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Mumming Up 2022: AFC Mummers on December 13

12 people in colorful costumes stand in front of a large Christmas Tree in the Library of Congress Great Hall.

The 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers perform at the Library of Congress Holiday Party in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. The cast at program’s end: Captain Acquisition (David Brunton), Fiddler (Cathy Kerst), Guitarist (Maya Lerman), Curly Toes (Jennifer Cutting), Bishop (Stephanie Hall), Father Christmas (Stephen Winick), Linear Feet (Valda Morris), Metro Manager (Alicia Bartlett), Arrearage Squid (George Thuronyi), Doctor Dover (Thea Austen), Processing Saint George (Sarah Lerner), and Processing Pro (Hope O’Keefe).

The American Folklife Center Mummers will present their annual mummers’ play in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, 10 1st Street SE in Washington, DC, at 1:00 and  3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13.

This year’s play is called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming From the Vault. It’s 1816 and President Madison visits the North Pole Library to deposit a flute made of ice! But soon Father Christmas, the North Pole Librarian, and Dr. Joculus have to deal with dueling monsters. Will their celebrity guest get to play the flute before it melts? The American Folklife Center’s annual holiday play incorporates traditional songs, music, and folk drama from Library of Congress collections for a zany and fun time in the Great Hall.

It’s open to the public, so come on in and see us perform! Due to COVID restrictions, you’ll need a timed-entry pass to enter the Jefferson Building. If you can, visit this website in advance and register for a timed-entry pass. Just click on the red number in the box for the time you’d like to enter, and a popup will open allowing you to sign up.)

If you can’t sign up in advance, bring your mobile phone–outside there’s a QR code that will allow you to sign up on the spot as long as there are remaining spaces-we expect there will be. but it’s safest to register in advance.

The 2018 AFC Mummers at their dress rehearsal deep in the tunnels under the Library of Congress. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

Mummers’ plays are short 15-minute plays, which were traditionally performed in England, Ireland, colonial America and the West Indies at holiday time. Mummers went from house to house and pub to pub, collecting food, drink and small change as a reward for their entertainment. The plays involve a hero and a villain and a theme of death and resurrection, usually by a comic doctor character. The American Folklife Center’s archive boasts one of the largest collections of traditional English mummers’ play texts in the world in its James Madison Carpenter collection.

AFC staged our first mummers play for fellow staff members back in 2009 and have done it every year since. During the pandemic we did it once as a podcast and once as a zoom meeting. This is our fourteenth play!

11 people in costumes in front of a Christmas tree.

The Well-Preserved AFC Mummers pose by the Christmas tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, 2014. L-r: Eric Wolfson, Stephanie Hall, Hope O’Keeffe, Jennifer Cutting, George Thuronyi, Stephen Winick, Valda Morris, Thea Austen, Alicia Bartlett, Ann Hoog, Catherine Hiebert Kerst.

To read more about mumming in general, and our tradition of mumming at AFC, visit this blog postTo read the texts of some of our plays from previous years, visit this one!

We’d love for you to join us in the Great Hall, to cheer on your favorite characters and boo your least favorites. You’ll also have a chance to sing along on traditional English carols and other songs. Once again, it’s 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13. Hope to see you there!

Botkin Folklife Lecture Premiere: Steve Zeitlin

The Poetry of Everyday Life: Reflections of an Urban Folklorist. Welcome to a video premiere in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series! This lecture features folklorist Steve Zeitlin, the founding director of City Lore, one of America’s leading research centers for the documentation of urban folklife and grassroots culture. You’ll find the video embedded below! In his lecture, Steve eloquently reflects on his career, recounts some of his most meaningful projects, and discusses the relationship of folklore to everyday language and speech in contemporary America. Drawing on his experiences as both a folklorist and a poet, he discusses how colloquial speech and shared verbal art forms like poetry work to preserve cultural heritage and create community in a complex metropolitan landscape like New York and, more broadly, throughout 21st-century America.

Caught My Ear: The Lullaby That Came to Symbolize the Exodus of Cuba’s Children

During her internship here at the American Folklife Center, Elisa Alfonso had the opportunity to explore many wonderful digital collections here at the Library of Congress. In particular she found many versions of a Spanish-language lullaby, “Señora Santana,” and noted fascination variations among versions, suggesting that a version collected primarily from Cuban Americans has become a vessel through which migrants talk about the sensations of trauma and loss that come with childhood forced migration. Read her observations, and hear several versions of the song, in her guest post.

Community Collection Grants: R&B Urban Line Dancing on “Of the People”

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting artist, documentarian, and AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Karen Abdul-Malik, also known professionally as Queen Nur. It is part of an “Of the People blog” series featuring the 2022 awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grants program. Abdul-Malik’s project focuses […]

A Seminar for Strathmore Artist in Residence Grad School

Thanks to an ongoing partnership between the American Folklife Center and the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Maryland, fourteen young musicians were treated to a multi-media feast of collection materials significant to jazz history from three different divisions in the Library of Congress during their in-person visit on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. Read all about it in Folklife Today!

A Quick Note of Thanks

Veterans Day season is understandably a traditionally busy time for the Veterans History Project (VHP) staff and supporters. With media interviews, performances, workshops, exhibits, veteran/Gold Star family member interview opportunities and ceremonies, this year was certainly no different.  As we bask in the afterglow of successfully sharing stories through multiple mediums, I would be remiss […]

Natalie Merchant, Martha González and Ricardo L. Punzalan Appointed to American Folklife Center’s Board of Trustees

The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the appointment of platinum-selling recording artist Natalie Merchant, musician and MacArthur Fellow Martha González, and community archiving scholar Ricardo L. Punzalan to the American Folklife Center Board of Trustees. We are also happy to report that legislative liaison Jean Dorton and theater professor John Patrick Rice have been reappointed to the board. Read more in this post at Folklife Today!

AFC’s Homegrown Foodways Film Premiere: REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity

As part of our collaboration on the Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series, today is the premiere of the series’ final film, REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity, which you can watch in this blog post or on the Library’s YouTube channel. REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors brings viewers into the world of community food banks and food pantries, sharing the ways in which organizations, staff, and volunteers serve and strengthen their neighborhoods through food distribution and access to social services, such as housing support, job searches, health care, and more. This film also takes a deeper look at Middlesex County’s Share Your Foodways program, detailing its inception during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Folklorist John Vlach 1948-2022

The American Folklife Center is very sad to pass on news of the death of John Michael Vlach, an eminent folklorist who specialized in the study of folk art and vernacular architecture. Vlach was a longtime professor at George Washington University, where he served as director of the Folklife Program, chair of the American Studies Department, Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of American Studies and Anthropology. At GWU he trained generations of folklore and folk art scholars, including members of the American Folklife Center staff. Other members of our staff filled in for Vlach, teaching courses at GWU while he was on leave. The American Folklife Center staff will miss John, and we send our condolences to his widow Beverly Brannan, their two daughters, his family, and his many friends and students. This blog post contains an obituary provided to AFC by Vlach’s family.

An Important Honor for Joy Harjo and “Living Nations, Living Words”

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo continues to earn praise for her work in the position. On October 26th at its annual convention, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries., and Museums (ATALM) presented one of its Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards to the Library of Congress and Harjo for “Living Nations, Living Words,” her signature project as the nation’s first Native American poet laureate. Her project features a sampling of work by 47 Native American poets through an interactive Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection. Each location marker reveals a Native poet and features an image, biography and link to hear the poet recite and comment on an original poem. Read more about it in this blog post!