by Sally Kemp | October 26, 2017
All The Saints Theater Company’s Halloween Parade has forever changed the ritual of October 31 in Richmond. For me, as for many, it’s a chance to gather at Monroe Park as the sun sets and feel connected to thousands of artists and musicians, puppeteers, strangers and friends. Funky, thunderous sounds of members of No BS! Brass Band fill the night air and mix with a cacophony of costumes that turn familiar streets of Oregon Hill into a vibrant, colorful, happily chaotic place that feels more like New Orleans than anywhere in Richmond.
Lily Lamberta, the heart and soul of the Annual Halloween parade, is a Richmond-based visual and performance artist. Lily’s training and inspiration come from her time touring the world with one of the longest-running political puppet theaters in the country. Lily returned to Richmond in 2006 and organized the first parade out of an alley, earning herself the nickname Cardboard Lady. “Sixty people showed up that first year,” she laughs at the memory.
Her puppets are giant cardboard masterpieces held together by paper mache, harvested bamboo, staples and a vast collection of repurposed fabric. Recently, I visited Lily’s studio, known as The Puppet Barn, and as she diligently pasted layers of brown craft paper onto a cardboard armature, we talked about how the parade comes together.
Lily’s process is to take a complicated issue and extract what she can use to make something beautiful. She asks, "What’s important?” She knows she’s successful when she discovers humor in something terrible. She explains, “My job as an artist, and this particular style of street theater, is to investigate ways to lift each other up. I seek to take a really horrible reality, like the institution of racism, and I tear it apart to find ways to bring people together to say It’s Not Ok.”
This year’s parade, A Funeral March for the Confederacy, tells a story in three parts: 1) Black Lives Matter, 2) In the Face of King NoOne of the Imperial Presidency, and 3) Bones of Resistance. One Extra-Large White Supreme Pizza puppet will march the entire route trying to shake a wave of puppets that include DACA, the Dreamers, Harriet Tubman, Oya the Black Elemental Goddess, and a cityscape with dandelions. Block by block, Lily’s Positive Resistance puppets will chew up the institutions of white supremacy and racism, and we will take to the streets to dance and cheer them on. The message is powerful: people come together to change what needs to be changed.
A few years back, I jumped into the parade. A giant puppet, created by All The Saints collaborator Julie Elkins, required three people to bring it to life. The puppet, part sun, part pumpkin, part magic, was supported by three heavy poles. One of the poles elevated the sun’s left hand, which waved a dreamy vellum lantern, which glowed with a cool blue light. My responsibility was to make the lantern dance, and I was overjoyed.
This year, there will be many puppets that need people to make them dance. Lily created a whole section called “Animals Against Racist Humans.” She smiles wryly and asks, “How do you say racist humans are not awesome in a way that’s hard hitting and still funny? In a way that kids and adults can relate to? In a way that anyone with a conscience that wants tomorrow to be better than yesterday can relate to? That’s my work.”
Join the parade at Monroe Park on October 31, at 7pm. All welcome. All wanted. Be ready to make noise or carry something heavy. The work is pure joy.
Sally Kemp curates inspiring spaces for people with different abilities to come together to create, imagine and celebrate life. For more: www.milkriverarts.org