Erin Petersen

Waking up Milwaukee

By - Sep 5th, 2010 04:00 am
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All photos by Brian Jacobson

Over the last year, nearly 800 artists, crafters and students have been toiling away in a downtown warehouse, creating 300 works of art — larger-than-life sized puppets, costumes, masks and impressive floats — all to spread a message: “Wake Up, Milwaukee!”

I’m talking about the preparation behind the second annual All City People’s Parade, which kicks off as part of Laborfest on September 6. All City hopped on with Laborfest last year after a nasty storm washed out their original parade date. There was such a positive response to the bright and fantastical puppets that All City was invited back again this year — the union truckers even helped with basic backstage maintenance and transportation for the floats!

The brainchild of the Milwaukee Public Theatre and the Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre, along 40 other community organizations and artists from In the Heart of the Beast Mask and Puppet Theatre in Minneapolis, have been steadily working for months to bring this idea to fruition.

After many brainstorming sessions, the theme “Waking Up!” was chosen, focusing primarily on issues like the economy, neighborhood harmony and urban ecology.

“This year’s theme was prompted by concerns about the recession, the degraded environment, and the lack of real public discourse,” says Barbara Leigh, artistic director for the Milwaukee Public Theatre.

That theme is conveyed through the power of imagery, hence the vibrant and fantastical masks and puppetry. But like any good parade, it’s a celebration of the diverse people and communities that are the backbone of our fair city.

“ [We] wanted a positive, affirming parade with music, dance, and powerful images to express their fears, but also to share their hopes and dreams for overcoming those fears,” says Leigh.

The theme will unfold through several key elements in the parade. The float “Bursting Forth” is a large cocoon emblazoned with the words “hate,” “prejudice” and “fear.” Along the route, a beautiful butterfly will emerge, it’s colorful wings reading “love,” “tolerance” and “understanding,” symbolizing the hope for a more peaceful city.

Another float piece, “Splash in the Face,” comments on the issue of water conservation, and the crucial role that water plays in our lives.

The construction of the event echoes a commitment to environmental sustainability. Most of the materials used are recycled items like wire fencing, cardboard, paper bags, fabric, etc. Leigh says that the group also received a major donation of egg cartons and other molded paper products that are being put to use in a variety of fun and creative ways.

There will also be bicycle-powered features like the “New Energy Cycle” float, featuring a giant Green Man puppet on a bike and bicycle rickshaws — keep an eye out for five TCD-sponsored Cream City Rickshaw pedicabs along the route!

2009’s parade was comprised of about 200 Milwaukeeans, varying in age from school children to octogenarians. This year, Leigh hopes to see even more, and with President Obama making an appearance at LaborFest, she just might.

Want to be a part of the celebration this year? There’s still time! Participants of any age are encouraged to contact the Milwaukee Public Theatre at (414) 347-1685 or via their website for more info about volunteering. The parade kicks off from Ziedler Park on Monday, September 6 at 11 a.m. and continues down to the Summerfest grounds as part of Laborfest. Parade participants should gather in the park beginning at 9 a.m.

Though President Obama’s speech is a ticketed event, Laborfest is free and open to the public, and attendees will be able to view and hear the President’s speech from other areas on the grounds. For more information, click here. You can also check out TCD Photo Editor Brian Jacobson’s gallery from last year’s parade here.

Categories: Life & Leisure

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