December 18, 2018
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Quirky parade a labor of love for Belfast woman

BELFAST, Maine — Every morning, Mary Weaver uses eyeliner to carefully draw a dot above and below each eye, dots that give the longtime theater director something of the look of an eccentric harlequin trying to go undercover in a small New England city.

“This is my point of view. This is how I get perspective,” Weaver, who is in her 70s, said this week. “And it’s really important I do it, because when I do it, I smile.”

Generating smiles — on her own and on other people’s faces — is a big motivator for the self-proclaimed hippie and back-to-the-lander who came to Maine from Manhattan in the 1970s to be a farmer. Farming didn’t last long for her, but Maine did. Weaver has produced theater in Belfast since the early 1980s, with perhaps her longest-running production being the Church Street Festival and parade that take place every year on the first Saturday of October.

But this weekend’s event, her 34th, may be the last one that she organizes. It might also be the last one ever — unless someone else steps up to take charge of the quirky, homespun festival.

“This is a unique, without any reason, parade,” she said. “This is for fun. This is to be zany. Or, on a more serious level, it started out just as a thing that was fun. But I’ve learned that it’s important for young people to stop everything and put on something silly, to walk the streets of their town and have a party.”

Weaver said that organizing the festival doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time. She gets rolling only a week or so before it happens, she said. But it does happen to take up a lot of real estate in her barn and her High Street home, thanks to the puppets, floats, costumes, masks, props and more she stores there.

On a quick tour, Weaver takes the dust sheets off Bella the Big Pink Elephant, the mascot of the parade, and shows off the huge clown puppet that she will wear on Saturday, Oct. 1. There are costumes that will transform people into ants, flamingos, butterflies or dragons. There are sequins and sparkles and fabric that shines in the afternoon light. There is so much, and Weaver hopes that many people, kids and adults, too, will come to her door on Saturday morning before the parade and revel in the dress-up opportunities she provides.

“I’m really happy when people have fun,” she said. “It makes me happy and it makes me smile.”

The Church Street Festival was founded in 1980 by local entrepreneur Mike Hurley and other artist friends of his who wanted to celebrate the “diversity of stuff” then in the city. In the early years, it was more of a festival, with rock climbers from Unity College rappelling down the walls of the Belfast Opera House building, a parade of people marching with boomboxes, live theater and other components. Weaver came on board in 1982, bringing her imagination, her ability to make puppets and costumes and an unusual annual theme. Lately, the festival portion has diminished, though this year there still will be live music and a cakewalk. But the parade is why people come.

Hurley, now a city councilor, said that generations of families now have participated in the parade, a community staple.

“Think of all the kids who have either been in it, or gone to it,” he said. “It’s a very human scale parade. There are no cars. It’s a very gentle thing. Nobody gets sprayed with water. There are no weird clowns, except for the one on roller skates — that’s Mary.”

For this year’s festival, which has the theme “Just Think What I Saw Right Here on Church Street,” Weaver will be a clown, as she usually is, but will not don her roller skates. Age and a bum knee has put the brakes on that, although not on her love of the Church Street Festival and the parade.

“I don’t want this to end,” Weaver said. “I hope it continues. I hope somebody gets interested when they realize I may not be able to carry on forever.”

Those who want to be in the parade should come to 49 High Street at 10 a.m. to pick out a costume. The Church Street Festival parade leaves from that address at 11 a.m.

 


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