Philadelphia Mummers Fancy Brigade Association clubs have selected their concepts for the 2014 parade, setting the stage for endless hours of preparation.
The theme is what defines the Mummer organization for the remainder of the year.
It is what the clubs are pinning their hopes on to win a championship or at least get some hardware that comes with a top-four finish. If the organization loves the theme, the leadership will not have to work hard to motivate the membership. If they do not, well, it can be quite the opposite.
In the Brigade Division, there are no rules for how themes are picked. There is a deadline for when themes must be submitted. And, of course, there’s that one rule that causes the most problems: One theme per category (pirates, Indians, Romans, etc.).
Some brigades let their captain make the decision while others have their leader put together a committee to come up with the idea. And some, like the Downtowners, 148-50 Snyder Ave., employ a very democratic process in which the membership selects the theme after an elected committee trims those submitted to three.
The once-legendary Mummer secrecy is no longer part of the selection process. Everyone knows what everyone’s theme is the day they are turned in. There was a time when captains who picked the theme did not tell the membership until drills started in September or sometimes later. Even in today’s more open environment, the one thing that remains sacred and kept secret is the special effects that will be used in the theme.
Brigades will pick their theme between January and March (Yes, the old adage that Mummers start the next year on Jan. 2 is true). Once chosen, the captain and theme committee will move forward with the planning almost immediately.
Some clubs may select a theme that has been done before, and will look for that one ingredient that will make their version unique and their own. Other clubs seem to thrive on going “outside the box.” What makes it interesting is that both types of themes have won over the years.
Whether or not a club is coming off of a win, once the new theme is selected, the slate is wiped clean. It’s spring training and everyone has a chance again. As with life, renewal in Mummery is a positive thing.
Clubhouses will be decorated with the new theme while shirts and hats are ordered. And most importantly plans will be made on how to have fun with the theme on Soup Sunday (aka Hat Day, Gazo Day and Rally Day). The annual event takes places the second or third Sunday in December.
Also, at this time, the age-old tradition of busting on other brigades about their new theme begins. Some clubs have been known to leave packages — and worse — on the doorsteps of rival clubhouses (there could be a column just on this tradition).
But make no mistake, many hours of planning and building will take place over the next nine months — most of which will be spent in cold, damp warehouses or under I-95 practicing drills in all types of weather. For a Mummer, it is simply part of the tradition.
Yes, many changes and reiterations will take place between now and New Year’s Day 2014. For a captain and theme committee, there is no better feeling than when it all comes together with sketches, costumes, choreography, music, props and special effects in a brilliant crescendo.
Only 278 days until New Year’s Day.
For more information, visit fancybrigade.com.
Jim Julia is the president of the Philadelphia Mummers Fancy Brigade Association.
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