As I write this, there are 25 half-naked and sweaty people in Michael Parker’s shared studio space climbing in and out of a large, egg-shaped steam chamber. The only bottom-entry steam egg of its kind (patent pending), or at least the only one we’ve seen in these parts, was built by Parker. It’s covered in small mirrors, which causes people to comment that it looks like an oversized disco ball. Eight people can fit inside tightly; it’s better when there’s just a handful of folks. It’s wet and sticky in there. Perspiration combined with steam results in drips and rivulets. You get to know people in that egg. Conversations are hushed or boisterous, and sometimes people hoot or sing just to see what the sound does as it echoes off the curved walls inside.
The steam is made in four electric tea kettles, linked together with copper pipes that bring it into the egg. It’s low tech, but efficient. It heats up quickly and stays incredibly steamy. If it gets too hot, some of the kettles can be turned off. The only downside to this system is that it requires vigilance. Michael’s running around much of the night with a funnel and pot of scented water, making sure nothing dries out.
Each week, a different DJ provides sounds to accompany the steam and an “HerbJ” brings smells to scent the steam. Most of the smells come from local plants. Tonight’s HerbJ, Amanda Ackerman, permeated the air with the scent of California sagebrush. A sign on the door regaled visitors with the benefits of this plant, among which is “lets you release the dysfunctional parts of yourself.”
For aural pleasures, Adam Overton brought sounds from experimental musicians who are also involved in alternative belief systems. They range from classic John Cage to contemporary Claire Cronin, whose recorded voice haunted the egg while Claire, live and in the flesh, sat inside. Claire practices psychometry, reading energy unleashed by objects.
A few weeks ago, Sarah Daleidon brought thyme on Leap Day, scenting the air of the room and the interior of the egg with a pungent freshness, while she did rune readings, cleansed energies, and invited visitors to climb into a suspended hyperbaric chamber where they might think about their intentions for the coming year.
Another night brought Yersinia pestis, a black metal band named after the bacteria that caused the bubonic plague. The pestis boys played a short fifteen minute set of earth-shattering evil, and visitors were invited to sample three varieties of Yersinia pesto with home-baked bread. Three types of chilis provided different levels of heat, “The Plague of Justinian” being the mildest, while “The Third Pandemic” may actually kill you.
Last year’s steam season went for 24 weeks, which got to be a bit much for the shared household. Each Tuesday night the place was crowded with sweaty bodies, both friends and strangers, regulars, occasionals, and one-timers. Steaming isn’t for everyone. Some go in once and run the other way. Others become addicted.
This year steams were limited to a 12-week run. This week is number 11. There will only be one more chance to get sweaty in the egg this season.