Aryon Hoselton is cutting out a pattern for a wench dress from an old hospital curtain.
He’s also silkscreening, hustling help from strangers, and coordinating choreography – the music is being composed in a bedroom of this live-work warehouse space in Kensington.
He is a thin, bearded cyclone.
As most Mummer brigades are putting the final touches on their fancy dresses and dance routines, Hoselton is just getting down to work on Nerd Island, his comic brigade strutting out for its second year.
“I want everyone to do the Mummers,” says Hoselton as he hustled to the shower to clean paint off his silkscreen. “I want it to be the biggest community of artmaking people in Philadelphia.”
Hoselton is part of a groundswell of artists trying to change the face of Mummery. Due to economic woes, the Mummers Parade doesn’t have the money it used to, so some brigades are backing out. That leaves room for new people to come in.
One of them is Kathy Kruger, who says it’s next to impossible for a newbie to get into a brigade.
“The ones in South Philly are pretty well-established,” says Kruger, a recent transplant from the suburbs. “I don’t know how you get involved with them, to be honest. But the call went out on Facebook. It’s right up my alley.”
Nerd Island has been dubbed the Social Networking Brigade, because it leans heavily on Facebook and Twitter to rope in friends and friends-of-friends. Hoselton says established Mummer clubs have been very welcoming to newcomers – it’s the newcomers who hesitate.
“The biggest problem with Mummers is people saying ‘I don’t have enough money,’ or ‘I don’t have enough time.’ People still contact me and say, ‘It’s too late.’ Too late? We’re just getting started. Now is the time to be a Mummer!” says Haselton.
The fact that he is in Kensington also throws off people who have always believed Mummers are born and bred in South Philadelphia. Nerd Island spun off from the Vaudevillians, a comic brigade created in 2007 by an artist collective in Chinatown.
A second Vaudevillians spin-off brigade called Rabble Rousers will be making its Mummer debut this year. The Rabble Rousers occupy a space in the same Kensington warehouse as Nerd Island, one floor below.