KRAMPUSLAUF PHILADELPHIA VOICES: JANET FINEGAR (talking with béla levin-dorko)
i could write an intro here to give context for this interview but, um, janet has it all covered. we could just retitle this piece “janet cleans up everything” and it would be quite true, and we are quite grateful. more than grateful.
but the best clickbait i can come up with is: HEAR janet’s LEAST favorite moment of krampuslauf philadelphia EVER! when she said it i was SHOCKED!
listen to the conversation as it is embedded below, or on soundcloud.
BLD: My name’s Béla Levin-Dorko, and I’m here with Janet.
How did you first become with Krampuslauf?
JF: Well. Your mother – who, in my life is Krampus Amber – even though it’s been years now and we all know who Amber is, she’s still in my phone as Krampus Amber – Amber sent me an e mail message, and… this never happens, but I was actually sitting with my computer when the e mail message came in, and it said something like, “I am trying to organize this parade, that’s connected to an Alpine folkloric tradition called Krampus, and it’s gonna have puppets, and I want it to be really family friendly, and we drove past Liberty Lands and it seemed like the perfect place; is this the kind of thing that could happen?”
And I read that. And I wrote back an e mail that was like, “You… have written to the write person. I have a degree in folklore, and I love puppets, and I work with this theater company that loves doing big parades that involve a lot of community stuff and we really love getting people out on the street and doing things, and I have a kid and I love kids, and the park is really about kids and involving kids, so… absolut— I just looked at some pictures of Krampus, I’d never heard of this before, that’s crazy, I love it, let’s totally do this.” And I actually sent a little link to my partners who work at the park, that said, “Somebody just wrote me about doing a parade with” – and then a picture of one of the Krampusses – “with the Christmas Devil that looks like this. Can I please have a parade for the Christmas Devil at the Park?”
And my friends later wrote back and said “Of course you can, dear.”
But your MOM wrote back write away and said “Oh that’s so wonderful, here’s a picture of my two children with the Krampus teddy I knitted for them.” And a picture of you and Claudia – you were little and you had your stuffed Krampus – and I think what I wrote back was, “We will be friends. This will go well. You knit them a Krampus teddy; your kids are adorable.”
BLD: Before you got into Krampuslauf, did you ever do something that was like it?
JF: Well, because my theater company, the Bread and Puppet Theatre, does a lot of parades, and a lot of the puppets we make are sort of big and crazy and even sort of scary, I feel like I had done something like that before. So I kind of knew about making puppets, and I knew about looking sort of scary but not meaning to scare people so much as just communicate with people. So yeah. I have.
BLD: What’s your favorite part of Krampuslauf?
JF: I have a couple of favorite moments. And it’s funny, when you asked that, the first thing I thought of was my least favorite moments. But – my favorite moments –
I like running around with a mask on, and playing with people on the street. So when we make the corner at Second Street and Fairmount Avenue there’s a bar called 700, where a bunch of my friends often are that night, so I often get to play with my friends, and sometimes they don’t even know it’s me – until after a minute or two and they realize that they kinda know what my clothes look like and they know what I’m acting like. So I like that.
I like when the parade is over, and we’re all back at the park, and we’re watching the fire dancers, and there’s usually a moment of just kind of all hanging out together watching the fire dancers… and I really like that. Remember the year that it snowed and it was so so so so cold?
JF: That was the first year Tucker came – and there was a moment that year when neither you nor Claudia had enough clothes on – and I had the big bearskin?
BLD: Oh, yeah.
JF: And you were both on my lap, with the bearskin around you, and Tucker, I think, just wanted – I think there was a lot of crowd, and he was new to it, and I think he just wanted to be close to you guys? But he really didn’t know me, and so I realized that he was standing… as close to me as was possible without touching me. So I had like, your whole, younger family, right with me. At once. And that’s actually – that’s a moment that I really, really liked. I remember that.
BLD: Is that it?
JF: Those are my two favorite.
BLD: What’s your least favorite part?
JF: The very first one – when we had no real idea what we were doing – and then they did an interview with me that was just crazy and they played it on the radio that morning to the whole country. And your mom and I freaked out! Because we had no idea if it was gonna be like, twenty people like we thought it was, or there were gonna be eight thousand people… and if there were eight thousand people, what we were gonna do with them… and it had made it sound like we knew what we were doing and we didn’t, and so we were just… “terrified” isn’t even really the word. We were just freaked out. That was one of my least favorite moments.
I remember trying to – your mom sewed the beautiful Alpine backdrop, where we take the pictures in front of? And she brought it and it was so beautiful and she said, “And now we’re going to hang it on the pergola!” And… I could never have made that thing, and she wasn’t gonna hang it up. She handed it to me and said, “And now you hang it up!” and I thought, “I have no idea how I’m gonna hang this up… and eight thousand people are gonna come and it’s so beautiful and I want it to be beautiful” – and so – I stood on that ladder trying to figure out how to hang it up, thinking, “I’m not having as good a time as I thought I would.” That was one of my least favorite moments.
It was much better than I thought it was gonna be.
(She ended up stapling the backdrop to the pergola – ed.)
(To Béla) What’s your least favorite moment of Krampuslauf?
BLD: When I’m cold. Or when I’m walking and I’m so tired and I keep asking, “When is this thing over?”
JF: ‘Cause it always seems longer than you think it’s gonna be, doesn’t it?
JF: What’s your favorite part?
BLD: Getting hot chocolate.
JF: That’s a good part.
BLD: How long does it take you to clean up?
JF: I think it took the longest the first year ‘cause I didn’t know what I was doing. And I forgot that it was gonna be soooooo dark. So I didn’t have a flashlight, and I needed – I had to get the hose! We made a fire, and then there was a fire, which meant we had to put out the fire. So I had to get the hose, but I hadn’t gotten it out beforehand, and so I had to unlock the garden, where the hose was, but I didn’t have a flashlight, so I couldn’t get the garden open… that year, I think it took like —
BLD: — then how did you get it?
JF: I finally got the lock open. I think I used my phone. My phone didn’t have a flashlight on it like they do now – it was like a little phone. But I had just enough light that I could sorta figure out how to get the lock open!
BLD: Where did you get the password from?
JF: Oh, I always know it. ‘Cause it’s my park. I think last year, ‘cause I knew how to do it better, it maybe took half an hour. It was quick and easy.
BLD: Like, to put everything away?
JF: Mm-hmm. We do sort of just stuff everything in the back of the car, and then, in the next week or so, your mom and dad and I send each other e mails that say: “Did YOU bring home the Alpine backdrop?” “Yes! Is there any chance YOU have my sweater?” That kind of thing.
BLD: Do you always clean up everything, or do you like leave some things out, at the park?
JF: I pretty much clean up everything. Mostly because there’s usually a few people who are really enjoying hanging around the fire, and drinking cider and rum and talking to each other, and I really want them to go home. So – when I put the fire out, they usually go home. But I kinda clean everything up, thinking, “Maybe you’ll notice that it’s time to go home now!”… And people help. It’s not like I have to do it all myself.
BLD: Like Mommy.
JF: Yeah. And Dad. And Jonathan and Helen, from my family help. And Linda. You know, the obvious people.
BLD: What’s something that a person who’s new should keep in mind?
JF: That it’s FUN. People shouldn’t get all caught up in any kind of not-fun thing, like, “What’s the symbolism of this? Are you actually bringing the Devil up into here? Are you frightening the children? Are we being exactly like people would have been in Alpine countries when they did this kind of” – I mean there’s all kinds of serious stuff that people could say, and I don’t think what we do is anything like that. I think we’re just having a good time. Together! With our friends. Making cool art and showing it off.
BLD: Is there always at least somebody new?
JF: So far, yeah, there’s always at least a few people new. Last year, there were a few people who were my friends, who were new. Who came over to me to say, “… NOW what?” and I said “Well, you know… have a noisemaker! Have a mask! Walk around!”
BLD: Right. We had that big bucket.
JF: Yeah, the Share Box was such a good idea. That was really smart.
BLD: Where did we get the glow-up sticks? Was it last year?
JF: We’ve had glow sticks a bunch of times. But did we have them last year? Do you remember? You guys always bring really good glowing stuff. I’m always really distracted in December, so even though your mom and dad will have been talking about building stuff all year long, I feel like I’m always surprised. Your mom will look at me and say, “We’ve had eighty-five conversations about this moon, how do you not know the moon?” “But it’s beautiful! I had no idea!”…. The moon was a total surprise to me. I didn’t live in the house where it was being built.
BLD: Do you have any more questions for me?
JF: Well, now I wanna know what your advice would be to somebody who was new.
BLD: To not be scared.
JF: That’s good advice.
BLD: ‘Cause there’s all these big scary monsters running around all over the park. So that’s what I would say.
JF: I have another question for you if that’s okay.
BLD: That’s okay.
JF: What do you tell your friends about this? Like people at school who don’t know anything about it.
BLD: I say that we do a big event, that my mom and me, we make these huge masks… not that huge but, like it really can fit on my head. Sometimes we build around it. Like the one that I had, don’t you know, where it was tall, and I had big glowy eyes?
JF: Yeah, it was great.
BLD: That’s what I would pretty much say.
JF: Do you think your friends understand?
JF: Yeah. That’s kind of what I think of my friends too.
BLD: Do you like bigger masks or smaller masks when it’s gonna be like either… on your head, do you like bigger ones or smaller ones? Or puppets?
JF: I like puppets better. But I always think I end up with a mask anyway because I get thinking about masks and then I wanna build one. Because once you start thinking about masks, you wanna build a mask!
JF: Are you making a new one this year?
BLD: No, I’m wearing the one that Claudia wore last year.
JF: You’re wearing the baby Mädchen? Cooooool. What’s Claudia wearing?
BLD: Frau Perchta the White, she’s the sister but she’s nice and not mean. At the house, they’re working on Claude’s headpiece, I think.
JF: Yeah, she’s got a whole like, “the nice part of Krampus” thing going. She was an angel that first year… I like being a devil though.
BLD: Yeah, that’s my thing. My dream.
JF: It’s powerful.
JF: Thank you for interviewing me. I’m really honored.
BLD: Thank you.
JF: You’re welcome.