Grocery Store Musical


(View it larger on YouTube)
Song by Anthony King and Scott Brown (Gutenberg! The Musical!)

For our latest mission, six undercover actors burst into song in a grocery store in Queens. Three minutes and lots of silly choreography later, they returned to their roles as shoppers and stock boys. The mission was filmed with hidden robotic, lipstick, and wearable cameras. Enjoy the video first and then go behind the scenes with our report below.

We had a couple of really excellent hidden camera reaction interviews that got cut from the final video. I put them together in an outtake video:


Produced by: Disposable Television
Director of Photography: TV Boy
Still Photos: Katie Sokoler

We’ve been wanting to stage a follow up to our Food Court Musical mission for quite some time. Unfortunately, we’re not able to produce a musical like that without some serious help in the budget department. (Food Court Musical was produced for a TV pilot.) Last month Trident Layers expressed interest in sponsoring an Improv Everywhere event (giving us creative control and using no product placement), and I knew this would be a great opportunity to create a new public musical.


Agent Brown rehearses with Agents Kayne and Rustin

I knew from the start that in order to make a worthy follow up to Food Court Musical, I would have to use the same songwriting team, Scott Brown & Anthony King. Not only are they longtime Improv Everywhere Agents, they’re also the authors of the hit Off-Broadway musical, Gutenberg! The Musical!. Their songs, both catchy and hilarious, have been stuck in my head for many a sleepless night.


The cast rehearsing

The cast were all actors I knew from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. We had to cast people who could really sing well, given the “slow jam” nature of the song. We had a rehearsal at a Manhattan studio where Agent Brown taught them the song, and Agent King worked on the choreography.


Rehearsing in the store

The next night we had a rehearsal in the grocery store itself. The store was part of a small chain called “Best Yet” and was located in Astoria, Queens. We chose it for its enormous size, at least by New York standards.

Our rehearsal was late at night, right before the store closed. There were very few people shopping at that hour, so we wouldn’t get a real sense of how crowded the produce section would be until the actual mission the next day. We worked with the store and got permission, enabling us to set up hidden cameras. We used some incredible robotic cameras that were operated via joystick in the control room in the back.


The control room


Speakers

We had planned to just use the store’s PA system to play the song. At the dress rehearsal we learned that grocery store speakers sound awful when the volume gets cranked up. The bass turned to fuzz. So we hid some additional speakers under the muffin table to give their system a boost.

In addition to the robotic cameras hidden on high ledges and in security domes, Agent Adams had a couple of camera rigs he could control out on the floor. We put a lipstick camera on the end of a cart and filled it with groceries. He was able to push it around the area while watching what he was filming on a little monitor.

Agent Adams also had a hidden camera in the strap of his bag, getting a great POV shot of anyone he talked to.

His main job was to get reactions from shoppers after the musical ended. He wore a hidden microphone and also wore an earpiece, enabling me to talk to him from the control room and say things like, “Try to get the woman you’re talking to to turn around; we’re only seeing the back of her head.”


Control room monitor

We staged the mission a few times throughout the day to make sure we got the best possible take and camera coverage. The first take started around 1 PM.

The first few moments were always hilarious. As soon as Agent Kayne started in with his “No, no, no’s,” heads began to turn.

When we did Food Court Musical, we had a pretty good idea of where our audience would be– sitting at the tables. This was more unpredictable. We had all of this choreography planned, but we had no idea if people would make way for us. The area got increasingly crowded as the day went on, which made it all the more fun. Often people found themselves right in the middle of the show.


A woman laughs as Agent Johnson passes with his basket

The woman above took her cart right through the center just as the chorus began. It was like she was a part of the choreography.

Agent Scott’s character was pregnant; she was not. We used a fake belly. She had shoppers coming up to her before and after the song asking when she was due, etc.


Agent Fernandez helps a customer find an item from the circular

Agents Brown and Fernandez played the two stock boy characters. This meant they spent most of the day walking around the floor in the store’s uniform. Of course they were constantly being stopped by customers asking for help.

Our musical was staged very close to the front door, so lots of folks would walk in mid-song. It was fun to see their reactions as they entered and were immediately confronted by our ridiculousness. We got so many wonderful reactions from everyone in the store throughout the afternoon. Queens is the most diverse county in the entire world, and it was really wonderful seeing all of the different types of people laugh and smile.


Letting a friend on the phone listen in


This guy was particularly excited (as seen in the video)


There was always a nice crowd near the registers looking over

The musical got even more absurd when Agent Brown carted Agent Fernandez down the aisle. Agent Fernandez delivered his passionate speech into a price gun, and the two starting spinning while the rest of the cast circled them, building up to the finale.

Before the shoppers could finish applauding, our actors were back to normal life. Those playing customers went back to shopping and those playing stock boys got back to work.


Agent Brown prices some fruit

Mission Accomplished


OTHER RESOURCES:

– Many more photos in higher resolution: Agent Sokoler’s Flickr Set
– Our first musical: Food Court Musical
– Our third musical: I Love Lunch! The Musical
– Buy the original cast recording of Gutenberg! The Musical, also by Brown & King.

If this is your first time here:
-our over 100 other missions can be seen here: Missions
-sign up for our RSS feed and Newsletter
-Subscribe to our YouTube channel, Twitter, and Facebook page.
-We have a book for sale!

Comments

comments

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185 Responses to Grocery Store Musical

  1. Greg says:

    A bit of a shame to be so similar to Food Court Musical; but really well performed, and the reactions were excellent. Nice to see IE really putting a smile onto people’s faces and great to see the organisation that went into it!

    • Susannah Carlson says:

      As is the case when anyone gets big, you’ve lost your edge. I have been a fan for years, and so has my son, this thing… GOD, things were getting sad before, now they are just dead. I’m really sad to see IE die the way it has.

      Why not get back to what was so cool about you and do something edgy and unexpected? This is just stupid.

      I miss the IE I once knew. (Money changes everything – sometimes not for the best).

      Sucks.

      PS. I couldn’t find another way to post this so I had to respond to the most recent comment.

      Still loving the IE I knew…

      Susie

      • K.T. says:

        Wow, harsh. Y’know, they CAN do more than one musical. It’s not like every single random bystander just happened to have been at the first musical… it’s fairly safe to assume that this was a first for every one of them.

        Man, you’d hate to go see a stand-up comic more than once. Hint: They use virtually identical material from one show to the next.

        Personally, I thought it was awesome. Bravo guys!

      • Brian says:

        I agree with K.T. you’d definitely hate seeing one stand-up comic twice in your lifetime. Same with musicals, don’t you think they’re all bascially the same (play and music) And anyhow, this is definitely unexpected (I don’t think if you were there, you’d be bored and think, oh … its just IE)

        All in all, amazing performance, wish i could’ve ran into this!

      • Rob says:

        Dear Susie,

        If you’re that dissapointed, why don’t you go out and do something better? They’ve been working incredibly hard to entertain us and you are insulting them. You say you don’t like their videos, yet here you are watching them. You shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

        As for the video, great job!

      • Max Howell says:

        This was thoroughly mediocre, there is no other way to describe it. And I’m not going to be like the other fanboys here and say otherwise just because I have loved the things this site has done before.

        “Can I have a napkin please” was awesome. I laughed and loved it and sent a link to all my friends. It was fun because it was circumstantial and unexpected. The moment when the janitor came in was a classic. The point where you thought the security guard would end it was gripping and dramatic.

        This was just a bunch of losers in a Grocery shop singing a really strange song about their fruit.

      • rob says:

        come on, susie. i love this piece and the other pieces. and it’s anything but dead. watch it again. look at the astonishment and delight on people’s face. wonderful.

        • Art says:

          Seriously? Everything they do is different in some way, and ALL of them make me LOL at many points! Wish I’d’ve been shopping then! AND I wish I’d’ve been in that food court in CA too!

      • Diane says:

        Well, I’m new to this and FAR from jaded. I thought it was totally awesome. Aside from the surprise, you totally made all those people happy and excited when some of them just looked tired and broken beforehand. I loved it!

      • Shirley says:

        Wow I think you guys are being really harsh. They put alot of really hard work into this. I’ve read just about all of the missions and I still really appreciate this one. I think it’s really dumb to see people pointlessly criticizing and you guys don’t really know what sort of situation they’re in because you’re not in their group. You’re not required to like everything that they do anyways. Jeez louise!

    • when i watched I loved the video, but I am from Brazil, so, some parts i don’t understand, so could somebody send to me the music writed? My e-mail: amandamartins2@hotmail.com

      P.S. I’m sorry because of my english is not so good…

    • Ricky says:

      How is it a shame? Dont complain about every little thing

  2. Dan Price says:

    Another funny, amusing and successful mission. We need to get this going in the UK too!

    • Caity says:

      I heartily agree. I’ve followed IE all the way, and have had the flu for the last couple of days and this is the first thing to have put a smile on my face! Maybe we could organise a UK spin-off.

      • glenneroo says:

        there is a website IE set up for everyone in the world to create their own missions, there is already a lot of IE variants all through UK and the rest of the world:

        http://improveverywhere.ning.com/

        click on Local Groups and type in your city name. if it’s not there, make a new one and invite all your friends! :)

  3. Princess says:

    Oh, bitter Greg.

    How wonderful. How unique in its own right! How magical and moving – the expressions on the faces of the civilians … pure joy. Thank you, thank you.

  4. David T says:

    It’s just so cool to see how happy this made people who were watching!

  5. Danny says:

    “some of the Broadway musicals dont sound as good as they did” Great performance. =)

    • Nacho says:

      How did that comment not make the main video? Pure gold! :)

      • Caity says:

        I was going to say the same; that comment is entirely what this whole thing is about. Startle factor and “oh my god, do they not get paid for this?”

  6. Elizabeth says:

    The Food Court Musical was my favorite Improv Everywhere event ever. This one was great too. Love it!!

  7. Nickolz says:

    Can I have a lyric, please?

  8. JMO says:

    I am starting to wonder if the complexity of IE’s missions is taking this out of the realm of simple impromptu fun and into more of a organization’s actions. Simple is better, Best Buy, No Pants, McD’s Bathroom all took little to no real formation outside the group.

    None the less, great job, well done hope to see and participate in more soon!

    • T. says:

      I agree with JMO. I think the musicals are a little over the top because they make the public think they are watching something that the food store or the food court organized.

      If you guys do another musical I think you should try doing something a cappella with no amplification (and maybe no pants!) or start drumming on cereal boxes or something. Or sing a real song and get a hundred other people to join in (like singing “California Dreaming” on a subway).

      It’s still entertaining, but your older stuff has something this doesn’t.

    • Rachel says:

      Agreed, agreed. Still fun and funny, but not as awesome as your older stuff.

      • Rob says:

        I agree

        Improv everywhere isn’t really improv. I participate with Improv in Toronto (the Toronto branch) and we do stuff like the subway dance party and free hugs etc.
        Oh well, great job anyways.

  9. samuel says:

    Flying Spaghetti Monster @ 3:15 of the video

    • Kurisu says:

      I am shamed to admit that I missed this obvious appearance of the Noodly Creator. Good catch! Ramen.

      As for the video: I see nothing wrong with throwing a few dollars (and some preparation to boot) into an event, especially if they are readily available, to make it something that much more memorable for everyone. Well played, IE!

    • Caity says:

      Okay, that took some real dedication to notice…I guess I’m not such an avid follower as you appear to be. That said, kudos for spying it.

  10. IE Junkie says:

    Standing O!!

  11. Aavis says:

    Beautifully organised and constructed! I like the movements of the agents, quite artistic! Good going!

  12. Bigeyes says:

    I love the lyrics and the music!!!
    Great job!

  13. Martin says:

    Another great mission. The awestruck children were funny. Its nice that the grocery store owners were so accommodating.

  14. David says:

    I hope the next Improv Everywhere book has a chapter called “I guess they do this here maybe.”

  15. excalipoor says:

    This is a good one. Sometimes it’s nice to see something this fun to bring people by surprise. Can you imagine if you doing this in Grand Central or Penn Station? That would be really interesting, but it would be hard to set up. Of course not all missions need to bring the crowd to do it. You guys brought different types of missions that all looks great. I hope I can participate the next mission you guys are planning though. =)

  16. meowbooks says:

    Well done. I’ve often wondered what life would be like as a musical. :D Kudos to the grocery store for being so accommodating. And thank you guys, for spreading smiles.

  17. the old clipper says:

    best one ever. you guys are nuts. does anybody from hollywood know about you?

  18. Stephanie says:

    the BEST was the guy at the end “maybe they do that here, I don’t know” hahahahahaha totally cracked me up! i love it, great job you guys!

  19. Dion says:

    Friggin’ awesome! I loved the food court musical and this one was equally amazing. Just watching the faces of people as they see more and more people joining into the musical is great. It kind of starts off with people thinking “wow why the hell is that weirdo singing?” and then realizing that it’s a spontaneous production.

    It’s funny watching some people try and just do their shopping with it going on, too.