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Oct. 22, 2020, 11:18 a.m. EDT

New York’s Village Halloween Parade marches to a virtual beat in COVID-inspired mini puppet spinoff

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By Joe Dziemianowicz

That’s the spirit.

The 47th annual Village Halloween Parade in Manhattan is canceled due to COVID-19, but a bite-sized spinoff spectacle will proceed virtually on Oct. 31. 

“We have been able to give a project to unemployed artists from Broadway and the puppetry fields,” Village Halloween Parade artistic and producing director Jeanne Fleming told MarketWatch. “This is a way for them to express themselves creatively.” 

It’s the latest example of a big, beloved New York event pivoting in order to offer inventive and financial opportunities to artists and designers who’ve seen work evaporate because of the pandemic

In this case, it’s a rethink of a costume cavalcade that draws around 60,000 marchers and more than a million spectators lining city sidewalks to see the wonderfully weird and wild get-ups. Social distancing would have made it impossible to go the traditional route.

Indeed, COVID-19 has rained on this parade, just as it has shut down all live, in-person entertainment stretching from Broadway, which is closed at least through June 2021 , to concert halls and far beyond. 

Also: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to go virtual this year

Fleming asked artists and designers to create toy-sized puppet characters and itty-bitty floats to be featured in a miniature parade that will be filmed and streamed on Halloween at 8 p.m. at halloween-nyc.com

She reached out in late September to more than two dozen designers whose work has been affected by the pandemic in varying ways to gauge interest in the puppet pivot. 

“No one turned me down,” Fleming said.

Puppets standing roughly a foot tall perched upon sticks for filming purposes are artists’ stand-ins for this parade. A version of premier puppeteer Basil Twist’s signature marionette, Stickman, is set to host, according to an event proposal.

Creations in the Lilliputian lineup include a COVID-related robot from celebrated designer Machine Dazzle, the Village Halloween Parade 2018 grand marshal; a spider puppet named “Aunt Nancy” —inspired by a folk tale—from Tarish Pipkins; and a photo booth picture-strip float from Serra Hirsch, known for a 12-foot-tall Stephen Colbert puppet for a 2010 rally. 

Also on tap: A puppet in an octopus costume created by designer and Vassar professor Paul O’Connor celebrating the multi-limbed mollusk (“They’re smart,” he said) and family (“I’m one of eight kids,” he added).

Commissioned artists receive a $250 honorarium. Though modest, the allowance acknowledges that artists’ work has value. “That was part of the idea from the beginning,” Fleming said.

The payment “made it easier to say yes,” said Brandon Hardy, a puppet and prop pro who called the small-scale venture “a wild and inventive departure from the traditional parade.”

“I’m glad we’re taking a moment to be creative about how we keep the Halloween spirit alive,” added Hardy, a frequent participant of the annual parade who has worked on Broadway shows including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Moulin Rouge!”

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