Before You Get Started
Never Ask Permission
We got a call from the New York City Parks Department a week before a pillow fight in Union Square, asking what the hell was going on. They told us we’d need a permit. We said, “that’s nice!”
In all our time doing this and communicating with many similar groups around the world, we have never heard of police arresting or ticketing anybody in relation to a public pillow fight.
Where to Hold Your Pillow Fight
This also goes for universities. Even if your college or university is the only thing around, please try to engage the public as well. Perhaps one of the worst things about insular college students is the fact that their lives never involve leaving campus. Broaden your horizons and use the city, not the campus.
In small or medium-sized European cities, the location for a pillow fight is usually fairly obvious: the largest, most central public square is the natural place. In North America, we are not so blessed. It is essential that you choose a location in the downtown core of the nearest large city, preferably a public square located near one or more subway/transit stops. Attempts at pillow fights in the “sorta-downtown” of small towns or suburbs have usually failed. Besides, most people with any imagination will eventually move to a city.
By the way, public squares with steps make excellent pillow fight locations.
When to Hold Your Pillow Fight
The Saturday afternoon pillow fight, however, will necessarily lose those hungover souls whose Friday nights ran quite late, or perhaps never ended at all. The largest Friday night pillow fights, those that have taken place in San Francisco, usually begin around 6:00 PM. The largest Saturday afternoon pillow fight, a Newmindspace event in New York, started at 2:00 PM.
Don’t bother with Sunday. The only thing worse than a hangover is getting hit in the head repeatedly when you have one!
Getting the Word Out
The four most useful tools for promoting a pillow fight are, in order of declining usefulness, a mailing list, a website, social networking sites and blogs. A true mailing list, such as Dada Mail (software) or YMLP (service), is in our experience the best way to reach people; Google or Yahoo! Groups are less than ideal because people can turn the e-mail function off. A true e-mail list grows organically (via a signup link on your website) and people do not often “get sick of e-mail” like they do of Myspace. Before we organize an event in a new city, we create a mailing list and post the link to the list in a number of different places specific to that city.
Paper flyers are costly, wasteful, and they might fall into the wrong hands, but that personal connection you get from handing a pillow fight flyer to a person may be the thing that persuades them to attend.
Example Rules for a Pillow Fight
“+ Soft pillows only!
For the signal, we have used standard athletic whistles, air horns and marine rescue whistles. It is also possible that you have chosen a public square that is blessed with a loud, hourly bell or chime, which makes a good substitute.
Before and During the Pillow Fight
The signal sounds!
Once people start swinging, most of your job is done 🙂 This is the part where you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor, start whacking people with your own pillow, and at times, laugh uncontrollably. Ideally, the community will police itself if people become aggressive, and there will not be much to worry about. Again, we have never heard of police arresting or ticketing anybody in relation to a public pillow fight.
Somewhere around the 20-minute point, people may gain their “second wind” and begin forming ad-hoc alliances, charging the middle in forms reminiscent of historical fiction films like Braveheart or 300.
To Disperse or Stay
Some groups have made the mistake of making their pillow fight last 15 minutes, or even worse, 5. It is best to estimate that the pillow fight will last an hour if you are pressed to select an end time.
Just wait until the pillow fight’s natural end, when even the most stalwart soldiers grow weary.
You may give your group a name. It is best to think of something that will allow you to do other events. “Pillow Fight Brazil” is too limiting, and “Cleveland Flashmobs” uses the obsolete word “flashmob.” Something like, “Prague’s Urban Playground” or “Urban Playground Austin” works just fine 🙂
This guide is a building block of our goal to spread free event culture to every corner of the world. Imagine that in any large city, anywhere on the face of the Earth, there may some day be free, fun, massive public events like pillow fights, creative interventions, games and interactive art installations on every day of the year. Imagine that no matter where you went, you could find these events and the fun-loving clan that clings to them. Imagine that in the future, we will be united by our drive to live free, fun public lives! That is the era we dream of.
Appendix E – Or, How to Bring Electricity Anywhere
This is not an advertisement, but we have found no similar product: The company Motomaster sells a device called the Eliminator Powerbox, which is essentially a rechargeable battery with a built-in inverter and several household outlets on the front. It is generally billed as a car accessory, so you will likely find them at larger big-box auto retail stores like Canadian Tire, or on eBay. You should get the 600W or the 1200W variety if you can afford it.
We have not been able to find these devices in the United States, so one time in San Francisco we were forced to create our own. To do this, we visited a local boating supply store and picked up a deep cycle gel marine battery. Next, we visited Radio Shack and asked them for both a 12V DC power inverter and a 120V car adapter. Once you connect these three devices together, you should have a battery with a dongle hanging off the end that has a household outlet on it. Presto!
Indeed, if one is to own anything, a bubble toy is a wonderful choice.