A Thanksgiving Parade, Unfazed by Snow or Wind, Takes on a Pandemic
Not snow, not rain, not gusting winds or the Nice Melancholy have triggered the cancellation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in its 96-year historical past. On Thursday it appears poised to energy via a pandemic.
The opposite parades of New York Metropolis have fallen one after the other, as metropolis and state officers decided it could be unsafe to proceed with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Delight March and the Puerto Rican Day Parade as a result of they draw such big crowds. The West Indian American Day Parade on Labor Day was compelled to go digital for related causes.
However the Thanksgiving Day Parade is crusing forth, largely as a result of the tens of millions who sometimes attend have been advised to remain dwelling and the occasion has been scaled all the way down to a tv present, albeit one which many view as itself a ritual marker of the vacation.
So the parade route will probably be one block lengthy, not two miles. These highschool bands from across the nation is not going to be marching, and as an alternative of some 2,000 balloon handlers to coordinate, there’ll solely be about 130.
However anybody who thinks staging this yr’s parade has been a layup, not a singular feat of logistical legerdemain, has been dipping too deeply into the vacation punch.
Beginning in March, the parade planners at Macy’s and NBC, which airs the occasion, needed to rip up the rigorously calibrated script and give you a completely new blueprint, one which advanced as new questions surfaced day after day.
What are the physics of flying the balloons, sometimes dealt with by individuals, if one makes use of squat utility autos as an alternative?
How, and when, to do coronavirus exams and temperature checks for the 960 individuals engaged on the parade?
The best way to prepare for socially distanced stage numbers that seize the magic of Broadway with out endangering anybody’s well being?
The best way to break it to the balloon handlers and the marching bands, a few of whom view the parade as someplace between a lifelong dream and a non secular occasion, that they gained’t be concerned this yr?
“What I knew about Thanksgiving Day a month in the past is completely different from what I do know now,” mentioned Susan Tercero, who’s the chief producer of the occasion for Macy’s. “How do you propose one thing in June that’s going to occur in November when you don’t have any concept the place the nation goes to be at then?”
Historical past has set a excessive bar for canceling the parade, which has gone off yearly since 1924, besides for 3 years throughout World Battle II.
“Possibly we have been loopy to suppose this manner all alongside, however I feel we simply tried to by no means go there,” mentioned Doug Vaughan, govt vp of particular packages at NBC Leisure.
As a substitute, the planners saved in communication with metropolis and state officers and responded as proof of a second wave in New York mounted, lowering the variety of individuals a second time from 25 p.c of their typical work pressure to 12 p.c. As a substitute of about 8,000 individuals working a packed parade route in a traditional yr, the efforts of 960 individuals are being unfold over three days of filming.
The large balloons have been minimize to 12 from 16, the floats to 18 from 26.
At one level, the parade planners had imagined a shortened route that also allowed for some journey down Manhattan streets. However even that was decided to be an excessive amount of of an invite for crowds, and officers finally landed on a stub of parade route on thirty fourth Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The outcome, in impact, is a broadcast set primarily based round Macy’s flagship division retailer, the place a lot of the parade has been pretaped.
Macy’s is adamant that there will probably be nothing to see for spectators on Thursday and cops have been assigned to disperse any crowds that may develop. Nonetheless, police officers have decreased the element that normally works the parade by 80 p.c, mentioned Terence A. Monahan, the chief of division.
“It’s so much much less work for us, that’s for positive,” he mentioned. “However I’d quite be challenged to guard tons of of hundreds of individuals out having fun with the parade than defending a present that folks watch on TV.”
Additionally disenchanted are the highschool and school marching bands that had been chosen for the lineup. Often, Wesley Whatley, the parade’s inventive producer, flies throughout the nation to shock band members with the information that they’d scored spots on the parade route.
This yr, his tour ended earlier than it began.
The parade planners toyed with the thought of sending out movie crews to seize the marching bands on their dwelling turf, however that concept was dropped as a result of it could contain loads of cross-country journey, and in lots of circumstances, the younger band members would have been studying remotely, away from faculty for a number of months, and unable to apply in particular person.
Ultimately, Mr. Whatley referred to as the band administrators with the information that they might not come this yr, however that they have been saving them spots for the 2021 parade.
Additionally staying dwelling will probably be a lot of the balloon handlers. Usually, every big balloon — from the 49-foot-tall Astronaut Snoopy to the 53-foot-tall Pikachu is guided by 80 to 100 uniformed handlers. These numbers have been untenable throughout a pandemic.
So the parade staff hatched a plan to offset the burden of the balloon handlers with a formation of 5 utility autos (in a typical yr, every big balloon would have simply one in all these autos anchoring it within the heart). The parade’s engineering staff used the burden of the automobile plus two “normal” 175-pound individuals — a complete of two,985 kilos — to calculate the correct formation of handlers beneath the balloons, mentioned Kathleen Wright, the parade’s manufacturing director.
Every of the big balloons could have about 25 people assigned to them, both strolling or using within the utility autos down the blocklong parade route.
One handler who made the minimize was Kathy Kramer, a Macy’s worker who has been on the balloon staff for 36 years. She is a balloon pilot, who walks backward about 30 yards in entrance of the balloon and directs the handlers utilizing hand indicators and a whistle.
However this yr, Ms. Kramer will probably be sporting a masks and she or he found throughout apply runs that it was too tough to function a whistle, so Macy’s shifted to hand-held electrical whistles.
The balloons are being inflated in a single day on the published set earlier than they fly down thirty fourth Avenue. Some will make the journey dwell on Thanksgiving Day. Others could have had pretaped flights.
“Though it’s a brief parade this yr, my abdomen will begin to churn on Monday and it’ll proceed to take action till we deflate,” Ms. Kramer mentioned.
In one other bow to a particular yr, Macy’s has organized it in order that some teams whose parades have been canceled will now have a spot within the Thanksgiving occasion. So parade watchers on tv can anticipate to see the New York Hearth Division’s Emerald Society band with their bagpipes and bearskin hats and the Lesbian & Homosexual Huge Apple Corps Marching Band, of their rainbow sashes, all pretaped.
The dancers, stilt walkers and metal pan gamers who would have lit up Japanese Parkway for Carnival are being taped on Wednesday. However they may begin getting their make-up executed on Tuesday night time as a result of the method can take hours, mentioned Anne-Rhea Smith, vp of the West Indian American Day Carnival Affiliation. She mentioned she hopes the make-up session will resemble the preparations and really feel of a typical carnival eve in Brooklyn.
“Nothing replaces that feeling,” she mentioned, “however we’re making an attempt our greatest to get as shut as we are able to.”
In changing the absences of the parades of previous months, this occasion will change into one thing of an ode to New York, at one time the epicenter of the pandemic in the USA and a cultural beacon that went largely darkish in current months. So whereas guests to Lincoln Heart can not see “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker,” this yr, viewers of the parade will have the ability to see Ashley Bouder, a New York Metropolis Ballet principal dancer, carry out because the pink tutu-ed Sugarplum Fairy. Equally, numbers from 4 Broadway exhibits, shuttered since March, have been taped in Occasions Sq. upfront of Thanksgiving week and will probably be a part of the parade.
And regardless of the cancellation of the “Christmas Spectacular” at Radio Metropolis Music Corridor, 18 of the 80 Rockettes will seem of their wood troopers costume with custom-made masks. (That individual Rockettes quantity was chosen as a result of the dancers have restricted contact with each other, which suggests no kickline.)
Hovering over the hectic planning course of has been the sense that New Yorkers, and People, want this spirited show of pleasure at a time when there may be a lot to be unhappy about.
That mission was additionally evident in 1963, six days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when amid nationwide mourning, Macy’s determined towards canceling the parade.
The parade went on once more in 2001, as New York struggled to get better from the 9/11 assaults. The poignancy of the second was famous in some patriotic touches: a Woman Liberty float changed Tom Turkey, for instance, and the crimson and white sweet canes in Santa’s sleigh wore ribbons of crimson, white and blue.
On Thursday, as this yr’s parade ends, the planners say they may start pondering nearly instantly about subsequent yr’s parade. Will or not it’s one other pandemic model, the socially distant, masks sporting, joyous-but-scaled-down variety, or will or not it’s one thing individuals can take their children to?
“Hopefully,” Mr. Vaughan of NBC mentioned, “the ninety fifth anniversary of the parade will look very completely different from this yr.”
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