Nontraditional Mummers strut away from Broad Street parade

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Because of the record-breaking low temperatures expected Monday, organizers of the annual Mummers parade will make an eleventh-hour decision on whether to march up Broad Street New Year’s Day.

If the Mummers do march, it will be without a handful of nontraditional brigades.

For the last few years, the Mummers have tried to be more inclusive. That meant holding sensitivity-training workshops last year to help tone down offensive behavior, as well as inviting diverse populations to create their own marching brigades. Those new entrants included a traditional Puerto Rican group called Los Bomberos de la Calle; the Mexican carnival marchers San Mateo Carnavalero; and a traditional South Asian group called Southeast By Southeast.

None of those groups will be marching again this year.

The Mummers group the Rabble Rousers are splintering away form the official parade and doing their own event on New Year’s Day in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Most people, once they are in the parade, they say, ‘It’s cold. It’s this, it’s that. I tried it once, and I’ll never do it again,’ ” said Chuck Tomasco, president of the Landi Comic Club, under which many of those groups marched. “Other people say, ‘I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.’ It’s either love it or hate it. There’s no middle ground.”

The groups that are backing out of the parade this year all have various reasons. Los Bomberos de la Calle had a really good time last year, according to director Anthony Mendez, but this year members are too preoccupied with helping friends and family recover from devastating hurricane damage in Puerto Rico to put together a New Year’s act.

“Most of the members are spending time with their families, it being hard for them due to Hurricane Maria,” said Mendez in an email. “But we will definitely try our best to show support.”

Other groups found it hard to fit into the Mummers mold. The parade is both a celebration and a contest: A panel of judges gives scores each performance group. Southeast By Southeast marched as a comic club, but their Laotian street performance traditionally has no theme, no skit, and is not meant to be funny.

“Basically, they went out and blessed the crowd,” said Tomasco. “As a result, when they got scored by Mummers judges, they were scored really poorly.”

Similarly, San Mateo Carnavalero performed a colorful street procession tradition of Puebla, Mexico. Without the familiar earmarks of a Mummer comic brigade, it ranked low with the judges.

The Rabble Rousers comic brigade also will sidestep the march up Broad Street this year. The troupe of mostly young artists and artisans from Kensington and Fishtown will instead do a splinter Mummer procession through the neighborhoods.

“We’re focusing on what I think are the basics of mumming, which is going door to door, being publicly silly and dancing around,” said Rabble Rousers captain Jesse Engaard. “Honoring what is left behind, what is to come, activating public space, and engaging with our neighbors.”

The Rabble Rousers procession is loosely organized — no judges, prizes, or definable theme. Engaard expects about 50 people to wear costumes and make a lot of noise as they move through parks and playgrounds in Kensington and Fishtown.

They will be accompanied by a 20-piece marching band, 38 Tonnes, based in southeast France. Through a connection with a brother of a Rabble Rouser, the band will be out with all its marching gear as part of the neighborhood parade.

38 Tonnes is a 21-piece brass band from France. They had matching jackets made for a New Year’s Day show in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Rabble Rousers caused a controversy at last year’s Mummers parade when they staged a skit on Broad Street featuring a toilet and person dressed like poop; it was a criticism of the way the Mummer parade is judged.

The alternative parade is not meant as an act of rebellion, Engaard said.

“We’re not doing this as a protest to the parade. But we are encouraging some new things to happen with Mummers,” he said. “There are lots of missed opportunities to bring this city together. We’re trying to pursue that in the best way possible.”

Along the route on Monday afternoon, the Rabble Rousers will be joined by Los Bomberos de la Calle. Even though the Puerto Rican group pulled out of the traditional Mummers parade on Broad Street, Mendez said he will be able to bring together enough people for an impromptu jam in their neighborhood park.

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