Procession of the Species still special, but slowing down

For much of Olympia, Saturday’s main event will be the 21st annual Procession of the Species, the do-it-yourself human-powered parade that celebrates Earth Day and human ingenuity.

But for stalwart Procession fans Kat Harmon and Preston Kiekel, the day’s standout moment will happen before the bands, floats, wind socks and folks in costumes fill the streets.

The couple is getting married Saturday, and they’ve invited friends and family to join them in watching their favorite spectacle between the ceremony and the reception.

“Why have we centered our wedding day around this crazy parade?” the couple wrote in an enclosure to their wedding invitations. “Because it is uniquely Olympia, a place we love.”

Procession weekend also is an anniversary of sorts for the couple. Their first date was to see the Luminary Procession in 2012. The Luminary Procession, which happens the night before Procession of the Species, celebrates the human spirit, with participants carrying illuminated creations through the streets.

“We went to the luminary together as friends and left as sweeties,” Harmon said. “We went to karaoke at the Clipper, and he made me laugh a lot, and then we came home and sang musicals.”

Ever since, the couple has celebrated that anniversary watching both processions and doing karaoke. And last year, Harmon proposed to Kiekel after the Procession of the Species.

And this year, they’ll share the event with those they know and love.

“This will be one of the very most exciting parts of my day as a bride — to experience this Olympia thing with the people who are important to us,” Harmon said.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that many of the parade’s highlights this year are likely to be things the couple and other parade-goers already know and love.

The old favorites — the lion, the zebra, the rhino, the smiling sun — will be there.

“The sun was created for the very first Procession, so that will have made its complete orbit in a sense,” said Procession founder Eli Sterling, who always envisioned the event lasting for one generation, or 20 years. (Yes, this is Procession No. 21, but Sterling points out that it’s been 20 years from the first Procession to this one.)

Also expected is the 22-foot giraffe that has impressed Procession-goers for the past two years. Created by Jerry Berebitsky, the giraffe is said to be among the biggest nonmechanical puppets in the world.

There also will be students from Lincoln Elementary School, a group of Girl Scouts, and a group of drummers, dancers and puppeteers from The Evergreen State College.

Music and dance groups will provide the day’s soundtrack, including Artesian Rumble Arkestra, Crow Drummers and Samba Olywa, the Brazilian-inspired drum and dance group that provides the grand finale every year.

And there’ll be windsocks and fish on sticks available for people who arrive without costumes or creations of their own.

But earlier this week, Sterling still hadn’t heard about any big new projects this year. For financial reasons, the event’s organizers closed the community art studio, leaving Sterling and his Earthbound Productions with just an office and a small storage space.

Sterling said he’s not sure whether there’s actually less going on or whether he’s just not hearing about people’s plans, because there’s no central gathering place for participants.

But there’s reason to believe this year might not be as big as usual. Most people register the day of the event, but typically Earthbound Productions, which puts on the Procession, has received advance registrations for 50-75 groups by the week of Procession. This year, there are only 10 groups registered.

“People do wait till the last minute, and registrations will certainly increase,” he said. “But that’s a significant drop.”

Simon Calcavecchia, who designed a big Komodo dragon last year, had hoped to do a new large-scale project this year but found it impossible without a studio. Even his attempt to work with a group of kids on a flock of penguins fell through. One school he wanted to work with couldn’t find storage space for the costumes he hoped to help them create.

“I’m really sad to not be able to have that studio and work with all the people I got to work with last year,” he said.

Sterling and other organizers are viewing this year as a sort of test to see how the event fares without the community art studio that provided space and technical assistance for larger projects, as well as workshops on batik, papier-mâché and other crafts.

“Everyone does get a smile on their face when they hear the word ‘Procession,’ ” Sterling said, “but my feeling is that on the 20th year, it’s time to sit back and see what happens.”

For those directly involved in Procession, the lack of the studio has been a big change that has caused some worry and angst, but for those who line the streets to watch, the anticipation is as high as ever.

And that’s particularly true for Harmon and Kiekel.

Harmon remembers her first Procession in 2005, when she was a student at Evergreen and participated with classmates.

“That was pretty magical,” she said.

And Kiekel’s first was the one he went to with Harmon in 2012.

“It’s jaw-dropping, isn’t it?” he said. “It’s stunning. There’s nothing like it elsewhere.”