Improv Everywhere agents take over the windows of a four-story retail building.
Digital Photography: Agents Nicholson, Arauz, Jones, Spencer, Blackwell, Potter, Gray
DV Cameras: Agents Kula, King, Quirk, Hodson, Beckman, Wilcha
Graphics: Agents Kula, O’Neil
Featuring: Todd, Kula, Montague, Ace$Thugg, Arauz, Jesster, King, Spencer, Becket, Gil, McCarson, Blumberg, Just, Dippold, Beckman, Wilcha, Ansari, Kendall, Simmons, Mikes, Hillman, Jones, Wimpy, Balla, Racingsloth, Dolias, Sal, Valuckas, Frank, Shockwave, Qnarf, Legion, Fite, Berman, Gray, Shelktone, Barrison, Moore, Wortas, Pirc, Potter, Blackwell, Harrod, Tuculescu, Shafer, Rennard, Currie, Monachus, Kroll, Mason, Nicholson, Quirk, Hodson, Walker, Fairey, + more.
I was walking through Union Square a few months ago, and something caught my eye. In the window of the new retail store Forever 21, a girl was dancing with wild abandon. It was at night, and she was brightly lit standing next to the store’s mannequins. I stood and watched and laughed. Her behavior was unexplainable; a few minutes later her friend appeared from around the corner, and the two laughed and ran away. It had obviously been a dare.
It was amazing how eye-catching her performance had been. I began to look at the building as a whole. The structure had been empty for years. I remember giving a Circle Line Tour of the area and announcing it “Prime Retail Space” as the For Sale banner hanging inside called it. In October of last year, the space was finally leased. Forever 21 (a woman’s clothing store), DSW (a shoe store), and Filene’s Basement (a discount department store) opened their doors for business in this 6 floor complex. On Wednesday, Whole Foods Market, the final store in the building, had its grand opening.
I figured if one girl in one window had been so fascinating to look at, it would be incredible to see someone dancing in every single window in the building. I began to do some reconnaissance. Before the Whole Foods opened, I calculated 68 accessible windows that shoppers could very easily position themselves in front of. There were a few more that would require jumping barriers to access, but I decided it was best to leave those alone. The windows provided a perfect stage for a mission. Not only are there so many of them, but they are perfectly situated across the street from one of Manhattan’s largest parks. At any given moment, there are hundreds of people walking through the park and out of its subway station. It should be no problem attracting an audience.
Union Square Park as seen from Forever 21
I returned to the store several times in the weeks leading up to the mission. On different occasions both Agent Walker and Agent Kula helped me with undercover survey work, standing in various windows while I observed from the park. While surveying, I took a few photos of the mannequins in Forever 21.
No underwear needed
These jeans really cracked me up
I brainstormed choreography ideas with Agent Keech (choreographer of the Virgin Megastore and Synchronized Swimming missions). Agents Ace$Thugg and Mason helped me get my head around the logistics of the mission. I knew I wanted to use large letters to spell something out. Agent Mason came up with the perfect phrase, “Look up more”. Agent Kula was able to print out the message using 4-feet tall letters at his work, an engineering firm.
We met on the north end of the park at 8:30 PM on Saturday. 61 undercover agents slowly arrived, dressed in black pants and black shirts. Many wore colorful coats to conceal their matching uniforms. This was our first meeting. We had had no rehearsals, and we needed to mobilize and take over these windows before Forever 21 closed at 9:30 (the other stores stayed open much later). I distributed two items to every agent: a photograph of the building with the windows individually numbered, and a palm-sized “cheat sheet” of instructions for our performance. The instructions were personalized for each number, telling them where their window was located, and specific directions unique to their spot (arrows telling them which direction to point at certain moments).
Instructions for Window 1
10 agents were chosen to hold up our “LOOK UP MORE” letters, and Agent Walker was given the responsibility of smuggling the letters into the building and distributing them to the appropriate agents. Three agents were chosen to be soloists. They would each have a moment in the spotlight dancing by themselves as the other 60 agents pointed towards their window.
I was hoping to get 76 agents in order to fill out every window, but due to last minute cancellations, we were a bit short. It ended up being just fine. I decided to leave Whole Foods Market out of the mission. Their windowed area was a busy cafe; many of the windows were partially blocked by tables, and they were all very dimly lit. Forever 21 had blocked out 4 of its windows just days before the prank with some hanging artwork, so that worked in our favor as well.
Window map given to all agents
I grabbed my megaphone and explained the signaling system we would use. I would position myself at the base of the park just a few feet away from 14th street next to a green trashcan. I would be clearly visible to all participants so long as there were no buses passing. We would advance through 18 different stages by using a very simple binary code. My hand would either be on the trash can or by my side. Every time my hand moved, it was the signal to go to the next phase. We did a quick run-through right there at the meeting point (which was out of view from our target building), and it seemed that everyone could follow along with relative ease.
Agent Todd signaling by the trash can, just above the cab
We dispersed, and everyone headed to their position. Our DV cameramen and photographers staked out the area from all angles, including some who positioned themselves discreetly inside the stores. This was the most ambitious Improv Everywhere Mission to date in both logistics and personnel size. I was very nervous about pulling it off. How would three separate stores on five different floors react to us? Would they communicate with each other? Would they realize what was happening to their store, was happening to the whole building? Would they try to stop us? We wouldn’t be breaking any “rules” or “laws”, but there was still no way to know how they would handle our takeover.
We were very lucky with the weather. It was a mild 45 degrees, and the moon was peaking through the partly cloudy sky. The park was full of folks sitting and talking. There were a few bikers performing stunts on a homemade ramp. I walked up to the trashcan and got in place. One by one the agents began to appear. They stood with their feet shoulder-width apart with their arms to their side. Their black silhouettes started to pop up all over the building, and people in the park began to stop and take notice. The black provided a nice contrast to the stark fluorescent lighting and the colorful clothing on the mannequins around them.
It took a few minutes longer than expected to get everyone in place. We were held up by the agent in charge of the letter “U” who got a bit lost. In the meantime, three agents in DSW were unable to get to their post. I had warned them that this might occur; their windows were behind a somewhat roped off area near the DSW cash registers on the far right side of the building. Once they were told the area was off-limits, the agents cleverly filled a few holes elsewhere in the building. Two went down to Forever 21, and one jumped a barrier by the elevator on the 5th Floor at Filene’s Basement and occupied an extra window there.
The two agents who relocated to Forever 21
Agent Fischoff jumped the escalator barrier
The “U” was finally in place and I gave the first signal. 51 agents remained still while 10 others picked up their letters and placed them against the window. People in the park began to laugh and cheer. The crowd began taking photos and phoning friends.
I could tell that the management of DSW was giving people trouble, so I gave the second signal to move things along. In unison, the entire grid began doing jumping jacks.
Agents drop their letters as the jumping jacks begin
Our audience in the park
I could see the management at DSW physically forcing people to leave. One by one each person began to disappear as security guards hauled them off. Things looked to be under control on the other four floors.
The manager at DSW informs IE Agents that he’s calling the police
I gave the next signal and the free-form dancing began.
Our first dance soloist was Agent Barrison, located at Window 51 in DSW. By the time I gave the signal for his solo, he was being escorted out of the store. Unaware of this, the rest of the grid pointed to his empty window.
The next signal threw the focus to Agent Ace$Thugg, positioned in the far right-hand side of the building in Window 24. As the rest of the grid pointed towards him, he flailed his arms around with wild abandon, dancing his heart out with over-exaggerated moves that could be enjoyed by his audience in the park hundreds of feet away.
Agent Ace$Thugg dances solo on the far right while others point
Agent Kroll had the next solo. Located in the especially bright lights of Forever 21, he rocked his body all by himself, unable to hear the crowd outside cheering him on.
The crowd continues to grow
I put my hand back on the trashcan, signaling everyone to lie down on the ground for a count of 15 seconds. The black figures disappeared from view in the park and then reappeared and continued dancing.
Agent Loughran goes to the floor
Another signal was given and the dancers faced backwards and danced with their backs to the park for another count of 15.
Agent Todd stands at the base of the park in front of the crowd
The dance portion ended and grid stood still. When signaled, row 2 began jumping as the other rows above it pointed downwards. Row 3, DSW, was supposed to join in on the jumping at the next signal, but the store had long been cleared out. Each of the three rows of Filene’s Basement joined in as the jumping spread upwards one row at a time until the entire grid was jumping together.
Row 2 jumps while the grid points down at them
Rows 4 and 5 join the jumping
The next signal took everyone back to their original standing position. I then took my hand off the trashcan to signal the return of our letters.
The final pose, featuring an empty DSW
As “LOOK UP MORE” was displayed a second time, the crowd instinctively knew we had reached the end. They began to applaud and cheer as I gave the signal for the agents to disperse.
Having been focused on the building, I didn’t get much of a chance to see the crowd myself, but it was quite impressive looking when I finally did turn around. It seemed as if no one realized that I had been a part of the performance. I had simply been a guy talking on his cell phone with one hand, and leaning on a trash can with the other. I walked back to the meeting point in anonymity, anxiously awaiting the story from the inside.
[Note: With over 75 people participating in this mission in some form or another, this section is much longer than normal. We hope you enjoy our exhaustive documentation. There are pretty photos sprinkled throughout.]
Agent Jester, Window 1
I was the first person to get a number, so I was way up in the corner at spot #1. As we made our way to the top we got several looks from employees who were watching more than a few people go through the building wearing all black. Once we got to the top though, things were a lot more lighthearted. The few employees there who took note first expressed their confusion (“Why are all those people looking outside?”), then, when things got going, they were all very amused (“They’re putting on a show! Only in NY!”). During the show, looking outside we saw many craned necks, arms and fingers pointing in our direction. A few cars driving by even stopped to see what the fuss was about. The whole event worked so well because of how well lit the entire building was. You could have made us out from the other side of the park. Finally, as we were leaving, many employees were huddled together discussing what just went on. A few suggested asking us, but none of them dared. It was a fantastically fun mission for me.
Agent Montague, Window 2
We headed up the escalator of Filene’s Basement by the truck load. The downward escalator was completely empty, so I figured we had the place to ourselves. I was pretty much right. There were more of us than there were customers. I browsed through chocolates and pillow cases, and then casually strolled to my window. I was situated in the #2 slot, on the top floor in the far left corner. The view was awesome. I looked down on Union Square, having no idea how many others were in place. I could, however, see we were drawing a crowd. Literally every person in the general vicinity of Union Square was staring up, with the exception of a few freestyle bikers. The bikers were doing some amazing tricks, which was a testament to our awesomeness. The people in Union Square weren’t watching the bikers and their double bunny lemon belly 720 jump flips. The people in Union Square were watching us. We weren’t even doing anything, just standing there.
The bikers eventually took a break to watch our show
Of the many missions I’ve participated in, this was one of the best. Being on display for all of downtown was a total rush. Once we started doing our dances and jumping jacks, the crowd grew much larger. Doing stuff in the window made a big difference. It was weird not knowing what it looked like, but knowing that it looked really cool, because I could see the people outside were really enjoying it. People were taking pictures out of passing cars on 14th Street, staring out of bus windows, and the crowd was just getting bigger and bigger.
Filene’s Basement was very accommodating. The lone 6th floor employee was having a real chuckle. The price checks over speakerphone were accompanied with cackles. And the content of the speakerphone messages was peculiar. They would say things like: “Jamie, We have a 3431. Jamie, 3431… (laughter)” What did this mean? Was this Filene’s Basement code for: “Jamie, there are people dancing in the windows again”? The head of security, a poor man’s Van Damme (minus 100 pounds), was a little on edge. I don’t think he had been trained for this situation. All in all, Filene’s Basement earned my trust, love, and support for a lifetime.
We finished up and headed down the escalator. I noticed that quite a few audience members had entered Filene’s Basement, surely in search of autographs.
Agent Wimpy, Window 3
A sales woman on the top floor spotted us while we were setting up in the windows. One of the agents off to my left handled her brilliantly by pointing out that we were simply looking at the silly tourists across the street in the park that were staring at the bright lights of the store. She immediately bought that story and stood in the window herself. She began waving to the people outside while commenting disparagingly on their navet. But, the moment we began doing jumping jacks, from a distance pf fifteen feet away I could hear her intake of breath as she posited, “If there are people like these on all the floors this must be something to see from across the street!” She then proceeded to place herself in pictures an agent behind us was taking.
One of my favorite moments came after the mission was completed and we were assembling at the Grand Saloon Bar. As eight of us were approaching the bar’s door a couple going in the opposite direction had the following exchange:
“They are wearing so much black!”
“Trust me sweetie, first two years in New York it’s mandatory.”
I am beginning to believe you can do anything in New York so long as you appear to either be crazy or a tourist.
Agent Balla, Window 4
As I walked into Filene’s, the first thing that got me a bit nervous was the tall, European looking guy, with long gray hair in a pony tail. As I and my fellow agents passed, he greeted us, but it was evident he was a bit suspicious. I quickly went up to the 6th floor, where I took off my jacket and browsed through the bedding and sheets department for a moment, before taking my place at my window. I was stationed right next to famous Russian playwright Anton Chekov, which was a big honor.
Agent Balla stands to the left of Agent “Chekov” Wimpy
And so I stood. People started to look up, and through the reflection in the glass I could notice several people in the store taking notice. One woman walked over between me and #5. “What are all those people staring at,” she asked. “I don’t know,” replied #5. “Maybe they’re tourists,” I added, “it looks like they’ve never seen a tall building before.” The woman laughed and walked a few steps away. At that moment, Agent Todd gave the signal for us to begin the jumping jacks. “Oh, you guys are doing something. I get it,” the woman excitedly yelled. Over the store’s announcement system we could hear frantic, laughter-filled calls for “Mr. Romero” to come to the 5th floor. The rest of the mission went off without a hitch, with only one store employee standing behind us, looking at us a bit suspiciously, but taking no action. We filed out very quietly. Hearing stunned comments from the customers we passed. My favorite was one woman who said, “The only thing I could think is maybe it’s one of those smoking ad things.”
Agent Racingsloth, Window 6
Our top left corner in the building was definitely the easiest going. We had one lady peer out the window with us at the beginning, wondering why so many folks in Union Square Park were looking up at the store. I guess it didn’t occur to her that 6 of us were all black clad and facing the windows ourselves, evenly spaced. We welcomed her bemusement with a couple observations about how it was a nice night and that perhaps the folks looking up from below were tourists. She agreed. The store clerk also wondered why they were taking pictures. And then we started jumping jacks. “Oh you guys are together?” she said with a laugh. Seemed she felt “Yea!, a change from the daily monotony of bed linen sales”.
Walking up to the store seemed to go the most unnoticed, we were quite evenly spaced so as to not attract attention. But then a group of us stopped to try to get the elevator, which never came. The escalator funneled us together, so suddenly there were a lot of black clad folks going up. When getting off the escalator, floor 4 I believe, one security man was standing in the middle of the doorway we all had to pass by. He didn’t show any sign of noticing something weird, but it kind of looked fishy to me. After I was in position in front of my window, it felt like time stopped. I thought I might be in the later half of folks to get into position since I went the long way around from union square, and I was on the top floor. I immediately saw Agent Todd down below, the gray hoodie was a great choice– for some reason it did stick out, and luckily we were high enough that no vehicles would block the view. And so we stood. I started getting antsy, hoping it would start soon, especially after we heard over the loud speaker for 37-70 to pick up the phone– sounds code for something! I was getting worried that if we didn’t start soon, something would interfere with it ever starting.
A shopper stand behind Agent Racingsloth
But finally everyone was in place, and our coordinated section jumped, jacked and boogied like pros! Upon leaving the store, the one big question I overheard from the clerks was “what did the sign say?”
A huge success in my opinion! And although this was my first event, I’ll be very enthused to participate in any and all future ones!
Agent Dolias, Window 7
Well since it was my first mission I was pretty nervous but luckily I was on the top row with some guys that had apparently done a lot of missions; I was calmed by that. About 5 minutes before go time, a few employees came up the escalators to the top floor where we were and questioned the guys in 1-6, and I started getting a littler nervous but I stayed put anyway. It ended up that they were laughing and thought it was great, I even heard from one of the guys on my side that they were dancing with some of them. Personally I couldn’t take my eyes off of the huge crowd forming in front of us. We worked as a group really well on the top left side of the building with the counting and all, and I think we pulled it off rather well. Dispersing was easy. I managed to be the only one to hop in the elevator where the operator asked me, “Are there were a lot of people outside?” I just replied “I guess so, Union Square on a Saturday, ya know? Great mission. It made my Spring Break.
Agent Mikes, Window 8.
I got into the store fast and used the bathroom quickly. Nothing like doing jumping jacks with a full bladder.
We were initially concerned with the store security. Most of us had noted that we were being checked out by the various entrance guards, and we remained on the lookout for any potential show-stoppers. Fortunately, we could see everything behind us reflected in the glass, and the section I was in (baby clothes and toys) was visually blocked off from the rest of the store. When we noted a store employee getting her picture taken with other IE agents on our floor, we knew we were all clear.
Agent Todd didn’t notice the group of three or so people standing behind him waving and jumping up and down, hoping to catch our attention or to have anyone wave back at them.
It was just as we were about to begin that I realized that should any of the people in the store be detained and arrested, Agent Todd could very easily have turned and run. He managed to get 61 people to do this, and he could have booked at the slighted hint of trouble. This is where the trust comes in.
It was nice to see the crowd applauding after we had finished.
I decided to give something back. A friend of mine had just given birth last week, so browsing the baby section wasn’t difficult. One soft blue pillow later, I was just another shopper. On the way out, we heard the employee who had her picture taken say, “I was wondering why all these people outside were looking up and waving and taking pictures.” The security guards had another take: “I thought they were all tourists or something…”
Filene’s Shoppers point to our agents
Agent Sal, Window 9
The mission was definitely a blast. As I was walking into the store with other agents I heard the sales girl say to another girl, what is going on with all these guys in black? The other replies, “Looks like some satanic cult or something.” As we got to the window we had no problem standing there.
I was on the 6th floor on window 9 and it seems like lot of people down in the park were watching and from there reactions I could tell that we all together and doing the same number every time.
Agent Valuckas, Window 12
I was #12, in the upper-right hand window (as viewed from the street). It was the top floor of FILENE’S BASEMENT, with the housewares and children’s clothing. I think that I just blended in as a mannequin most of the time, since customers would only ever see me out of the corner of their vision–but I remember the eyes of the pony-tailed security guy at the store entrance widening considerably as he watched the sudden rush of shoppers pouring into his store.
When we started doing the jumping jacks and then actually dancing, I heard workers on the floor below laughing. They could see through the escalators that the partying wasn’t confined to their own level, and they asked the dancers, “You’re doing this on EVERY FLOOR?!”
I later heard that the DSW people responded negatively, and even kicked their agents out of the store.
Well, the FILENE’S people just seemed amused by the whole thing. They didn’t understand it, but they certainly enjoyed it, in a flabbergasted kinda way. I was pretty grateful for that: So much so that I was sure to buy something on my way out of their fine establishment. (Chocolate covered cherries!)
As I left I heard the ponytail security guy telling another employee, “At first I thought they were just tourists…”
Agent Hillman, Window 14
I was in position 14, in the corner of the 5th floor. From my perspective everything went smoothly.
The beginning was actually really nice. I stood in the window and watched the crowd gather. We weren’t doing anything, but people began stopping and watching. Some people seemed to be trying to get us to do the wave. I watched people shop in the reflection behind me. They didn’t seem to take much note. Then the jumping jacks began and I stopped watching.
Afterward one clerk asked if we were an ad. I said I didn’t know, but she didn’t look convinced. No one else said anything to me, even as they congratulated another agent walking in the park near me.
Agent Simmons, Window 16
After ascending the escalator, past several grim-faced security guards, to the 5th floor of Filene’s Basement, I consulted my “mission specs” and located window #16.
It was the lingerie section.
There were “agents” in place to my right and left and we stood there, facing the New York City skyline, awaiting our signal from Agent Todd.
Loitering there, dressed in black, in a section of garishly colored, tiger-striped women’s lingerie, staring down onto 14th St, anticipating Agent Todd’s opening signal, we were feeling edgy. Hearts raced as small groups of civilians began to take concerned notice of our intrusive presence. It seemed that there was trouble somewhere in the building. I was approached by several discount shoppers who asked what we were looking at. “It’s a beautiful night to look at the Empire State Building…” I hastily answered. “Hmm… yeah…” one lady muttered as she stepped onto the downward escalator, unconvinced.
All of the agents seemed to be in position at this point and Agent Todd gave the first signal. We commenced with doing jumping-jacks. Instantly, the agent in window #18 to my left was descended upon by the Filene’s Basement floor manager. “You can’t be doing this here,” he intoned as we were transitioning into free-form dance steps. “You can’t be here”. We were then given the signal to lay flat on our backs. This blatant rejection of his command stunned the manager into a sort of bewildered silence that set him shuffling off for reinforcements. We leapt to our feet and continued dancing.
The Filene’s manager reacts to agents lying on the floor
Agent Qnarf, Window 19
This was my first mission and a total blast. I was in window 19, which was right near petite ladies wear. My cover as a normal shopper was compromised from the start. Once we were all in position we must have stood there for five minutes while before Agent Todd gave the first signal. It was a weird feeling as the crowd grew in Union Square. Being behind glass and far above, the audience was completely outside of my experience in performing. It was also totally cool. You could see how the crowd reacted to everything and how the event was affecting people. As it went on, the crowd that we drew seemed as much an event as anything we were doing.
I could see shoppers in the store who hadn’t caught on to what was up, looking out at Union Square, and watching the crowd watching us. Our area was reasonably quiet. We attracted a few gawkers, and people wandering through muttering things like, “Is this going on on every floor?” At one point I heard someone behind me who must have been a security guard say something like, “They’re just doing jumping jacks. What the fuck do you want me to do?” But it wasn’t until we finished up and started leaving that I became aware of the impact we’d had on the people in the store. Shoppers grinned at us on our way out, security scowled and one employee begged me to stay, saying, “You can’t go, you cleared out my section.” It was awesome.
Agent Frank, Window 21
After receiving instructions of our mission, we all dispersed and walked south towards 14th Street, and I diligently studied my assigned window (#21) from afar to be sure I knew where I was going. I entered the department store, made my way up the escalator, and entered the bottom level of Filene’s Basement. Standing at the door was a security guard in a suit and another employee. I thought they might know we were on to something, so I immediately made my way towards men’s shirts, where I sifted through some hideously striped formalwear.
After making my way up to my assigned location, I pretended to talk on my cell phone while I waited anxiously for the signal on the street below. Playing on the store’s stereo was some really bad and monotonous elevator music, which was the perfect background music for dancing.
About 30 seconds after we began some kids ran over to the window and said “there’s a bunch of people looking up at us!” which I found very amusing. A bit later an employee who was working directly behind me came near the window and said to a fellow worker “They’ve done this on every floor! What are they doing?” “I don’t know” she replied. They made no effort to talk to me and a few seconds later they went back to work as though nothing had happened.
By the time the mission was near completion, it was obvious there was a large crowd in Union Square, and I could see people flashing photographs and cheering at certain points, which was very encouraging. When I got the signal, I made my way downstairs. Standing at the escalator were a half dozen shoppers and employees who watched the weirdos dressed in black make their way towards the door. They said nothing, just stared at us like circus freaks, with one or two grins of wonderment as if they wished they knew what had just happened. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.
Agent Shockwave, Window 22
At first we were like a gang of fight club participants embarking on a building blow up mission, grouped and huddled, holding our photo plans of storefronts, all gangified and dressed in black. And it must have looked that way to the slow walkers and gawkers as they were beginning to get interested and creep closer. Despite the passerby spies (which were actually given clearance to participate if they listened closely) we were all directed through the plan. For success, I had originally predicted about 4 giant LED signs with numbers from the street counting us through the steps because there’d be no way we’d all stay in synch. Frankly I was a bit frightened of such a simple touching and untouching of a trash can, but we all believed and went in faith. We did a quick run through then were off in a mass of individuals and twosomes.
We rallied up the elevator and towards our respective windows. We aroused immediate yet unprovoked suspicion no matter how much “inconspicuous shopping” we were doing along the way- most of us were in black. I found myself grateful for my placement among neutral clothing and accessories yet nonetheless, still I felt sketchy. I quickly discovered that being on my cell phone was the perfect alibi. I called Agent Leonard who had just joined the mission last minute and we discussed all the funny business. He knew nobody else on the mission except for me. I invited him last minute to watch but he was needed in a window and was thrilled to participate. The mission had begun and we got off the phone. From the jumping jacks to the dancing to the laying flat and pointing and dancing again, the crowd at Union Square began to congregate, grow and increase exponentially. I wondered how many onlookers actually noticed us moving and how many had simply noticed the mass growing in size and looking up. Flashes went off, people cheered, everyone applauded, and it was amazing. I almost EXPECTED an encore. When the final signal was given, we dispersed and I noticed a couple agents walking from the windows with THEIR hands on their heads, apparently confused by the instructions on the sheet indicated by Agent Todd’s hands on HIS head… No matter, mission accomplished!
Agent Shockwave doing jumping jacks in the upper-righthand corner
Agent Legion, Window 23
I got to Union Square a little early, and had some fun watching the black clad mass of totally unsuspicious people grow. I met up with a few familiar faces, and just relaxed. I was assigned window 23 and when the time came to take the building, I had a hard time not cracking up, simply because we looked totally shady filtering into the building. Although, where I was we didn’t elicit any kind of response from security or store employees. I’d be interested to find out when they realized something was happening in their stores. I was in the closeout section of Filene’s Basement so nobody was hanging out there. You could smell the desperation and loneliness on the clothes. I know I could have set fire to the place without interference.
As we began the routine, it was pretty amazing to watch the foot traffic in the area literally come to a stand still, and people notice something out of the ordinary was happening. Over the course of the run, it seemed that the crowd grew continually larger, and more excited – hands pointing, cameras flashing.
One thing that I found was exciting was not knowing if I was in synch with the rest of the mission. Windows 23 and 24 were in a column all by themselves. We couldn’t see anyone else. It seemed to go off well enough, and when the signal for the end came, I began to hear and see various reactions from those in the stores. Customers were asking us who we were, what it was about – store employees were by turn amused, intrigued and confused. I think it’s pretty interesting that people want to know the agenda behind an activity they see.
Leaving the building was as funny as coming in, as there were dozens of us all on the escalator on the way out, determined not to admit we knew anything going on. I overheard one store security employee saying he had no idea how we all got in. At that point I laughed.
Agent Ace$Thugg, Window 24
Throughout the whole mission I overheard on the loudspeaker someone paging for “a manager to come to the frontline” over and over. I’m assuming we were the frontline problem, but no one ever came. I felt like my position in the corner (#24) allowed me some privacy in the Junior Miss section of Feline’s, which no one seemed to be shopping in that night.
I was fortunate enough to have a dance solo. I had nothing prepared, but I assumed I had to make huge exaggerated movements in order for people to see me outside. I’m not sure how it looked, but on the “frontline” it probably looked more like a temper-tantrum than dancing.
Upon exiting, there were groups of real shoppers waiting by the escalator that had witnessed the whole thing. They were congratulating us and saying things like “only Union Square has crazy people like you” and one guy was on a cell phone trying to get his girlfriend to hurry up and get to Union Square because “something crazy is happening!”
Agent Gill, Window 27
For this mission, I was in “Window 27″ and held up the letter `L’ in “LOOK UP MORE”. We all assumed our positions in front of our respective windows and watched as the crowds began to gather. I was very anxious to begin, and the people gathering in front of the windows to watch our spectacle actually made us want to get started even quicker – we knew it was going to be great! Everybody had such great energy right from the start, so once the first signal was given, I heard someone say “Let the games begin!”
Because no one on the outside could hear us, a few of us started shouting the next step out loud so everyone was on the same page. It helped too during our 15 seconds of “laying down” and “dancing backwards”; we all counted out the seconds. The free style dancing parts were fun – I noticed my neighbor, Agent Fite, really getting into her vogue-ish moves, dancing to the beat of her own sounds.
After getting up from our lying down segment, the crowd outside looked like they were enjoying themselves – a few people were pointing and waving at people in the windows. Cars were stopping to take pictures, people were clapping and cheering – it was great!
Finally the letters were placed back up for the last time, and immediately following, we dispersed. The crowd cheered. We collected our things and began to shop around as normal. I actually found some really cute jeans to try on – so I will have to visit Filene’s Basement again.
One of the employees cleaning up said to her co-worker, “Just another day at Filene’s …” Upon exiting, I noticed a man with a long pony-tail, standing by the escalators in the jewelry department, watching all of us leave. He wasn’t there in the beginning of the mission; let’s just say he didn’t look too happy. But that was the extent of our interaction with the employees there. I found out later that some people in DSW were actually escorted out during the jumping-jacks portion. One brave soul apparently kept trying to go back and finish the mission – nicely done!!
Thinking back, for some reason, I don’t think I actually realized what I was doing at the time. It never occurred to me that we were in a public department store, dancing in the window for all to see.
Agent Gill as the “L”
Agent Fite, Window 28
After an emergency pit stop at Whole Foods, Agent Gill and I raced to our windows #27 and #28 in Filene’s Basement. Fortunately it was pretty empty, almost eerily quiet. I was ready. We had a very good view of Agent Todd and the gathering crowd. I had slight vertigo, because of a healthy fear of heights, and I thought I could possibly, maybe somehow fall through the window and splatter on the pavement. Thankfully that fear quickly passed with the signal for our routine to begin. I especially enjoyed the freestyle portion. Agent Gill and I worked it out. I remember thinking we need some funky beats to compliment our fierce dance moves. I am very glad there were other people around so we could ask each other what was next instead of fumbling for our cheat sheets. Through teamwork and perseverance magic was made. At the end I heard one male Filene’s employee say to another “Just another day ”
Agent Berman, Window 29
I stole a bracelet* while the others were distracting the employees. Mission Accomplished.
* I really didn’t, but it took some will power and some heinous bracelets to keep me from doing so.
Agent Gray, Window 31
I was in window #31 in Filene’s Basement. I had no trouble getting to my location. The store was not crowded at all. Other “numbers” began approaching and we exchanged information as to where we were all located. There was plenty of space between the window and the store merchandise. #32 took awhile to arrive and we prepared to have me take over his window and the letter he was assigned to hold up at the designated times. Finally he arrived! It seemed that once we were all in place there was a crowd below looking up. Once our routine started I was focused on watching Agent Todd’s cues and in completing the sequence as best as I could. At no time were we approached by any store personnel. My wife took four photos. She was quite impressed by the whole endeavor. When we were done I helped box up the letters and then left the store. I encountered a security guard in the lobby area just outside Filene’s and thought to myself, “You should have been inside, that was where all the action was!”
Agent Shelktone, Window 33
This, for whatever reason, was the mission I most felt a little scared going into. I felt confident it wasn’t illegal to do jumping jacks in a store window but you never know how people are going to react.
Luckily, my window was in front of the escalators so when the security people did come along they didn’t bother me but my windowmates down the way(I was the “P” in “Up”). During the routine, they tried to make us stop but my windowmates were strong and kept repeating, “it’s almost over”. I am happy to say, fun prevailed and we got through it.
Best Part? Seeing people on the street jumping along with us and waving. Maybe this is how Menudo feels when performing in Mexico?
Agent Moore, Window 34
I was number 34 — the space between UP and MORE — on the fourth floor, in Filene’s Basement. I had a great position; I could see Agent Todd really well, I was behind an escalator for the most part so I wasn’t getting hassled by management too much, and I could hear the comments of everyone coming down the escalator.
When we first got there and started setting up, things were very easy. No one even noticed us — I was right near the guy handing out giant letters, and management somehow missed all this. The trouble started when we put the letters up in the window. I wasn’t looking, but I could hear a couple of management/security guard types hassling all four guys in the word MORE. “What is this? You guys have to leave. I’m going to give you 10 seconds before I call the cops. You can’t do that here!” They checked one of the letters to see what was on it (if it had said FILENE’S BASEMENT SUCKS would they have assassinated us?). I did a quick calculation and decided there was no way that I could hold up all four letters if numbers 35-38 were ejected, so I started getting a little bit nervous then. One of the security guards was on a walkie talkie, though, and as soon as we all lay down she told the guy it was fine. “It’s okay, they can do whatever. DSW is calling the cops.” M, O, R, and E were able to finish the prank unbothered.
One kid coming down the escalator queried us all generally, “Hey, y’all with Truth? Pssh, y’all with Truth?” That kid totally had us figured out. I’m not sure what he thought we were protesting, though — maybe DSW has started selling cigarettes to kids?
Another girl coming down the escalator saw us and said, “Oh, look, they’re on this floor too! Man, I wish I could do something.” As we were leaving, there were a few shoppers standing around. They had questions. “What was that? What were you guys doing?” “It’s a nice night,” I said. “You should go see that view!” Number 35 said, “What were we doing when?” The guy said, “No, weren’t you guys with that group?” “What group?” I asked. He seemed sad when he figured out that we weren’t going to tell him.
I browsed a little as I was leaving, listening to three salesgirls discuss the prank. “Oh, man, you missed it, Shelly! They were DANCIN’! You should have seen ’em DANCIN’!” “Shelly, you wearin’ all black too. You coulda joined ’em!” Shelly apparently was in the back during all of it. I felt bad for her. I’m sure they were talking about nothing else for the rest of the night.
Agent Becket, Window 38
I got roped into participating in this mission last-minute. I was looking forward to seeing the whole picture from a distance, taking it in as an unsuspecting spectator would and … okay, mostly? I just don’t stand up well in the face of authority, even the $18.50/hour variety. Show me a polyester suit jacket, an iron-on badge and a walky-talky and I crumble like a house of cards! What are we doing here? Uh … Improv Everywhere! Here’s a flyer! Come check out our website! Put a few bucks in our hat! Aaaaagh!
I was mildly worried on the march across the park, distressed when I saw the entrance to the store was being guarded by TWO dudes, panicky when I saw that my post was in FULL VIEW of the two door dudes AND a chick manning a cash register, and I became nearly incapacitated when it took FOREVER for us to get the “Go” sign. How much longer can I pretend to browse this display of faux-turquoise jewelry??? Could we look any MORE menacing and conspicuous in our black clothes and giant paper signs? Why haven’t we started yet?!? Oh, God, something’s wrong! I’m too young to spend the night in lockdown!
When we FINALLY got the go-ahead, we were quickly approached by security. But I think the “officers” who confronted us seemed more befuddled than anything. The denials and jumping jacks offered in response to their queries were like flashlight beams in their night-vision goggles. Totally disorienting! In the absence of a DSW-style physical confrontation, I was able ignore the security guards completely and instead focus on keeping my place in the routine and getting as much of it done as possible before we got thrown out. I knew that this was a pretty big operation, we only had one shot, and, as the final letter (“E”) in our message to the people of Union Square, I had a very, very important job to do.
I don’t remember the in-store reaction, other than a few critiques of our “dancing” from observers (verdict: not good!) and one angry young man who came over, angrily grabbed one of our signs off the floor and glared at us in an angry manner before dropping it, angrily, and leaving. Not sure what his deal was. I also didn’t notice anything from the crowd below, so focused was I on not missing the hand signals from Agent Todd. I guess they applauded? And there were a lot of them? At the conclusion of the sequence, we grabbed our signs and left and the gathered shoppers muttered, confused, “That was it?”
A shopper dances behind Agent Becket
Agent Wortas, Window 39
After getting my number and instructions, I headed over to the store, trying to appear inconspicuous. On the walk over we blended in pretty well with the people on the street, but upon entering the building it seemed glaringly obvious that something was up (for example, the UP escalator was jam packed, while the down had 2 or 3 people tops). I was assigned to the fourth row, first floor of Filene’s Basement. The greeter/guard at our store seemed a little suspect at first, but most people did a good job of dispersing once they got into the store (plus people wearing jackets, etc made us look a little less homogenous).
My position was by the jewelry section, behind some spinning display racks. Standing there while some ladies browsed, I got a few strange looks (seeing their reflection in the glass). After locating Agent Todd, I went over the routine in my head a few times. Once we had all lined up there were a few nondescript pages for what I would assume would be the manager. As the event went on, the pages seemed more and more urgent (especially after the jumping jacks started). The event went quickly and the dispersal went very well.
1) I apparently lack the mental capacity to turn around, dance and count to 15 at the same time. I’m sure the comments from the staff at my store weren’t helping. After a few seconds of dancing I realized I wasn’t counting and tried to start at like 5, but I ended up just turning around when Window 40 did.
2) At one point I overheard one of the women working in the jewelry dept say to her coworker. “You know, I may be white. But white people are crazy.”
3) The same worker (I believe) came up behind me during the event and said “you know, they are getting the police.” I was in the STAND position so I didn’t even acknowledge what she said and she soon went away.
4) I found that it’s more difficult to dance in the 1 foot area between the window and the jewelry displays than I would have imagined.
5) By the end, the pages for a manager seemed very urgent. They started off with a woman calling for him but then a male coworker took over. It was obvious they had no idea what to do.
6) While we were dancing, one of the workers remarked, “We need to get them some music, they’re dancing now.” I also believe I heard someone mention something about white people not being able to dance.
7) While dispersing, the guard/greeter gave me a strange look at first so I went over and browsed some shirts. I then nonchalantly strolled out and into the crowd.
From the reaction of the store personnel and the amount of people who were gathered in Union Square, I would have to say that the event definitely felt like a success, and I look forward to participating in future scenes.
Agent German, Window 44
I was on the ill fated DSL floor, a floor where jumping jacks are a serious crime. As a matter of fact, the employees were so focused on our outlandish behavior, someone else could have made off with everything. Anyway, I tried to get the young security guy to do jumping jacks &/or dance – He was almost laughing until his boss saw him; he then promptly assisted me and Window 45 out. When we were outside – one young woman said she saw “all these people dancing and doing jumping jacks from the other side of Union Square.” It was FUN!
Agent Pirc, Window 45
It all seemed so simple – go to your assigned spot, stand in place, and wait for the sign. How could we have known that it would all go horribly wrong?
Agents stand at DSW waiting for the signal
Entering DSW, we nonchalantly glanced at shoes, and sauntered into our designated window spots. I was at 45. Quietly we stood, looking for our leader to give a sign, watching the patrons’ reflections in the windows behind us.
Then it all went bad. A short, angry man with an earpiece and a chip on his shoulder came swooping in. “What’s going on here?” he demanded. “Pardon me?” my window-mate countered. “What are you people doing? Are you protesting?” “We’re looking out the window.” “WELL. I find it odd that my windows are lined with people dressed in black looking out! (Into earpiece) – ‘Security. Move these people out.” “. We’re looking at the people outside,” piped up the girl next to me. “You are? All of you? Why are there photos being taken? Security. SECURITY!” “We aren’t taking photos,” another responded. “Do you see any cameras on us?” At this point, the store manager (a.k.a. Mr. Earpiece) is turning red. “This is not right. This is our property. You can’t do this. This is not legal. Security! You all need to leave. Now. Get out.”
At that point, we see our first signal and begin doing our jumping jacks. Apparently in DSW, this is akin to Defcon 5. “OH MY GOD THEY’RE DOING JUMPING JACKS,” he exclaims. “Call the cops.” He hauls over his security people. At the mention of the cops, the newbies among us begin to take heed, and start our exit. One lone window-mate of mine stands proud, and tries to continue with the jumping jacks. “C’mon! Jumping jacks!” she implores me. “Just do a couple!” I move back towards her, and manage a few feeble jumps, before I see security rounding the tennis shoe aisle behind her. I bid a hasty retreat, as he hauls off my merry window-mate. “C’mon, Dance!” she asks of him. He smiles, and does a little shoulder shake before glancing at his boss, (not a happy camper) and saying “Sorry. I need you to leave.” We retreat, watching as our fellow agents are escorted out. We regroup at our original site at Union Square, and only then does one of our fellow agents realize what our tactic should have been. “We should have tried on some shoes, left them on during the routine, and then they COULDN’T have kicked us out.” Ah, hindsight’s a bitch.
Agent Potter, Window 46
After a short prep by Agent Todd, and being assured that “nothing should go wrong; everything we’re doing is legal”, I got in place next to the DSW sign on the third floor. On my way up to the window I noticed that the entire store was very open and it would be obvious once we were all in place. We waited for what seemed like forever while we watched a crowd begin to gather in Union Square. Even people in the passing buses were looking up as they went by. In the reflection of the window I saw a man wander through the aisles trying not to look like he was taking pictures of us.
This may have been what provoked what happened next. I hear a voice behind me and see a man looking very confused stare out the window. “Excuse me, what’s going on here? What are you all doing?” I reply that I’m just looking out the window, there was quite a crowd and I was curious. “Well I’m the store manager and I’ve never seen so many people in black lined up at the window like this, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Pictures are being taken.” “Not by us,” I say, showing him my empty hands. I act confused and insulted that he’s implied we’ve done something wrong.
After a few more rounds of protesting innocence, we get the cue to start the jumping jacks. I had to stop mid sentence with the manager to turn back to the window. “OH, great. Jumping jacks! That’s it, call security!” Apparently we had broken the unspoken rule/sin of doing jumping jacks in a store. At this point he is insisting that we leave and a security guard is starting to lightly pull others off the window on the opposite side of the store. My neighbors and I decide it’s time to leave, and I pass the security guard on my way past the rest of the windows. Once past him, I wiggle in between two other IE agents and pick up again, pointing at the first of the solo dancers who was right next to me. Ten seconds later the manager had made his way back down to this end of the store and is calling for someone to alert the police. As much as I would have liked to see what the police would have done, I left with the last remaining agents, getting outside in time to see the last third of the event.
Once I was outside a couple of the bystanders asked if I knew what was going on. “No, I just came from inside, I couldn’t figure it out.” “Well what did it look like from in there?” Turning to him honestly confused I said, “The same as it does out here, only from the back”. I’m not sure what he expected. Once it had ended I headed back to the meeting spot with some others from my floor and commiserated about how shocked and insulted the manager had been that we did jumping jacks. Right in front of him too…he’ll be scarred for life no doubt.
Agent Blackwell, Window 47
The initial gathering of agents was fun. People were gathering in Union Square one by one, kind of like that scene from ‘The Birds’, with the group slowly getting larger and larger and larger. As new people joined the group there was just the slightest of acknowledgements to one another, reminded me a little of ‘Fight Club’ (“The first rule of Fight Club is…”).
Once we walked over and got in position in DSW, I felt a little awkward but that feeling quickly changed to amazement as my window mates and I began to notice the growing audience in the Square. There were lots of camera flashes going off as well.
They weren’t the only ones taking pictures. Behind us I saw a man walking through the store clicking away with a very loud, 35mm SLR. I have no idea whether he was with us or whether he a tourist who just happened to be in the store with his camera.
One of my two favorite moments happened next. Looking down we could see a man inside a bus who was clearly, and no doubt loudly, mouthing the words “look up in the windows!” whereupon everyone in the bus turned and looked up at us. Grins all around.
Seconds later we heard the pounding footsteps of what turned out to be Mr. DSW Store Manager behind us.
“What is this? Is this some kind of protest? Why are you taking pictures!”
“What? I’m not taking pictures.”
“People are taking pictures in the store.”
I show him my empty hands.
“Then why are you people standing in the windows?”
“Just looking at the crowd over in the Square.” (Which by this time was pretty large)
“Well, it’s pretty unusual for a bunch of people to all be standing in front of the windows. You’ll have to leave.”
Mr. DSW Store Manager was pretty perturbed and was clearly getting more and more agitated. Because I had turned around to deal with him I had missed
Agent Todd’s first hand signal. However, my window mates did see it – and the manager’s reaction has to be my favorite moment of the night: He throws up his hands in complete disgust and says:
“OH! *Now* it’s jumping jacks!”
Mr. DSW Store Manager was really humorless and was starting to come unhinged at the sight of people doing jumping jacks in his store windows. Next he’s calling for Security and we are physically ejected from the store.
I was bummed that we got thrown out but the unexpected benefit was I got down to the street in time to see the rest of the group still up in the windows of the other stores. It was an awesome sight and there was a huge cheer when the “Look Up More” sign was held up in the windows.
It was a great night, I’m glad I got to experience it as both participant and
Agent Harrod, Window 48
I must resemble an out-of-shape mannequin, peering from a department store window with my 260-pound form clad in a black shirt and pants. It’s somewhere between 9 and 9:30 PM on a Saturday Night in March, and I’m looking down on Union Square in New York City. In its 170-year history, the Square has hosted parades and protests, Tammany Hall and Warhol, but tonight the public’s eyes are on an exhibition that must be a first even for this storied neighborhood.
On the third floor of the building, giant illuminated letters spell out “DSW,” the logo of Discount Shoe Warehouse. To spectators on 14th Street, I’m visible to the immediate left of the capital “D” that is nearly my height. This is station #48 out of 76, almost all of which have been assigned to volunteers. Above, below, and beside me are nearly 70 other participants, occupying one window each throughout five floors of the building- all wearing black, all standing at attention for the signal to begin.
Agent Harrod does jumping jacks next to the “D”
Outside and across the street, a young man in a hooded sweatshirt reaches his left arm out and touches a green metal trashcan. This inconspicuous gesture tells ten of the window-standers to hold up large lettered cards. These ten are a floor above me, and the message- “LOOK UP MORE,” a multi-layered statement of positivity- is only visible to the spectators anyway. The next signal will be the signal for all of us to begin the main show.
I’m so concerned with performing my moves in the proper sequence that only later can I imagine the adrenaline rush of silly power that the man at the can must be feeling at this moment- it must be like owning the remote control to real life for just a few minutes.
After the written message has been displayed long enough, Agent Todd will remove his hand from the can, and all 70 participants will perform jumping jacks. At the next signal, we will improvise dance moves, looking like some kind of living wall at a techno go-go club. At three points during the dance party, we will stop and point towards a different pre-designated “spotlight dancer” who wins the audiences’ full attention for a few seconds- we all know the approximate direction to point from the notations on our handouts. After some more group dancing, we will lie down and disappear from view for a few seconds, reappear, and start jumping up and down, one row at a time, moving up the building until the entire cast is jumping. Then the title, “LOOK UP MORE,” will be repeated to close the show.
Or rather, this is the plan as Agent Todd meant it. Store personnel are skittish on the 3rd floor and their discomfort was spreading even as we got into position. This could be over before it’s started.
A barrel-shaped store manager wearing an earpiece tries to herd us out of his store. In the movie version, he’d be played by a scowling Stuart Pankin. My cohorts stall for time, noting that all they’re doing is looking out a window. It recalls the argument in the Woodstock movie between the hippie and the old bald dude who can’t believe fifteen-year-old kids are sleeping in a field. The manager’s main argument, spoken and repeated, is “this is a privately-held company.” He yells for a cohort to call the police, perhaps an intimidating bluff.
But the police will take some time to get here even if his threat is sincere… and Agent Todd just dropped his hand. We begin the jumping jacks, winning a textbook reaction of sarcastic delight from the manager.
The store may be winning the battle, as participants to my right- there are seven of them- are at least making a show of starting to disperse. I rather desperately try the tactic of truth-telling- it’s just a silly thing, it’ll be over in a couple minutes, it’s not hurting the store at all- with the blazer-wearing young man urging me to leave before the police arrive. I’m no “Jackass” cast member; I’m a 36-year-old writer who usually struggles to avoid confrontation. This is becoming a contest to see who’s willing to be ruder, and it’s on my opponent’s property. For all I know, maybe they can arrest me for looking out someone else’s window. But more than this, we’re clearly being a nuisance. A nuisance to people who seem actively opposed to fun of any kind, but their right to not have fun is as clear as our right to pursue it. Reluctantly, I vacate slot #48 and slowly shuffle back to the escalator. The folks on the street want to enjoy a show, but of course you can’t hijack a shoe store to be your theater if they just won’t let you. The First Amendment doesn’t apply in someone else’s house.
At the post-mortem meeting, in the North end of the Square, I learn the good news: only my floor was affected by the security crackdown, and the mission was otherwise a success. Other floors were delighted by the event, and the spectators applauded at the end. The full report will come later, but I estimate that our floor’s spotlight dancer got his turn, given his advantageous location to my left and away from the interference.
There’s grumbling amongst the participants that what happened at DSW makes it a bad store, and because of this one should not shop there. But that attitude implies that there are good shoe chains whose managerial training programs include a seminar on unannounced performance art installations and how they should be allowed because the alternative would be mean. It’s tempting to think of the manager as Sergeant Gloomy of the Anti-Fun Brigade, and ourselves as a blossom of hope in the middle of the repressive Bush era, but to be fair, we were probably pretty scary. We far outnumbered the Saturday-night staff of a discount shoe store, plus we were organized, uniformly dressed, and uncooperative, with a mysterious agenda that frankly could have been anything. The manager had no way of knowing we weren’t going to, say, expose ourselves or spell out “Shop at Payless” with our bodies. Most likely his motivation was to prevent the chewing-out his bosses would have delivered, had he blithely permitted us to bring not Woodstock but Altamont to his store. Maybe there’s a source of limitless pleasure somewhere else in his life- maybe he looks at his family when he gets home and reflects that the whole crazy day was worth it. But I hope his exuberance and joy lie somewhere. A lot of fun was had tonight- Union Square hipsters are relatively easy to please on a Saturday Night- but maybe Improv Everywhere’s next event should be designed to make that manager glow with delight.
You know, assuming it’s possible.
Agent Tuculescu, Window 50
Once we were all lined up at our respective windows (I was on the DSW floor), it took another 3-4 minutes for the event to start. During that time I could hear the security staff talking to one another and whispering things I couldn’t quite make out. Just before the event started, the manager of the store came over to us and asked what we were doing. Most of us responded by saying, “nothing” or saying perfectly truthful things like, “I’m just looking out the window.”
The manager didn’t like those answers very much because he told us that we all had to leave. When none of us moved, he assembled his crack security team for a brief meeting near the cash registers. At this point Agent Todd had begun giving hand signals and the event was under way. The second we started doing jumping jacks, the manager and the guards freaked. The manager told us he had called the police and that if we didn’t leave we’d be arrested. One of the security guards even grabbed my arm and tried to push me towards the door. I politely asked him to please take his hand off me, for I was not doing anything illegal. He let go of me and told me that I had to leave the store immediately. Most of the people in DSW had left the store at that point, so trying to hold my ground was pointless.
I left the store and managed to catch the end of what had to be one of the greatest improvised public events ever seen in NYC. The crowd that had gathered in Union Square let out a big cheer at the end and gave all the participants a round of applause.
I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of the manager and the guards in DSW that made them react so negatively to such a benign event. They must have thought we were the infamous Jumping-Jax Shoe Heist Gang come to raid their store.
Despite DSW being poor sports, I think the event was a great success. We put smiles on a lot of faces and we definitely got the people in Union Square to “Look Up More.”
Agent Rennard, Window 52
I was window number 52 on the ill-fated DSW floor. Before we even started the dance, a security guard came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I said “looking out onto the square.” Then, a few more minutes passed and a gentlemen (blue button down, black pants, headset over horribly greasy receding hair, and a sourpuss face) I could only assume to be the manager came up to me and said “What are you all doing? Everybody’s lined up at a window.” At that precise moment we all started doing jumping jacks in unison. It was so awesome, but did little to appease my over-gelled friend. He shouted “They’re not responding, call security!” (I thought the “not-responding” comment was hysterical). I calmly walked away from my window with several other agents and pretended to browse the shoe selection. I waited a few minutes and noticed that grease monkey must have gone to the bathroom to check his coiff, so I walked backed over to the window and joined in the dance again. Danny Zuko came right back over, shouted at me that I was about to be arrested, at which point I abandoned post without a word.
The problem was that DSW was practically empty. It wasn’t like we could blend in with the other bargain hunters, because there weren’t any other bargain hunters. If the store had been more crowded, we would have completed the routine. Either way, it was totally rad.
Agent Rennard is approached by security (bottom)
Agent Currie, Window 53
I showed up as a friend, not prepared to be involved, but when more dancers where needed I excitedly volunteered. I was assigned to window number 53 in DSW, which ended up being the center of the all the action. Little did we know at that point what a fuss we would cause.
After receiving our directions, I quickly found my window and stood looking out to the street below. While waiting, a number of DSW customers casually walked over to the windows to see what we were all looking at.
Then the store manager came and stood right between me and the girl to my right. He asked what we were doing. I said we were just watching the people in the park, pointing and saying in an enthusiastic voice, “Look how many there are!” Then he asked, “But you are all sanding in a line, is something going on?” I shrugged and he left to question the people at the other end.
Then a random man from the store came over and stood in the same place between us. He asked what we were looking at. The girl next to me pointed at the people in the park and I said, “I don’t know, I was trying to figure out what she was looking at.” He seemed convinced we didn’t know each other. He looked over at her again when Agent Todd gave the signal to do jumping jacks. He seemed confused and looked her up and down as she was doing the jumping jacks. Then he turned to me, I sure hoping that he could share his respond of this strange girl’s actions only to find out that I was doing the same thing. He stepped back in shock like he had seen ghost and slowly backed away.
A few seconds later the manager came back over and said that this wasn’t allowed and we need to leave. Some left but I stayed to see how much of the dance I could get through. When Agent Todd signaled to lay down on the ground those of us that were left dropped to the floor and that really got to the manager. He said, “That’s it. I’m calling the police. I want you out of my store and you are not responding.”
We casually exited the building to find out that no other floors where disturbed. We stood in the crowd to enjoy the rest of the show, getting to partake in the applause and cheering when the letters came up that said “LOOK UP MORE.”
Overall the mission was a great success even with the lack of DSW windows. For future reference, if you ever want to get kicked out of DSW all you have to do is jumping jacks.
Agent Monachus, Window 55 & 73
I was #55, in DSW (behind the roped-off area). My girlfriend, Melissa, was #56. When we first arrived, the third member of that section was speaking to a clerk at the register, who wasn’t interested in letting him go up to the window. We huddled over a pair of Reebok shoes and I proposed that we simply walk over there once the festivities started. We moved closer to the rope, under the guise of reading the Store Return Policy, and then I walked over to the window and looked out of it. Another clerk, who was perhaps 6’4″ tall and 260 pounds, asked us to leave. We did.
My original intent was to go outside and film it, having lost my window, but Melissa decided that we should go down to one of the unclaimed windows in Forever 21. We rode the escalator down, left the building, and then went up to the store windows. There were already people on the east side of the windows, and we stood next to them. I then proposed that we move to the west side, both for symmetry and for better cover (there was a wall that separated us from the store).
And then we danced.
And it rocked.
Agent Kroll, Window 67
To be totally honest, I was worried about this mission succeeding. I was worried the police and store security might find 70 plus people all dressed in black, simultaneously standing in their store windows a little shady.
I was lucky enough to be on the 1st level in Forever 21. Forever 21 is a clothing store designed for younger girls who want to look like older sluts and for older women who want to look like younger sluts. I stepped up to my designated spot in front of two mannequins – and to remain inconspicuous, I would occasionally feel the fabric of the rhinestone sweatshirts behind me. I didn’t really think about the fact that a guy inspecting the fabric of a girl’s sweatshirt was probably more than a little suspicious. But I was wrong, the employees at Forever 21 could have cared less about what we were doing; they were closing in 15 minutes and wanted to go home.
Dancing solo during this mission was truly inspiring. I let the pointed fingers of my fellow agents fuel my flight over Union Square. I danced as if there were no past, no future – and for that brief moment – I felt as if I were forever 21.
Agent Mason, Window 68
The most surprising thing about Forever 21 was that we had absolutely no trouble at all. There were about eight of us, mainly guys, wearing all black, and standing very conspicuously amongst all these racks of pastel colored lacy pajamas for teenage girls. We clearly weren’t shopping there. And a few of us were standing amongst these mannequins in the window display, which I’m sure isn’t really allowed.
I felt like we were attracting attention just standing there, when we were waiting for things to start. When we started doing jumping jacks, I was sure someone would say something. When we the eight of us lay on the ground at the same time, I thought, “Well, now some manager will have heard about this and will mess with us.” But nope, nothing. We jumped, we danced, and Nick had his solo. I thought part of the reason for this was that the store closed at 9:30, so they had most of their help downstairs working registers before closing time. But I know there was at least one girl folding clothes behind me to the left, and she never really batted an eye.
I suppose they’ve just seen it all at Forever 21. When you work peddling lingerie to 16-year-olds, I guess a few people jumping up and down in synch is no cause for alarm.
Agent Arauz, photographer
Two highlights from my experience inside:
One of the sales clerks in the women’s dept of Filene’s named Nicole thought it was “so cool” and wished she was able to see it from the outside. I got a picture of her posing with some of the agents.
A sales clerk at the jewelry counter in Filene’s did not appreciate the performance at all. I asked her why she was upset, and she said stubbornly that “they’re just not allowed to do…what they’re doing.” when I asked her what it was that they were doing that they shouldn’t be doing, she replied, “they’re distracting the customers.”
Clerk in reference (circled)
(Made me wonder about this new age of consumer culture we’re living in. Is distracting consumers from spending their money now actually against the law?)
Agent Dippold, observer
It was really awesome watching it from the park and seeing people stop walking to stare at it. Then one guy yelled out “Show some titties!”
The whole thing was really fantastic.
Agent Blumberg, DV Camera
I was standing in the middle of the park, like at 15th street, so not with the crowd on 14th street. And it was very cool to see people just walking through and then catch sight of the windows and then pause and watch. There was a lot of “Oh my gods” and “what’s going on?” It was very gratifying. One guy was like, “that is the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.” People were definitely blown away. It looked amazing. There was some impromptu copycatting that went on after the agents had left. I think it was in the top corner windows on the west side; some kids went up and did their own little dance.
Agent Jones, photographer
Agents met in a secret location near the target. As a newcomer, I was impressed by the organization of the thing. Herding 70 odd people at night in the dark is not the easiest thing in the world, but things moved along quite smoothly.
Due to a recent hand injury, I had a head full of Vicodin and was therefore in no condition to participate in any strenuous physical activities. Agent Todd assigned me to take photos inside the stores, which I was only too happy to do, as I might be able to offer some meager support to the more visible Agents.
I entered the stores and proceeded to the third floor, home of DSW. A small number of Agents had assembled in the windows, but no one had taken notice as of yet. I tried on a pair of shoes, snapped a few photos, and asked a suspicious employee how late the store would be open, turning him away from the windows as I did so. He said they were open until 11.
The fourth floor of Filene’s Basement was starting to fill up with Agents as I arrived.
Ascending the escalator, it looked as though the fifth floor was ready to go. I snapped a few more pictures and continued to the sixth floor, which was almost entirely devoid of anyone BUT Agents.
An employee (Wendy? I didn’t quite catch her name) had discovered the wall of Agents and was peering out the window, asking what everyone was looking at. Agents responded in quiet, polite, clipped answers.
Thinking it had to be about time for the jumping to begin, I asked the employee whether Filene’s Basement sold batteries, and slowly backed away from her as she answered, drawing her away from the window.
Filene’s Basement does not sell batteries.
I returned to the fifth floor, and found myself in the young miss clothing department as the jumping jacks commenced. I noticed an employee and a customer looking confused and attempted to get a few pictures.
I then decided that I looked rather too obviously out of place in that particular department. I headed for the escalators as the dance solos began. It made me wish I was on the street with the hundreds of people gathered in Union Square watching.
Wendy, or whatever her name was, had started asking all her supervisors if she could go outside, because she was sure that whatever was going on looked incredibly cool from the street. She arrived on the fifth floor just as I was heading for the fourth.
At the base of the escalators on the fourth floor there was a huge gathering of employees and one very surly looking man in a suit who was obviously not amused.
Agents in the area assured all present that they would be finished very shortly and that it was not a protest. I made my camera a bit more visible, posing as a bystander, wanting to be sure to document any trouble. However, the enthusiastic employee was now coming down the escalator, still begging anyone who would listen to allow her to take a short break to see the spectacle before it ended. Her enthusiasm seemed to lighten the mood, and the suited sourpuss turned and walked away. My camera gave me some trouble and I was unable to get a better picture of him.
Okay, that’s a lie. I was terrified of him, and didn’t want him to bite me.
I returned to DSW to discover Agents slowly dispersing. I thought I might have missed the end of the Mission, so I took a few pictures of them and returned to the street.
Only later did I find out that security had removed Agents from the shoe store. To those Agents whom the security guards actually physically touched, I apologize for not getting there sooner with my camera. Perhaps you would have gotten better treatment if there had been a flash going off.
I hit the street just as Agent Todd gave the sign concluding the Mission. I lost count of how many people were standing in Union Square watching, but two hundred does not sound implausible. The enormous ovation which followed the finale was truly uplifting, and I think may have been a bit of a silver lining for those Agents kicked out of DSW.
Agents filtered back to the rendezvous in high spirits.
Addendum: Monday, March 21, 2005
Taking advantage of the fact that I was not a visible participant in this Mission, I returned to the stores to see if there was any aftermath.
I was unable to find a single employee of Filene’s Basement who had even heard about the Mission, though the security guard promised me he would check with his friend who was coming in later.
I was, however, successful in finding a high-ranking DSW official who was working at the time of the Mission. Due to the nature of her statements, editorial liberties have been taken with the following transcript so as to protect her anonymity and, perhaps, her job.
“Do you know anything about the thing last Saturday where a bunch of people were dancing in the windows?”
“Yes. I was working that night. They were told that if they didn’t leave we’d have to call the cops.”
“Really? Oh. I thought it looked kinda cool.”
“Honestly? If I didn’t work here and I was standing outside, I probably would have thought it looked cool too, but when it’s disturbing customers, that’s money we’re not making, so they had to go.”
“What, customers were…”
“Customers were leaving in droves. They were scared or something.”
“Wow. So you don’t have any idea who they were?”
“No. The manager kept telling the guy they had to leave, and he kept saying `It’s okay, it’s not a protest, it’ll be over soon.’ But when the manager said she would call the cops, they left pretty quick.”
During the entire conversation, it was apparent that the employee was still trying to figure out what she had seen that night. Parts of her wanted to be angry, other parts wanted to be amazed. When I first asked her about what she had seen, she looks visibly shaken and confused, which in a weird way I see as an even greater measure of success. Certainly, the applauding crowd in Union Square had a fun time, but perhaps the experience has become merely an anecdote in the story of their Saturday. For this woman, the Mission had a lasting effect on her worldview. She now lives in a world where random strangers will dance in the windows at work for no apparent reason. She’ll never be the same again.
And in the interest of full disclosure, I did end up finding a new pair of shoes at Filene’s Basement. 40% off.
Many of the excellent photos from this mission were taken by Agent Nicholson. If you’d like to see more (and larger versions of the ones included here), visit his personal photo page for the event: Agent Nicholson
This mission was videoblogged by Agent Quirk. You can view a short windows media video clip of the mission on his site, Bullem Head
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