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Online Miniature Puppet Parade Will Replace New York City's Annual Halloween Parade

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The pandemic has interfered with New York City's Greenwich Village Halloween parade. People have attended for almost 50 years - not this year. But it is New York City, which is a magnet for creative talent. So as a substitute, some of New York's out-of-work Stage designers, costumers and puppeteers created a miniature parade to be streamed online. Jon Kalish has this full-sized story.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Every year, thousands of marchers make their way along the parade's mile-long route from Soho to Chelsea, as they did in 2001.

(CHEERING)

KALISH: Hundreds of thousands of spectators cheered giant puppets, float, stilt walkers, jugglers and marching bands.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KALISH: Richard Prouse is a frequent participant. He's a retired Broadway set painter. And one year, the costumes he and his husband wore were so good they were asked to lead the parade.

RICHARD PROUSE: We were the harbingers of winter. We were all dressed in white and blue with lots of sparklies (ph) and lighted staffs. And she said, ooh, I want you at the start of the parade. We felt very honored.

KALISH: She is parade director Jeanne Fleming. When the event was canceled last month, it lost almost all of its funding. But Fleming was able to hold onto a few small grants. At first, she didn't know what to do with them.

JEANNE FLEMING: I think the tipping point was when I talked to Brandon Hardy. And I said, what are you doing? And he said, I built a scale model of Disneyworld in my backyard. (Laughter) And I thought, Brandon needs a job (laughter).

KALISH: So Fleming decided to stage a virtual, miniature parade and commissioned Hardy and 29 others to create the participants. Hardy has built 15-foot puppets for Broadway and past parades. Now, he says, via Skype, he's created a 13-inch lizard with a haunted house on its back.

BRANDON HARDY: There's a level on which this could be perceived as a creature that's buried under the weight of its home. And I kind of looked - I'm like, boy, do I feel that this year.

KALISH: It and the other puppets are gathered in a cavernous art studio in the Hudson Valley.

PROUSE: OK. Ready with a truck. And action. Come in. Come in. Come in. Come in.

KALISH: A cardboard replica of a garbage truck moves on a track before a 40-foot long backdrop painted by Richard Prouse. The side of the truck reads, until we meet again.

PROUSE: All right. Stop. Start to turn. Perfect. Now turn back, and off.

KALISH: This year, the pint-sized participants will march throughout the virtual city. One of them is a spider made by North Carolina puppeteer Tarish Pipkins, whose creations have performed in a Missy Elliott video and in online puppet slams. He says he'd never heard of the Village Halloween Parade.

TARISH PIPKINS: I went in and did the research, and it gets crazy. I said (laughter), too many people. The energy is too high. Big cities aren't my thing, that's why I'm down here in rural North Carolina.

KALISH: Those who do participate often wear costumes that comment on social issues. This year's parade will address racial injustice, the coronavirus and gender identity. And, of course, says parade director Jeanne Fleming, it will have monsters.

FLEMING: They're all there. It is the big mix that's New York City, that's the world. And that's what I wanted to have in this parade.

KALISH: The 10-minute video of the miniature parade will start streaming on Halloween night.

For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONSTER MASH")

BOBBY BORIS PICKETT AND THE CRYPT-KICKERS: (Singing) He did the monster mash. The monster mash. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.