March 22, 2008
By ELLEN FREEMAN ROTH
through Faneuil Hall, pillow fights in Copley Square,
skivvies-clad riders on the T - it's all in good fun and to
forecast: a feather storm in Copley Square, outside the
Louvre in Paris, and on the steps of the Opera House in
Sydney as hundreds of people merrily whomp each other with
off and soft pillows on for International Pillow Fight Day,
organized in 21 cities by Generation Yers who are inviting
friends and strangers to come together today for walloping
fun. At Copley, the 2 p.m. communal slumber party game is
hosted by the Banditos Misteriosos, Boston's new entry to
the urban playground movement.
Misteriosos and a second group called the Boston Society of
Spontaneity are the latest to join the social movement aimed
at gathering, surprising, and entertaining people in public
spaces. But Banditos and BostonSOS seem to plan their fun
more seriously. They claim larger memberships than groups
like the boombox-bearing ensemble 123 Party! that created a
stir last year by blaring '80s hits while dancing in
neon-green jogging suits throughout the city. And they're
better organized than the so-called flash mobs that have
spontaneously assembled people in public places for purely
"Boston is a
playground," declares the Banditos website. "Banditos
Misteriosos is the city's mysterious playmate."
its name, Banditos Misteriosos is not secretive. This group
of a dozen 20-something planners - and more than 500 members
- aims to bring strangers together with family-friendly
activities in public spaces.
people to interact in urban areas in ways they're not used
to, doing events that are free, simple, open to the public,
and out of the ordinary," said Ethan Feuer, a Banditos
Misterioso who is a Brandeis University admissions
happened Feb. 23 at Faneuil Hall during the Silent Dance
Experiment. More than 300 strangers milling around the Sam
Adams statue suddenly bopped in synch. Headphone wires swung
from their ears as they high-fived, danced the Swim, and
played modified freeze tag in unison. Bemused bystanders
joined in, posing like "The Thinker" and sharing
participants' headphones to hear downloaded music and
instructions. Copious giggling and a few group cheers
punctuated the joyous scene. The silent dance ended with a
costumed Moses leading a conga line into Quincy Market.
passed the BosTix booth, where Joe Donlavey, director of
ticketing and tourism for ArtsBoston, was working. "My first
thought was that this was a guided tour of the Freedom
Trail," he recalled. "But when we saw hundreds of people
coming through with hands on the shoulders of the person in
front of them, one of my staffers said, 'I think it's one of
those impromptu meetings done through Facebook.' It was
fabulous! They did a couple of shout-outs. That was the
didn't impede business, Donlavey added. "And as people
walked out, a few came by the booth and asked about Blue Man
Dance Experiment was the first event orchestrated by the
Banditos' 12-member planning board. Feuer and two friends
initiated Banditos Misteriosos in December by launching a
and its first event, also a pillow fight. The group's name
came from characters the founders created in a college
"A lot of us
were camp counselors. We think of Boston as our camp, and
we're going to be coming up with fun events," said Bailey
Triggs, a coordinator for a branch of the nonprofit
Education Development Center, who joined the Banditos
is the Banditos' primary channel for publicizing events,
though the group also posts flyers. The group wants to
attract a broad age group, but that's challenging. "These
types of events are going to be aimed more at our
demographic, because it's young people who do this type of
thing," Feuer said.
public space is one factor driving the urban playground
movement. It's an effort to redefine public space, to free
it from "the endless creep of advertising," as the
International Pillow Fight Day website,
in urban areas has had predictable and routine uses as a way
of maintaining order in a chaotic urban environment," said
David Cunningham, an associate professor of sociology at
Brandeis University. "The urban playground movement
challenges that. The idea of play is a sharp critique of the
consumerized space that surrounds us, and strips away the
upstart group that embraces public space, Boston Society of
Spontaneity, sprung up around the same time the Banditos
formed. The groups' memberships overlap, though their goals
do not. BostonSOS wants to entertain.
"We are more
of an interactive guerilla theater-type group," said James
Cobalt, who started and runs the nearly 300-member
troupe. In what BostonSOS called its Frozen Food mission
inside Quincy Market just before Banditos Miseteriosos'
Silent Dance Experiment, more than 50 BostonSOS performers
abruptly froze in place for several minutes.
a spinoff of New York City-based Improv Everywhere, whose
website declares it "causes scenes of chaos and joy in
public places." Improv Everywhere has not only surprised but
also occasionally discomfited onlookers or businesses, as
when 80 people sporting ersatz employee uniforms wandered
around a large retail store.
"I can see
why some people find it confusing," Cobalt said, "but I
don't think that confusing and harmful are the same thing."
staged its first event in early February, the No Pants
subway ride, in which 200 people on the Red Line casually
removed their pants while on the train. "A lot of people
wore extra layers of underwear for modesty, " Cobalt said.
"Very few people were offended."
are mum on what's in store after the upcoming pillow fight.
"We have to fall back on our name and be a little
mysterious," Feuer said with a grin.