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GuerilLA: Causing Scenes

The central theme of “Blue Collar, Black Tie” has always been about experiences; getting to do fun things without spending a lot of money. Sometimes that means going to a concert, theatre or art gallery, and other times it means doing something silly in public just because you can. Today we’re going to talk about the latter.


Somewhere around 2008 or so, I saw a video on YouTube from a group called Improv Everywhere, called “Food Court Musical.” LikeĀ  most people, I thought it was great, and I was instantly in love with the concept of creating surreal events for unsuspecting people to marvel at. I immediately hit the Google machine to try to find out more about these lunatics, and discovered there was a similar group in Los Angeles that had recently formed, known as “GuerilLA” (pronounced “guerilla-LA”; the merging of the word and initials was a graphic design conceit), also known as GLA Improv. By the time I’d found them, they had done a few “missions” (the GuerilLA folks style themselves, as Improv Everywhere does, as secret agents) such as the “Freeze” at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica and the Crosswalk Countdown. I found their website and signed up.

My first mission was a small one; about eight of us went into a Starbucks, ordered food and drink, scattered ourselves around the room, and began to hum. We pretended not to know the others, we all just buried our noses in a book, laptop or newspaper and quietly hummed a tune. Every once in a while, somebody would start to hum the theme from Indiana Jones, and we’d all join in, then go back to our own tunes. After about 20 minutes, we gradually wandered out just as we had come in. Just a weird little annoying interlude, but it was fun.

Fishing for pedestrians at the Brewery Artwalk, 2010. Photo by Kate MacQuarrie

Fishing for pedestrians at the Brewery Artwalk, 2010.
Photo by Kate MacQuarrie

On another occasion, we went to the Strand (a concrete walking/jogging/biking/skating path that runs along the beach from Santa Monica to Torrance) in Hermosa Beach and set up a finish line. Some agents had made a 15-foot-long banner reading “FINISH LINE” which we erected on two tall poles. About 30 or 40 people spread out along the sides of the strand leading up to the banner, and when a rider or runner approached, we’d yell and cheer for them. Occasionally we’d award one a medal and take photos. It was a blast.

There was a housewarming party at Ikea, but the manager broke it up about 20 minutes in.

At the 2010 Brewery Artwalk, we commandeered the catwalk between two buildings; using bamboo poles, string, bent paper-clip hooks and a tub of gummy worms, we went fishing for pedestrians below. This was very successful; after a while, other Artwalk participants wanted to try it, so we handed them poles, and within an hour or so, all of us had been replaced by volunteers, and four hours later it was still going.

Running through the alleys of Pasadena on a Sunday afternoon... photo by Andrew Bell.

Running through the alleys of Pasadena on a Sunday afternoon…
photo by Andrew Bell.

Eventually, Agent A, the founder and leader (though he always protested that we had no leader and it was a completely egalitarian group) took a job in Silicon Valley. For a long time the group puttered along; some members saw each other at Burning Man or Comic-Con or just hanging out, but nobody wanted to be responsible for herding these cats the way Agent A had, and for a few years, GuerilLA barely functioned. They participated in the few large-scale annual events that had sprung up both locally (the Gettypede and Santacon) and nationally (the No-Pants Subway Ride, Black Tie Beach Party, MP3 Experiment, etc.), but nobody was actively pushing for new original missions. A few ideas were floated, but nothing took hold. Until recently.

As it happened, I came up with an idea. I’d seen something on Facebook referencing the famous “running of the bulls” in Pamplona, Spain, and at around the same time a friend made a comment about her clown phobia, and I just had to put the two together.

...and here come the clowns! I'm the one in the yellow pants and purple shirt. photo by Andrew Bell

…and here come the clowns! I’m the one in the yellow pants and purple shirt.
photo by Andrew Bell

On Sunday, October 26, the pedestrian walkways of Old Pasadena became the venue for the first-ever “Running of the Clowns.” About two dozen runners, all in white with red scarves, were chased frantically through town by about a dozen clowns. After running through the alleys, including Mercantile Place and two passes through the One Colorado courtyard, we adjourned to Jake’s for drinks, food and hanging out. It was a thing of beauty, and it was decided then and there that “La Carrera de Los Payasos” would become an annual event, taking place on the fourth Sunday in October every year. As a bonus, in the aftermath of this successful mission, there has been a renewed interest in staging more events. There are several in the planning stages now.

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Jim

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