For our latest mission, 16 agents staged a spontaneous musical in the food court of a Los Angeles shopping mall. We used wireless microphones to amplify the vocal performances and mix them together with the music through the mall’s PA system. We filmed the mission with hidden cameras, mostly behind two-way mirrors. Apart from our performers, no one in the food court was aware of what was happening. Enjoy the video first and then go behind the scenes with our report below.
Featuring: Agents Campbell, Cowan, Brister, Caldwell, Sutton, Ahn, Park, Nwaeze, Jervier, Thorn, Fair, Costelo, Grimm, Perube, LaBarr, Appel, Todd
Digital Video: Agent Carbone
Choreography: Agent Tallaksen
We’ve had tons of ideas emailed to us over the years. Out of all of them, one stands out as the absolute most suggested: “You know how it’s weird in musicals that people just break out into song for no reason? You guys should stage a musical like that in a public place.” We’ve probably gotten over 100 emails just like that. Well, we finally decided it was time to make it happen.
It should be noted that staging a musical in a public place is not a new idea. It’s been done before by several groups, the most popular of which took place in a lecture hall, staged several years ago by the old Columbia University group, Prangstgrup.
We wanted to create an original song for this mission, so I turned to Agents Brown and King, longtime Improv Everywhere Agents and writers of the hit Off-Broadway show, Gutenberg! The Musical! For your listening pleasure, I’ve uploaded their original demo of the song, where they sing all of the parts. A few changes were made to the final version. Most notably “diet soda” was changed to “lemonade” as the restaurant we started in only sold lemonade. You can hear the parts of the song that were cut out of the video (things were cut for time, in order to create a tight video.)
Unfortunately there are very few photos from this mission. It took place in Los Angeles, so our normal photographers were not around. We decided to focus on getting the best video possible, and photography was sadly left out. We do have a few photos of our rehearsal process.
Agent Tallaksen leads rehearsal
We met the day before to rehearse the song and learn the choreography. Agent Tallaksen did an excellent job as the choreographer, bringing the song to life and adding in ridiculously hilarious blocking. Since we are not based out of LA, and this mission took place before our new global site was launched, we had to do a bit of searching to find the right agents. A few were personal friends of mine, a few were actors from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in LA, and some answered a casting call on craigslist. The mall we chose is in the middle of downtown LA and is very racially diverse. It was important to us to have an equal amount of diversity in the cast.
Typically Improv Everywhere does not ask for permission from the location where we are staging our mission. This was a rare exception. By working with the mall we would gain incredible access and be able to make the experience for the food court patrons all the more awesome. The mall let us rehearse the song the night before after they had closed.
We were able to test out our blocking and make sure it worked with the food court layout. The mall let us patch the performers microphones and the music into their PA system, which would make the performance loud and clear for everyone there. We were also able to install two-way mirrors in several spots to enable us to film the mission with our cameras completely hidden, again making the experience for those who would witness it all the more unique.
There is a hidden camera hiding behind the tinted glass in the door above.
The mall got us in touch with the folks from Hot Dog on a Stick, a west-coast corndog chain that had a location in the food court. The chain loaned us one of their uniforms for Agent Campbell to wear, and gave her access to behind the counter. Hilariously, Agent Campbell ended up having to actually help several customers as we were waiting for the mission to begin.
While the management of both the mall and Hot Dog on a Stick were aware of what we were doing, they kept the mission a secret from everyone else. All of the employees of the other food court establishments had absolutely no idea that our musical was going to take place.
The execution of the mission itself was tons of fun. It was awesome to watch the reactions of the folks sitting and eating as one by one people started joining in on the song. The coolest moment happened when Agent Caldwell broke into song. He was playing the role “janitor” and had actually been clearing trash off of people’s tables for a half-hour leading up to the mission. It was fun to see people realize that the man who had cleaned up their table five minutes ago was now singing in the middle of a musical.
The security guard moment also worked really well. Agent Sutton wore a black “security” jacket that was identical to the real mall security. You could feel the tension grow after he entered, with everyone assuming he was there to shut down the performance. It was a great misdirect.
Agents Brister and Sutton
There were several agents who got cut out of the video (you can hear their parts in the song included above.) We had three skater punks skate in and sing, a group of young girls did a cheer about napkins, and several more agents posing as regular folks eating joined in for the finale. By the end there were shoppers lined up watching us from the second level, and we got a nice round of applause when we finished. However, there was no bow. Our agents returned to whatever they were doing before the song broke out, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
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