Just a mere week before the Village Halloween Parade, New York artist, puppeteer and propmaster Brandon Hardy shuffled into our photo studio, obscured by a 20-pound puppet made of fabric, worbla thermoplastic and foam that altogether resembles Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus. The puppet was a near-life-size version of Sarah Sanderson from the cult-classic Disney film—she is one of four that Hardy be bringing to the parade on Monday.
Her hair contains the tiny braids she has in the film and her face, while utterly nightmarish from up close (it's the fake eyeballs for us), so closely resembles SJP that it's uncanny. She'll join Winifred (Bette Midler's character) and Mary (Kathy Najimy's) as well as Billy Butcherson, Winifred's un-dead alleged lover, who Hardy will carry on his shoulders all night long. The witches will have their own puppeteers to carry them through the horde of paradegoers.
If it sounds like a (literally) heavy lift from Hardy, it is. The artist assembles his puppets like a mad scientist in his garage across months, ahead of the parade, so that other New Yorkers can “oo” and “ahh” over his gargantuan creations. It’s all about creating magic of his own to inspire and create memories for those who see his work and its creators like Hardy who make the Village Halloween Parade what it is and has been for nearly 50 years.
“It’s both a cultural institution and an exhaust vent for the spirit,” Hardy says about the parade. “Every kind of person shows up and brings their own magnificent mess to share with everybody. The parade takes so many of our most elemental human instincts and gives them room to breathe—coming together, making things, celebrating, sharing, transforming, performing, witnessing … it’s music, dance, art, sculpture, theatre, procession, ritual, and it’s also rebellion, reclamation, protest, all those things at once. And it’s available to everyone to see or to be in, whichever we prefer, in one of the main arteries of New York.”
Hardy's been creating puppets for the parade for 13 years now (the ghoulish number isn't lost on him) and really got into it when he saw that he could lean into his love of puppets for one of his favorite holidays. The fact that it's a parade for the people is what sealed it for him.
"When I got there, I realized what a real community-building event it was," he recalls. "It’s an annual opportunity to come together and make something enormous as a collective, which is so important in a city like New York. To affirm community with everybody and revel in that."
When he’s not working on puppets, paintings, sculptures, props and scenery for other projects, often for television, Broadway and the stage, he’s hard at work creating his own passion projects for the parade. More recently, he’s been recording TikToks and video tutorials. In fact, he just launched a spooky web series called “Out of the Ether with Brandon Hardy.”
It's safe to say that the video series is the next step or extension of his passion, which started at a very young age.
"I grew up watching things like The Muppets, Pinocchio and The Nightmare Before Christmas, which sort of turned my eye toward puppetry,” he says. “From there, I looked into things that took the art form even further and in stranger directions. I was the kid who turned the garage into a haunted house every Halloween, and I never grew out of it. I still make stuff in the garage, but things have expanded far beyond, too.”
One of his earliest, favorite costumes was a puppet that made it look like he was riding on the back of a giant penguin. His feet were actually the penguin’s feet and fake legs straddled the bird. “That was the year my parents decided I was old enough to be trusted with a hot glue gun, so I swung hard. I got some weird looks on Halloween, but I think that encouraged me more than it discouraged me.”
You might remember his A Nightmare Before Christmas puppets from a previous Village Halloween Parade. He has often looked toward spooky properties for inspiration—Hocus Pocus and The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland especially—and, of course, other artists.
"Seeing what the other artists create makes me want to push to reach their level, but also support them in the making of their own works," he explains. "It leads to this great recursive effect where everybody is growing from everybody’s growth."
That’s part of why the Village Halloween Parade is such a big deal for Hardy and other artists like him. It’s an excuse to show off their own work but also revel in the incredible talent others have.
"No one person represents the Village Halloween Parade, it’s a cumulative effort," he says. "It comes from people working both together and separately to weave one big perfectly imperfect tapestry."
Before you head out to a night of treats and tricks, meet the artists behind the parade for yourself here.