On Sunday afternoon, puppets came alive and fools came about.
It was another cold day, but luckily the sun came out to be foolish with everybody. I had been with the FestiFools class (housed by Lloyd Hall Scholars Program) earlier that day — so I rode from the studio to Main Street with the puppets and their makers and then helped them unload those massive papier-mache sculptures. Seeing all them all lining the side road gave them a new element of livelihood an hour later when they took to the stage.
Many puppets this year were politically-charged, which also added a layer of humor to the already-foolish theme. One such sculpture completed in part by the event’s founder, Mark Tucker, was a “scary go-round” featuring giant caricatures of Putin, Trump, and Kim Jong-un. Their realistic facial resemblances added to the scare factor of the piece. It was surrounded by several fish- and Nile-themed sculptures: fantastical underwater creatures, a jellyfish umbrella, a large pyramid, a Sphinx featuring another head of Trump as well as hieroglyph-esque political cartoons of his presidency, and more.
I’d like to think the politically-charged pieces were crowd favorites, given the laughs and supportive comments from onlookers around me. The mayor of Ann Arbor also had a puppet head resembling him, which another person wore while he escorted him around the stage (up and down Main Street).
Alongside puppets, marching bands (ones with real brass instruments and more FestiFools-esque ones with buckets as drums) add music to the scene; dance groups and jokesters perform and interact with the crowd. A group of belly dancers in particular were fascinating, especially when following a large praying mantis led by several people at once.
Maybe I’m biased after having seen several of these puppets in the studio the week before when they were unfinished, but they all turned out incredible. While yes, some parts fell off during the procession, that’s what they’re made to do.
Hundreds of Ann Arbor fools with and without families lined Main Street for that hour on Sunday afternoon. In fact, they gathered on the sidewalks at least a half-hour before it began and stuck around during the half-hour following, eager and excited for the foolish energy that lingered.
During the event, several puppets also interacted with the crowd — particularly children. I jumped in to assist a friend’s Lego Princess Leia puppet, which had a sad face on one side of the head and a happy face on the other. When Leia got high-fives from kids to her U-shaped lego hands, her happy face would greet them.
One of my favorite parts of FestiFools is the last five minutes: all of the puppets and their makers gather in the intersection nearest the trucks in which they came, dancing and smiling as though the catharsis of the event. If FestiFools was a musical, this would be the final number with all cast members present, where any plot issues get resolved. The drummers and musicians don’t necessarily battle but instead give the stage one last, large energetic push, and then the crowd parts to let them dance their way back to the side street.
I highly recommend going to the next FestiFools! It takes place right on Main Street once every April. While a great chance to be your true foolish selves, consider letting that foolishness shine other days of the year, too.