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The Vaude-Villians New Years Brigade

A New Kind of Mummers Brigade


The Mummers Parade is a nationally recognized Philadelphia Tradition. It is thought by some to be the oldest festival in the United States. The parade can be traced back to the mid-17th Century. Even George Washington participated in some of the early Mummers Day parades during his tenure as President of the United States in the Philadelphia White House. Groups of Mummers formed club houses were their brigade would congregate to plan their performance and house their costumes and props. The club houses served as a social center for the tight knit brigades. Many of those clubs are as old as the parade itself. Mummer's brigades were traditionally "boys clubs" since woman were not allowed to participate in the parade until the 1970's. The brigades were generally very exclusive.

In 2007 a group of young artists were hanging out on "Two Street" on New Years Day. Two Street is what 2nd Street is referred to on New Years Day. Many Mummers club houses are situated along this street. After The Mummers Parade down Broad Street and are judged for their performance at City Hall, they make their way down to Two Street where the parade devolves into a raucaus, alcohol fueled celebration that lasts well into the next day. The friends began to dream about the possibility of participating in the parade as true Mummers rather than spectators. They weren't really sure about how you gain acceptance into this storied, exclusive club, but through some probing and research they learned that it was a possibility.

They group was connected to the indie Art Collective, Space 1026. The sparse two-story building at 11th and Arch hosts a network of artists who rent studios there. It has become a flagship for underground art in Philadelphia. Space 1026 has fostered budding artists, some of whom have gone on to enjoy national recognition like Adam Wallacavage, Isaac Lin, and Alex Lukas, and Kris Chau. The Space has also been a center for perfuming artists, comedians and dancers. It is a welcoming place for a diverse group of people with diverse talents unlike some of traditional, exclusively male Mummer's Brigades. The dark side of the Mummer's is that there is a reputation for racism, misogyny and homo-phobia. Black face was a common costume until relatively recently. Though this was not the case with most of the Mummers, there was a small but vocal group who could have made to the parade an unwelcoming environment to those who were different.

The group which would become known as the Vaude-Villians New Years Brigade also had figure out the logistics of putting a troup together. The level of costume necessary to qualify for the parade is costly. Sonja Trauss, the leader of the group was determined to pull it off and Space 1026 held fundraisers to get the money together. The group decided to go with the very untraditional, politically charged yet tongue-in-cheek theme of "Post Apocalyptic Nuclear Winter." They group hand sewed their costumes and practiced their dance routines and were a smash success. The new-comers where even welcomed with open arms by many of the more traditional Mummers. They gathered more troups and even spawned copy cat brigades as time went on. Their 2010 performance of Food Fantasia was a whimsical take on food politics and earned them 3rd place. The inclusion of the Vaudevillians and other nontradition Mummers brigades is an excellent example of Philadelphia's flourishing art scene and signifies the ever changing and diversifying demographic here.

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