I was stunned last year when I heard the news that In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre was in financial trouble and that 2019 might be the last MayDay parade for Minneapolis. The MayDay celebration is my favorite Twin Cities event, mainly because it embraces grassroots culture so strongly. Though they may be in financial trouble precisely because they don’t have major corporations sponsoring the parade.
Full confession: I wasn’t always a fan of this type of culture. As a young kid in 1970s Minneapolis, my granola-crunching mother used to make me go to the Wedge Co-op, back when it was on the west side of Lyndale, to package cheese for her membership requirement. She would also take us to the Powderhorn Puppet Theater to see thinly disguised progressive messages. I looked at everyone around at this time with long hair as hippies. And since I was growing up an angry punk rocker, I hated hippies.
In the last 30 years, I have come to love this culture. I have also come to discover that it ain’t just for hippies; it’s for the full spectrum of our community – freaks, normies, politicians, radicals, animal lovers, environmental activists, and including people from every ethnic population you can imagine. The celebration is a day where everyone in Minneapolis can come together and enjoy the warming air and have as much fun as possible.
I thought it would be interesting to look back at the early days of In the Heart of the Beast, when they were still known as the Powderhorn Puppet Theater.
Originally broadcast on April 4, 1979.
Looking through the Star Tribune archives, I found that the Powderhorn Puppet Theater began in 1973 – performing shows in schools and churches around Minneapolis. The first MayDay Parade & Festival took place in 1975 before the company changed the name to In the Heart of the Beast in the late 1970s and found a solid home at the Avalon Theater (a former x-rated movie house on Lake Street) in 1988.
I have been bringing my children to the MayDay celebration every year they’ve been alive, and it’s painful to think it might not continue to exist in the future. Following the 2019 announcement of financial troubles and other transitional challenges, In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre decided to enter what they are calling a “chrysalis year” – a time to, like a caterpillar transitioning into a butterfly, closely reflect on how to design a more equitable and accessible MayDay Celebration. “Now,” their website says, “we find ourselves in a moment of Chrysalis in Quarantine.” On Sunday, May 3, 2020, In the Heart of the Beast is hosting a virtual MayDay experience. Their website goes on to say “In this time of physical distancing, we know now more than ever that MayDay lives IN the community. We, all of us, ARE MayDay! And we will continue to create together in this time of quarantine.”