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An Introduction to the “3 Ring Fancy Brigade”

By their Captain, David Rigler

One of my favorite parts of developing the 3 Ring Fancy Brigade over the past few months is that no matter how the meetings start they always end with the telling of old mum stories. When I try to define what being a mummer means and feels like to me I always come back to one story. It’s rather embarrassing, so up until now I have kept it to myself. I am finding the confidence to share it now only because as we get closer to New Year’s Day 2015 and the energy in the air begins to electrify I feel optimistic that I am not the only one that has had this experience, or a similar one.

My second parade ever was with the Alpha Fancy Brigade in 1985 and their theme was “Rebirth on an Unknown Planet,” (a space theme). I was in the first grade and had just turned 7. This would actually be the first time I “performed” at city hall. The previous year I had fallen asleep in the van and woke up after everything was over (No, that is not the embarrassing part, but I digress.) At that age there is no competition, just spectacle and amazement (the competition part I would learn about, all too well, a couple of years later when my family went to Saturnalian (1987, “Musical Melodies”)). At the age of 7 I just felt excitement, and that I was a part of something very important and special.

Now, here is the embarrassing part. Some of you old timers might have to explain some of what follows to the younger generation.

A few days after that parade I had a brilliant idea. I was going to recreate that presentation in my basement. I cued up the video on our Betamax and got my cassette recorder, and when everything was ready I hit play/record and hoped for complete silence for the next 4 minutes. With a copy of the music ready to go I went to the basement to create my own costume, my father’s costume of course being way to large for me. The “Pièce de résistance” of this costume was my street hockey net lashed to my body with belts and suspenders to create a genuine mummer back-piece (In case it wasn’t obvious, that is the embarrassing detail). With music and costume ready, and the row-home basement cleared for adequate performance space, away I went, recreating every move as best as I could remember it…. switching back and forth between the back-piece drill and the dancer drill… and I have to admit, the captain’s routine.

What I hope you take away from that story isn’t the image of a chubby first grader dancing around in his parents’ basement with a hockey net strapped to his back. It is that the excitement of being a mummer should last all year long and should span all generations. That is the purpose of 3 Ring… to always be exciting, and to always inspire excitement in others.

For me, the most exciting years in the parade were the late 1980s into the mid 1990s. Performing on “the street” presented so many challenges that the brigades were always forced to find new ways to solve those problems and be competitive by combining creativity and spectacle, and sometimes even humor. I still often find myself reminiscing about saxophones doing the twist, or bugs swing dancing, or toys doing hip-hop. The parade has evolved so much over the years, and the sensibility of the audience with it, that perhaps those ideas won’t work anymore, but I truly believe that there is a creative hybrid of what was then and what is now that can be successful and entertaining. Our shows will also strive to be emotional, and will hopefully create an energetic relationship with the audience that will enhance the presentation. Mummers live in a world where anything is possible. That concept can be frightening a times. Sometimes too many possibilities can be overwhelming, but it is our responsibility to keep exploring and pushing those creative boundaries to ensure the future of the parade.

The 3 Ring Fancy Brigade will be different, in every aspect, I hope. I also hope that we can create an environment where anything is possible and where exploring every path is encouraged. It will be a difficult task and it will take some time. I believe that if we stay true to the concept of exploring new and creative ways to present our shows, both in process and final result, and generate an environment where our members feel like their participation has a direct impact on our success then we will establish our own unique identity which will be the foundation for our long term success.

Obviously when you hear the name “3 Ring” you immediately think of a circus, but the genesis of our name is much more than that. It is really the combination of two ideas. First, it was important to us that we select a name that had a connection to Philadelphia. While it is a somewhat obscure fact, the first real circus presented here in the United States found its home in Philadelphia. In 1793 John Bill Ricketts, the British equestrian, opened the first circus in America right here in Center City, at 12th and Market Streets. Secondly, and a bit redundant if you know me, I have had the honor of working as a freelance artist for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey for around 10 years. The combination of music, costume, sets, choreography, acrobatics, clowning, death-defying feats, and animals inspires me. It is truly a collection and a collaboration of the greatest talents and technologies from all over the world. It entertains and moves the audience. It provides an experience which I believe we can emulate. It is an example of how we can enhance what already is the “Greatest Show In Philadelphia.”

I wish all of you and your families a happy and healthy holiday season, and a wonderful New Year… and the best of luck on New Year’s Day to all mummers in every division.

“The “3 Ring Fancy Brigade” will be a new group in the Philadelphia Mummers’ Parade, Fancy Brigade category, starting in 2015 with their first official performance taking place on January 1, 2016.

The goal of the “3 Ring Fancy Brigade” will be to produce unique and innovative shows which will stretch the boundaries and preconceptions of mummery. This will be accomplished by exploring ideas and concepts from different entertainment genres and utilizing non-traditional resources to build upon the great and long tradition of the Philadelphia Mummers, specifically the Fancy Brigades.”

You can connect with the 3 Ring Fancy Brigade on Facebook