Macy’s Parade – From the Inside Looking Out
The tradition runs deep. From when I was a young child to now, a grandfather, Thanksgiving Day has included family, Mamma Stamper’s Applesauce Cake, entirely too much food and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Whether watching the event on TV, standing in the rain as my children marched by back in 2007 or capturing the event live last November, the hype and shear magnitude of this annual monstrosity is not for the squeamish.
Organizations attending a performance event over a national holiday will have months of planning in advance of departure. Setting the itinerary, raising funds and collecting travel information is as daunting as a rehearsal prior to BOA Grand National Prelims. The historical nature of such a trip adds a layer of documenting the event for the school, community and state as this adventure is, although cliche, once in a lifetime.
The alarm on my phone was set for just after midnight. Little did I realize that I would use that same setting several more times during the trip. With arrival to the airport in the wee hours of the morning, an Uber driver controlled my destiny more than I would have liked. Recording moments from the time the busses rolled into the unloading zone to ticketing and luggage drop off, it was clear that each part of the tour would play an important role in the photo journey.
Many meals, sights and meetings later, it was Macy’s morning. The group was on time. Students dressed in uniforms and costumes, instruments loaded and ready to depart for the city. As most know, rehearsal for the parade bands happens long before the sun rises on the day. We transferred into the city and walked to the edge of Herald Square. Turning the corner, seeing the lights, the signs and the glistening Believe brought a rush of emotions. Standing on the street was as surreal as I had anticipated.
The band walked out to set up the center of the performing area and receive direction from the production team. Cameras and a large bank of monitors acted as the audience. It occurred to me that, when I had seen a performer star struck during a live broadcast, that the lapse in brain function didn’t come from the moment but in seeing themselves on the screen right in front of them. I nearly froze just considering the gravity of the situation.
The group then returned to the starting line to give the show a shot. A limited amount of rehearsal time is given to each group so perfection and clarity are of utmost importance. As they finished and turned to exit, the production director cheered them on with praises and a promise to see them in a few hours.
It was incredible. I couldn’t post the moments fast enough to social media. My 4:45 a.m. post went as viral as any I’ve seen in the past two years. The states were waking up for Thanksgiving celebrations and couldn’t get enough of seeing a backstage look at rehearsal. The Weather Channel commented via Twitter requesting use of the images. The world had its gaze on the annual parade.
After a quick breakfast that felt more like a midnight snack, the group returned to the buses and proceeded to catch up on some lost hours of sleep. I couldn’t close my eyes. I was replaying the rehearsal, best places to capture the TV portion of the performance and how to best convey the student experience. The excitement that had begun nearly two years prior for this group was building rapidly and the main event was in proximity, just around the corner.
Lights on the busses came on and it was time for action. It was chilly out but nothing a few massive balloons and crowds of pageantry starved fans couldn’t help one forget. The period of time waiting for the parade step-off to get to the group was just long enough for my toes to begin to lose feeling. Anticipation mounted and their time was near. The group moved to the street. One of the famous balloons in the parade had caught a snag. Quite literally, a guide rope had gotten tangled in a tree. They worked tirelessly to free the rope but eventually cut the line. The group of handlers moved rapidly away and off went the band.
Unlike a gaggle of handlers or the winds during the percussion break of the fall show, the band doesn’t actually run in a parade. This caused the pace to be brisk. For what would end up being the balance of the parade, the team marched at a near 6 to 5 clip. Playing the entire way, it was an exercise in preparedness and agility. The students, chaperones and staff took a breath as they entered the quiet zone just prior to Herald Square. On two occasions I made the decision to hold while the group passed by, capturing video of the faces of the performers. Those holds were followed by near jogging periods to make my way back to the front of the group.
At that point, no sound or video equipment is allowed. The group continued to inch forward until it was their time on stage. All support personnel and journalists are escorted behind the cameras and TV banks to view the performance through scaffolding. I was able to capture images via my cell phone through the TV area and a short video of the students leaving the stage. And that was that. The parade was over. No more cheering fans, no waving children. Just the littered streets of NYC. But the joy of a completed journey produced bright smiles and a sense of relief.
After several days of work, the main goal was achieved. I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with friends that are family and took a quick nap after a day I won’t soon forget.
A few helpful hints for Macy’s:
You will need to get credentials from Macy’s in order to be with the group on the parade route. Don’t miss rehearsal. It’s the main part of the parade the general public doesn’t get to experience.
Take all the photos
With current technology, every photo has a purpose or may capture a single special moment in time. Candid pictures of the students always payoff.
Get plenty of video
You can splice together the good video and throw out the bad. More footage is always better than not enough. If you decide to let the group march passed, wear good running shoes.
Include the audience
The parade is for the people and they create a great atmosphere. Seeing those smiles as they enjoy the performance makes the steps worthwhile. The students will remember those faces.
Let the adoring fans, family and community see what’s happening while on the trip. Allow them to live the experience in real-time alongside the performers as often as possible.
Take a selfie!
Special thanks to Tracy Runyon, Chris Kaflik and the Brownsburg Band & Guard for allowing me to tag along and chronicle their adventure to NYC and the Macy’s Parade.