The Annual MayDay Parade

Every year, more than 50,000 people are drawn to the Powderhorn neighborhood in south Minneapolis to participate in the festivities of the MayDay Parade. This is not your typical parade — the mission statement of the event is “to bring people together for the common good through the power of puppet and mask performance.” The event uses theater and performance to draw together a diverse crowd. The different puppets, masks, and costumes tell stories of current issues and past struggles. They seek to start a dialogue on a range of subjects such as politics and the environment. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) has been managing the event since the first MayDay Parade & Festival in 1975.

One of the many unique puppet creations in the parade

Beginning in April, HOBT held 16 workshops in the 1937 Avalon Theater, the organization’s home. The public was invited to participate in the workshops to build a “communal story through the creation of puppets and masks.” Attendees were encouraged to bring recycled materials, listen to the theme, and then create their mask or puppet. About 2,000 participants joined in the creation of supporting materials for this years theme of “Imagine, Resist, Heal.”

Some of the political messages related to the parade theme

After all the hard work from volunteers and local artists, the preparations were ready for this year’s parade on May 7th beginning at noon. Finding parking was nearly impossible as every side street was packed for blocks in all directions. Many participants chose to bike down or walk if close enough, avoiding the mess altogether. The parade route started at 25th Street East on Bloomington Avenue South and made its way to 34th Street East where it turned west to end in Powderhorn Park. The puppets and masks came to life for the crowd’s enjoyment through a mix of music, dance, art, and stories.

One of many impressive stilt walkers

After the parade was the festival in Powderhorn Park with activities encircling the lake. An open air stage offered shows throughout the afternoon, food was available for purchase at various vendors, and local organizations had informational tables ready to talk about their cause. Canoe rides were even offered on Powderhorn Lake. The event was eco-friendly with a goal to recycle or compost 80% of what was created. Vendors did not sell bottled water, but attendees were encouraged to bring their own reusable bottle to fill up for free at various fountains.

Map of the festival activities

The Tree of Life Ceremony was the highlight of the event. The spectacle included 200-300 participants of all ages. Each year the ceremony is conducted to awake the Tree of Life sleeping across the lake. The pageant was enacted with dance, puppeteers, an orchestra and “four giant serene puppets who represent the Prairie, Sky, River, and Woods.” The ceremony was based on the parade theme, as it is each year.

Flying birds winding throughout the parade

Many say this is their favorite parade and the one they make sure to attend each year. After visiting for the first time, I would agree. The MayDay Parade is not your standard affair. Dancers and puppets interact with the audience, encouraging them to play along. The parade sends a message about community and encourages everyone to participate and join together, in the hopes it will carry beyond the day’s events. We need more organizations like this, encouraging friendly dialogue and interaction with people you might not encounter during your daily routine. In the end, the puppets brought everyone together for the common good, even if it was just for one day.

About Stephanie Rouse

Stephanie Rouse, AICP, is a planner for the City of Minneapolis and the metro area director of APA's Minnesota Chapter. She is interested in preservation and water management.