No snow, no rain, no wind or the Great Recession has canceled Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in its 96-year history. On Thursday it is ready to power through an epidemic.
The other parades in New York City have fallen one by one because city and state officials have decided it is unsafe to continue with the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Pride March and the Puerto Rican Day parade, and they are attracting such a large crowd. The West Indies American Day parade on Labor Day was forced to go virtual for similar reasons.
But Thanksgiving is upon us, which means the holiday season is in full swing. Millions of people are expected to stay home and watch a TV show, although many consider the holiday a ritual.
So the march route will be a block long, not two miles. Those high school bands from across the country will not be marching, and instead of about 2,000 balloon handlers to coordinate, there will only be about 130.
But anyone who thinks this year’s parade is a layout, without a unique achievement of logistics lejertamine, is soaking deep in the holiday punch.
Beginning in March, the event planners at Macy’s and NBC, which aired the event, had to tear up the carefully measured script and come up with a completely new map, which raised new questions day by day.
If one uses squat utility vehicles instead, what is the physics of flying balloons that are usually handled by people?
How and when to perform corona virus tests and temperature tests for the 960 people working in the march?
How do you organize social distance numbers that capture Broadway’s magic without endangering anyone’s health?
How to break this for balloon handlers and marching bands, some of whom see the parade somewhere between a lifelong dream and a religious event that they will not be involved in this year?
“What I learned about Thanksgiving a month ago is different than what I know now,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of Macy’s Event. “How do you plan on going in June, it’s going to happen in November, and you do not know where the country will be then?”
History has set a high barrier to the cancellation of the march, which has gone on every year since 1924, except for three years during World War II.
“Maybe we’re crazy to think this way, but I think we never tried to get there,” said Doug Vaughan, executive vice president of special programs for NBC Entertainment.
Instead, planners contacted city and state officials and responded as the source of the second wave in New York, reducing the number of participants for the second time from 25 percent to 12 percent of their regular workforce. Instead of working on a parade route packed with about 8,000 people in a normal year, the efforts of 960 people are spreading over three days of filming.
Giant balloons were reduced from 16 to 12 and floats from 26 to 18.
At one point, parade planners imagined a concise path that still allowed for some trips through the streets of Manhattan. But it was also determined that the invitation to the meeting was too much, and the officers eventually descended on the marching lane on 34th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. As a result, Macy’s’ main department is a broadcast set around the store, where much of the parade is pre-arranged.
Macy’s is adamant that there will be nothing to see in the audience on Thursday, and police officers have been appointed to disperse any crowd that could form. However, head of department Terence A. said police officers have reduced the details of routine marches by 80 percent. Monahan said.
“It’s a lot less work for us, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I would challenge you to protect hundreds of thousands of people from enjoying the parade, rather than protecting a show that people watch on TV.”
The high school and college marching groups selected in this line are also disappointed. Usually, Wesley Watley, the parade’s creative producer, flies around the country to surprise band members with the news that he’s got places along the way.
This year, his tour ended before it even started.
Parade planners played with the idea of sending film crews to capture parade bands on their home floors, but the idea was dropped because it would involve a lot of overseas trips, and in many cases, young band members learn by distance, away from school for months, and unable to practice in person.
In the end, Mr. Watley invited the directors of the bands that performed this year with the news that they may not be coming in November, but they are saving seats for the 2021 parade. Bands set for 2021 will move to 2022.
Most of the balloon handlers will be at home. Typically, each giant balloon is guided by 80 to 100 uniformed handlers, ranging from 49-foot-tall astronaut Snoopy to 53-foot-tall picachu. Those numbers are unacceptable during an epidemic.
So the marching team developed a plan to offset the weight of the balloon handlers with the development of five utility vehicles (in a typical year, each giant balloon would anchor one of these vehicles in the center). Kathleen Wright, the parade’s production director, said the parade’s engineering team used the weight of the vehicle and two “fixed” 175 pounds – a total of 2,985 pounds – to calculate the correct formation of the handlers under the balloons.
Each of the large balloons will deploy about 25 people who can walk or ride in utility vehicles on the block vehicle parade track.
One of the handlers who made the cut was Kathy Kramer, Macy’s employee who has been on the balloon team for 36 years. He is a balloon pilot, walking about 30 yards backwards in front of a balloon, directing handlers using hand signals and a whistle.
But this year, Ms. Kramer will be wearing a mask, and she has found in practice that it is very difficult to operate a whistle, so Macy switched to hand-held electric whistles.
The balloons are hoisted overnight on the broadcast set before flying to 34th Street. Some will streamline the trip on Thanksgiving Day. Others will have flights in advance.
“Although this is a short parade this year, my stomach will start to ache on Monday and it will continue until we leave,” Ms Kramer said.
In another bow for a special year, Macy’s has organized it so that some of the groups whose marches were canceled will now have a place at the Thanksgiving event. So parade viewers on TV can expect to see the New York Fire Department’s Emerald Society band in their rainbow sash, all in advance, with their backpacks and Pierce’s hats and lesbian & gay Big Corps marching band.
Dancers, Stilt Walkers and Steel Bon players who have lit up East Parkway for the carnival are set to register Wednesday. But they will start doing makeup on Tuesday night because the process can take hours, said Anne-Rhea Smith, vice president of the West Indies American Carnival Association. She hopes the makeup session will match the preparations and feel of a typical festival day in Brooklyn.
“Nothing changes that feeling, but we try to get as close as we can,” he said.
In changing the marches of the past months, the event will become a venue for New York, once a center of epidemic in the United States and a cultural beacon that has often gone dark in recent months. So while visitors to the Lincoln Center may not see “George Balancin’s The Nutcracker” this year, viewers of the parade will be able to see New York City ballet lead dancer Ashley Perther as a pink tutu-ed sugarblum fairy show. Similarly, the numbers of four Broadway shows that have been closed since March were recorded in Times Square the week before Thanksgiving, which will be part of the march.
Despite the cancellation of “Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City Music Hall, 18 of the 80 rockets will appear with customized masks on their wooden players’ costumes. (That particular number of rockets was chosen because the dancers had limited contact with each other, i.e. no kickline.)
Coming around the exciting planning process is the realization that New Yorkers and Americans need this happy exhilarating scene with plenty of time to grieve.
President John F. Six days after Kennedy’s assassination, in 1963, during a nationwide mourning period, Macy’s Decided against cancellation Parade.
The march resumed in 2001 as New York struggled to recover from the 9/11 attacks. The vibrancy of the moment is mentioned in some patriotic touches: for example, Tom was transformed into a Lady Liberty float by Turkey, wearing red, white and blue ribbons of red and white chocolate canes gliding over Santa’s snow.
On Thursday, as this year’s parade draws to a close, planners say they will immediately start thinking about next year’s parade. Could this be another contagious version, socially distant, masked, happy-but-measured type, or one where people can take their children?
The 95th anniversary of the march will be very different from this year, said Mr. NBC. Wagon said.