Black Tie Beach


(View it larger on YouTube)
Produced by Charlie Todd and Matt Adams / music by Tyler Walker

For our latest mission we had several hundred agents spend a day at Coney Island / Brighton Beach wearing black tie attire. We covered a mile-long stretch of beach with a diverse group of people of all ages (from babies to sixty-somethings) laying out, playing games, and swimming in the ocean, all in formal wear. Agents were instructed to find cheap tuxedos and ball gowns at thrift stores for the occasion.

Shot by: Matt Adams, Jason Eppink, Keith Haskel, Erik Martin, Chloe Smolkin, Charlie Todd
Photography: Brian Fountain, Ari Scott, Katie Sokoler (full flickr sets for each photographer at the bottom of this post.)


pre-mission briefing

About a month before the mission, we sent out a notice to our New York Mailing List informing agents that for our next mission they would need to procure black tie attire that they didn’t mind ruining. We wanted to give folks a few weeks to check out some thrift stores or rummage through their grandparents’ closets.


The crowd of agents

We met at Seaside Park, which was conveniently located just across the street from the boardwalk, close to the border of Coney Island and Brighton Beach. It’s tough to say exactly how many agents participated, (if anyone wants to count heads in the photo above, go for it!) but we were thrilled with the turnout. Everyone managed to find awesome outfits, and most spent only a few bucks. The premise of the mission was to spend a day at the beach with absolutely everything being normal apart from our fancy dress. We also encouraged agents to bring normal beach accessories, to make the day more fun.


Scuba gear!

After we got organized, it was time to head over to the beach. I instructed the agents to spread out and approach the beach from different directions and over a period of time, so that we didn’t look like we were all coming from the same place. Also, Coney Island is infamously crowded, and we didn’t want to make the crowding any worse by showing up to the same spot. We ended up covering a pretty huge area, probably about a mile of beach.


Agents approaching the boardwalk


Agents begin appearing all over the beach


Taking a walk


Agent Diaz and her daughter


New friends

We had a really great range of ages participate. There were several toddlers and even some infants as well as folks in their sixties and just about every age in between.

Brighton Beach has a huge Russian population and a pretty heavy percentage of the folks who encountered us were of Russian descent.

A few minutes into the mission, I went on a walk by myself to survey the scene. Folks on the beach were just starting to notice that something was up, and an older woman in a bikini stopped me.

Woman: What is this?

Me: Excuse me?

Woman: Where are you coming from? We just saw someone else in a tuxedo as well.

Me: Oh, I’m just going on a walk. I just came here with my girlfriend. She’s back that way.

At this point a crowd of people started forming, listening to our conversation and laughing.

Woman: Are you going to swim?

Me: I’m not sure. Is the water cold?

Several others: No! It’s warm!

Woman: The other guy in the tuxedo was swimming!

Me: In his clothes?

Woman: Yes, you have to do it now too!

At this point the whole group started chanting “go! go! go!” and clapping their hands, pressuring me to jump in the water. I hadn’t planned on going in quite so early, but it looked like I had no choice. I handed my glasses to the woman I’d been chatting with, and a man stopped me to give me a Catholic Sign of the Cross before I went running in. Here’s a video of the encounter, captured by Agent Eppink:

It was a really wonderful moment. Everyone on the beach was so happy and supportive. An older Russian man quickly waded out to me with an iPhone 4 in his hands, determined to snap a closeup photo. After he was done he asked for my email address so he could send it to me, which I thought was really sweet. I watched him convert his keyboard from Russian to English to get my address, and then he emailed it to me right then and there. Nice guy!


the iPhone photo

Then a second man approached me in the water to take a photo with his camera. He had such a happy look on his face; I asked him if I could interview him with my waterproof flip camera. You can see the interview at the end of the main video up top. He was awesome.


More agents start swimming


All black tux and a boogie board

Our agents came up with a wonderful variety of activities to do during their day at the beach.


Chicken fights


Catch


Frisbee


Flying a kite


Kissing


Running


Metal detecting


Relaxing


Mud fights


Getting buried in the sand


Belly flops

It was fun to watch all the interactions between our participants and the other folks at the beach. When asked why they were dressed up, agents mostly responded that they were doing it “for fun” or that they “just like dressing up for the beach.” Of course, no one would admit to knowing the other dressed up folks. These responses frustrated some inquisitive locals, but most seemed to get the joke just fine.

Bizarrely, one man proposed marriage to one of the agents!

By the end of the day, agents and locals could be seen playing games together.


Black Tie vs. Skins

The police drove by a few times, doing their normal rounds. One cop reportedly said that he must have “missed the memo.” A police helicopter flew overhead as well. This was probably a routine occurrence, but a few agents reported the chopper lingering and an officer on board smiling and taking photos of them in the water.

Late in the day, a group of agents decided to all run into the water together.

There was no official end to the mission. Folks stayed as long as they liked. Some decided to go the amusement park.

All in all it was a great day at the beach for everyone involved!


Members of the IE video and photo crew pose for a shot post-mission

Mission Accomplished


OTHER RESOURCES:

Agent Fountain’s set (89 photos)
Agent Scott’s set (165 photos)
Agent Sokoler’s set (146 photos)

Read the agent reports from hundreds of participants in the comments here.

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Comments

comments

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83 Responses to Black Tie Beach

  1. Melissa says:

    What a really cool idea! You guys completely achieved making this event fun for everyone and I really enjoyed seeing the clips! You’re missions always make me smile and I hope I can someday participate in one of them with you guys! (:

  2. how fun! fun for everyone involved! we do monthly themed ArtRides where we dress up and ride around town (Ventura, north of LA) and we get these kinds of reactions too, where participants and observers get big smiles.

    Hmmn, maybe this should be a theme–Black Tie ArtRide.

  3. Terrorize says:

    Love this mission! I should plan one of these next summer in Toronto after prom!

  4. Susan says:

    OMG! Now I really wish I had gone. Metal detecting! Fricking hilarious!

  5. Susan and Rich says:

    This is so much fun. What was also cool about the outtake was that the same group of people had just applauded for my friend and me when we had gone for our first swim that day. Right after that, we saw Charlie get into the ocean and get cheered. What a fun time!

  6. Shelly says:

    I loved this one – I love all your stunts but since I live at the beach (in NC) I really loved this one. Would enjoy seeing this happen here in the middle of tourist season. Keep on going!

  7. Guydude says:

    Not first post!

  8. the yellow tooth hawk says:

    best one ever! do we have a confirmed date on the 2011 event

  9. Nicki says:

    That looks like so much fun! :)

  10. Lizzy Ryan says:

    Thanks again for the awesome time!

  11. Leslie says:

    Should have done this one – looks like it was a blast!

  12. Viktor says:

    This really made me happy. I am so glad you exist. I remember when I first discovered you by accident I scoured your website and went though 90% of the missions and it felt like you had done so much. Afterwards, it seemed to me that missions come so slowly, I sort of forgot about you a bit. But seeing this today, it just makes it all worth it. This was just really inspired.

    Thank you.

    • francine says:

      Viktor-

      Are you an agent?

    • Shai says:

      I had the exact same reaction when I first learned about IE. Watched just about any related video youtube had to offer, and then… WHERE ARE MORE VIDEOS? Yep, they just can’t come fast enough. I really wish I lived in the area and could participate, and I’m positive that the occurrence of an IE mission will play a major role in planning my next trip to NY.
      ImprovEverywhere – YOU ROCK!

  13. Lori Luza says:

    Kudos to the guy wearing a TOP HAT. LOL!

  14. Tracy says:

    Excellent! Each picture made me laugh harder than the last. Scuba guy with the shovel? LOLOL I especially loved the water wings with formal wear. A fashion must.
    Looks like an absolute blast for you and the non-participants, and a true IE mission in every sense of the word – spreading joy. Just reading it I had a flashback to the joy of participating in last years mp3 experiment.

  15. Rob says:

    Way to act like children. This kind of hipster nonsense is exactly what’s ruining NYC.

    • Charlie Todd says:

      Agreed. I was especially annoyed at all of the baby and toddler participants acting like children. And don’t get me started on all of the hipster families and sixty-somethings.

    • Agent J-Mo says:

      I’m not quite sure what makes this a hipster event. What I can say though is its that kind of closed minded and routine attitude that IE is trying to break through. There was nothing but laughter from people on that beach, and yet, at the end of a great day, you Rob have to find some way to down on it.

      I hope in the future, your receive more hugs from everyone. Next IE Mission, find Rob (this one) and give him hugs.

      • Ari Scott says:

        Rob is right! I am tired of all the children on the beach who always dress up in tiny tuxedos and ball gowns.

        • Jason Eppink says:

          Hear hear! I, for one, am sick and tired of people having fun on the beach. They’re ruining the beach for everyone else!

          • Michiyo says:

            It’s just too bad that people think that they own the beach. -shakes head- Fun isn’t a thing to do at the beach, when will people learn?

          • Mike Fiedler says:

            I mean seriously, people. The beach is no place for fun and games.
            Anyone enjoying themselves at the beach is simply exploiting a natural resource for their own pleasure!
            What about all the people that are unhappy, simply looking for a place to be alone? You’ve effectively chased them off the beach, what with your fancy ballroom gowns and cummerbunds. And bikinis.
            I’m with Rob, stop acting like children. This has gone too far. I mean, what else will IE desecrate next? Public bathrooms??!

    • Meg says:

      I’m a 40 year who accompanied a group of autistic junior high kids to this event. I felt like we fit right in with the group and I don’t think we could be any less hipsterish. We all had an absolute blast by the way. Such “nonsense” might be ruining NYC for you but it’s making it a whole lot better for these kids.

    • Michiyo says:

      Then I want these hipsters in my town. Please. It might make if more -gasp- fun.

    • Julia says:

      Rob, are you still bitter because you got lost at the Yankee game? C’mon man that was 4 years ago.

  16. Eoin says:

    Fantastic! Reminds me of one of those Jack Vettriano paintings. Whose idea was it?

  17. Jameira says:

    I had soooo much fun…it was my first mission and I made it in the pics above. I can’t wait to do it again!!

  18. Lioness12 says:

    Fantastic mission!
    I was at Coney Island again on the 29th and there was a man walking around in a tuxedo and tophat! He must have been looking for us!

    hahahaha

  19. ginny rea says:

    This is really nice… Keep up the great fun work!

  20. Cameron says:

    It truly was a lovely day at the seaside.

    My companion and I arrived about an hour after the event began, and as we alighted at the station, another couple who was boarding the train (and not in formal attire) eyed us nonchalantly and said, “You’re late.”

    Indubitably, but we could say “fashionably late”, could we not?