The Mp3 Experiment

Improv Everywhere Mission

Sound and Graphic Design: Agent Walker
Light Design: Agent Baer
DV Cams: Agents JWard, Farlow
Digital Photography: Agents Rainswept, Kula
Directed by: Agent Todd

The Mp3 Experiment is Improv Everywhere’s first mission to take place inside an actual theatre. As its name suggests, it’s really more of an experiment that a mission. Our typical audiences are made up of unsuspecting members of the public. In this case our crowd was comprised of about 70 very suspecting folks who paid $8 to come out to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and be a part of the experiment. Like most Improv Everywhere missions, our goal with The Mp3 Experiment was to give folks something to smile about.

Agent Todd and Agent Walker collaborated to create a 27 minute Mp3 file. The Mp3 was a mixture of music and instructions from a voice (Agent Todd’s voice put through a sound effect filter). Audience members downloaded the Mp3 in advance, transferred it to their portable Mp3 players (or burned it to a disc for their portable CD players), and brought it with them to the theatre. Audience members were told not to listen to the track in advance. At the top of the show, a video projection instructed the crowd to press play simultaneously.

We’ve edited the original 27-minute track down to an 8-minute sample version for your listening pleasure. This sample track removes the songs and cuts down the instructions to the bare essentials. It’s about 7 MB. Download it here.

Improv Everywhere Mission
“Why don’t we all get on stage?”

After about a minute of ambient stereophonic noise, a voice introducing himself as “Steve” welcomed the audiences to the show and began giving his instructions. After a bit of simple breathing and looking around, the audience was invited to leave their seats and take the stage. There were no actors or hosts of this show, only the audience.

Improv Everywhere Mission
“Why don’t we stretch for a bit?”

Steve prepared the crowd for the first big task: jumping. “3… 2… 1… Jump!” Audience members were clearly not in perfect synchronization. The different operating speeds of Mp3 and CD players made this inevitable, and also part of the fun. Certain participants jumped 5 seconds early and some jumped 5 seconds late.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

After a few rounds of jumping, Beck’s “High 5 (Rock The Catskills)” kicked in and Steve instructed the crowd to give as many high fives as possible.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

There were three colored plastic bins sitting on the stage. Steve instructed the participants to open the blue bin. Inside were 144 one ounce bottles of bubbles with tiny wands. The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be Nice” began to play and the crowd blew bubbles together.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

As Brian Wilson’s voice faded away, Steve instructed the Mp3 listeners to separate into two groups, based on their birthdays. January through June birthdays went to stage right while July through December birthdays went to stage left.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Steve instructed the stage right group to remove their headphones and then told a secret to the stage left half. “We’re about to have a dance party,” Steve told them. “I want you guys to dance as poorly as possible.” He then instructed the stage left group to use their hands to tell the stage right group to put their headphones back on.

Improv Everywhere Mission
Stage right looks as stage left is told a secret

Steve then told a secret to the stage right group. “We’re about to have a dance party. I want you to smile for the entire song.”

Improv Everywhere Mission
Stage left watches as stage right is told a secret

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

After everyone had their headphones back on, The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” began and the party lights started to flash as the entire crowd danced together to the music in their ears.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Once the dance party ended, Steve asked the crowd to locate the tallest person in the room. Audience members pretty quickly decided on the winner and pointed at one very tall man. The plastic red bin was then opened to reveal a disposable camera. Steve instructed the tallest person to take a photo of the rest of the group.

Improv Everywhere Mission
Group Photo as taken by the tallest person in the room

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

The tallest person was then instructed to take a photo of himself.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Apparently, he was just too tall!

Improv Everywhere Mission

The tallest person put the camera back in the red bin, and Steve asked the person closest to the green bin to open it up. Inside were 144 assorted color balloons! Steve instructed the crowd to blow them up. “Balloons hate being on the ground!” Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” filled the crowd’s ears as the balloons began to fly.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

When the song ended, Steve told everyone to let the balloons drop, though more than a few couldn’t help popping a couple. “Haven’t we made some great new friends tonight?,” Steve asked the crowd. “Lets all hug each other goodnight!” The Polyphonic Spree’s “Hold Me Now” began and the participants began to hug each other, new friends and old.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Steve then instructed the crowd to gather their belongings and head outside to the corner of 8th Avenue and 36th Street, where a very special guest would be meeting them. Petula Clark’s “Downtown” played as the audience walked outside.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Right as the Mp3 track ended, Santa Claus appeared and gave the audience candy canes!

Improv Everywhere Mission

Santa announced, “The adventure has just begun!” And led the crowd in a parade down 8th Avenue to the bar McManus, for some after-show merriment.

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission
Santa passes the Chelsea gay bar Rawhide

Improv Everywhere Mission

Improv Everywhere Mission
Santa reaches McManus bar

Improv Everywhere Mission
Mp3 Experiment participants drink together until late into the night

Improv Everywhere Mission
Agent Wimpy

Improv Everywhere Mission
Back at the UCB Theatre, Agent Baer surveys the wreckage.

Improv Everywhere Mission
Sound designer Agent Walker chats with light designer Agent Baer

Improv Everywhere Mission


“Really I just have to say that I had a blast on Saturday night. You have just scratched the surface of all the different things that can be done in this way too. I hope to see another one of these in the years to come.”
-Glenn Brown

“This show was a blast even for someone who’s CD player kept just stopping. I spent most of the show thinking, `I guess it’s time to dance/high-five/hug, etc.’ I listened to it all this morning and I’d say I kept along pretty well. My favorite part was when the MP3 stopped and Santa came and took us to McManus. I was like the grumpy kid who stopped believing and found out magic was real.


  • The first 7 minutes when I was involved

  • Hearing bits and pieces people singing along
  • The cheer when Santa arrived
  • Following Santa and seeing the reactions, one of which was `Merry Fucking Christmas’
  • Santa’s directions and interactions with the passersby `Good, good, good, bad, good’

-Dan Buchbinder

“The Mp3 Experiment was an absolute blast. I had no idea what to expect. If you told me that morning that I would be on the UCB stage at midnight blowing bubbles, dancing and hitting balloons around, I would have said, `OK.’ But if you told me I would be doing it while the world around me was in complete silence, I would have said, `You so crazy…I think I wanna have yo baby!’

One of my favorite parts was when my friend and I took our headphones off and just looked around at a crowd of dancing idiots with no music. All you could hear were lots of giggles and the shuffling of feet. I can’t wait for the next Mp3 Experiment!!!”
-Eric Appel

“The show was a lot of fun & definitely an innovative idea in theater. I think it could be expanded and be very successful. It was a nice change from a movie or regular theater.”
-Diane Pollack

“The mp3 Experiment was a transcendent experience. The show is exhilarating, mysterious, and constantly hilarious. One of my favorite nights at the UCB Theatre.”
-Owen Burke

“I was having so much fun dancing to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” it didn’t occur to me that, to the unplugged observer, we were all dancing in silence.”
-Robyn Sklaren

“Such a great experience. My favorite parts were when it was clear some people were more ahead than others in the mp3. For example when we were all standing still onstage waiting for the next directions and someone suddenly started dancing and we had to wait a bit to realize what the hell he was doing.”
-Katie Dippold

“This was so awesome.”
-Justin Purnell

“Ridiculously fun, inspiring, other superlatives. Here’s to mp3 Experiment v 2.0.”
-DC Pierson

“In almost all of my tech experiences, light and sound cues are lines said by a cast member or a certain action. This show was all based on time. And the really interesting thing, for me anyway, was knowing that if I started my mp3 even a second late, all the light cues would be off for the audience/cast. At one point in the show, I removed my own headphones and went only off my time index. It was truly enjoyable to watch people blowing up balloons and trying to keep them up in the air as long as possible.

As I’ve mentioned to Agent Todd, the truly inspiring thing about this show was the turn out. The stage was packed! Certain effects were lost simply by the amount of bodies dancing around or hugging.

I was very pleased to be a part of it.”
-Pat Baer, Light Designer for The Mp3 Experiment

“My favorite part of the show was the part where half of the audience listened to a secret. Somehow this was twice as interesting as when the entire audience was doing the same thing. It was also really interesting when the tall guy was having trouble with the camera – what would happen if he didn’t accomplish this in time? Ah, the suspense! I really enjoyed participating in this show, and I hope that you do it again.”
-Rachel Lovinger

“I have to say that The Mp3 Experiment was ridiculous fun, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like it. There were times when I felt so happy during it that I giggled like a little schoolboy. The concept is amazing, and I hope and pray that you do more of these in the future.”
-Kevin Balla

“It was an amazing show, fun, positive and very cool and modern. It made me feel part of a generation; there is no way that this show could have happened even 2 years ago! What a great way to end 2004.”
-Louie Pearlman

Mission Accomplished.

Further Reading: The Mp3 Experiment was inspired in part by The Flaming Lips’ Parking Lot Experiments and Headphone Concerts and also by Andy Kaufman’s Performance at Carnegie Hall.

We have also toured The Mp3 Experiment around the world to places like Berlin, Germany and Adelaide, Australia. If you’re part of an organization (festival, university, arts group) that is interested in commissioning an Mp3 Experiment, get in touch via our contact form.



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26 Responses to The Mp3 Experiment

  1. Tiara says:


    Oh, to see an Mp3 party here…


    But seriously, my jaw dropped when I read it. This is pure brilliance.

  2. Ed says:

    This is an awesome idea. I thought of doing something similar, and seeing it actually done successfully confirms my want to do this. This site has been great, I’ve spent a good 4hrs tonight reading through it all.

    Sites like this one are what make this internet great. :thumbup:

  3. Jestrada says:

    An interesting concept, but certainly does not match the brilliance of some of the other missions. Nonetheless, still a very fascinating idea.

  4. Evangeline says:

    I love this concept. I love that everything was organized, but completely new to everyone who was participating. I really like the random things you had the people do. Very surreal. Also, Flaming Lips= wonderful.

  5. Amana says:

    This is an absolutely awesome idea. I am really impressed and want to try one of these in Pittsburgh.

  6. Jilly says:

    That would be so awesome. I’d love to take part in something like this. This mission is deffinately one of my favorites!

  7. Penny says:

    I found out about the mp3 experiment a couple weeks ahead of time, and wish I’d been able to make the trip to NY to participate–it looks like it was great fun. Do more of them!

  8. Myles says:

    I’m so sorry I missed this. Sounds a lot like the culminating event in Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse Project (

  9. ! says:

    For a moment, there was a hint that The Omnipotent Steve would push Charlie over to the Dark Side…

  10. chris x-gop says:

    sibelius? nah, stockhausen, ?
    casio philip glass?

  11. k says:

    Hi, the link for the FAQ is broken.

  12. admin says:

    I fixed the broken link. thanks!

  13. Edward Howell says:

    I downloaded the materials for this event and am going to present it at Valencia Community College this summer for the faculty and staff. I am an animator also and plan to re-do some of the Flash to make it more interactive. I also have partly written an mp3 of my own based on some learning modules and even add some synchronized characters that can be projected onscreen to interact with the crowd. If you’d like to be updated on the project I hope you’ll email me at

  14. Rob says:

    What fun! Maybe you can do it again, but make sure 1 person gets a different mp3 file with different instructions. Hmm. ;-)

  15. Mike says:

    Beautiful! Feel the love! Magic is real!

  16. Chris says:

    I just ran into this site and your missions are hilarious. For the next mp3 experiment use one of the mp3 player gadgets that transmits over a low-powered FM signal.

  17. simon birch says:

    you guys rock but my question is……if a ninja falls in the woods and no one is around o hear him….. does he make a sound?

  18. Dionna says:

    I would have loved to be a part of a “performance” like this. It almost seems like a hypnotism show, though… in which I also wouldn’t mind taking part. :D

  19. Louis says:

    It would have been great if someone had recognized Santa Claus as Anton Chekov.

  20. Ray says:

    I love what you do! What a great way to bring people together and have fun! I would love to participate some time!

  21. Berry says:

    I think santa should have led them into the gay bar. It would have been really funny to see everyone’s reactions to that.

  22. Kirara says:

    This would be a great way to get a party started! :)

  23. Nichole says:

    Really cool project and I really like what you guys are doing but shouldn’t you have given a mention to the Flaming Lips? Their Boombox experiments took place in 1998. I’m sure they’d be flattered.

  24. Charlie Todd says:


    You didn’t read the whole thing.

  25. Del Rosal says:

    Wow I just found this. And I’m so bummed they allready visited my town last year with the MP3 experiment.

    Am I the only 80’s 90’s child to remember there was a commercial just like this way back in the day?

    I can’t remember if it was the premier of the zune, or ipod or other mp3 player, but there was the weird little cg blue alien. A bunch of people downloaded an MP3 from a docking station in a van on the beach. Everyone waited until the signal was given and then hit play….. and grooved in total silence. Maybe that’s where the idea came from.