Days before the Mummers strut up Broad Street from South Philadelphia to City Hall, the judges and division leaders gather inside the basement of the Mummers Museum in Pennsport to break bread and go over the ground rules.
On Friday, 32 judges continued the 35-year tradition of a pre-parade meeting to go over highlights; talk about what’s new, what’s different, and what to look out for; and officially begin the parade festivities.
The parade goes by fast, the parade runners tell the group of old and new judges, so write a few notes on your scorecard, put a grade, and move on.
“Writing WTF doesn’t help you,” said Leo Dignam, a city assistant managing director who is in charge of this year’s parade. He said to add context, but keep it short: “If you were bored by the end, say that. ‘Started strong, but lost momentum.'”
The judges dined on a spread including pasta, chicken piccata, Caesar salad, string beans, and chocolate cannoli. There are judges for every division: six for Comics, six for Fancy/Wenches, eight for Fancy Brigades, 12 for String Bands.
The division leaders sit among them during the lunch, but it wasn’t always this way. “They were afraid that if they lost, they would burn [the judges’] house down,” Dignam said.
Now they meet to go over duties and goals.
The identities of the judges are shrouded in secrecy to those outside the meeting.
An older man in a Flyers sweatshirt, who has been a Mummer all his life and a judge for the last few years, waved his hand when I asked for his name.
“Don’t tell anyone you’re a judge,” he said. “I don’t.”
The old ones wear satin jackets. One wore a whistle hanging from a lanyard. There were a handful of women, one of whom was a person of color.
Many complained about bad press, angry about being accused of being racist, tone-deaf, and insensitive.
They’re still reeling from a bad skit about Caitlyn Jenner in 2016. That led to Mummer sensitivity training. Now the different brigades have to submit their themes in advance to receive approval.
The Mummers are repeatedly told that they can make jokes about President Donald Trump or Mayor Jim Kenney, “but not about minorities.” The judges were instructed to make notes of any inappropriate behavior.
“Let’s make sure we’re not offending anyone,” Dignam said. “Let’s have some fun."