October 2, 2010 was just another beautiful Saturday in New York City. But in the city that never sleeps, no day can truly be ordinary. For people spending their time in the Bryant Park area, the day turned out to be rather full of extraordinary events. An estimated crowd of around 4,000 people with headphones took over the area.
The experiment, sponsored by Improv Everywhere, started at exactly 6 p.m. Further details were posted on the group’s official website, along with the necessary mp3 file, ready and free to download. The track contained a prerecorded voice, which gave out instructions for participants to begin the experiment in any retail store between Port Authority and Grand Central Station.
“Welcome to the MP3 experiment 7- Steve’s Birthday. My name is Mark and I will be your omnipotent voice today,” began the voice in headphones.
“The mp3 experiment is an annual event done by Improv Everywhere, and this was the seventh year that they’ve done it. No one knew what to expect and everyone was really excited; you could tell from the energy in the air,” said Joanna Smykowski, a junior who attended and participated in the event. “Everyone was laughing the whole time and really enjoying themselves, and we met so many people, from out of state and even out of the country. I definitely can’t wait to be part of the next NYC Improv.”
Improv Everywhere started in 2001. According to their website, they cause scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Created by Charlie Todd, the group has started over 100 missions involving tens of thousands of undercover agents. The group is based in New York City and some of the most famous events include a “Frozen Grand Central” and “No Pants Subway Ride.”
The only given information given to the crowd for this event was its starting point and a list of accessories that participators should bring; a roll of toilet paper, two pieces of paper with one consonant and one vowel written on them, an unwanted thing that could be wrapped as a gift and a marker.
Once the track was started on all the mp3 players, everyone who participated engaged simultaneously in the same activities. In the stores they ranged from admiring the merchandise to waltzing with the nearest product.
After exiting the store, participants engaged in series of events on the sidewalk. “We are going to freeze in an exact position we were in and hold it until I say so,” the track instructed.
When the crowd unfroze they were encouraged to practice several types of walking techniques, following strangers and high-fiving non-participants. With a “Take off your headphones when you cross the street” song playing in the headphones, the crowd marched over to Bryant Park.
“Move from one place of the park to another, so nobody will see you!” said the voice introducing another Mission-Impossible-like activity. The crowd complied and went undercover hiding under bags or squatting on the ground so that nobody would see them. That part of the event was concluded by shouting “surprise” to Mark’s brother, who was waiting for everyone in the middle of the lawn.
Bryant Park was the last stop, where the final 30 minutes of the experiment took place. Participants walked around the lawn and enjoyed one big icebreaker with the props brought by everyone. Letters were used to make a giant poem. Then the back of the paper was reused to draw a portrait of newly met people and a collective map of the world.
The gifts were exchanged with randomly picked partners.
“I got shampoo, I was so excited!” said Garrett Matula, junior at Stonybrook University.
The toilet paper was used to transform everybody into mummies, leading to the final dance party. “On the count of 3 I want everyone to drop to the ground and the mp3 experiment will be over. Ready? 1,2,3. Goodnight!”
The lawn in Bryant Park had been reserved, and lights from other buildings were turned on to make these activities possible. In addition, during the experiment, the clean up part was stressed, so that no trash would be left behind afterwards.