What good can it do to be foolish?

Each year on the weekend nearest to April Fools’ Day, hundreds of Ann Arborites and University of Michigan students share their interpretations of the answer to this question in the form of a gigantic, bizarre parade of puppets.

Mark Tucker, art director of the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, a Michigan Learning Community that encourages students to pursue passions of art and writing, is the father of the project. Together with former LHSP student Shoshana Hurand, he founded the festivities in Ann Arbor in 2006 in hopes of bringing the Ann Arbor community together with a little foolishness.

Tucker (or as some of his students affectionately call him behind his back, Marky Mark) hatched the idea after traveling to Europe “to learn the fine art of cartapesta (papier-mâché) from esteemed float builders in Viareggio, Italy.” Full of life and color like Tucker himself, thousands of people annually flock the streets of Italy to partake in the crazy, human-powered celebration. Adding his own unique style, he used the Italian influences to create his own unreasonable but crowd-pleasing event. This year, FestiFools celebrates its 10th anniversary.  

At last year’s event, I helped a friend perform with her giant piece. She had made a large, mustached Monopoly man — social commentaries are popular among the event’s puppets — that commented on the greed of our society. The man himself took three people to control — one person to hoist and balance the pole going through the puppet’s body and two others to animate each of his arms. In order to contribute chaos to the crowd, my friend also made several Monopoly game pieces — a tinfoil car, train and iron that she had convinced others to wear on their heads while they run around the puppet’s gesticulating arms. She also made a separate Monopoly man head, which she made another girl wear. Because the girl could not see through the mask, my job was to watch her and make sure she did not fall onto a small child.

Certainly, the event is a sort of chaos: children dressed as butterflies and monsters blowing bubbles; dragons and banners weaving and wrapping around participants; giant puppets including robots, historic figures such as Marie Antoinette, octopi and gigantic babies holding cell phones. There are even bands playing shiny instruments and the audience sitting, squealing, clapping on the curbside. 

Aside from the intriguing public art created by the participants, the implications go beyond the tangible fantastic — through the event’s creations and performances, the community hopefully is brought a little closer. According to the WonderFool Productions website, the group is “a nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging communities in dynamic, educational, collaborative and entertaining public art experiences.” The art is free and accessible to all, involving people of all ages.

As a relatively new Ann Arbor resident, it is difficult for me to try and determine how FestiFools has changed the community. Upon first glance, FestiFools might seem small and insignficant in our community, but FestiFools can do no harm. FestiFools makes art more accessible and enjoyable and it joins people of all different ages to create, celebrate and be uncomplicatedly foolish. Only positivity can come from that.

One thing you should know: When Mark Tucker throws an event, it always rains.

Bring a raincoat, but leave your inhibitions at home.

Stay foolish.

A FoolMoon (pre-FestiFools night parade and street party) takes place from dusk on Friday, April 1, until midnight on downtown Ann Arbor’s Main Street on Sunday, April 3 from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

Payton Luokkala can be reached at payluokk@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.