Enjoy the video first and then go behind the scenes with their mission report and photos.
For their latest mission, we turned a very hot New York City subway platform into an unauthorized luxury spa. NYC’s un-air-conditioned platforms can feel like a sauna in the summer, so we figured we might as well embrace the heat. Their spa’s complimentary services included infused water, towels, sauna benches (already provided by the MTA), hot stone massage, and a human-powered steam room misting station. Random New Yorkers were encouraged to join their performers and use the services and quite a few took us up on it.
New York City summers can be miserably hot, and the hottest spot in town, in their experience, is the NRQ platform at 34th Street. With the exception of Grand Central, none of the subway platforms are air-conditioned. Subway cars are air-conditioned, but in a cruel twist of fate, it’s partly the heat generated by their A/Cs that make the platforms so miserable.
Many years ago they had the idea of turning an un-air-conditioned subway car into a sauna with performers in towels. Every so often in the summer you’ll accidentally step into a car with broken air-conditioning, briefly considering yourself lucky to find an empty car before realizing the reason why it is empty. The idea remained on the back burner until Louis Walch emailed them and suggested a similar idea that would take place on the platform. The platform! Of course! It’s reliably hot and there is no escape.
Subway Spa cast, pre-sweatThey met at the Deverge office and the walked over to the nearby 28th Street station. They had to ride the train one stop north to get to the 34th Street station, which was a pretty funny site itself.
Agent Clark Frankel puts up their magnetOnce they arrived at 34th, they immediately began setting up. They made some big magnets that read “Spa” and put them up around their performance area. They designed these so they wouldn’t cover the “34″ to avoid causing any confusion. The signs blended in so well most people didn’t even notice them. Those that did got a nice laugh.
While they’ve staged many projects in subway cars over the years, they have very rarely staged anything on the platforms. The most recent was in 2008 when they turned the 23rd Street C/E platform into an art gallery. Safety was obviously a concern. To keep this as safe as possible they kept their cast small (only about a dozen folks in towels) and kept their tables and props in the dead center of the platform, evenly spaced out to allow people to pass on all sides.
Setting up the welcome station
Agents Bethany Hall and Jewel Frankfeldt setting up the water coolersAgent Ilya Smelansky designed an awesome poster displaying their services in the style of MTA safety posters.
After the stations were set up, the actors began arriving in towels.
The saunaThe brown wooden benches in the subway system already look similar to the type of benches found in a sauna, making their decorating job easy.
They added some rocks along with a bucket of water and a ladle.
They got tons of great reactions from the other New Yorkers on the platform.
Lots of people sat down next to their performers.
Every couple of minutes a new train arrived and a new crowd of people stumbled upon their spa.
Agent Dmitry brought his own Russian sauna branch for use in the “steam room.” The steam room was a teak platform surrounded by four people with spray bottles of water. They provided mist for anyone who wanted to cool down. Quite a few regular subway riders took advantage of the offering.
This guy was the first non-participant to use the steam room, and he even took his shirt off to get the full effect.
Despite having no training whatsoever, Agent Todd Simmons was on hand to provide hot stone massage. Participants reported it actually felt quite nice.
A few non participants requested massages as well.
Agent Keith Haskel activates the musicAnother reason why they chose this particular platform is it contains the awesome art installation REACH: New York by Christopher Janney. Installed in 1995, the installation allows passengers to create music by waving their hands in front of sensors. It’s always been my favorite piece of art in the subway system. It enables complete strangers to interact together and share a smile, a goal shared by Improv Everywhere. The music it produces contains lots of wind chimes and bird noises– very similar to the type of relaxing music you might hear at a spa. Perfect!
People taking advantage of the lemon and mint infused waterMidway through their performance, two police officers strolled by. They were laughing when they approached them. They got it and were very nice about it but did say they’d have to come back if they received any complaints.They let them know they’d be gone soon.
The guy wearing socks was NOT of their performers. They had a few robes at the welcome station in case anyone wanted to join in, but they figured no one actually would. Not only did this guy strip down and put on a robe, he sat there for a half hour! It looked like he was with family when he first arrived, but I guess he ditched them to enjoy our sauna.
This guy was very excited about the spa and tried out every station. He particularly enjoyed the steam room.
Steam room staff: Jewel Frankfeldt, Katherine Maughan, Clark Frankel, Evan GregoryThey stayed on the platform for an hour or so before packing up. They were all pretty sweaty by the end of it. They cleaned everything up, removed the magnets, and disappeared on a downtown train.Mission Accomplished