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Milwaukee Public Theatre’s All-City People’s Parade

A Labor Day of love and community

Sep. 1, 2010
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Milwaukee’s Labor Day parade will include a labor of love, courtesy of Milwaukee Public Theatre (MPT). The second annual All-City People’s Parade will be part of the Sept. 6 Labor Day celebrations—and it’s all free, rain or shine.

Jeffrey Holub, one of a dozen lead artists working with MPT, explains the origins of Milwaukee’s All-City People’s Parade. “We were inspired by the Minneapolis MayDay Parade, which in its first year drew 50 people, and today brings in over 50,000. To help launch our first People’s Parade last year, we brought in Sandy Spieler from the Twin Cities event to get us going.”

The All-City People’s Parade uses no gas or electricity—everything is people-powered by approximately 400 participants. The costumes, puppets and floats are made almost exclusively of natural and recycled products.

“After the parade, we deconstruct everything and reuse all of the materials,” Holub says. “We build everything new each year.”

The idea to hold a Milwaukee parade started with Barbara Leigh, artistic director of MPT. The project is a collective effort between MPT and the Milwaukee Mask & Puppet Theatre.

“It costs around $70,000 to produce this event, much of it in in-kind donations,” Leigh says, “but we have extremely generous support from the Helen Bader Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, state and local arts funding and other groups. Creative input comes from individual artists and, most importantly, the participating public.”

Parade Director Ron Scot Fry praises the public’s contribution. “It started with a series of workshops from all over the city for anyone with hopes, concerns and dreams for themselves and their communities,” he says of the process.“We took their suggestions, distilled them and had independent local artists interpret the ideas. This year, we decided on the theme ‘Wake Up!’ Our goal is that each viewer will experience an emotional response and will, themselves, wake up!

“One suggestion was about breaking certain negative cycles in people’s lives, like irresponsible parenting, teen pregnancy or ecological destruction,” Fry continues. “Max Samson, the director of the Milwaukee Mask & Puppet Theatre, had the plan to fashion this idea into a 14-and-a-half-foot-tall Ferris wheel, 2 inches shorter than the lowest bridge that we are to go under.”

Other projects include large, peddled teacups and a 20-foot kinetic “Sleeping Earth” sculpture.

Steve Wirtz, another lead artist, is fabricating several large Easter Island-type papier-mché heads. “The best part of this experience is meeting other artists, bouncing ideas off of each other and developing a noncommercial event with other generous minds,” Wirtz says. “If a member of the public likes something they see in the parade, some pieces will be for sale. Just ask the artist.”

Volunteer Contributions

Last month, MPT offered “Make-A-Parade Open Workshops” at its Parade Space on West Clybourn Avenue. The building is huge, with two floors, a garage and offices. One room holds thousands of egg cartons yet to be transformed into parade elements; another room is stuffed with cardboard boxes of various sizes, which are destined to be shaped into hats, 3-foot fish or 7-foot heads. Dance workshops and practice for the parade have been held at the Lincoln Center of the Arts.

Both volunteers and paid workers are helping the artists. The Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board subsidized some part-time positions for teens looking for summer employment. Among the volunteers are Maria Vento and her two children, Elijah and Ethan. Vento works for the Helen Bader Foundation.

“I learned of these free art workshops,” Vento says. “These classes teach my boys the value of conceptualizing, creating and completing a piece of art that will be appreciated by the public. They watched the parade last year; now they are going to be in it.”

The All-City People’s Parade will be part of the traditional Labor Day events on Monday, Sept. 6. The parade kicks off at 11 a.m. from Downtown’s Zeidler Union Square, heads up Fourth Street to Wisconsin Avenue, east to Milwaukee Street, then south to the Summerfest grounds. There, the community is welcome to a free daylong event featuring live music, sports, a children's stage and a close-up look at the parade’s entries. Though officially part of the Labor Day parade and subsequent gathering at the Summerfest grounds, parade organizers stay clear of political statements.

“We don’t espouse any political philosophy, but we do take a human, eco-friendly stance,” Fry says.


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