Q & A

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December 8, 2003 // UPDATED 11:09 am - April 30, 2007
By: sue rich
sue rich

with Michael Murnane

Dazzling fairy-tale floats and friendly glowing stars, snowmen and snowwomen have been converging on Downtown's Nicollet Avenue every evening of the holiday shopping season for the past 12 years. Meet the man who makes them glow.

Michael Murnane, 43, is the lighting designer for the annual Holidazzle parade. He also makes sure the Oompah Loompahs appear in a flattering light as the lighting designer of Marshall Fields' annual 8th-floor show, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Between such mainstays and work on shows from The Minnesota Opera to The Welsh Opera, Murnane estimates that a half-million people see his handiwork every year.

His studio, Footcandles, is tucked into the Warehouse District at 245 N. 2nd St. (A foot-candle is a unit of illuminance on a surface.)

How many lights are used in Holidazzle? I get asked that a lot. People have said it's a million, but I think it's around 250,000. I've never taken the time to count them or anything . . . Somebody made that [one million figure] up, and I've taken a lot of crap from my friends about that.

The float with the most on it has roughly 14,000 lights -- the choir float. It's huge; it's a bus, and it's got a choir on it every night.

Is that your favorite? No -- it is currently my least favorite. It is the oldest float in the parade, and it needs the most attention. It was designed to last three years and it's been, oh, 12 years now. I mean, when was the last time you had a set of Christmas lights last 12 years?

How many people are in the lighting crew each night? Anywhere from eight to 10. We distribute the batteries and help people figure out where to get dressed, and then we test every light on every costume. There are two people that do repairs that start at noon, and the rest of us came in around 3 to 5 p.m. and we all work until 8:30 or 9. And there are two people who work until 10 or 11 or so -- they've got to plug all that stuff back in. Almost 300 costume batteries and 200 float batteries get [re-]charged every night.

You help direct the people in the costumes? You end up managing the people basically. The most amazing thing is that we process some 200 volunteers every night.

What's one of the challenges of managing volunteers? I guess my favorite one is when people get tired of it and they just drop their costume and wander off -- they'll just leave.

An older lady got halfway down the parade route on the opening night [this year]. Somebody from the crowd helped her off the parade route and sat her down in the Target lobby. Her niece couldn't find her, and we couldn't find the costume [that she had abandoned] -- she was a star. [Both were found safe and sound.]