DV Cam: Agent Kula
Digital Photography: Agents Fairey, Rainswept, McMurrary, Rose
Graphics: Agent DeJong
Featuring: Jesster, Keech, Kula, DeJong, Todd, Dippold, Shelktone, Barrison, Calhoun, Leonard, Montague, Marhekifson, Arnheiter, Rainswept, Rose, Berman, Casis, Becket, Taylor, Akia, Kemper, Irmas, Pierson, Dierkes, McMurrary, Fairey
The Washington Square Park fountain has always seemed like the ideal venue for Improv Everywhere. Since the summer of 2001, when IE began in NYC, the fountain has been mostly been empty. It typically only runs in the summer, and then only when it is working and the city isn’t experiencing a drought. The empty fountain is the perfect stage, right at the center of New York’s coolest park.
We’ve wanted to use the empty fountain for many missions in the past. The Amazing Hypnotist and The Amazing Stuntmen were both designed for the fountain and both relocated due to another group already having the venue. You have to wake up pretty early in the morning to lay claim to the empty fountain, and Washington Square’s tireless group of breakdancers / tumblers always seem to get there before us.
We knew the only way to actually get to use this stage was to use it when it was full of water. Last summer the fountain was working, and we planned to hold our Circle Line Tours mission there. Of course the day of the event the fountain was empty, presumably broken, and we had to change venues at the last minute to the smaller, and in this case ultimately funnier, Union Square fountain.
On Saturday, July 24, 2004 Improv Everywhere finally got what we have wanted for so long.
Agents Rose and Keech teach agents the choreography
The mission was to create a synchronized swimming event in the Washington Square Park fountain. Our squad met in Union Square in the late afternoon. Agents Keech and Rose had developed and choreographed an easy-to-learn routine set to the Styx’s classic anthem, “Come Sail Away.” Sixteen swimmers lined up in the park as Keech and Rose called out the moves. Using a tree to represent the fountain we learned the routine and had time for one full rehearsal. Passersby gawked at us as we danced to Styx wearing swimcaps and street clothes.
The group walked down to Washington Square Park and prepared to take over the fountain. The usual group of breakdancers had a massive crowd gathered around their show just about 30 feet south of the fountain. We gave them a few minutes to see if their show was about to end, but as the grand finale portion of their show lasts for 15 minutes by itself, we really couldn’t wait. Our 16 swimmers gathered to the north side of the fountain and began undressing. When everyone was ready, we formed a single file line.
The swimmers prepare
Agent Keech played the team’s coach. As we lined up and prepared, Keech used a megaphone to inform everyone what was about to take place. “Ladies and Gentlemen! The New York City Synchronized Swimming Team is about to perform in their Olympic trial. The team must beat a score of 27, set by another team yesterday, to qualify for the Athens Olympics! Please join us in cheering them on!”
The swimmers enter the pool
The New York City Synchronized Swimming Team
After the 16 swimmers entered the fountain and took their positions, Keech announced the beginning of the event and pressed play on the boombox. The Olympic Judges watched and judged from the side of the fountain.
Agent Keech signals the begining
Agents Barrison, Dippold, and Calhoun as the Olympic Judges
The “Come Sail Away” routine begins
The crowd begins to grow
The judges study the routine
Agent Kula films while Agent Keech amplifies the Styx
The difficult seated portion of the routine
“Come Sail Away With Me!”
The crowd-pleasing “Backstroke” portion of the routine
Swimmers surround the fountain
The crowd enjoys the less structured “free-form” section
The routine was a huge crowd pleaser. Our swimmers were met with cheers throughout the routine, particularly at the exciting moments of the song. The routine began with a series of movements in a straight line. Midway through the swimmers circled the fountain and moved in and out as a group “worshiping it” as Agent Keech had specified in his choreography. A free-form portion followed as the swimmers moved to their own liking until joining back together for the straight-line portion again for one last bombastic chorus met with audience roars.
The swimmers look to the judges
When the routine had ended, our swimmers bowed and then joined hands as they waited for the judges’ scores. The New York team would need a score of 28 or higher to go to Athens.
Agent Calhoun, the first judge, gives the group a solid 9!
The team waits for the other two judges
Agent Dippold awarded the team with another 9 for a total of 18. Team would now need a 10 from the final judge, Agent Barrison. The crowd began a spirited chant of “10! 10! 10!” They got what they wanted, Agent Barrison turned up the 10 and everyone went wild!
We’re going to Athens!
Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blares from the boombox
There was no Gatorade to be found, but the team knew they had to celebrate with Coach Keech somehow. Several swimmers grabbed Coach and threw him into the fountain in his street clothes!
Agent Keech emerges from his victory swim
The team toweled down and mingled with their new fans. Surely very few, if any, crowd members actually thought we were going to the Olympics or even that we were a real synchronized swimming team (we claimed that all the public pools were booked, if asked why we were performing in a 10-inch deep fountain). The goal of the mission was never to fool anyone. We just wanted to give a good show by staying in character and committing to our idea. A fun day for us, and a great story for those who saw it to tell.
Athens! I never really thought of myself as Olympic material. That is, until now. Once Agent Barrison revealed the predetermined score of “10” thus taking us over the arbitrarily decided upon combined-score-to-beat “27”, I finally felt what it was like to be a champion. The 12 minutes of training had paid off – I was going to Athens.
Not until afterward when I was told several times that we actually were NOT going to Athens did I decide to forsake my opportunity for Olympic glory. Our team leader and choreographer, Agents Todd and Keech respectively, made these Olympic trials truly memorable. From costumes, to music selection, to team unity, these guys did it all.
Once we entered the fountain, we quickly attracted the attention of tourists, NYU students, pot dealers, and water fountain groupies all over Washington Square Park. We even inadvertently upstaged a group of break-dancers whose audience chose to come sail away with synchronized swimming. Judging by the smiles, the laughter, and the rousing applause we received upon finishing our routine, I’d give everyone involved a non-predetermined “10”. Thanks, IE!
I didn’t overhear much over the course of the event, but I do know that the crowd was extremely behind us while the judges were handing out the scores – we got them to shout “10! 10! 10!” over and over before the last judge gave his vote, and they went just as wild as we did when we found out we were going to Athens. And they were all for us taking Agent Keech into the water afterwards to celebrate. They were a really great audience.
My brother was in from out of town for this mission, so I just did some light reconnaissance. We went to Washington Square beforehand and scoped things out. There were some buskers right by the fountain with a huge crowd, probably over a hundred and fifty people. I called in the results to Agent Todd and waited at the rendezvous site. We sat on the edge of the fountain, and immediately overheard someone talking about what would happen if someone went to swim in the fountain. I remember thinking: Well you’re about to find out!
When the line of swimmers entered, the buskers seemed to step things up a bit but then it was clear that the crowd was gravitating towards the swimmers and they soon gave up. So then that crowd of a hundred and fifty were all circled around the fountain. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves except for this one guy next to me who after Agent Keech said, “Let’s give them a hand” or something, he said, “Yeah, congratulations assholes.” But he was laughing. Also, there was some debate as to whether or not the crowd started the “ten” chant when Agent Barrison was about give his decision. I think it was a success because it was hard to tell, even if the swimmers did start it, the crowd lustily joined in.
A few of the funny moments I witnessed/overheard were:
- An older gent, who went up to several of the swimmers congratulating them and telling them how us kids make him proud to be an American, and to bring home the gold!
- A pair of women sitting by Coach explaining to others that we were going to Athens if we qualified.
- At the end when we where doing group pictures a guy with a very professional looking camera came up and started taking photos in a very serious manner.
- A young guy sitting right in front on the inner wall of the fountain who continued to draw or write during the whole mission, occasionally looking up to see if we were still going and giving only a slight smile.
I was blinded by the glory of the moment; the only reminders that I was not among the angels in the heavens were the sounds of the screaming crowds and the drum-like beating of my own heart. My only regret is that I was so tuned in to the rhythm of my fellow agents and the beauty that is STYX, that I don’t even remember a second of it! I only have the algae that rubbed off of the fountain floor and onto the seat of my bathing suit to prove that it was not a dream. WHAT A DAY!!!!!
One thing I wasn’t prepared for: the slippery bottom of the fountain floor. It felt like there was moss all over it. One person said to me when I got out: “Did you step on any needles?” I’m so naive thoughts like that had never occurred to me. Also, I swear I itched like crazy till I got home and took a shower.
My favorite moment came after the swimming, when I happened to be caught between Agent Todd and a random observer who wanted to see what was up:
MAN: You filming a skit for Saturday Night Live?
AGENT TODD: No, no. We had to have an official trial to qualify for the Olympics in Athens.
MAN: Oh, I thought it was for Saturday Night Live… Only in Washington Square Park. You want to see characters, come to Washington Square Park. You want to see beauty, go to Central Park.
AGENT TODD: Yeah.
MAN: Beautiful women in Central Park.
AGENT TODD: [nods head]
MAN: I was walking home one time with this beautiful woman. Tall, beautiful.
AGENT TODD: Yeah.
MAN: You know what used to be at the Empire State Building site before they built it?
Long awkward silence.
MAN: Read the book.
AGENT TODD: Yeah.
One of the best parts of the day was practicing in Union Square. Running around in the grass with swim gear on must have looked even more absurd than the actual performance. As for the real thing, the water looked brown. It felt like a magical Tahitian waterfall, and that’s all that matters. The audience seemed a bit confused, but our backstroke always brought them to their senses. I’m not sure why, but the backstroke repeatedly conjured uproars from the crowd.
When Agent Keech started to announce over the loud speaker that we were “NY’s synchro team competing to attend the Olympics in Greece” a surly man sitting to the left of us started to “boo” loudly. He started shouting, “Boo! This is fake! Boo!” So I did what I tend to do in situations like that: I stared him down, to make him feel like the ass he was, and then took a picture of him. Eventually he quieted down and I forgot about him, until the routine began and he came up to the group watching, near me, and started shouting “boo” again. I know better than to yell at people like that so I just shut my mouth, stared him down, and took pictures. Later I overheard that same man come over to Agent Keech and declare something like, “You know, at first I really thought this was crap but then I saw how much work you put into it. You guys are OK.” (man pictured below)
After we’d finished the routine a man walked over and asked if we were “part of Saturday Night Live.” I thought that was funny, but even funnier was when Agent Todd told him we had just qualified for the Olympics in Athens and the man believed him and wished us luck.
The small gaggle of spectators at our choreography session/rehearsal in Union Square were so impressed/bemused by our work that the big crowd at the actual performance in Washington Square was just icing on the mixed-metaphorical cake.
The footage I shot will be available on a pay-per-view triplecast.
As I was watching I kept thinking people are going to get bored with this and move on…. but the crowd just got bigger and bigger…. you guys were sexy! The cheering was great… When it started, I thought who is that? Oh, it’s everyone. People really got it… 10 10 10 10!!!!
- As the team met in union square and the swimmers tried on their caps, by a man passing by in response to his girlfriend, “Yeah… I don’t think that’s the Olympic swim team baby.”
- Man sitting behind me during performance, to his friend, ” Of course it’s fake, they’re probably gonna ask for money.”
- The same guy 5 minutes later, “10! 10! 10! 10!”
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