For the last seven years, once a year at the beginning of April, papier-mâché creatures and monsters congregate and parade downtown. Their colorful papered faces and designs, propped by poles, swing madly in the early spring air. FestiFools is back, and this weekend promises to bring jest and fun to the still-wintry streets of Ann Arbor.
Sunday at 4 p.m.
Friday from Dusk to 12 a.m.
Mark Tucker, University professor and creative director of WonderFool Productions, said the idea for an April Fools’ Day-themed festival came about through his work with the Lloyd Halls Scholars Program. He’d been working with students in art for non-majors, and his class took on a community theater project.
“One thing led to another, and I had this history of building large papier-mâché floats in Italy, and so it was already in my blood,” Tucker said. “I decided to see what would happen if I created a course around it. The first year we did it, the semester ended about the second week of April, and we decided April Fools’ was really close to that ending, so April Fools’ was the first day we did it.”
Tucker’s past experience with papier-mâché helped provide a jumping-off point for the course idea. He travelled to Viareggio, Italy with students through Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU) and with two artists from New York who are part of the Super Concept Monsters company. His intent was to learn the art of cartapesta, or papier-mâché.
“One of the things they do the night before a big festival (in Viareggio), is they make these little lanterns and … the villagers light the lanterns,” Tucker said. “I knew it’d be different in Ann Arbor, but I wanted to see how it would work in the form of a downtown city environment.”
Tucker brought the spirit of cartapesta to the University. After working on a project for another event in the Michigan Theater, he realized that the creatures and creations could be turned into luminaries.
“There were limited things we could do in the theater,” Tucker said. “So, we were trying to keep everything we had made in the audience, and there was limited lighting, so we thought ‘we’ll light up the pieces from the inside,’ and so we started down this path of research and development, making what ended up being these characters made out of wire and tissue paper, and lit from inside.”
This year, close to 170 students will bring 25 puppets to the festival, boasting their creations high above the streets. But along with students, community members outside of the University have started bringing their own monsters and sculptures to the event. WonderFool Productions hosts workshops during which anyone can craft their papier-mâché masterpieces.
“People can come and make their own luminaries,” Tucker said. “That’s really the amazing thing to see — the whole town gets excited, comes together to make the pieces and comes together again to present them to the rest of the community.”
The students and the people of Ann Arbor will see each other’s work for the first time on Sunday.
“We meet on the street on the first time on Sunday. We haven’t seen theirs, they haven’t seen ours; it’s a really nice energy,” Tucker said.
Along with FestiFools, the third annual FoolMoon on Friday will host a slew of artists and activities to kickstart the FestiFools weekend.
“We needed a fundraiser as well as something that would be interesting to go to,” Tucker said. “FoolMoon became the thing that we said, ‘we’ll have sponsors jump in the mix for this one.’ ”
Sponsors of the festival include Grizzly Peak, which produced a special brew for the festival called FoolBrew. The proceeds go to WonderFool Productions and are used to fund the annual FestiFools weekend.
“We were getting reduced funding from the University, and I didn’t want to sell out FestiFools; I didn’t want to have to go out to get sponsorships for the individual companies’ names and the individual puppets,” Tucker said. “I used to work for the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade where everything was a commercial, and everything had a price on it and a company name, so I wanted to avoid that commercialization with FestiFools.”
Joining Grizzly Peak’s FoolBrew is a variety of events scheduled for the evening, including a Roving Shadow Puppet Performance by puppet artist Patrick Elkins, luminary hair styling by Orbit Hair Design and a live performance by Theo Katzman and Dan Henig.
After Friday’s festivities, Sunday’s parade will start at 4 p.m. and bring to life the creations of students and community members alike.
“The audience here in Ann Arbor is pretty sophisticated, so they can get away with trying out with pretty complex ideas, not needing to dumb it down or pretend it’s just for children,” Tucker said. “A lot of people don’t like to go into museums; a lot of people can’t afford to go to a theater. We wanted it to be accessible.”