How fliers posted around Boston lure pedestrians into a guerrilla theater narrative of infidelity, huge frogs, and emotional vulnerability
The initial fliers went up in April.
On utility poles and light posts. Inside lockers and on bulletin boards. On walls, bus stops, generators, elevators, tables, mailboxes, and phone booths throughout Back Bay, Brookline, Allston, and Cambridge.
Each had an enigmatic message, written in the same cryptic font, and nearly all started with the same word.
STACEY IT WAS AN ACCIDENT OR IT WASN’T. BUT I MISS YOU ALL THE SAME.
STACEY I MISS THE WAY YOU USED TO DO MY LAUNDRY.
STACEY SOMETIMES I GET SO LONELY THAT I WORRY I’LL CRY AND YOU KNOW I’VE NEVER DONE THAT BEFORE.
Maybe it is a real person reaching out.
But if it’s real, is it harassment?
And if it’s fake, then what’s the point?
Is the website part of it? Is the phone number real? Should you call?
Do you want to get involved?
I’ll save you the time—we got involved.
What we found written between the lines on these fliers is a story—of the platforms we use to connect with others, and of the prospect, terrifying for some, of going through life alone.
Employing silliness and anonymity, the campaign explores loneliness and vulnerability, in one case with a 10-foot tall frog that wonders whether it’s okay to hate god. In other cases, it’s led to a recanted job offer and spawned a new religion.
“The point of this project was to talk to you,” according to a blueprint that lays out the story in four installments (the plot’s now entering its third part, and may conclude this month).
More specifically, “You, the person reading this.”
Every Thursday starting at around 6am, with varying degrees of consistency, Sabine Ollivier Yamin paints the town black and white.
One morning in early November, Ollivier Yamin puts on a red, yellow, and blue puffer and walks a few blocks past Boston University buildings to an empty basement with the printer. There, she runs off 20 or so fliers.
Under the cloak of campuswide silence, she rests the ream of papers on the sidewalk, rips off about a foot of tape and sticks a flier on city property. She then moves 10 yards down the block and does it again.
By 8am, Comm Ave and St. Mary’s Street are covered with fliers.
It’s a routine Ollivier Yamin, a 21-year-old BU senior, devoutly stuck to this past April through November. While hanging today’s signs, she thinks back to the beginning.
It was close to midnight on April 24, and Ollivier Yamin was doing homework on the 14th floor of an empty campus building with her friend; she’s majoring in neuroscience history with a minor in film. Tired, she paused and looked at some art fliers her roomate, Alejandra Jimenez, had designed.
Jimenez, also 21, said the fliers were a private gesture she’d intended for her girlfriend, inspired by the French film Amélie, but Ollivier Yamin liked the idea of putting up posters in public, and of telling a story through a one-sided mode of communication, she recalls. That night, she impulsively printed out 29 fliers, stepped out into the icy midnight air, and posted them across her campus. Why?
“It was just, like, a prank,” Ollivier Yamin says. “But also I was kind of lonely and I just wanted to talk to someone.”
It was a pretty low point in the year for Ollivier Yamin, she recalls. Anxious about her future and lonely since some friends were drifting apart, she says, plainly, “Everyone was just depressed. It was pretty bad.”
The first flier was that simple. A name with two exclamation points.
Looking back, Ollivier Yamin said the voice behind the posters was conceived as the fictionalized personification of your typical frat guy. In the narrative that she was building, Tony the Frat Guy had just cheated on his girlfriend—Stacey—with her best friend Laura.
The second flier: STACEY, I’M SORRY I CHEATED!
Inaccessible by phone, email, or any other medium that modern people use, Tony resorts to spreading the word through fliers.
The third: STACEY CALL ME BACK I MISS YOU
The messages had an immediate impact, with people watching, asking questions, and sharing on social media. One TikTok about the fliers received more than 325,000 likes. In response, Ollivier Yamin surfaced another round three days later.
This time, the desperate boyfriend lists his phone number, asking Stacey to call him. The number, though, doesn’t go to Tony’s frat house, but rather straight to voicemail. To record the expected ensuing interactions, Ollivier Yamin set it up so all the messages were stored in an online archive. At the time of this writing, she had received nearly 150 voicemails offering a range of reactions, which she posted online.
One caller asked “Why are you doing this?” Another consoled, “Hey man. Hope you find Stacey. Godspeed.”
Then there was the caller who offered Ollivier Yamin a job. “You’re a marketing genius. If you want a job, call me,” the woman’s voice said. Ollivier Yamin called her back twice, but wasn’t able to get in touch.
It wasn’t until May 4, when she posted the third round of fliers, that Ollivier Yamin considered injecting an underlying narrative. With the addition of the character Lauren, Ollivier Yamin thought, “There could be depth here.”
It was also around that time when she created a website for the project. For its role, the catchall hosts an odd menagerie of content, with icons that take you to archived photos of fliers and voicemails. Googly eyes at the top follow your cursor around.
Ollivier Yamin initially wanted to stick to telling the story through fliers, but the few people who knew she was behind the project all urged her to also spread the word through social media. She would eventually give in several months later, but genuinely disliked the idea at first since it felt too much like deliberate marketing.
“I thought, That feels so phony,” Ollivier Yamin said of launching the grassroots effort on Instagram and other popular platforms. “It would be so clear what I was trying to gain out of it, and I didn’t like how transactional that would be.”
As spring turned to summer, many of Ollivier Yamin’s friends went back home. Their help on the project had been indispensable, with many giving ideas for fliers or inspiring others, plus accompanying her in flier-posting ventures. They also assisted with logistics; Jimenez, for example, ran analytics on the website, which they report has so far received nearly 10,000 hits.
“It was a nice thing that we all did as roommates and it just started as Sabine doing something fun,” Jimenez said.
Alone in Boston, Ollivier Yamin shifted the narrative. Tony’s voice turns sincere around this time, and the posters gain an introspective and somewhat poetic quality, if completely detached from the previous storyline.
STACEY WOULDN’T IT BE NICE TO BE TWO BLADES OF GRASS?
THEN A LOVELY BREEZE WOULD COME. AND A THIN HEAD WOULD BRUSH AGAINST YOURS. THEN WE COULD RUSTLE.
“It was her outlet, too,” Jimenez said. “To tell people how she was feeling or to tell herself how she was feeling without having to say it to a real human being.”
Jimenez recalled seeing a flier around September that said something along the lines of, Stacey my friends are abroad. I really miss them. Two of Ollivier Yamin and Jimenez’s friends had left to study abroad at the start of the semester, she explained.
“That came from her heart,” Jimenez said. “That was just like, I need to get this off my chest. I want it out in the world. And that wasn’t really part of Stacey, that was more Sabine.”
“The posters were always something that we did as roommates,” Ollivier Yamin said. “It was something we could talk about, something we could use to express things we couldn’t really say out loud.”
By her own admission, Tony is Ollivier Yamin, at least in some ways. Both were down in the dumps when the fliers first went up.
“The narrative is very weak, but I guess it’s at least true to me and how I interpret Tony,” she said. Few fliers actually advance the story—some are just jokes, while others lean into self-doubt and make Tony feel more human.
“He has moments of deep sadness, and so he’s still dealing with that. Does it make sense in the narrative? Maybe not.”
Over the summer, as Ollivier Yamin continued putting up posters, expanding the website and compiling voicemails, she realized she was pretty strapped for cash and applied to BU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities program. Her “serial exploration into the narrative form” was picked as one of the few humanities-focused research projects. The reinvigorated, funded plan was for a community-based form of storytelling. In a way, it’s exactly what she has been doing since April.
“Everytime we turn the corner and see a flier taped up to a lamp post, or a notice pinned to a corkboard, we are invited to partake in the narrative,” she wrote in her research presentation. “What if literature could occupy a public space?”
Ollivier Yamin received $3,000—enough money for supplies and printing paper—and was assigned a faculty advisor who helped her flesh out the narrative, one told through the reactions of passersby. With funding and guidance, she expanded her geographical scope to include parts of Allston-Brighton, Brookline, and Cambridge. It was a necessary evolution; initially, the project allowed Olliver-Yamin to connect with others about her own worries, but while she has since found her own sense of peace, Tony’s on a different path.
“That’s actually an issue, because I’m a lot happier,” she said.
In the world of Stacey, Tony’s next challenge comes in the strange form of a 10-foot-tall speaking frog.
Grof is the result of an experiment. The scientists behind the madness are none other than Stacey’s researcher parents. The horrifying genetic mutation, which speaks English and a little French, escapes a small farm in Willimantic, Connecticut in the summer and comes to Boston, where he meets Tony on Sept. 22.
STACEY I GOT A PET FROG. HE’S REALLY NICE. I THINK HE’S GOING THROUGH IT. HE KEEPS ASKING ME IF IT IS OK TO HATE GOD.
HOW WOULD I KNOW?
Tony doesn’t know about Grof’s past at first, and the two bond through their shared longing, Ollivier-Yamin said. Before meeting Tony, alone in Boston’s streets, Grof writes in a postcard to his mom, I am lonely here. I miss you and the others. But I cannot return. My heart does not allow it. This postcard is scanned and goes up with the other fliers.
Ollivier Yamin’s perceived dissonance between her and Tony’s state of mind weighs on her. It’s a symptom of following up on a narrative born out of an impulsive prank.
Ask Ollivier Yamin what her intention is with Stacey now, more than seven months later, and her answers vary: to finish the story, for people to see it, to do something “semi-creative” (while worrying it might be the last such opportunity for a while), or simply to do something pointless.
Regardless of the reason, she finds comfort in the fact that people are still leaving messages via the Stacey hotline. They continue to interact with her project because, at some level, she said they seek that same connection Tony longs for.
“Why else would you call a poster?” she asked.
The project grew bigger than her. The voicemails allowed for people to actively “rewrite” the narrative. This sense of togetherness is part of the theme. In Ollivier Yamin’s words, the core of the story questions how to become a person, alone, without love, without one’s creator.
As summer turned to fall, fliers started going up about a “lost frog.” In this narrative, Grof tells Tony that his creator, Stacey’s mom Rachel, was abusive. Though he doesn’t make the connection to Stacey, Tony is nonetheless outraged.
It’s an uncharacteristic opening for one of the fliers.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO YOUR LOST FROG. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF. AND TO THINK YOU CALL YOURSELF A MOTHER?!
Coincidentally, Tony runs into Rachel on the street, he writes on Nov. 3. Knowing her only as Stacey’s mom, he invites her to Grof’s birthday party and doesn’t mention Stacey’s apparent disappearance.
WE TALKED FOR A WHILE. SHE SAID SHE WAS HERE ON A BUSINESS TRIP, TO TRACK DOWN A FOREIGN RIBONUCLEIC ORGANIC GENETICISM. I DIDN’T TELL HER YOU HAD DISAPPEARED. I KNEW YOU WOULDN’T TRUST HER TO KNOW.
Rachel arrives at the party and sees Grof. The details of the escalation are unclear, but Rachel ends up trying to murder the frog. Tony subsequently kicks her out.
The Rachel-Grof confrontation, almost WWE-like in its dramatic contours, concludes the second part, marking a halfway point in the Stacey saga, according to the plan.
The Church of Stacey
Part of what keeps interest in the fliers alive is the mystery, Ollivier Yamin said. Very few people know who is behind the campaign. Some wonder whether there’s even a real Stacey.
One of the curious is Carson Paradis, 19.
When they first appeared, Paradis remembered seeing the fliers on walks with his friends and wondering, Is it real? Is it for a project? Is it some guy just trying to be funny? Is it some girls just trying to be funny?
“I never thought about Stacey in a religious aspect until we started with our whole religion,” Paradis said.
That religion is Staceyanity, of which Paradis is one of the 13 de facto founders. Grounded in what story they were able to piece together from the fliers, website, and social media account, they came up with a creation myth around October that deifies Stacey, marks Tony as the “First Messenger,” and remembers his affair with Lauren as the “Great Betrayal.”
Granted, Paradis and the 12 others are students. And it’s all for a class project. But their own initiative has since moved beyond the classroom: they set up their own Instagram account and have posted their own fliers across the country—from New York and Connecticut to Arizona.
Staceyanity’s founders almost don’t want to know whether or not Stacey is real or who is behind it all.
“It kind of just made this little sense of community where people were really trying to figure out what’s going on with this whole Stacey thing,” Paradis said.
Other reactions have been less devotional. Near summer’s end, Ollivier Yamin walked by one of her posters and found that someone graffitied, “Dear Stacey, shut the fuck up” on it.
“When somebody would tear down the poster or write on the poster, like something that wasn’t overtly positive, Sabine, she takes hits really hard,” Jimenez, Ollivier-Yamin’s friend, said.
Another issue is the length of time the fliers actually stay up. Though at first they would stay up for days at a time before getting taken down, that has since changed.
STACEY, STOP TAKING DOWN MY POSTERS one response flier read as early as April.
On the cold November morning I am walking around BU with Ollivier Yamin, she finishes her flyering rounds in about an hour, before heading to her 8am class.
By 8:10, one of her fliers—on a utility pole across from Marsh Chapel—had already been taken down.
It’s unclear who was behind the removal.
Boston University spokesperson Colin Riley said in an email that the university’s facilities department removes fliers campus-wide if not on approved bulletin boards. But on Nov. 3, I saw two facilities employees spot one of the Stacey fliers, smile, then carry on with their work, leaving the message untouched.
Meanwhile, on the storymaking side of the project, Ollivier Yamin walked me through the narrative in chronological order. Occasionally, we’d stop and go off on a tangent so she could explain some of the more abstract fliers to me.
“Tony and Rachel haven’t met yet,” she said in mid-November.
“But Tony and the frog are bonding and Tony’s maturing emotionally.”
We were looking at one of the fliers on her computer screen, one that she said was inspired by a conversation between her and Jimenez.
STACEY, IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER, I’D TRY TO COUNTERACT THE FEAR THAT EVERYONE FEELS.
What’s the fear that everyone feels?
She paused for a second. Then said, “In any situation where there’s potential conflict, you have that immediate defensiveness where you immediately want to prove that person wrong; or you have this freezing instinctual moment of not wanting to concede any ground, or not wanting to see the person that you’re fighting against, or that’s hurting you, as a human being.”
What do you do to counteract that fear?
“I’m still working on it, to be honest.”