This past weekend I did something that I've wanted to do forever. I participated in an Improv Everywhere event. Improv Everywhere is a flash mob/practical joke/performance art whathaveyou that have done some really cool experiments in the past. My favorites include having 50 people check their bags with their cell phones in them and then 50 more called them at different times to create a cell phone symphony of sorts, or when they had a ton of people enter Best Buy dressed like people who work there and just shop and hang out which caused mass confusion. What I took place in was called MP3 Experiment 4.
I got an email about it last week and the instructions were quite simple:
1. Download an MP3 from their site.
2. Don't listen to it.
3. Show up at a certain location World Financial Center before 4pm on Saturday and have a seat.
4. Wear a Red, Green, Blue, or Yellow Shirt.
5. Bring a camera or camera phone.
6. Don't pay any attention to anyone else wearing the specified shirts.
7. At precisely 4pm, press play on the file in your MP3 Player and follow the directions.
Simple instructions really.
I left from my ladies house a good half hour before 4 and figured I had plenty of time since the subway was a mere half block from me. Of course I forgot that it was the weekend and every line was messed up badly. I spent 20 minutes on the platform at West 4th Street checking out the people on the platform, trying to figure out who was going to this event and who wasn’t. I could pick out quite a few which amused me, because you could tell they were doing the exact same thing. At 3:50 I was freaking out a bit, no subways. I then saw a girl go up to 3 other people in red, yellow, and green shirts and chat them up. They suddenly left and I followed, figuring it was time to give up on the subway and hit a taxi.
I emerged from the subway and saw them getting in the nearest one. I ran and luckily found a spare cab and told him where to go. Construction abounded and I was getting frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to get there in time to see it start. We got closer and closer and I just figured I’d have to start without being there.
At 4pm exactly I hit play on the file on my iPod. After about 2 minutes of music a voice identified as “Steve” that is sitting on a cloud up above started to speak to me. He told me to stand up (I couldn’t in a cab but could see in my head all the people standing at the same time) and point to various things, such as the ugliest cloud, Nicaragua and others. My cab reached the destination just as Steve told me look for the “Lost German Tourist” and skip over to him. I ran out toward the park and could just see people streaming in, including those people that I’d seen hop a cab at from the subway platform.
After we all gathered in one place, a couple hundred people it seemed, Steve had us shake hands with one another and then take notice of the different colored checkered tiles under our feet. We then played a massive game of “Twister”. Imagine what it looked like, a couple hundred people in 4 different colored shirts, silently pointing, greeting, and then playing “Twister” without saying a word. Creepy and amazing.
We then told to follow the German Tourist again. We walked north for about 5 minutes to a grass field near Battery Park City. Again, an amazing site, as far as you could see in front or behind you it was a solid mass of people following directions. We were told along the way to give passers-by a “thumbs up” and later “hi-fives” and smiles. Some were obviously taken aback, but there were far more that were more than eager to slap hands and thumbs-up back, from a small child to some elderly people.
When I reached the grass we were told to take our imaginary dogs for a walk. People were still streaming into the park behind me walking their imaginary dogs, some stopped and pet their pups, others were enforcing basic obedience training, while still others managed to get their leashes tangled. It was hilarious mime chaos. We were then told to pretend to roller blade about the grass.
After a period of blading, most people had caught up and it was time for everyone to take out their cameras and take various pictures as ordered by Steve. We then formed a massive dartboard with the various colored shirts forming the rings, like so:
Then came Freeze Tag. Different colored shirts would be “it” and chase the others, then Steve would tell us who was “it”. We were then told to lie down and Steve’s brother Mark took over and led us through a relaxation exercise and after 36 minutes, it was over. People stood and dispersed or hung out and chatted and made friends and went to drinks with each other.
You can check out 2 flickr pages of photos, one from ground level and the other from a building top to see what it looked like… you can even see me in some.
There are going to be tons of videos and there are many flickr photosets that you can find along with others experiences at the experiment at:
It was amusing on the grass to watch the reactions of some of the people. There was a blanket of girls in their mid-20’s laying out who were too cool for school and tried their best to ignore the fact that they were surrounded by this sudden and crazy event. Some of the others started to participate though they had no idea was going on, but most just watched in amazement and amusement.
It’s amazing reading some of the stories. There were people of all ages there, families of dads and sons, people pushing strollers with their kids in different colored shirts. There were some people in their 60’s as well. Some traveled up to 5 hours just to get here from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, all to participate in a mostly silent, color, coded game of Follow the Leader. It turned out to be a gorgeous day for it weather wise and just felt like it was the perfect thing to do on that day. It was amazing to be walking and see this army of people ahead, then twist and see more than you could imagine following right behind. It turns out 826 people showed up to participate and I don’t think a single one had a negative experience, it was hard to not grin from ear to ear while being a part of something this big.
Improv Everywhere is going to post some videos and stories later this week which I’ll link to.
I look forward to trying to participate an any events I can this next year, and I'll definitely be joining in next years MP3 Experiment, I just hope it lasts longer than the 36 minutes this years did because it was so much damn fun.
You can sign up to participate in their events at their website: