Virtual Mermaid Parade draws fans from around the world

mermaid parade
This year’s virtual Mermaid Parade featured a live performance by belly dancing group Jehan Arts.
Norman Blake

Thousands of revelers and fishy freaks tuned into the virtual Mermaid Parade on Aug. 29 to watch live performances and pre-recorded acts that brought the beloved event to life, said one of the event’s organizers. 

“It went fantastic,” said Mark Alhadeff, who works at the Coney Island arts non-profit Coney Island USA, which hosts the parade. “It went better than I could have imagined.”

About 5,000 viewers — including some from as far as Iceland — attended the reimagined “parade” that featured performances by marching bands, dance troupes, and well-known singers like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and The Feelies’ Glenn Mercer. 

The show also included pre-recorded cameos from fans around the world, who showed off their costumes, talked about their love for the parade, and put on mermaid-themed puppet shows. The quirky show — which wowed viewers with performances by parade stalwarts such the East Village Sea Monster Marching Band and the Wu Tang Clams — captured the spirit of the popular parade, Alhadeff said.

mermaid parade
Marching band Fogo Azul NYC, a staple of the Mermaid Parade, performed live during the virtual Aug. 29 show.Norman Blake

“It had that very Mermaid Parade feel where you never know what you’re going to get,” Alhadeff said.

Organizers were forced to postpone the 38th annual parade, originally scheduled for June, because of the coronavirus outbreak. But rather than cancel the event altogether, its hosts saw an opportunity to bring joy to locals while uplifting the community by raising funds for local organizations.

“We’re goofy, we fool around, but we’re also serious and want to make sure we’re doing our part,” Alhadeff told Brooklyn Paper.

mermaid parade
One Mermaid Parade participant, Paul Maguire, submitted a video for the Aug. 29 show.Paul Maguire

To advertise the fundraising portion of the event, the show took the form of an old-fashioned telethon, with prizes for those who chipped in the most cash and a performance by a professional impersonator of the 1970s comedian and telethon regular, Jerry Lewis.

“We had an amazing Jerry Lewis impersonator,” Alhadeff said, noting that he was thrilled to have found the impersonator shortly before the show. “This guy said, ‘That’s what I do for a living and I’m happy to do it.'”

Anyone who contributes $50 or more had the chance to win a t-shirt or an original painting by artist Danielle Mastrion — who painting the artwork live from the performance venue, Alhadeff said.

mermaid parade
Matt Mitler, a professional Jerry Lewis impersonator, performed live during the live-steamed event.Norman Blake

The parade raised more than $10,000, which will be split between Coney Island USA and several local non-profits, such as youth services program Salt and Sea Mission, Urban Neighborhood Services, and BRIC — and Alhadeff hopes the donations keep rolling in.

“We’re hoping that there’s a big afterglow,” he said. “We know that some people couldn’t watch it on a Saturday.”

Alhadeff, who plans to upload clips of the nearly seven-hour-long event to Coney Island USA’s website, said the event was a happy moment amid a dark year. 

“It was a brutal year. To have something you didn’t think was going to happen, happen — I got choked up a couple times thinking, ‘Wow, we did it,'” he said. 

mermaid parade
Artist Danielle Mastrion painted mermaid paintings on site for the raffle for donors.Norman Blake