It’s time for a Heritage Division. The Mummers Parade has historically had 2 to 5 divisions. Currently they are the Comics, the Fancy, the Wench Brigade, String Band and Fancy Brigade. Let’s postulate that it’s time to create a new division that does NOT add to the length of the parade, but which preserves the historical significance of the parade, allows some clubs an opportunity to have a less financially stressful year and gives the public more of what they want. There’s a poll question for your input below. UPDATE: Poll results so far are 78 percent in favor of the idea; 22 percent opposed.)
The 21st Century has brought with it financial stresses, city regulations or goals, changing ideas of entertainment, and a new reality of how busy families are, including multiple jobs and how far apart we live from each other. Parts of Mummery, contrary to other media reports, are growing. However, some other displays, especially ones that require people spending a lot of their own money, are crunched.
The City of Philadelphia definitely does not want the Mummers to assemble as they did in the 1800’s. It wants to contain the excesses that were problems before the creation of the Broad Street parade. Most officials do not want to get in the way of the freedom to assemble and they see the tourism value. Most Mummers, too, like the idea of parading on Broad Street, being at the Hall, and giving a show for all on New Year’s Day. But, some clubs have been living on the edge of existence, and outside influences, or stresses, are major reasons why. So, what is a non-corporate, people parade to do?
Here’s a starter idea for discussion. Create a Heritage Division of 3 to 10 clubs each year. The clubs in this division would not have to field as many entries and the rules about their size would be adjusted. The time of their performances could also be shortened. They might not even be judged, though a different judging system could be worked out. The Clubs in this division would revel in the history of the parade. Yes, we’d see feathers and back pieces and more. We might be able to start a fundraising effort in conjunction with the Museum, in which part of the proceeds would go to the clubs in this new division.
Maybe Trilby String Band would have fielded a band if it did not need 40 players and did not have to create a Broadway routine.
Maybe another string band or 2 would liked to have saved money for a year and volunteered to be in the division.
Maybe the String Band Association holds a lottery, if there are no bands volunteering, though I think some bands would love to live in this division.
Maybe a brigade from Murray or Goodtimers volunteers to go in.
Maybe Hog Island believes it could return to the Fancy Heritage, if some adjustments were made.
Golden Sunrise could take up permanent residency there, preserving the Fancy within Mummery.
A big wench brigade could take a year in there.
Maybe a Fancy Brigade even takes a turn.
Maybe we have a youth band.
Maybe we have the Hardly Ables.
Maybe there is an open opportunity for a new club to try the parade, allowing new voices to experience Mummery.
Maybe a guest string band from another state comes in.
Maybe a brass band rocks the house for 2 minutes.
Maybe none of the clubs or divisions mentioned above would want anything to do with this proposed Heritage Division, but, I think it’s worth talking about. This is not about artificially propping up unsupported clubs. Clubs have always come and gone in Mummery and that will continue. But, the Mummers exist in a manufactured world where imposed rules affect their existence. This Heritage Division idea is aimed at supporting positive tradition and cultural significance.
Whether it would be 3 clubs or 10, whether they march all at once in line or are sprinkled throughout the parade, whether they only appear on tv or do the whole route, the idea is to ease financial pressure, keep the parade flowing, and retain and enrich the historical display of this great Philadelphia folk tradition.