In the Heart of the Beast: MayDay Parade

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Last year’s MayDay parade. Photos courtesy of Laney Ohmans of In the Heart of the Beast.

Last year’s MayDay parade. Photos courtesy of Laney Ohmans of In the Heart of the Beast.
Last year’s MayDay parade. Photos courtesy of Laney Ohmans of In the Heart of the Beast.

As you push through the bright green doors on the corner of Lake Street and Bloomington, you enter a fantastical world of mythical creatures of the earth, of bees and monarch butterflies with wings more than double your height and of enormous heads of the insects that in reality you could only see under a microscope. This is the world of the puppet and mask theater In the Heart of the Beast as they prepare for their 40th annual MayDay Parade, taking place on May 4th.

The MayDay event began in 1975, two weeks after the end of the Vietnam War, as a way to gather the community and thank them for their support of the theater. Originally a small event with 50 or 60 people, the MayDay Parade now gathers over 50,000 Minnesotans to march along Bloomington Avenue in a grand celebration. The event consists of the parade, a ceremony and a festival in Powderhorn Park. But the parade is more than just a celebration; it is a way to gather the community around contemporary issues and create hope with a vision for a better world.

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Each year in February members of the local community gather to brainstorm a theme. They share the issues they feel are negatively affecting the world we live in, with a focus on how our environment is being harmed. This year they looked to Rachel Carson, a marine biologist, conservationist, and writer in the 1950s, for inspiration in expressing these concerns. They turned to her renowned book “Silent Spring,” which imagines a spring devoid of the sounds of life Spring is known for and warns of the harmful effects of the pesticide DDT, used prolifically after WWII. They also drew inspiration from her book, “The Sense of Wonder,” taking the word “wonder” as a model for the way in which we should approach the natural world.

The parade is set up in sections, the order of which tells a story and presents different issues. It begins with 40 kids on stilts from the nearby Phillips neighborhood in Minneapolis, to mark the 40th anniversary of the parade. In the following section are people dressed in gas masks, carrying a sign reading “Silenced Spring.” They carry the wounded Tree of Life, a major symbol in the MayDay parade, on a stretcher, as a mythical creature looms over it. Its body representing a contaminated body of water; its face is an angry skull and its crown is tangled with drones. After the section “Soular Power,” taking on a seventies theme, with people dancing the soul train, the rest of the parade mimics the train’s positive energy, and depicts scenes of bees, microscopic creatures that crawl the earth and dancing animals. But the parade does not solely express environmental concerns; the monarch butterflies, which migrate to Mexico, represent a connection between the U.S. and Mexico, and highlight the immigration rights issues involved. The parade also commemorates the 80th anniversary of the labor strike in downtown Minneapolis, which gathered workers in the trucking industry and changed the labor laws to better protect workers’ rights. The parade shows the interconnectedness of current issues, inspires us to look at the world with a sense of wonder, and encourages us to question how our actions are affecting the world.

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In order for all of this to be portrayed in the parade in May, hours and hours of preparation and hard work are needed, which take place during the public workshops from now until April 29. Volunteers of all ages come out, from little children to older folks. The workshops are held in the performance space of the theater, with booths for each section of the parade. As you walk around and decide on a section of the parade you would like to work on, an artist will guide you and you will begin to paper mache a puppet. The puppets, ranging in size from handheld to over 10 feet tall, are constructed of brown paper bags and newspapers and then painted over in bright, lively colors. The workshops are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.. So come on out and join In the Heart of the Beast in their communal arts project, for their 40th year.