits. “But that was foolish, of course. I realized that MayDay has a life of its own, and there’s nothing that I could do that would stop MayDay from happening any more than you could stop spring from happening.”
For Zoll, the past seven months have been a continual experience of thinking, “How could that possibly happen in the amount of time that we have left?” Then realizing, after asking several people, that the dilemma has already been taken care of. “The sheer number of people that mobilize and know exactly what needs to be done and just start doing it is pretty remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.
In addition to the 12 permanent staff at In the Heart of the Beast, there are about 20 staff artists who help organize the build, another couple hundred volunteers who help build elements of the parade, plus people who organize food vendors and waste management. On MayDay itself, about 1,500 people are involved, including people who march in the parade, collect donations, or work on various tasks to make things run smoothly.
As someone who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and has attended the festival pretty much every year, Zoll says he never realized the magnitude of organization that went into making the festival work. “As an attendee, you don’t see the structure behind it,” Zoll says. “It seems to appear out of nowhere.”
Each February, HOBT holds a community meeting, where anybody can come and talk about whatever is on their mind and whatever they feel needs to be expressed through art. Everyone is listened to, as a bowl of oranges gets passed around. At the end, a pile of notes serve as the seeds for what will become the themes addressed in the parade that year. “It genuinely starts from scratch at this meeting,” Zoll says. “You don’t see the same floats twice in this parade. You might see some puppets come around again, but it’s a new thing every time.”
The overarching theme this year is "radical returnings," which will include explorations of the idea of reparations.
Artist Junauda Petrus is working on a parade section, called “wild seed,” that focuses on black reparations and ancestor connections. “We are looking at the aesthetic of Afro steampunk as an inspiration for how our creativity is going,” Petrus says. Drawing on a vibe of Afro futurism, Petrus and her crew are exploring technology as a tool for transcendence. “So instead of technologies that are about making money or disconnecting, its more about this cosmic watch, that you’re able to connect with the needs of your soul.”
She’s also incorporating a tribute to Prince. “He was in submission to his femininity in a way that totally empowered love relationships, empowered black folks, empowered all kinds of people to be okay with being sensual and submissive to love,” Petrus says. “He was such a lover and such a visionary, and he’s from here, he’s from these streets.”
In addition to Prince, Petrus hopes to honor Kirk Washington, a local artist who recently died tragically in an accident on Highway 94. “The loss of these two men is so staggering to this city,” she says.
IF YOU GO:
The parade kicks off at noon this Sunday at the corner of 25th Street East and Bloomington Avenue South in Minneapolis. The parade travels south on Bloomington to 34th Street, and into Powderhorn Park, where the Tree of Life Ceremony will take place.
The festival starts up afterward, and runs until sundown.