>> What makes New York City special among all the cities in the world is its abundance of live entertainment. When in New York, you are always part of an audience; either you attend productions to be passively entertained, or you can actively take part in the production you attend.
In the case of New York's Earth Celebrations, a non-profit organization that promotes environmental awareness through festivals, pageants, and ceremonies, becoming part of its events is fun-filled, friendly, and always informative. Don't believe me? Then see for yourself by watching a video of Earth Celebrations' production of the annual Hudson River Pageant (2010):
The Springtime Hudson River Pageant
In 2009, Earth Celebrations, a non-profit organization founded in 1991 by Felicia Young, launched the now-annual Hudson River Pageant in New York City; a carnival of sorts that celebrates New York's natural environment - the Hudson River, its species, habitats, and surrounding land. Its purpose is to foster awareness of ecological issues, celebrate the river's progress of renewal, and seed its future by repopulating the river with oysters.
Inés García (at right), this year's pageant program coordinator, emphasizes that the Hudson River Pageant is actually a free, three-month event. It culminates in a fantastic pageant that reflects the carnival tradition.
Event "attendees" during this period include a long list of volunteers who work directly with Earth Celebrations, as well as with the many organizations who contribute their time and talents to the event.
During this creative period, volunteers have the opportunity to mingle with and learn from a wide-range of world-class artists and theatrical producers in a creative environment rarely matched elsewhere in the United States. (See a link at the bottom of this article leading to a list of all the organizations involved.)
Inés notes that if you are interested in the theater, now would be a good time to visit New York and take part in preparation activities. All of the individual workshops involved provide a rainbow of creative activity that ultimately leads to colossal results. In fact, people involved in pageant preparation are usually just as surprised to see the outcome of their work as are the people who just show up for the pageant itself!
The pageant route runs from runs from the Mercy Corps Action Center at 6 River Terrace in Battery Park City to Gansevoort Street. It features giant puppets, people in fantasy costumes, musicians, singers, dancers, and flotillas of decorated boats. Non-volunteers who walk with the procession on the day of the event often add to the fun by wearing costumes and makeup of their own design.
Giant Mask and Puppet Workshop
Earth Celebrations' Lucrecia Novoa (at right) is an internationally known artist who specializes in creating giant paper-mache masks for pageants and special events. She received her initial art education in Chile, then continued it under Eric Bornstein, a master mask-maker based in Massachusetts.
Lucrecia's creations have been seen in countless pageants over the past 12 years, including Boston's annual First Night New Years Eve Festival, Earth Celebrations' "The Rites of Spring: Procession to Save Our Gardens," and now, Earthday Celebrations' Hudson River Pageant. She is the "face behind" all the giant faces!
In the case of The Hudson River Pageant, mask development begins when Lucrecia consults with Felicia Young, who outlines the pageant's overall direction and required imagery. With those instructions, Lucrecia sketches ideas, then, with volunteers, builds the frames upon which the masks take shape.
In the photo below, you see the early stage of a newspaper-wrapped seahorse that will appear in the 2011 Hudson River Pageant. The pole at the bottom of the seahorse will eventually be inserted into a costume, under which a puppeteer will hide while navigating the finished puppet.
Earth Celebrations' volunteers work with Lucrecia to mold the masks into final form, which includes covering the form with layers paper-mache paste and primer. After everything dries, the masks are brightly painted and made ready for their costumes. Note that often giant hands (which, like the mask, are manipulated by poles) must also be made to fit the mask's character.
Pageant Costume Workshop
Development of five new costumes for this year's pageant is under the direction of Soule Golden, a respected theatrical costume designer who's created costumes for The Joffrey Ballet, Luna Negra Dance Theater, and the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, among many assignments. For The Hudson River Pageant, she consults with Felicia Young, who approves sketches of pageant characters before work proceeds.
This year's new costumes include a Toad Fish, a Seahorse, a Blue Crab with Barnacle Tights (sketched below), a Melting Glacier, and an Oyster Goddess.
After the costume sketches are approved, Soule works with volunteers who are responsible for cutting, sewing, and sculpting complex and intricate pieces for each design. At least 90% of the materials used to make the costumes are from recycled materials, which includes such things as packing twine, plastic jugs, wire, and aluminum, to name a few items.
Below you see volunteers fashioning a macrame fishnet skirt for the Oyster Goddess.
Costumes, of course, are not complete without actors and characterizations. Soule (pictured below measuring a volunteer) fits each person charged with a role as well as gives them direction. Although these roles aren't scripted, the actors must be prepared to behave like their pageant creature before the final day arrives. I imagine that acting like a melting glacier will be quite a challenge!
While the mission of fostering ecological awareness is serious business, Earth Celebrations and its director, Felicia Young, executes that mission with artistic flair! According to Earth Celebrations' website, it has engaged "over 10,000 individuals, 200 community gardens, and 100 organizations annually" while executing its mission. In other words, the organization inspires fabulous, information-rich spectacles in which people from all walks of life participate. The environment wins and so do the people who live in it.
With all this in mind, not only will you, as an audience member, appreciate the work of all the artists and volunteers involved in putting on this spectacle, you might appreciate it even more if you actively take part in the project as it comes together!
The 2011 Hudson River Pageant Event
Workshops are ongoing between March and May.
The pageant date is Saturday, May 21 (and its rain date is Sunday, May 22).
The pageant route will start at 1PM at the Mercy Corps Action Center (6 River Terrace in Battery Park City) and will end at Gansevoort Street. Various events will take place along the route. Consult www.EarthCelebrations.com for more information.