Neither snow, rain, gusts of wind or the Great Depression caused Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to be canceled in its 96-year history. On Thursday, he looks set to come to power through a pandemic.
The other New York City parades fell one by one as city and state officials determined that it would not be safe to conduct the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the March of the prides and at the Puerto Rican party parade as they draw huge crowds. The West Indies Day Parade on Labor Day was forced to go virtual for similar reasons.
But the Thanksgiving parade continues, in large part because the millions of people who typically attend have been invited to stay home and the event has been reduced to a TV show, though many see it as a marker. ritual of the holiday.
The parade route will therefore last one block, not two miles. These high school bands from across the country will not be marching, and instead of some 2,000 balloon handlers to coordinate, there will only be about 130.
But anyone who thinks the staging of this year’s parade was a staging, not a single logistical feat, has sunk too deep into the holiday oomph.
Starting in March, the parade planners at Macy’s and NBC, which airs the event, had to tear up the carefully calibrated script and come up with a whole new plan, which evolved as new questions arose day after day. .
What is the physics of piloting balloons, typically handled by people, if squat utility vehicles are used instead?
How and when to do coronavirus tests and temperature checks for the 960 people working on the parade?
How do you organize socially distant stage numbers that capture the magic of Broadway without endangering anyone’s health?
How do you tell the balloon handlers and marching bands, some of whom see the parade as somewhere between a lifelong dream and a religious event, that they won’t be involved this year?
“What I knew about Thanksgiving a month ago is different from what I know now,” said Susan Tercero, who is the executive producer of the event for Macy’s. “How do you foresee something in June that will happen in November when you don’t know where the country will be at that time?”
History has set the bar high for the cancellation of the parade, which has taken place every year since 1924, except for three years during World War II.
“Maybe we were crazy to think this way from the start, but I think we just tried never to go,” said Doug Vaughan, executive vice president of specials at NBC Entertainment.
Instead, planners kept in touch with city and state officials and responded as evidence of a second wave in New York City, reducing the number of attendees a second time by 25% of their hand. -typical work at 12%. Instead of around 8,000 people working on a crowded parade route in a typical year, the efforts of 960 people are spread over three days of filming.
The giant balloons were cut at 12 from 16, the floats at 18 from 26.
At one point, the parade planners envisioned a shortened route that still allowed for the streets of Manhattan. But even that was determined to be too much of an invitation to the crowds, and officials eventually landed on a parade stretch of road on 34th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The result, in fact, is a broadcast set based around Macy’s flagship department store, where much of the parade was pre-recorded.
Macy’s is adamant that there will be nothing to see for spectators on Thursday and police have been tasked with dispersing any crowds that may develop. Still, police officials cut the details that usually work on the parade by 80%, said Terence A. Monahan, the department head.
“It’s a lot less work for us, for sure,” he says. “But I’d rather be challenged to protect hundreds of thousands of people while enjoying the parade rather than protecting a show people are watching on TV.”
The high school and college bands that had been selected for the lineup are also disappointed. Usually, Wesley Whatley, the show’s creative producer, flies across the country to surprise the band members with the news that they’ve scored spots on the parade route.
This year, her tour ended before it started.
Parade planners toyed with the idea of sending film crews to capture the marching bands on their own grounds, but that idea was scrapped as it would involve a lot of travel across the country, and in many cases young people. Group members are said to have been learning remotely, away from school for several months and unable to practice in person.
Finally, Mr Whatley called the directors of the groups scheduled to perform this year telling them that they could not come in November, but that they were reserving seats for them for the 2021 parade. The installments set for 2021 would pass. to 2022.
Most balloon handlers will also stay at home. Typically, each giant balloon – from the 49-foot-tall Astronaut Snoopy to the 53-foot-tall Pikachu is guided by 80 to 100 uniformed handlers. These numbers were untenable during a pandemic.
The parade team therefore devised a plan to offset the weight of the balloon handlers with a formation of five utility vehicles (in a typical year, each giant balloon would have only one of these vehicles anchoring it in the center) . The parade’s engineering team used the vehicle’s weight plus two “standard” 175-pound people – a total of 2,985 pounds – to calculate the proper training for under-ball handlers, said Kathleen Wright, director of the balloon. production of the parade.
Each of the large balloons will have approximately 25 humans assigned to them, walking or riding in the utility vehicles along the parade route.
Kathy Kramer, a Macy’s employee who has been on the ball team for 36 years, was the handler. She is a balloon pilot, who walks back about 30 meters in front of the balloon and directs handlers using hand signals and a whistle.
But this year Ms. Kramer will be wearing a mask and she found out during practice races that it was too difficult to operate a whistle, so Macy’s switched to portable electric whistles.
The balloons are inflated overnight on the broadcast set before flying down 34th Street. Some will make the trip live on Thanksgiving Day. Others will have had pre-registered flights.
“Even though it’s a short parade this year, my stomach will start to turn on Monday and it will continue to do so until we deflate,” Ms. Kramer said.
In another arc to a special year, Macy’s organized it so that certain groups whose parades were canceled will now have a place in the Thanksgiving event. Parade viewers on TV can therefore expect to see the New York Fire Department’s Emerald Society band with their bagpipes and bearskin hats and the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band, in their scarves. rainbow, all pre-recorded.
Dancers, stilt walkers and steel pot players who would have lit Eastern Parkway for the carnival are recorded on Wednesday. But they’ll start putting on makeup on Tuesday night because the process can take hours, said Anne-Rhea Smith, vice president of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association. She said she hopes the makeup shoot will be like the preparations and feel of a typical Brooklyn carnival eve.
“Nothing takes the place of that feeling,” she says, “but we’re doing our best to get as close as possible.”
By replacing the absences from the parades of the past months, this event will become in a way an ode to New York, both the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States and the cultural beacon that has largely obscured in recent months. So while visitors to Lincoln Center may not see “The Nutcracker by George Balanchine,” this year parade viewers will be able to see Ashley Bouder, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, perform the role of Sugarplum Fairy in a tutu. pink. Likewise, the numbers of four Broadway shows, which have been closed since March, were taped in Times Square ahead of Thanksgiving week and will be part of the parade.
And despite the cancellation of the “Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City Music Hall, 18 of the 80 Rockettes will appear in their wooden soldier costumes with custom masks. (This Rockettes number was chosen because the dancers have limited contact with each other, which means no kick line.)
Skimming through the hectic planning process has been the feeling that New Yorkers and Americans need this display of lively joy at a time when there is a lot to be sad about.
This mission was also evident in 1963, six days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when in the midst of national mourning, Macy decided not to cancel the parade.
The parade resumed in 2001, as New York City struggled to recover from the 9/11 attacks. The thrill of the moment was noted in a few patriotic touches: a Lady Liberty float replaced Tom Turkey, for example, and the red and white candy canes in Santa’s sleigh wore ribbons of red, white and blue.
As this year’s parade wraps up on Thursday, planners say they’ll start thinking about next year’s parade almost immediately. Will it be another pandemic version, of the socially distant kind, wearing a mask, cheerful but downsized, or will it be something that people can bring their children?
“Hopefully,” NBC’s Mr. Vaughan said, “the 95th anniversary of the parade will be very different from this year.