Every fall, especially after a long hot summer, I enjoy the days finally cooling down. But the real excitement of this wonderful season, when the air has that crispness that you can not only feel and hear, but almost taste, is the magic you start to feel in the days before Halloween. I have always loved the creativity that abounds in this holiday and one of the best showcases for this imagination is New York’s Village Halloween Parade.
This annual tradition was founded in 1974 by Ralph Lee who worked in collaboration with George Bartenieff and Crystal Field, all three of whom were from the Theater for the New City. Together they created a mile-long theatrical event of masked performers, giant puppets and musicians. Spectators were drawn to this demonstration of inventiveness and were invited to participate. In two short years, the parade obtained its not-for-profit status and a core production staff was formed. Every year since 1974 the Parade has grown in both the number of participants and spectators. It is known as the largest public Halloween event in the United States, and the country’s only major night parade. It has also been called “New York’s Carnival.” In 1977, the parade route traversed 10th Street from Greenwich Avenue to 5th Avenue, entering Washington Square through the Arch. By 1985, the size of the parade reached over 250,000 and the route was moved out of the narrow streets and onto its current location of 6th Avenue.
Perhaps the Parade’s most recognizable feature is its pageant-sized puppets (giant rod puppets) “articulated” by teams of puppeteers. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a large devil puppet adorned the top of the Washington Square Arch and a large spider puppet (still used today) was seen climbing up the tower of the Jefferson Market Branch Library. Due to the increased use and popularity of puppets in the Parade, ten years ago the Dream Music Puppetry Program, which promotes the ancient art of puppetry, was launched. Today, one of the main objectives of both the Dream Music Puppetry Program and the Halloween Parade Program is to enlist artists from the greater New York area. As such, each year these Programs commission three artists or groups to design and construct giant puppets around the theme of that year’s Parade. These commissions act as a catalyst for artists who are emerging in the field, giving them financial support and a risk-free opportunity to realize a specific project. Today these ever-changing giant puppets lead the parade procession. The artists and technicians responsible for these puppets work throughout the summer and fall (at locations throughout the greater New York City area). In addition, some six hundred volunteers participate in workshops for designing and fabricating new creations for the changing themes of each new Parade.
The 2012 Parade theme is Tick! Tock! and it invites participants to explore all the embodiments of Time in recognition of the final year of the Mayan Calendar. I know I am not alone in counting down the days to this years’ creative extravaganza and cannot wait to see what fantastic puppets were created for us.
Village Halloween Parade, http://www.halloween-nyc.com/index.php (accessed Oct 8, 2012).
“Holidays: The Village Halloween Parade,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/videos/holidays-the-village-halloween-parade (accessed Oct 8, 2012).
“Processional Arts Workshop” Home of Superior Concept Monsters, Official Pageant Puppeteers for New York’s Village Halloween Parade http://www.superiorconcept.org (accessed Oct 8, 2012).