Artist Brandon Hardy created Sanderson Sisters puppets for the village Halloween parade

Just a week before the Village Halloween Parade, New York artist, puppeteer and prop guy Brandon Hardy walked into our photo studio, obscured by a 20-pound puppet made of fabric, worbla thermoplastic and foam that looks like all the way to Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus. The puppet was an almost life-size version of Sarah Sanderson from the cult Disney film – she is one of four Hardy will bring to Monday’s parade.

Her hair contains the tiny braids she has in the film and her face, while completely nightmarish up close (those are the fake eyeballs for us), so closely resembles SJP it’s uncanny. She will join Winifred (Bette Midler’s character) and Mary (Kathy Najimy’s) as well as Billy Butcherson, Winifred’s presumed undead lover, whom Hardy will carry on his shoulders all night. The witches will have their own puppeteers to carry them through the horde of paraders.

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If that sounds like a (literally) heavy lift from Hardy, it is. The artist assembles his puppets like a mad scientist in his garage over the months, before the parade, so that other New Yorkers can “oo” and “ahh” in front of his gargantuan creations. It’s about creating its own magic to inspire and create memories for those who see its work and its creators like Hardy who make the Halloween Parade Village what it is and has been for almost 50 years.

“It’s both a cultural institution and an air vent for the spirit,” Hardy says of the parade. “Each type of person shows up and brings their own gorgeous mess to share with everyone. The parade takes so many of our most basic human instincts and gives them space to breathe – to come together, to do things, to celebrate, to share, to transform, to play, to witness… it’s music, dance , art, sculpture, theater, processions, rituals and it is also rebellion, claim, protest, all these things at the same time. And it is accessible to everyone to see or be, according to our preference, in one of the main arteries of New York.

Hardy has been creating puppets for the parade for 13 years now (the macabre number is not lost on him) and really got into it when he saw he could lean into his love of puppets for one of her favorite vacation. The fact that it was a parade for the people is what sealed it for him.

Photography: Courtesy of Brandon Hardy

“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 do something huge as a collective, which is so important in a city like New York. To affirm community with everyone and revel in it.”

When he’s not working on puppets, paintings, sculptures, props and sets for other projects, often for television, Broadway and the stage, he works hard to create his own passion projects for the parade. More recently, he recorded TikToks and video tutorials. In fact, he just launched a chilling 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 looking at things like The Muppets, Pinocchio and The Nightmare Before Christmas, which kind of turned my gaze to the puppets,” he says. “From there, I looked at things that took the art form even further and in weirder directions. I was the kid who turned the garage into a haunted house every Halloween, and I never got out of it. I’m still doing stuff in the garage, but things have extended way beyond that as well.

One of his favorite early costumes was a puppet that looked like he was riding on the back of a giant penguin. Its feet were actually the penguin’s feet, and false legs straddled the bird. “That was the year my parents decided I was old enough to be given a hot glue gun, so I swung hard. I got some weird looks on Halloween, but I think that this encouraged me more than it discouraged me.

You may remember his A Nightmare Before Christmas puppets from a previous village Halloween parade. He often turned to spooky properties for inspiration…Hocus Pocus and The haunted mansion to Disneyland in particular – and, of course, to other artists.

“Seeing what other artists create makes me want to push to reach their level, but also to accompany them in the realization of their own works”, he explains. “It leads to this big recursive effect where everyone grows from everyone’s growth.”

That’s part of why the Village Halloween Parade is so important to Hardy and other entertainers like him. It’s an excuse to show off their own work but also revel in the incredible talent of others.

“No one represents the village Halloween parade, it’s a cumulative effort,” he says. “It comes from people working both together and apart to weave a grand, perfectly imperfect tapestry.”

Before heading out for an evening of treats and tips, meet the artists behind the parade for yourself here.

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Brandon Hardy at the Village Halloween Parade
Photography: Courtesy of Brandon Hardy

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