Behind the scenes of the Village Halloween Parade

Get a first look at the puppets that will lead the annual spookfest, and meet their makers.

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  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Alex Kahn, 44, and Sophia Michahelles, 36; artistic directors of Superior Concept Monsters, official puppeteers of the Village Halloween Parade; Redhook, NY
    Kahn:
    "[Back in 2008], our procession finished, and moved on in silence---and then the crowd cheered. They were cheering us as we were pulling away, quite vociferously."
    Michahelles: "We thought it was an insult! That they were really happy we were leaving."
    Kahn:
    "Right! 'They're finally gone! That was the longest 90 seconds of my life!' So the classic adage of, what is the sound of one hand clapping? Well, that's the sound. They were clapping in their minds, but one hand was occupied. And then, as soon as we left, nothing left to record, well then---yay!"

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Kahn: "The idea of having vision taken from the body---the eyeball taken from its physicality and floating through space---that's a pretty ancient idea. You can look at the eye in the pyramid [bottom left]; you can look at the evil eye [top left]; you can look at Argus [top row, second from left], the thousand-eyed watcher of Greek mythology; tales of coyote the trickster throwing his eyes up into a tree and being able to see remotely from the top of the tree. So this idea of disembodied vision is as old as mythology itself, and yet it's something that really resonates with who we are right now. Everybody has the ability to capture and disseminate vision. And therefore, actually being present in a visceral, somatic, bodily way [to] experience [something] becomes less important than owning it and sharing it."

    Pictured: The ideas board

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Kahn: "The plays on words have been legion. We papier-mchd a few eyes the other day, and they were [still wet]. We brought them into the house, and Kate pointed out, 'There's not a dry eye in the house!'"

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Clara Ins Schuhmacher, 27; volunteer coordinator for the Village Halloween Parade and artist; Williamsburg, Brooklyn
    "People feel very strongly about their puppet. There are people who have [performed as] skeletons for many years, and if I, as a novice last year, hadn't given them a skeleton? I dealt with some major temper tantrums, because they [were] like, 'This is my puppet. I always have this puppet. I know how to make it come to life!'"

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Marie Griffin, 32; consultant; Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
    "I've been going to the parade for years and last year I noticed they had the [volunteering] opportunity on their website, so I made a mental note to check on it again this year and sign up. I did, and the rest is history!"
    Pictured modeling the goggles for The Blind Leading the Blind.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The Blind Leading the Blind on the ideas board.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Mark Skelly, 43; photo manager; Harrison, NY
    "This is my second year [at] the workshop, but I'd been involved in photographing the parade several years beforehand. Last year, I decided I love the parade so much, why don't I go on the other side of the lens? I have my own take on the theme---seeing and being seen, on the other side of the proscenia. Last year, [the workshop] just blew my mind. This warm, family atmosphere. Seeing familiar faces, people coming here for years and years, and then new people every year---just the energy is really positive and it's fantastic. It builds up into this crescendo on Halloween night."

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Gale Wolfe, 44, aesthetician, and Sadie Bloch, 10; Redhook, NY
    Wolfe: "Sadie is on the fence about going down [to the Village Halloween Parade]---she likes the art stuff, but she's torn between trick-or-treating and doing the parade. But she's got an esoteric costume [Deadmau5], which she knows intuitively will do better in New York than around here."

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Zoe Schwartz, 26; personal assistant and comedian; Williamsburg, Brooklyn
    "When I was in Chicago, I was doing a lot of puppet and spectacle work at Redmoon Theater. I actually found out about this through Time Out! The first week or two I was [in New York], I was like, I need to do things. What are things I can do? So I looked at '101 things to do [in New York City] in the fall,' and it said [volunteer for] the parade, and I thought it looked really cool!"

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Boo Walsh, 50, multidisciplinary artist, Hell's Kitchen
    "There was a guest artist in residence from Haiti last year, Didier Civil. It was such an honor to work with him. It was the first year in their history that they hadn't had the carnival, because of the earthquake. To see him just working so calmly on building skeletons and bringing the voodoo characters to life---it was a chance to really learn more about that and his culture."

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Kate Whitehead, 47, freelance performance designer and teacher, London
    "I was involved in what [Kahn and Michahelles] did four years ago in Italy. They said, 'You should come for Halloween,' and here I am! I like the mechanics, the low-tech way everything operates and, therefore, the inventiveness of the work itself."

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The ideas board

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    A concept from the idea board taking shape.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Making illuminated eyeballs

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Making illuminated eyeballs

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Making illuminated eyeballs

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Making illuminated eyeballs

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Making illuminated eyeballs

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Walsh: "I am fascinated by [the puppets in the barn] because they each have their own personality, age, and wear and tear. Some of them have gotten scarier, and others just became more charming."

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    The puppet barn

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Alex Kahn, 44, and Sophia Michahelles, 36; artistic directors of Superior Concept Monsters, official puppeteers of the Village Halloween Parade; Redhook, NY
Kahn:
"[Back in 2008], our procession finished, and moved on in silence---and then the crowd cheered. They were cheering us as we were pulling away, quite vociferously."
Michahelles: "We thought it was an insult! That they were really happy we were leaving."
Kahn:
"Right! 'They're finally gone! That was the longest 90 seconds of my life!' So the classic adage of, what is the sound of one hand clapping? Well, that's the sound. They were clapping in their minds, but one hand was occupied. And then, as soon as we left, nothing left to record, well then---yay!"


A highlight of the annual Village Halloween Parade is the troupe of theatrical puppets that lead the procession up Sixth Avenue. We travelled upstate to Rokeby Farm by the Hudson River, where volunteers bring each year's concept to life during a series of workshops, to get a sneak peek at what's in store.

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This year's theme is I of the Beholder, which master puppeteers Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Superior Concept Monsters (superiorconcept.org) hope will depict how society has changed with the advent of iPhones and digital media. "The inspiration for this theme started in 2008 when we did a piece called Ghost," says Kahn. "When you have this spectacular performance with 13 18-foot-tall puppets, you expect there will be this thunderous applause. Instead, there was this weird silence. What we realized, after this strange ten-second delay, was that everyone had a device in their hand to capture the moment. It became more important for all these people to capture this amazing thing, to have it and disseminate it, than it was to actually be there and experience it." Jeanne Fleming, artistic and producing director of the parade for 31 years, adds excitedly, "This is all about the parade looking back—we're staring back at the audience."

When we visited, work was underway to transform beach balls into glowing eyeballs, while other people created Lady Gaga--esque goggles for a group of Bard performing arts students who will present a performance of The Blind Leading the Blind. Click through the slide show to hear from attendees, see elements of the parade come together and tour the puppet barn where creations of previous years are stored.

Mark your planner to check the parade's website next September if you want to get involved. Volunteers are treated to two homemade meals, a constant supply of coffee, hot apple cider and doughnuts, and the day comes to a close with beers and a bonfire by the Hudson.

39th Annual Village Halloween Parade, Sixth Ave from Spring St to 16th St (halloween-nyc.com). Oct 31 at 7pm; free. To walk in the parade, line up at Sixth Ave between Canal and Spring Sts. 6:30–8:30pm.

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