9/4/08 Tag You're It! The Boston Globe

This is an archive of a story originally found at http://www.boston.com/ae/events/articles/2008/09/04/tag_youre_it/?page=full

Claudia Thomas of Eugene, Ore., is one of the unsuspecting passersby drawn into a game of tag at Government Center. ''Our only agenda is to make people smile,'' says James Cobalt, who runs the Boston Society of Spontaneity. (WIQAN ANG FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

By Carmen Nobel
Globe Correspondent / September 4, 2008

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in August, some 40 young Bostonians have congregated at the top of the steps behind Government Center. None of us knows why we're here. We know only that we were supposed to get here by 2 p.m. Some wait quietly. (A skinny kid sits hunched on a bench, reading his "Introductory Linear Circuits and Electronics" textbook.) Others try to guess what's going on. ("We're going to Mayor Menino's office, and we're stripping for him," a man tells the woman standing next to him. "So get your hips ready.")

At 2:05, a skinny guy in a beard and Polo shorts steps to the front of the group with a megaphone. James Cobalt runs the Boston Society of Spontaneity, a group that performs impromptu guerilla theater and practical jokes, or "spectacles," in public settings. The Boston SOS members learn where and when to meet via e-mail the day before a prank, but they don't know what they're in for until they arrive - hence the "spontaneity."

"Our only agenda is to make people smile," says the 20-something Cobalt. "Boston is a great city, but it's not one of the most exciting cities, and it's definitely not one of the friendliest cities. We're trying to save Boston from itself."

Using the megaphone, Cobalt tells us we'll be performing two spectacles, beginning with a slow-motion shopping spree in Quincy Market. "Everything we're going to do will be reaaaaaaally slow," Cobalt says.

We head down Hanover Street, to Union, then through Quincy Market until we reach the prescribed spot - a circle near the outdoor kiosks by the South Market. At 2:15, the prescribed time,

everyone starts shopping slowly.

Most of the slo-mo shopping entails inspecting cheap jewelry and T-shirts in a sluggish manner, but a few folks turn it up a notch. Two SOS members crash into each other and fall down in slow motion, which garners some smiles from onlookers. Another guy wields a sign that says, "Free Hugs." Some tourists take him up on the offer and leave looking a little disturbed after he hugs them in slo-mo. Generally, though, as urban pranks go, this one is too subtle. Because Quincy Market is replete with buskers, it's easy for outsiders to assume we're just another group of street performers. Sunday shoppers tend to move pretty slowly anyway, so a lot of people don't even notice that anything's amiss.

Boston SOS is based on Improv Everywhere, a New York-based organization best known for spearheading the "No Pants! Subway Ride," and the shopping stunt pays homage to a classic Improv Everywhere stunt in which 225 New Yorkers showed up at a Home Depot and shopped in slow motion for five minutes. Since the Boston group's inception in January, members (there are about 800) have thrown a beach party on a Blue Line subway train, played a game of human dominoes at South Station, and organized a protest against protestors in Harvard Square, wielding signs that said, "Stop Protests." (Another local group, Banditos Misteriosos, started planning similar public pranks - like pillow fights and water gun battles - around the same time.)

At 2:30 we reconvene behind Government Center and await our next spectacle. We're going to play a game of tag with unsuspecting passersby. By this time our group has grown to almost 50 pranksters. Cobalt explains that everyone will mill around casually until the person who is "it" tags an unsuspecting passerby and yells, "Tag, you're it!" At that point, the rest of the players will run away from the confused stranger.

"Try not to scream while you're running away," Cobalt tells us. "That scares people. Just say, 'Oohh, she's it!' or something like that."

It turns out Cobalt and crew seriously frightened someone the last time they played tag, a few months prior. Upon observing a crowd of fleeing screamers, a man assumed a terrorist attack and hit the deck.

"There's so much paranoia," Cobalt says. "That's one of the biggest differences between Boston and New York. People in Boston are so much more paranoid, which is ironic because New York was the city that was attacked on 9/11."

For today's game, Cobalt deliberately seeks out "a non-scary person" to be the first tagger. He picks Ellen Higger, a petite Emerson student with a cute shaggy haircut and an air of languid serenity that belies her speed.

Cobalt has been surprised by the different kinds of people who have joined the group. "I thought it would be all college kids and high school kids - that they'd all be extremely liberal and in the drama club," Cobalt says. "But the political spectrum is vast. We have some right wing conservative people in the group, and we have people who are older than 60."

Higger sneaks up on her first target with a slow jog and a lunge: "Tag! You're it!" The first several passersby react to the game by ignoring it, even though a few of us have forgotten not to scream when running away. Many of the tagged strangers just look confused. ("I tagged a lot of people who didn't speak English," Higger explains later.)

At one point, an angry, disheveled man stomps by, ranting at the similarly unkempt man who is following him, quiet and dogged, 10 paces behind. The first man's voice carries through the plaza. "Get the [expletive] out of my [expletive] face! Get the [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] out of my [expletive] face!"

"Uh, don't tag that guy," Cobalt says.

At another point, a cop approaches one of the pranksters and demands to know what's going on, pointing at the myriad security cameras atop City Hall, which apparently have been recording us the whole time. (According to the prankster, when the cop picked up his phone to report back to another officer, his side of the conversation went something like this: "They're playing tag. Yeah. Stop laughing."')

The game picks up when Higger tags a woman in a sun hat, who shrugs and immediately tags her husband. "Don't tag me," he says. But he plays along, tagging a prankster "it" before he and his wife walk away, grinning. Two families of passersby follow suit, tagging each other before chasing the Boston SOS members.

Brad and Claudia Thomas, a middle-aged couple from Eugene, Ore., seem tickled by their inadvertent participation in the game of tag.

"To begin with, I thought he was going to ask for some spare change," Brad says of the young man who tagged him. "All of a sudden he tagged me!"

"We just came from an old bar, Bell in Hand, and they gave me a little bit of a stiff drink, and I'm feeling pretty good," his wife says. "That's why I couldn't run that fast."

Were they scared? "No!" Brad says, laughing. "Boston is too friendly a city to be scary." Or so it would seem.


1/13/08 Eagle Tribune -"Caught With Their Pants Down"

Original copy found here: http://www.eagletribune.com/punewshh/local_story_013094027?keyword=secon...

1/13/08 Eagle Tribune -"Caught With Their Pants Down"

Caught with their pants down: Haverhill man leads trouserless on T

By Crystal Bozek
Staff writer

BOSTON - Adam Sablich pulled off some small-time pranks in college, but when he pulled off his pants yesterday, he took it to a whole new level.

The 25-year-old from Haverhill got close to 200 people to shed their pants on the Boston subway yesterday, to the gasps and laughs of passengers who weren't in on the joke.

Even his mother dropped her trousers.

"People will be talking about this one for a while," Sablich said, while fixing his red, striped boxers on the subway platform. "We're just doing it for fun. That's all it is. It gives people a hilarious story to tell when they get home."


The event was called the No Pants 2K8.

It was not pantsless for peace, or no pants for world hunger, but simply pantsless for the sake of being pantsless.

Sablich, known as Agent Adam yesterday, instructed his bare-legged followers - mostly college students and some middle-aged rebels - to tell T riders they didn't feel like wearing their bottoms that day, if asked. Pantsless T riders were not supposed to talk to each other either.

"I forgot mine. I don't know about those guys," Sablich informed one T rider who asked him why he was protesting pants.

Marie Lavoie, 63, of Boston couldn't keep her eyes off the skivvies, especially when she spotted a man's purple thong.

"I'm really not surprised by much anymore. I've seen guys with paper bags over their heads and playing cardboard guitars (on the T)," she said. "But I've never seen the underwear."

It's a spin-off of an event that's been happening in New York City for the past seven years, organized by Improv Everywhere, a guerrilla group that is famous for staging a fake U2 concert. Similar events were held in New York City, Washington, D.C., and even Australia yesterday.

"I thought why not bring this to Boston?" Sablich said. "I had no idea we'd get so many people."

Besides his new role as grand-scale prankster, Sablich works as an IT director at a school in Haverhill and designs Web sites. He is a Haverhill High School graduate.

His whole family joined him in yesterday's demonstration.

His mother, Marie, got a kick out of the people staring at her outfit: a dress shirt, sash, winter coat, pink and black striped socks and black boxer shorts. His father, Randy, rode along but kept his pants on.

"I think it's a riot. I missed Woodstock, so I couldn't pass this up," Marie Sablich said. "It's a beautiful day, and we're not doing anything wrong."

The responses from riders were mixed.

"One guy said, 'We don't need to see you in your underwear," said Jimmy Reynolds, 21, of Tewksbury, who wore black boxer-briefs.

Dan Franks, 18, of Boston said one lady took her pants off after observing everyone else for a few stops.

"She said she felt out of place," said Franks, who wore boxers with shamrocks. "We converted her."

MBTA police Lt. Sal Venturelli said there were no arrests or injuries, not even any complaints.

"There were the strange looks and the questions," Venturelli said.

Sablich hopes to make this an annual event.

"I advised my officers there would not be a debriefing after this," Venturelli joked. "Geesh. What a way to meet people."


3/19/08 Bostonist- The BSOS' Winter Luau

Writer Bailey Triggs contributed a piece to popular Boston blog, Bostonist. Head over to http://bostonist.com/2008/03/19/riding_the_t_is.php for the original article and pictures!

March 19, 2008
Riding the T is a Beach: The Boston Society of Spontaneity's Winter Luau

On Sunday afternoon, there was more than one parade making its way through the streets of Boston. Despite the typical New England March near-snowing, 37 degree conditions, around twenty of Boston Society of Spontaneity's "improveratti" gathered in tropical attire with the mission to bring their traveling beach party to the T. Beginning at the Aquarium stop with leis piled high, the BostonSOSers rode the T to Airport, where they camped out: sunning themselves, hula dancing to their own tropical soundtrack, and offering leis and sunscreen to passersby. After being asked to move the show along by the MBTA police, the group finished their party up by the Aquarium with a conga line and a game of limbo.

Bostonist got an opportunity to speak with BostonSOS mastermind James Cobalt to find out if Boston beachless-beach parties are really where it's at.

Bostonist: What was your favorite reaction to the beach day?

James Cobalt: I think our winter beach party (without a beach) was a great success! The participants reportedly had a great time and I saw so many positive reactions from the people we came in contact with. When I met with the members that afternoon I brought them 400 Hawaiian leis to give away. A couple hours later they were all gone and every single one of them caused somebody to smile. My favorite part of the afternoon was when we started a game of limbo in the plaza by the Aquarium. At first it was just a few young kids that showed interest, but two minutes later everyone in the plaza wanted to play to get a free lei! That was a great feeling to see so many people just letting their inhibitions go and cutting loose in public like that.

More mid-winter beach parties with James after the jump!

Bostonist: What are you hoping people (both participants and bystanders) get out of this kind of event?

Cobalt: First and foremost I want everyone to have a good time: both the perpetrators and the bystanders who suddenly find themselves in the middle of some silly new world. I'm trying to create situations that involve positive interactions between strangers; I want people to create new connections with the people around them and force themselves to question how they think the world works. There’s a forced human interaction that’s disappearing in this digital networking era. It’s so easy to create our own world where we only have to interact with those of the same mindset: Why talk to the person on the same bench when you can call your like-minded friend on your cell phone? Why share philosophy in a coffee house when you can use wi-fi to access Facebook on your laptop? Tuning to just one station breeds extremism; There are so many options to customize our reality that the more you're connected, the more of a disconnect you could experience. And there is so much fear amongst different types of people it's ridiculous. Maybe there's always been fear amongst the different, but the rhetoric and discrimination often under the guise and excuse of national security just feels out of control now. I'm tired of pointless, right-restricting, inconvenient exercises supposedly done in the name of my personal security. When secularly handing out leis to delighted patrons of the subway is considered a security risk there's something wrong with mindset of some people. I don't want that kind of protection.

Putting random, different people in these fun, silly situations lightens the mood, breaks the ice, and gives them this shared experience to talk about. It’s acclimating people to the idea that something that's different doesn't mean its dangerous; in fact different can be fun and enlightening! It's just one tiny step towards that goal; but it’s a step in the right direction, the opposite direction the fear-mongers are walking. I love how BostonSOS's members come from many different political, philosophical, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. It really surprised me at first the amount of diversity it attracted, but then I was falling into my own trap. We're really not that diverse; everyone wants to have fun!

Bostonist: Why do you think, even though you made calls to clear BSOS's presence with the T cops and the Aquarium folk that people still came to ask the group to leave?

Cobalt: A couple days before the stunt I had spoken to a couple people at MBTA and even explained everything we were doing to the MBTA transit police who told me to "have fun." One of our members spoke to security at the Aquarium as he used to work there and knew a lot of people. I spoke to a couple people there as well. I think one of the problems is its hard to get to the right people to speak to. These kinds of organizations have these firewalls of people protecting the people who make decisions from your phone call. But everyone I spoke to was so cool and casual about it I didn't think we'd need to get something in writing, which is another adventure all together as something in writing means someone is liable for allowing something to take place. Now I see why the other groups all over the country just don't even bother. It wouldn't have made a difference. I could have saved three hours one evening doing something productive instead of sending out emails and making phone calls to make sure we wouldn't have any trouble. Still, I'm letting a few bad apples spoil the whole batch: most of the MBTA and Aquarium employees got a real kick out of it. A couple MBTA security officials that were telling us we had to leave did so wearing our leis and apologized profusely stating it wasn't their decision.

Bostonist: What's next after this winter beach party? Snowball fights in summer?

Cobalt: We get so many suggestions but the vast majority of them just can't be done. I refuse to pull off something that could be dangerous in anyway or makes a fool of someone or plays on negative stereotypes or violates some obvious local ordinance. This means that we can only use about 1% of the ideas that get thrown our way. To take your quip for example: snow ball fights in the summer sounds like a great idea, but we have to analyze it from every angle. Could this appear politically or religiously motivated? Could this be dangerous? Could this damage property? Will this encourage strangers to interact? Will it cause joy in bystanders? Are there any regulations against throwing things in this area? Will this block pedestrian traffic? Does it fit into our overall style and mission or is it more suited for urban playground groups like New Mind Space and Boston's Banditos Misteriosos? The list goes on and on. Primarily, we really want to create spectacles that give a positive experience for everyone without offending or inconveniencing anyone. Still, with a mere 1% of usable suggestions we have our calendar booked solid through to next March, so you haven't heard the last from us.

Visit Boston Society of Spontaneity's website for video and pictures of their Beach Party on the T and information on future events.

By Bailey Triggs