2018 Mummers Parade: The Tradition Continues

In the past decade or so, brigades such as the Rabble Rousers, Vaudevillians, San Mateo Carnavaleros and the Philadelphia Pan Stars Steel Orchestra have joined the parade.

Vaudevillians co-captain Sarah Micklow, left, and member Danielle Redden work on their costumes in Space 1026, an artist collective in Chinatown.

If there’s any testament to the strength of Philadelphia’s Mummers tradition, it’s that each year new brigades are added to the parade, which is officially 117 years old and unofficially far older than that.

This is especially true for brigades in the comics division.

In the past decade or so, brigades such as the Rabble Rousers, Vaudevillians, San Mateo Carnavaleros and the Philadelphia Pan Stars Steel Orchestra have joined the parade.

“Party Artery” is the theme of the Vaudevillians this year, according to Danielle Redden, a member of the club.

“The general theme is about health care and single-payer health care,” said Redden. Her brigade’s political theme is “in keeping with comics tradition to incorporate satire and confronting political issues,” she said.

In fact, Vaudevillians, who are a brigade within the Murray Comic Club, have a history of making noise about various left-leaning political issues. Prior Vaudevillians parade themes include preventing global warming, maintaining sanctuary cities, and ending government surveillance, budget cuts and fracking.

In fact, their politics is one of a few ways their club differs from some of the older, more traditional Mummers clubs.

“We come from a feminist and a queer background,” said Redden. “So we have a lot of leadership with women or non-binary folks within the group.”

Being the diverse club they are, members of the Vaudevillians, including Redden, have made an active effort to try and make the parade a more diverse place. Redden and others in the brigade were involved in a task force initiated by Mayor Kenney to promote inclusion and discourage racism and homophobia in the parade. The task force was initiated after the 2016 parade and before the 2017 parade. As a result, they recommended a list of rule changes to incorporate in the parade, some of which went better than others.

Two rules in particular were adopted: requiring that parade themes be approved prior to the event (in an effort to weed out themes that could be potentially insensitive), and the immediate disqualification and suspension of individual performers who engage in hate speech.

Other recommendations didn’t go over so well.

According to Redden, the group wanted to overhaul the judging process so groups that utilize slurs or hate speech not place in the parade. Another recommendation was to find a way to punish brigades who exclude women.

“There’s a lot of leadership in the parade that will just laugh at you if you suggest that,” said Redden, who added that “[brigades] that exclude women from their groups should get points deducted at the very least. They should not be winning, which they’re always winning in the string bands.”

Another way new Mummers groups differ from old? Competitiveness.

Unlike old school Mummers groups such as Fralinger or the Jokers, who are notoriously competitive and march every year with a goal of winning, many newer clubs simply want to have a good time.

“I just like to play music for the people,” said Rondell Pompey, captain of the Philadelphia Pan Stars Steel Orchestra, which marches under the umbrella of the Landi Comic Club.

The 2018 parade will be the steel orchestra’s second in the parade. This year’s theme is “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Pompey, who is from Trinidad, was introduced to the parade by some of the Irish members in the orchestra. He took to it almost instantly, noting that the Mummers culture of dressing up in costumes is similar to other cultural rituals he experienced in his home country.

“It’s got a Caribbean flavor,” Pompey said of his orchestra’s performance. “We have costumes dressed like pirates. It’s a nice little show for the people.”