Meet the Woman Inside the Giant Poop at the Mummers Parade

Puppeteer Leslie Rogers tells us all about the subversive skit.

Left: Photo from Mummers Parade by Dan McQuade. Right: Leslie Rogers by Jeff Cancelosi.

Left: Photo from Mummers Parade by Dan McQuade. Right: Leslie Rogers by Jeff Cancelosi.

We had the Mummers Parade on all day at my house on Sunday, from the lousy acts at the beginning all the way through the prestigious string bands. And the one element of the entire parade that we’re still talking about today is this: the Rabble Rousers and their giant poop that seemed to confuse the commentators on Channel 17. Here, Leslie Rogers — the woman who created the Mummers poop — explains how she made it, what it all meant, and why the folks on TV didn’t want anything to do with it.

I understand that you’re a pretty serious puppeteer.
Yes, I am a puppeteer. Right now, I’m actually nearing the end of a three-year post-doc at the University of Michigan. It’s an independent research fellowship called the Michigan Society of Fellows, and it only accepts six to eight post-docs per year. There are scientists, a historian, and me. I’m the second artist that’s ever done it. I get paid and left alone to do whatever I want.

I’ve worked with the Rabble Rousers before, and before that, I worked with Bread and Puppet Theater and later Spiral Q Puppet Theater. I’ve always worked in this populist, political-spectacle-driven art form.

My kids were very enthused when they saw a giant poop at the Mummers Parade, but then Channel 17 stopped showing the toilet and the poop on top of it, and the commentators said they didn’t have a clue what was happening. They seemed confused.
This is the thing: They weren’t confused. They were censoring it. The poop costume character gets a big blue ribbon just for being a piece of shit. We were being critical of this institution. The flies buzzing around the poop symbolize the more traditional Mummers. And the birds symbolize the Mummers who just want to have fun, and in the end they dance together in a feel-good way.

A portion of this year’s performance:

It’s not like we’re trying to get censored every year, but we do. We did a piece about net neutrality that was really about Comcast, and we made a giant Comcast tower with a cat puppet coming out of it. It was all about power and control. We were the only brigade they didn’t show on TV.

So you made the poop costume, and you were inside of it?
Yes. It was pretty quick and easy to make this one. I made a costume like it in 2008 or 2009 for a play by Beth Nixon at the Rotunda. In that play, the costume was a larva, so I had all the material.

For the poop, I had a PVC hoop at the bottom with backpack straps to hold it out. Then I just rolled up giant pieces of quilt batting into a kind of long slug shape, and then I made a tube out of jersey-knit fabric. It was kind of like a stocking. And I coiled them up around the costume, hot-glued them in place and then stitched it all together.

While most of the Mummers groups do acts based around Disney characters and other not-so-important pop-culture subjects, the Rabble Rousers are always taking shots and people and institutions. Why is that?
We criticize ingrained problems. Look, they still have troupes in yellowface. There are some things about the Mummers to feel good about, and there are some things to feel very bad about. We need to make the parade more inclusive and safer, keep the violence outside of the mix. Our brigade didn’t go do Two Street this year. I heard that last year, there was less fun and more anger there. I definitely wouldn’t go down there in costume. I might go down as a cultural voyeur.

What is the reaction from the other, more traditional Mummers?
There were definitely a lot of Mummers who didn’t understand why we did what we did. But I really appreciate the Landi Club. There’s a sort of hierarchy of approval, and we are under Landi. They are willing to host a lot of the more nontraditional groups. We originally marched under Murray but had a falling out.

But with Landi, we’ve been able to gain their trust to allow us to do what we do and say what we’re going to say. But I think we were only able to establish that relationship and have their trust because our captain, Jesse Engaard, is a white man. He grew up going to the parade and wants it to be better. It can still be.

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