In The News
Peoples' Puppets join Laborfest Parade
On Aug. 8, the skies washed away the cover story in the Shepherd Express. Rain did away with the elaborate plans for the All-City Parade and Pageant designed to celebrate the community’s hopes and fears with dance, clown skills, various artisans and everyday people.
All those hand-crafted masks and puppets, giant or intricate, all the wacky costumes, offbeat marching bands and people-powered floats are not gone forever, though Mother Nature did force some repairs to papier-mâché and cardboard.
Even before the downpour, MALC’s chief operating officer and Laborfest planner, Sheila Cochran, had visited the group’s storage area and workspace – the Parade Space, 2210 W. Clybourn Ave. -- and was impressed. This event’s creators, Barbara Leigh and her Milwaukee Public Theatre, and Max Samson and his Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre, are highly regarded Milwaukee theater veterans and activists on issues that dovetailed with Milwaukee organized labor.
She approached them about incorporating the leftovers from their Aug. 8 event into Laborfest.
Now there are no leftovers but a full meal.
So the groups got together and agreed to re-create the parade that wasn’t with the Laborfest parade that will be – rain or shine, with everyone praying for clear weather this time.
The Laborfest tradition involves thousands of union members and more than 130 separate units. The Leigh-Samson event needs a couple of hundred people. But the agreement means finding some new community volunteers since some people who cleared time Aug. 8 can’t clear Sept. 7.
Cochran is not only urging union members to help. Whole families are being invited to participate (children under 16 need to be with an adult).
It’s not just muscular folks to manipulate the largest masks and puppets. There are also smaller puppets and lighter masks involved, along with creative workshops and preparations before the event. In fact, Leigh hopes to schedule a couple of advance rehearsals and there will be ongoing workshops before Sept. 7.
Being sought are people to push floats, dance, sing in a gospel choir, even walk on stilts (though that is rarely a requirement of union initiation), Also needed are people who can pretend to be villains, "potential victims" or heroes, which sound like role-playing any of us can do.
Leigh and Samson will gather their forces that Monday near Zeidler Union Square Park, around which the Laborfest parade lines up and launches.
Volunteers for the All-City Parade will get instructions at 9 a.m. along Everett St. just outside the Wisconsin Energies building, on the south side of Zeidler Union Square Park.
By 9:30 a.m. union marchers in the parade are expected to find the signage for their local and get organized. Various locations have been laid out along Michigan St. between 3rd and 4th Sts, even down Michigan toward 5th St. and then north of Wisconsin Ave on 4th St. for Harley motorcycles and vintage cars. So everyone’s close to each other.
For the Leigh-Samson effort and needs, check in with stage manager Azeeza Islam, (414)-349-5219, or email email@example.com.
Those parade elements will slide into the final sequence of the Laborfest union parade that starts promptly at 11 a.m.
But the show will continue about 1:30 p.m. in front of the Miller Stage at Summerfest when the special narrated pageant is presented. This half-hour event themed “Making a New Way—Together” emerged from a series of brainstorming sessions and focuses on the economy, ecology and neighborhood peace.
This unique element of Laborfest has an auspicious history. Milwaukee Public Theatre grew out of the Friends Mime Theatre in the 1970s and has presented hundreds of public theater events in Milwaukee. Samson’s inventive, enormous and tiny puppets have shown up not only at protests of which unions have been a part but also in various theater productions.. His work for the activist community extends back for decades.
Photos of puppets and parade floats being created, a list of participants, and details on the parade’s background can be found at www.milwaukeepublictheatre.org.