2011 St. Patrick’s Day Season, Days 4 & 5

Originally published 3/13/2011.

Yesterday was the Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the US, and the organizers achieve that by opening it up to pretty much any group that applies and pays the entry fee. In the past, we’ve seen floats or marchers from a Hari Krishna temple, Shotgun Willie’s (a Denver strip club), and a group of people dressed as Star Wars stormtroopers, just to name a few examples.

Because the Parade is so big, and has gotten so much bigger since I first participated in 1987, staging it is an amazing spectacle in itself. Groups assemble in the giant parking lots at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team, and they are divided up into four different divisions. The Honorary division, the first groups to go when the Parade starts at 10 a.m., start lining up in the parking lots at 8 a.m., and the other divisions get staggered assembly times to that not everyone is arriving all at the same time. Even so, traffic into the parking lots is sluggish, and as you walk to your assembly place, hundreds of people from various groups are walking with you.

This year, we decided to use the Parade to help advertise our annual March stage show. We’re doing an Irish dance version of the Nutcracker this year called the Jigcracker, and it features an Irish girl named Claire, an enchanted Prince (the Jigcracker), a villainous witch, and a friendly dragon. I thought we could have those characters march in the Parade, and along the way we could hand out flyers and business cards.

I’m playing the witch, so on Saturday morning I got up at 6 a.m. to start getting ready. I needed to eat and pack my lunch and things for the day, and also I needed to stretch, because I’m finding that if I don’t stretch twice a day while I’m dancing, I seize up like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz when he doesn’t get his oil. Once all that was done, I needed to put on my witch makeup, and (to tell the truth) THAT was the part that really scared me.

Even picking out foundation was a daunting task. I don’t usually wear any makeup, and I never really have, so my knowledge of cosmetics is about as sophisticated as a six-year-old’s. I knew enough to realize, however, that I should probably get some kind of foundation with sunscreen in it for the Parade. Without sunscreen, I was going to burn (yay, Irish skin!), but I didn’t figure that eyeshadow and blush were going to stick to my regular super-sweatproof 50+ sunscreen so well. I had heard legends of magical products that contained both sunscreen and foundation , and so I went to King Soopers to attempt to purchase some. In my mind, it was a heroic quest akin to that of Gilgamesh or Ulysses.

There were DOZENS of different kinds of foundation with sunscreen at King Soopers. Not only different brands, but different lines within the different brands, and some of them had dozens of different shades: “Ivory Blush,” “Fairest Porcelain,” “Cream Rose.” I looked for “Fish Belly White,” but I couldn’t find any. Lacking guidance, I blindly picked up the lightest shade of each kind I found and read the back, hoping that I’d find some clue there about whether this was a good brand that would A) prevent the sun from frying me like a hamburger and B) not make my sensitive skin break out in giant red pimples right before St. Patrick’s Day.

None of the bottles mentioned hamburgers or pimples. They did, however, mention that their scientifically-formulated skin-balancing formulas would nourish my pores while restoring that youthful glow. They would moisturize dry skin while evening out oily patches, producing a toned, beautiful look. Wow. I wondered how that worked, exactly. Maybe the formula really was magic, redistributing the oil from the oily patches to the dry parts like irrigation. In that case, I was probably in trouble, because my skin is as dry as a salt flat all over.

Reading the ingredient lists didn’t help, either. Most of the ingredients were chemicals I’d never heard of, which alarmed me somewhat. Did I really want to smear my face with a bunch of unknown chemicals? Knowing that millions of other women happily smeared every day didn’t really help, because I knew about some of the beauty treatments that other cultures have tried over the course of human history (camel dung lip gloss, cones of wax scented with myrrh melting on your head, etc).

In the end, I picked up a tube of Almay Smart Shade, Smart Balance, because it had some writing on the tube that I understood:
1. SPF 15 (OK—that means that I PROBABLY won’t fry)
2. 2.0% Zinc Oxide (Zinc Oxide. Yeah. They use that in sport sunblock. OK).
3. Hypoallergenic. Won’t clog pores. Dermatologist tested. (so I PROBABLY won’t break out in giant red pimples)

It also came in a tube that looked reassuringly like a bottle of sunscreen. Maybe that’s a stupid reason to pick one kind of makeup over another, but at that point I was so lost, anything familiar seemed good.

All that was on Wednesday. Now it was Saturday, and I was ready to get dolled up in my witch’s costume. I couldn’t remember what order I was supposed to do things in. Costume first, then makeup, or the other way around? I finally decided on costume first.

The witch’s costume is kind of a goth fairy thing, since instead of having the Rat King and the mice for our Jigcracker villains, we were going with evil fairies. First, I had a pair of black leggings with holes in them. Over that, I had a black leotard with a high lace neck and lace sleeves. Over that, I had a black velvet dress with a tutu-like skirt made of layers of purple chiffon, and some strips of matching purple at the shoulders.

Once I had all that on, I started on my makeup. The Almay foundation stuff turned out to be really easy to use, just like I’d hoped. I put it on like sunscreen and rubbed it in, and it looked pretty good. The Almay came in three different shades, and I’d picked “Light,” which apparently is “Pale” in French, according to the label. As I put it on, I discovered two things: first, I am paler than “Pale,” which I guess I knew already, and second, regular pale people must have skin that is much more orangey than mine, because where my real skin color and the Almay color showed next to each other on my neck, it looked like I’d been powdering with paprika.

Okay, step one hadn’t gone too badly. Step two: eye liner. I took out a bottle of liquid eyeliner from the all-purpose makeup bag we use for the stage shows every year, and, bracing my right hand with my left to try to stop the nervous tremors, I drew a line under my right eye. Hmm. Not too bad. The line was pretty straight and the right thickness. Okay. I tried the top eyelid. My eye kept twitching as the muscles in my eyelid tried valiantly to fight off my hand, but somehow the line went on decently straight and met up with the bottom line at the corner of my eye.

Encouraged, I moved on to my left eye. This makeup thing wasn’t too hard after all. But then, in my cockiness, I went too fast and made a giant black blob right under my eye. Oops. I wiped it off with a piece of toilet paper, but that took off the Almay as well. Crap. So I reapplied the Almay and tried again. The second time went better. So then I did my top lid. My top eyelid was jumping so much that my hand slipped and somehow the eyeliner ended up, not along the lash line, but below that, on the skin right next to the eyeball. I didn’t think that was going to be good for my eye. Very carefully, I wiped it off with a corner of the toilet paper, and managed to fix it without taking off any of my other makeup. Then, with a deep breath, I redid the eyeliner on the top. It was way thicker than the right eye, but by that point I didn’t care. I had about ten minutes before I had to leave, and I figured that anybody who got close enough to see my shoddy makeup job was also close enough that I could punch them if they said anything about it.

I added blue eyeshadow all the way up to my eyebrows, and then added another layer to make sure it showed. Then I added blush. I’d read somewhere that you’re supposed to highlight your cheekbones with blush, so I tried that, and it worked okay on one side but came out really crooked on the other. Apparently, the witch’s left cheekbone was deformed. Too bad. Then I added some really bright magenta lipstick and headed out the door, right at 7:30 when I had to leave. There was a guy sitting in the car beside mine in the parking lot, and he stared at me as I jumped in and drove off. I think I forgot to mention that I’d gotten my hair ready for the long purple and black wig I was going to wear, so my hair was in three ponytails sticking out at weird angles from my head. I’d be interested in finding out what my neighbor thought I was up to.

I got about two blocks away and realized that I’d forgotten my sound system, which we were going to pull in front of the dancers so they had some music. I couldn’t use any other sound system, since that one was the only battery-powered one we had, so I turned around and went home again.

When I got to the studio where some of us were meeting to carpool, father-daughter dancers Doug and Morgan were already there. They got out of the car, and when Doug saw me, he stopped and said, “Wow.” And it wasn’t “Wow, you look so beautiful,” but more, “Wow, you look so weird that I don’t know what to say that won’t make you hit me.”

Great. Well, I was supposed to be an evil, creepy witch, so maybe that was coming across.

My sister and some of our other dancers arrived shortly, and we started packing up the cars with the things we were going to need for the parade. One of the things we were taking was the friendly dragon from our show, which is a 7-person Chinese parade dragon on bamboo poles that the dancers nicknamed Charlie. Getting Charlie into the back of my sister’s car while leaving room for three people to ride was kind of like a 3-D puzzle, but we figured it out, and by 8:20 or so we were squished into two cars and headed downtown.

We reached the performers’ parking area at Coors’ field right at 9 and walked to our assembly area. The dancers in the carpool carried Charlie, and a lot of heads turned to watch us as we walked by. People were probably wondering what kind of entry we were: adult dancers Doug, Phil, Natalie, and Krystal were all dressed in black to be the dragon-handlers; I was wearing my witch outfit, complete with the long black-and-purple wig that I’d put on in the car, plus a crystal tiara, and kid dancers Morgan and Emma were dressed as the Jigcracker and Claire, respectively. Neither of them is actually playing that part in the show, but since the real actors couldn’t be there Saturday morning, Morgan and Emma were nice enough to dress up as the parts.

Morgan was wearing all black with the Jigcracker mask, which my cousin Brendon (who will actually be playing the part) made out of an old fencing mask, some googly eyes, and a yellow feather boa which he cut into the eyebrows and mustache. It also has some great teeth, and it looks kind of like a Muppet version of the Nutcracker. Emma was wearing a frilly pink party dress and carrying the small Nutcracker doll. She looked great, but she hates pink and kept saying so until we told her that she could pretend to be an evil fairy who was just dressing up as Claire to fool people. That made her feel better about it.

We got to the space reserved for our entry and met up with some more of our dancers, most of whom were dressed in our school’s dance costumes. Then came the best part of the Parade: waiting! The Parade itself didn’t start until 10 a.m., and since were in the second division and 73 entries back even in that division, we didn’t actually get to start marching in the Parade until after 11. So there was a lot of time to kill. Luckily, there were a lot of interesting entries all around us (including the Good Times Hamburgers and Frozen Custard truck, which delighted the dancers by handing out free frozen custard), and between that and practicing what we would do when we finally got to start the parade, the waiting wasn’t too bad.

When my sister and I thought we might be starting in the next twenty minutes, we told the kids they should use the portapotty before we went, because it would be their last chance. It seemed to be good advice, so I went, too. Then I discovered an unfortunate thing about the witch outfit. I was wearing leggings and a leotard under the dress, and there was no way to go to the bathroom without taking all of it off. In the tiny confines of the portapotty, where I didn’t really want any of my costume touching anything anyway, that was kind of a challenge. Fortunately (?), I’ve had many years of experience changing in portapotties at various Irish festivals, so my costume and I emerged unscathed.

Eventually, the groups in front of us started to move, and we were on our way. Three parents holding our banner went in front, followed by a parent pulling our wheeled, battery-operated sound system, followed by the three of us dressed as characters, followed by 27 dancers dressed in their school uniforms. We were divided up into groups of three, with the taller and older dancers in the middle, holding hands with a smaller, younger dancer on each side. At the back, 7 people carried Charlie the dragon, while another 5 or 6 people waited to step in as subs in case the dragon handlers got tired and needed a break. Alongside, other parents handed out show flyers and business cards.

It went great. The dancers would do some simple 3’s and 7’s for half a block or so, and then Charlie would run alongside and entertain everyone while the dancers slowed to a walk for a rest. Doug and Phil, who alternately took Charlie’s head, were very funny, and both of them would pick out kids in the crowd and swoop down on them, pretending to eat them. Kids LOVED Charlie. A bunch of times, I looked back and saw Charlie delayed behind us so people could take pictures with him.

Do you know the other person who got some requests for pictures? Me. I’ve been doing the Parade on and off since 1987, and I’ve never had anyone but my dancers want to take my picture before.

The first time, I was walking alongside the line of my dancers, yelling over the crowd noise what we were going to do next. A very large, very drunk man touched my arm and said, “Excuse me—can I get a picture with you?”

“Uh, sure,” I said.

“Thanks!” Then he turned to his friends on the side. “Hey! Quick—get a picture of me and Lady Gaga!”

Lady Gaga?

But, as we walked and danced the mile-and-a-half Parade route, I heard a bunch of people shout that they loved Lady Gaga, and I posed for two more pictures with people. Good grief. I hope that people at the stage show realize that I’m a goth witch and not Lady Gaga, or that could get kind of confusing. (“Mommy? Why are Lady Gaga and her backup dancers trying to kill the Nutcracker?”)

The only two other things that were a problem were the Jigcracker mask, which was too big and rubbed a raw spot on Morgan’s chin until we padded it with a pair of gloves, and the sound system. The sound system has an iPod dock on top, and it works very well usually, but it didn’t like trying to play while it was bumping up and down on the road. Every couple minutes, the iPod would jar lose and stop playing over the amp, but luckily we’ve got some very creative parents who managed to wedge it in place with a phone cover.

The kids were real troopers. They walked and danced the whole way without complaint, smiling and waving every time they marched, and some of the kids were only 7. That’s a long way for little legs. But they were great, and I hope everybody had a good time. I sure did.

Well, until I got back to the studio for our afternoon Jigcracker rehearsal and my shop assistant looked at me and said, “Wow. You look…wow.”

Yeah. Thanks.

We had a great afternoon rehearsal (the show is going to be really good), and then several of us ran different shows in the evening. Everything apparently went OK, except for when my sister showed up at her show and found out it was a gated community, with a locked gate and no attendant to let them in. They finally found a back way in, fortunately.

Today was pretty quiet, with only one show, and Phil very nicely ran it so that my sister and I could take the day off (thanks, Phil!). I really appreciated the day off, because after the whirlwind week we’d had, I was exhausted. It’s nice to have a little breather before diving into next week.

More tomorrow!