PROCESSIONAL ARTS WORKSHOP: Performances and Commissions from NY's Village Halloween Parade


THE ART OF PROCESSION: Superior Concept Monsters

In 1998, Sophia Michahelles and Alex Kahn began collaborating on the giant puppetworks that lead the reknowned New York Village Halloween Parade. The ensemble of artists, performers, and stage technicians they gathered together became known as Superior Concept Monsters (after an old sign that hung on the Parade’s puppet barn in upstate New York). Every year since then, SCM has designed large-scale performances that embody the changing theme for each year’s Parade, eventually branching out to other events nationally and internationally. Our projects evolve over many months, and involve hundreds of volunteers at every stage of the process. Over the years we have developed open community workshops, which we call “puppet-raisings” – that bring hundreds of volunteers together to build, rehearse, and ultimately perform these works.

The resulting pageants employ not only giant puppets, but also elaborate masks and costumes, handmade percussion instruments, mobile architecture and projections of light and shadow – a unique fusion of art forms we call “processional art”. Performing in procession poses a unique set of artistic challenges. Crucial aspects of timing, design, sightlines, and audience interaction all differ greatly from conventional “stationary” theater. Cycling performances recur for ever-changing audiences as the parade moves forward along its linear route, mirroring the cyclical/linear duality of time itself. Because processions often involve hours-long marathons of movement, processional elements must be engineered for lightness, spontaneity, durability, and visibility, while choreography and sound must allow for repetition without sacrificing vitality.

Beyond the technical and artistic challenges, there is also the social artistry involved in coordinating large groups of volunteers with little previous training, into a seamless and vibrant ensemble. Processional art is a sophisticated “total artwork,” not only because of how it fuses movement, form, and ritual, but because it demands inclusiveness. Just as it takes a dozen people acting in concert to animate a single giant puppet, procession is bigger than any one person’s vision (hence “Superior Concept”). It can only be generated through shared creative action, and leaves a shared identity in its wake. Inspired by the power of collective performance, Superior Concept Monsters decided to form a non-profit entity, in order to further its community-based work and to promote understanding of procession as a potent and contemporary artform, and in 2005, Processional Arts Workshop, Inc. was born.

Learn more about PAW's site-specific community projects....

METAMORPHOSIS (1998, 1999)

Giant luna moths celebrate change and possibility




EVOLUTION (2000)

Mankind's odyssey from Apeman to Starchild




SANDWORM (2000)

A visitor from Dune spices up Sixth Avenue




PHOENIX (2001)

A firebird brings hope to NYC after 9/11




NIGHT OF THE CRONE (2001)

Warts and all...a closer look at the Crone




THE CHESSMAN'S MASQUERADE (2002)

Homo Ludens plays the game of culture




TRICKSTER (2003)

The Candy-Thief travels the globe




CAKEWALK (2004)

An Empire Burlesque




 

NEW ORLEANS MOURNED. . . AND REBORN (2005)

A jazz funeral bears up a city after the flood.




JACK! (2006)

Carrying the embers of Halloween's Celtic Roots




WINGS OF DESIRE (2007)

Of Birds and Men: Thesis / Prosthesis/ Synthesis




GHOST (2008)

Photography and Spiritualism in a VIctorian Parlour




TERRA INCOGNITA (2009)

"Hic Dracones Sunt"



MEMENTO MORI (2010)

Revisiting All Souls and Haitian Shadowlands




i OF THE BEHOLDER (2011)


The Disembodied Eye in the Age of Steve Jobs