In addition to offering a plethora of museums, sporting events, and year-round outdoor activities, Minneapolis is also home to more eclectic groups and events, such one of the largest Fringe Festival in the world, the annual naming of a dairy queen (who then gets her bust carved in a 90-pound block of butter), and unique theaters – like In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater (or “HOTB” for short).
I have never been to a HOTB production. When I first heard the term “puppet theater”, I assumed that it was designed for small children. But then someone told me that HOTB creates puppets of tremendous size, scale, and complexity – and that the productions are definitely more for adults than kids. Shortly thereafter, I learned of the annual May Day parade that HOTB sponsors (and that the Minneapolis May Day parade is the largest one in the United States). Massive puppets plus a massive event? Upon receipt of this knowledge, I felt like I had to experience May Day at least once. (I mean, to live in the city for 16 years and never attend a nationally-known event that occurs annually is kind of like living in New York and never exploring the Statue of Liberty…) Interestingly, as I began to make plans for the May Day event, my yoga teacher announced at one of her classes that she lived just two blocks from the starting line of the parade, and that she would be hosting a pre-parade brunch for anyone who wanted to attend. Huge puppets, free food, and a host to help navigate the logistics of the day? I am so in!
Unfortunately, when the morning of the event arrived, I felt quite sick. But I really wanted to see the puppets. So I laid on the sofa for twenty minutes, breathing slowly and mindfully, willing myself to feel better. (I silently repeated a mantra of, “I will not throw up. I feel fine. I will not throw up. I feel fine….”) When it came time for me to either leave the house or miss the event, I drew in a deep belly breath, then let it out slowly. Carefully, I stood upright, then took a small sip of water. When I didn’t throw up, I declared myself “good enough” to head over to the parade. (Mind over matter, right?) 😉 [To be fair, I really did know that the queasy sensation I was experiencing was being caused by stress and anxiety, not by a virus; if I thought I was medically ill, I would not have left the house and risked exposing other innocent people to my germs. I’m more responsible than that.]
After completing my standard Sunday morning yoga class, I drove the teacher over to her house, where she prepared “vegan taco toast” for the handful of folks that accepted her brunch offer. (Vegan taco toast = a slice of toasted multigrain bread topped with a layer of vegan sour cream, several slices of avocado and raw tomato, and a dollop of scratch-made black beans. Individuals could then opt to customize their meal with salt and/or hot sauce.) Initially I was in no shape to be eating Mexican food; but after a while hunger kicked in, and I enjoyed a small serving of the fare. (I added the salt and skipped the hot sauce). It was a pretty tasty snack.
After some mingling, a small group left the house and head down the street to see the parade. My yoga teacher walked beside me, and as we made our way from the back towards the front of the parade line-up, she shared little nuggets of information about the various groups that frequently participate in the event, as well as fun facts about the neighborhood that the route moves through, and her experiences of past May Day events. I always appreciate having an ‘insider’ show me the ropes of an event or serve as a casual guide to an experience – their first-hand knowledge is nearly always priceless. This May Day experience was no exception; thanks to my yoga teacher, I quickly learned that May Day in Minneapolis is about a lot more than puppets.
Interestingly, when I chatted with one of the other yogis who attended the pre-parade brunch, she described the May Day event as a mini version of Burning Man. I have never been to that gathering, either – but from what I have heard and read about it, Burning Man seems to be a loosely organized event that predominately appeals to people with artsy, independent, and idealistic spirits. Individuals gather in the desert, then do pretty much whatever they want. (Indeed, the stated premise of Burning Man is “an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance.”) With this new information, I was now even more curious about the Minneapolis May Day/HOTB experience.
In looking at some of the groups who were lined up at the start of the parade, I drew a few conclusions:
- It seemed that any group who wanted to be in the parade could do so. I saw several large, well-organized gatherings of people – yet I also saw other sections that seemed to be a handful of individuals maybe working together to attempt to communicate some sort of idea to the spectators…? Definitely many different interpretations about what it means to ‘participate’ in a parade.
- This event had a “parental discretion is advised” feel to it. Certainly many of the groups participating were very kid-friendly (indeed, many of the segments of the parade were largely comprised of children and families); but some of the other sections in the line-up were definitely more dark, political, controversial…
- Despite a bit of caveat emptor, the overall parade had a light, festive feel to it. One thing that contributed to this vibe was the large amount of music and dancing that took place in (and around) the parade. I heard the rhythmic beats of a drum corps (which always make me smile), a jazzy swing band (which was pulled on a platform by two men on bicycles), Native American drumming (with matching dancers!), the cool tin sounds of steel drums (which always creates a tropical scene in my mind)… the variety (and intensity) of music offered was really cool.
- The parade also had a strong local community feeling. It seemed that all residents in the area (young singles, families with children, empty-nesters, the elderly…) were either in the parade, or were supporting people in the parade. The vibe of the entire event was casual and relaxed; festive, but in a summer-picnic kind of way. It made the big city feel like a small, relatable community (if a somewhat ‘hippy-trippy’ one). It was cool.
- What primarily drew me to this event was the promise of huge puppets – and the parade did not disappoint. I saw many large, bold, detailed, awesome puppets.
But no matter how descriptively I write about the May Day parade, a person really has to attend the event in order to fully appreciate it. Yet since many people I know may never have the opportunity to make a May Day trip to Minneapolis, I’m going to post a variety of pics that hopefully convey some of the spirit of the day. While it’s not the same as watching the festivities first-hand, hopefully the images below serve as a semi-decent proxy.
First up: The larger groups.
Next up: The smaller groups.
The majority of the parade participants were joyful; but a few focused more on darker (or political) topics:
Enough of that. Back to more festive groups!
People of all ages actively participated in the parade. Here is a small sampling of some of the younger and older ones:
The sense of community was palpable both in the parade, and among the observers as well:
Ready for some puppets? First, let’s explore the question, “Why puppets?”
Starting with the smaller puppets:
Finishing with the larger puppets:
The puppet below is one of my favorites, for a few reasons.
1) It reminds me of our puppies (albeit it on a completely different scale);
2) As this dog puppet was walking down the street, a real big black dog (it looked like a large spaniel) was sitting on the side of the road with its owner – and when the real dog saw the puppet dog, Real Dog went nuts. Real Dog started barking and lunging, and definitely wanted to tussle with Puppet Dog. It was hilariously funny to watch.
After the parade ended, HOTB festivities continued with a ceremony and open-air festival at the neighborhood park. Even though the weather was fantastic (70 degrees and sunny – terrific for an early May day in Minneapolis [particularly this year, where nearly every day in March and April was some variety of cold/wet/gray, and where it had snowed just three days before]), I still wasn’t feeling super-great – so I thanked my yoga teacher/event host for her hospitality and kindness, then bid her farewell (until next week, when she will kick my booty in class once again). 🙂 While I was slightly disappointed that I was going to miss the various music, dancing, and poetry acts in the park, I came to the event mostly so I could see the big ol’ puppets – which I did. (And which were super cool). So at the end of the day, I got what I wanted: a new experience. I left the event happy.