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Archive for the ‘Parades’ Category

Ease on down the road…

In honor of 2009 as it comes to a close, I thought I’d ease on down memory lane, way way back to January, when I took part in the ultimate New Year’s Day experience:  The Rose Parade.

As a California girl, and one who had grandparents who lived in Pasadena, I’m a bit embarassed to say that I had never actually been to a Rose Parade, or even seen the floats in person before.   But all of that changed one year ago, when I took on a few freelance projects with Ron Miziker of Miziker Entertainment Group

Ron is one of the greats in the development of experience design.  It was he who co-conceptualized and produced the The Main Street Electrical Parade for Disneyland when he was working as a project director at The Walt Disney Company in the early 70’s.  Then in 1980, Disney actually “loaned” Ron out to Ronald Reagan, for whom he produced Reagan’s two inaugural celebrations and other presidential events.  And in 1984, he produced the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, complete with memorable elements like audience flash cards and a jet pack – oh yes, a jet pack.  Ron Miziker is experience design royalty, as far as I’m concerned – just for that Electrical Parade theme music alone!

So what with my admiration for Ron, and with a major So-Cal “to do” (the Rose Parade) still on my life list, I was like a kid on Christmas when I found out that I would be helping him with a float for the 2009 Rose Parade.

The Client:  Jack in the Box
The Theme:  Jack-o-licious!  Celebrating the disco era…dy-no-mite!

As you can tell from their commercials, Jack (Mr. Box to you) loves his humor, and the float would be a showcase for the company’s brand and its sense of fun, with Jack being the star attraction.  They hired award-winning float designer AES (aka Festival Artists) to design the float, and AES in turn brought Ron on board to co-conceptualize the float and turn it into a true experience for parade-goers.   With music director Tim Hosman, Ron created a classic disco mix and incorporated dancers, horn players and a disco-ball juggler to transform the float into a seventies spectacle.

Among other things, my job was to wrangle the performers (many of whom were students), so I suppose it was logical that I would then be asked to escort the performers along the parade route.  This meant that, for my first Rose Parade, not only would I be attending, and not only would I be working behind the scenes, but I would actually be walking in the parade…all 5.5 miles of it.  Thankfully I was spared from wearing the disco dance pants.

The day before the parade, we all met at AES to have the float judged by the official Tournament of Roses team.  This was alongside several other floats produced by AES.   I had been working on the float for weeks by this point, and felt a little bit lackluster about the look of the float as it stood there with the assorted performers placed on and around it.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great float – the craftsmanship and design were really amazing, and the floral elements were spot on – but it didn’t seem all that “spectacular”.  That is, until the music started. 

Once the disco track played, the horn players started to play – swinging from side to side – and the dancers started to dance and the juggler …juggled,  and it all just came to life.  Jack was even doing his best John Travolta.  It was like the whole float actually lit up and sparkled.  All of the people in attendance had a big smiles on their faces, and I just burst out laughing.  It was totally charming.

Can you feel it?

Immediately after judging, the team headed to a nearby parking lot to practice for the big day, and especially to prepare for the dreaded “turn” at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado where all of the television cameras line up.  My friend Joanna Chong came by to help out with sound.  I told her we needed someone to handle music in the float (meaning she’d be taking the 5.5 mile trip with me, but inside the float), and being the cool chic that she is, she took up the challenge.  After a couple of hours of rehearsal, we all went home and off to bed early.

The next morning, we met the performers at a special lot and bussed together to our pre-determined waiting area on a street off of Orange Grove.  We arrived in the dark – before 6am – and I had time to take a little walk to check out some of the other floats. 

As it neared showtime, the buzz on the street (literally) was that the float had won a big award.  As it turned out, it was the recipient of the Extraordinaire Award – the award for the most spectacular float in the parade!  Jack was very happy.

Then it was time for the parade to begin.   As we slowly made our way to the official start of the route, spectators on the street were happily waving and dancing with the music and cheering on the performers.  It was a very cool vibe, and so much fun to be on the street-side looking back at the crowd. 

Slowly, we were creeping up to the top of the route, where the media outlets and the grandstands were set up, and where there were thousands of lights and people and cheers and tournament officials.  It was crazy!  It was a crazy, oh, two minutes.  And then, as we rounded the corner and moved away from the television crews, I looked into the face of the true parade:  five miles of nothing but street and sideline spectators.  I could feel my feet hurting already.

As we rolled down the road, the crowds loved the float.  The activity on the float, mixed with the music and the ever-familiar Mr. Box, led to a lot of smiles and spontaneous dancing, not to mention hundreds of people shouting “JACK!”  This definitely wasn’t the run of the mill float – it was a true experience that interacted with its audience to create emotion (happiness, laughter, surprise) and ultimately create lasting memories for those who experienced it.

And Al Roker Loved It!…

After 5.5 miles of walking (and running!) through streets filled with silly string and tortillas (?!) and horse “presents”, I hurt in places I didn’t really know I could hurt.  But I was left with an adventure that not many people have, and for that I am truly grateful.

So in honor of 2009, I salute the Rose Parade, and Ron Miziker, and Jack.  And to ring in 2010, I encourage you to tune in to the parade this year, when Ron and AES will once again team up with Jack to present a Carnivale-themed float.  Let’s see if they can be the most spectacular float two years in a row.

Happy New Year!

Next Article:  A Tale of Two Events:  It was the best of experiences, it was the worst of experiences…

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