Sunday, October 3, 2010

Improv Everywhere: Mp3 Experiment

On Saturday night, I waited inside the Bryant Park H&M with headphones in my ears. At 6 p.m. exactly, I and thousands of other people stationed in retail stores around Bryant Park turned on the exact same mp3 and followed its instructions. Unbeknownst to shoppers and store employees, these thousands of people were participating in an undercover mission for Improv Everywhere, called the mp3 experiment 7. Improv Everywhere is an organization that "causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places." Famous for their events such as Spontaneous Musicals and Frozen Grand Central, Improv Everywhere has quickly become a New York City classic.

The Mp3 experiment on Saturday was the seventh they've done, and each one attracts more and more people. Anybody who was interested in participating was told to download a 53 minute mp3 (and not listen to it beforehand) and bring with them a roll of toilet paper, a marker, two sheets of paper - one with a vowel and one with a consonant written on them, and a wrapped gift. Armed with these tools, my friends and I stationed ourselves inside H&M. At 6 o'clock we started our iPods. The first instruction was to scratch our heads so we could identify who else was participating. Probably a hundred people around the store suddenly had a head itch. Then we were informed that the whole event was planned in honor of "Steve"'s birthday. We were in the stores to find him a gift. We all held up an item in the store and acted amazed by it, petted an item like a cat, and then tidied up the store. The mp3 then told us to exit the store to the sidewalk, saying good-bye to the store employees as we left. Once on the sidewalk, we marched as if we were in a marching band, practiced our best silly walks, froze in place for a minute, high-fived strangers, and followed someone who was not participating.

After fooling around on the sidewalk for a bit, all the people participating walked to Bryant Park to start Steve's party. People who were unsuspectingly picnicking near the park had no idea what was going on, as a mob of people appeared around them, all listening into headphones. To surprise Steve we sneakily headed to a location around the park. We had a speedwalking race around it, then gathered in a mob on the green space. We graciously sang "Happy Birthday" and then the party really started as we played some games. We took out the two pieces of paper with letters them. With those we formed words, sentences, and poems. My letters, a Z and and E, where somewhat unpopular. We were then instructed to find a partner and draw a portrait of each other. The one of me is actually a pretty good likeness. One the other sheet of paper, we drew a continent and exchanged it with people to form a map of the world. Mine is missing Australia and North America looks like somebody forgot the continent included more than the United States. After this we exchanged gifts. In return for my stationary set I received three pencils. My friends received gum, a candy cane cookie cutter, and a CD labeled "Koob Christmas 2009: vol. 4." Looks like people were in the Christmas spirit. After this we got out our rolls of toilet paper and wrapped each other like mummies (back to the correct season - Halloween). We ended Steve's birthday with a big mummy dance party - shown in the picture. I'm somewhere in the top right, wearing toilet paper - can you find me?

The Mp3 experiment was everything I love about New York. Huge groups of people of all ages and backgrounds, coming together to have some fun and go a little crazy. Some people don't like crowds, but I love them. I love being around all the people, having a certain bond with them, even through our headphones. It's the open excitement, energy, and creativity of the city.

photo (c) of Chad Nicholson

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