Featuring: DMartin, JMartin, Todd, Keech, Sklaren, Kula, Rainswept, Winckler, Arnheiter, Harms, Roche, Camper, Arnold, Blumenthal, Appel, Sheldon, Jesster, Berrebbi, Tudor,Leonard, Montague, Thomas, Ronen, Skinner, Raichel, Loncaric, Katina, DeSmet, Mullaney, Calhoun, Gerdts, Tyne, Murphy, Lee, Rosen, Scherer, Adner, az3456, Cicci, Gwendy, Lathan, German
DV Cams: Agent Winckler, Agent az3456
Digital Photgraphy: Agent Todd, Agent Spacedani
Mission Inspired by: Agent Lee
42 Improv Everywhere Agents convened on the steps of De La Guarda at 3 PM on Saturday, July 19. We were just a few bodies away from setting a record for largest mission (held by No Pants 2k3). Our goal was to take over a bank of 35 listening stations on eastern wall of the Virgin Megastore on 14th Street. After taking control we would carry out a 2-phase mission of 1) standing robotically staring out and 2) performing a choreographed dance.
IE Agents gather at De La Guarda, our meeting point
Once we were all met, the group headed over to a shady, grassy spot in Union Square Park. Agent Todd organized the team in a line and numbered them off 1 through 39. Agent Keech had prepared a simple repetitive bit of choreography, which he spent about 10 minutes teaching to the group. It involved slowly bringing your hand up over your head one at a time, turning and placing your hands one at a time on your partner’s shoulder, dipping to the ground by bending at your knees, rocking your head with your hands on your headphones, and then repeating the motions in the opposite direction. Folks laying out in the park looked on with confused stares as all 39 participating agents figured out the moves.
After a brief prep talk from Agent Todd, the group dispersed in different directions and entered the Megastore one by one.
Agents slowly took over all 35 listening stations on the eastern wall as well as four additional stations on an adjacent column. If there was a customer already at an Agent’s assigned station (based on the number given to him by Agent Todd), he politely waited his turn in line. Agents whose stations were out of order, were instructed to act as if it was working properly.
IE Agents begin to take over the stations
Agents Adner, JMartin, and DMartin in the 1, 2, and 3 spots.
Agents Arnheiter and Sklaren
Agent Mullaney mans station 5
Agent Todd was in charge of giving the signals to begin the various phases of the mission; he walked around the store as a normal customer with his digital camera on hand to document the event. Agent Winckler strolled around with his trademark hidden camera bag, and Agent az3456 prepared to use his un-hidden DV camera.
Agent Winckler roams the store with his hidden-cam bag
Agent Lathan “listens” at a broken station
Agent Todd gives the signal
We were concerned that it could possibly take a long amount of time to take over all 39 stations, but within 10 minutes, we were ready to go. Agent Todd stood behind the first row of the “rock/pop/soul” and quietly lifted a Jeff Buckley CD high in the air to signal phase one.
Phase 1 begins
The 39 agents turned as one and together faced forward, arms at their side, eyes staring straight ahead. Customers began to stop and gawk, some laughing, some totally confused. One by one the number of Megastore employees increased, some laughing, some determined to fix the problem. The staff and security did not have any precedent for handling 39 people staring outwards. They tried desperately to figure out why it was taking place, and seemed concerned for how long it would last. Security guards began telling employees to congregate near the register.
Numbers 16 – 35
Agents Arnold, Camper, Roche, and Blumenthal
Agent Todd was told twice to stop using his digital camera. “No cameras allowed, sir. Put it away now.” Other customers taking photos were also ordered to stop. Agent az3456 boldly began filming with his DV cam, getting as much footage as he could before he was escorted out of the store by a security guard. Agent Winckler was able to continue filming for the entirety of the mission with the use of his hidden-cam bag, although he was subject to stern looks from the staff.
Agents Skinner, Murphy, Montague, and Rosen
Many customers approached the staff members, looking for an explanation and assuming that the scene was part of a Megastore promo event. Staff members replied exasperatedly that they had no clue what was taking place. A man turned to his wife and instructed her to go find their daughter and make sure she was “ok”. Some people seemed genuinely scared at the prospects of what might happen next.
Stations 36 – 39, located on a column next to the wall
Security made a decision to cut all power to the music in the listening stations. Their reasoning was that if the agents weren’t actually listening to music, then they were loitering and could be arrested for doing so. They called the police.
Megastore staff members begin to arrive
A crowd beings to gather
After about five minutes of standing, just as the tension was about to explode, Agent Todd again raised the Jeff Buckley CD, signaling the 39 agents to begin their dance. Wilco’s “Shot in the Arm” played loudly over the store PA as the arm movements began. The beginning of the dance put most of the staff, security, and customers at rest. Laughter and smiles became the dominant theme, especially amongst customers and the lower-level staff. The management and security guards continued to stress out as they began to increase their numbers in the check out area.
Phase 2 begins
The dancing went on uninterrupted for a solid five minutes. A few security guards approached the dancers trying to get information. One man got in Agent Lenoard’s face and demanded, “Who is in charge here?!?” She continued dancing as if she didn’t see him. As the tension grew to another boiling point, Agent Todd again gave the signal with the Jeff Buckley CD to begin the final phase of the mission. Agent Adner, stationed in the #1 spot, slowly took off his headphones and exited out the front door, walking through a conglomerate of 10 employees on his way out.
Customers watch the dance
The crowd grows
The dance continues
The two customers in the middle eventually followed IE Agents outside (see photo below)
Customer tries to figure out what is going on
Agent Loncaric leaves her station
One by one the agents left in numerical order. Some headed directly for the door, others chose to blend in a shop before leaving. As soon as any agent got ten feet away from his post, he was indistinguishable from any other customer in the store. They disappeared as quickly and discreetly as they had arrived. The agents at the end of the line continued dancing, all the way down to Agent Leonard dancing by herself.
The remaining agents continue to dance
Megastore employees inform shoppers that they were not involved
The security and staff of the Megastore continued to huddle together and discuss the situation. Eventually the police arrived. Friends of IE Agents overheard the following exchange:
Megastore guy: They were all just standing there.
Cop: What were they doing?
Megastore guy: Just standing, and then they all danced.
Cop: Did they say anything?
Megastore guy: No.
Cop: Why are we here?
2 shoppers head outside to try to follow agents
Agents regroup back in the park
IE Agents scattered in different directions upon leaving the store, and met up in the park at the same place they had learned the dance.
The concept for this event started several weeks ago when I was at the Virgin Megastore at a listening station. I was checking out the new Metalica album and the person a few listening posts away from me was listening to Santana’s Shaman album and singing along with “The Game Of Love” song. I just thought it was funny, someone unashamedly singing aloud in a public space like that. So I mentioned to Agents Todd later that evening that it might be fun to grab control of all the listening stations and have everybody singing whatever was in their station. Just one big loud cacophony of people singing whatever.
He agreed that the listening posts could prove to be an interesting “theatre space” to operate in, but he’d have to get back to me.
I met up with my IE contact again on the morning of July 13th, at approximately 0500 hours underneath a Gristides supermarket in Chelsea. He informed me of his choreographed dance concept and gave me choice then and there, in or out. How could I say no to a choreographed dance routine?
So that’s how the concept got rolling.
As to the day of the event: my strategy was to arrive at my listening station early and really get into whatever album I was assigned. (station 19: Global Underground: Toronto. This album features the DJ/Mixer duo of Deep Dish, whom I know. Ali and Sharam have done mixes for the band I manage.) So I was the second or third operative to “plug in” to my listening station. I brought a copy of the New York Times’ weekend Business Day section to help pass the time while the other agents got into position. It seems like it took forever, but I guess it probably was only 20 minutes or so.
One alarming thing happened. It seemed like everyone was getting pretty well plugged in when I had a tap on my shoulder. I turned and a woman was looking at me very crossly. I took my headphones off and she asked if she could listen too. She was holding copies of the Norah Jones and George Benson CDs in her hand, so I guessed she wasn’t going to be listening to my Deep Dish buddies for very long. So I stepped aside and let her listen for a minute. Glancing around it seemed EVERYONE was ready to go except me… so that was stressful. But as I guessed, she put the headphones down after about 45 seconds. “Are you going to get it? Those guys are friends of mine,” I said. “No,” she said, “I was just wanted to listen to something and all the stations are taken and you were just reading the paper.” I replied, “The DJs on that album are friends of mine. I want to listen to the whole album. I’m sorry to make you wait,” and I plugged back in as she walked away.
The 180 and robot pose segment was very cool. It was my favorite moment really. I just focused in on the cover of the Atari’s album that was directly across from my listening post. I had turned the sound down on my listening station, but I could still hear the music playing. I was concerned because the DJ on the storewide sound-system who had been playing pretty jammin’ house music suddenly shifted to slow ballads. I forget now which songs, but it was definitely in the 80-84 beats per minute range. Slow.
The choreographed movement started and I immediately jumped in. I synced up with the agents on my left and right pretty well I think. (Agent Appel with Coldplay’s first album and Agent Thomas with the aforementioned Metalica.) I admit, I did not really register people’s reactions to us as I was “In The Zone.” I just tried to focus on the movements and keeping up with the group. I trooped through it til the break up signal was given. I kept going until agent Appel pealed off and headed out.
I decided too many of us were making for the main exit so I crossed over and exited through the café. And rather than directly head to the rendezvous point I picked up a Grande No Whip Mocha Frappachino at Starbucks.
“I don’t know WHAT’s going on, but it’s NOT going to end well,” exclaimed one patron as we were standing in a row staring, expressionless, into the store with earphones on.
At one point a touristy-looking dad kind of pushed his two daughters over toward us while we were dancing saying, “Go on, you can do it to if you want to!”
Someone looked at me on the end of the line with my big purse on my shoulder and said to the person next to him, “Look at her, she must have just joined in!”
My only interaction with anybody in the store was when I exited and a suburban dressed father touched my shoulder and said: “Hey, what was that all about?” in the tone of voice you use with an 8-year old soccer player who’s picking the grass rather than running after the ball. But I was a robot and kept on walking, betraying no emotion. The mystery only deepened for this poor father.
When the agents turned around: I overheard the following comments from patrons of the Megastore: “What are they doing? What’s going on?”
Then the choreography started with a beautiful fanning of arms. A customer said:
“This must be that…Performance Art…New York is so crazy!”
I then heard the Megastore staff comment: “When did they come in? I didn’t even see them…”
One of the staff members was alerted to go downstairs – I subsequently learned this probably was to cancel any music that was coming thru the headphones. One bearded staff member was watching and laughing as he commented: “Anything can happen in this city!”
I anticipated having to wait in line for our stations, but I’m not sure I anticipated other customers having to wait in line once we had control. I enjoyed watching customers wait a good 10 minutes for their desired stations. Then, it was cool to see their reactions when we all turned around. Some were delighted, some confused, others just plain scared.
A highlight of my experience: After we had all turned to face forward, an old man turned to his wife and said, “I bet they’re giving away free tee-shirts.”
My quads and glutes are very sore this morning from the ‘bend down’ segment of the dance. Although I do not perform this move very often, I committed to it with great gusto.
When I grow up, I want to be able to dance like Agent Lathan. Some might say he’s got no rhythm, but I disagree: the reason he always seemed to be two moves ahead of the rest of us is that he’s just got TOO MUCH rhythm.
After “peeling off” and walking away trying to act as natural as possible, a young woman stops me in hysterics saying, “Wait! Just tell me why.” I turn around and say, “Why what?” “Why? Why This? Please just tell me why you did it.” I apologetically say, “I’m not sure what you mean. Sorry.” As I turn around I hear her plead one last time, “Please”. As I left her in bepuzzlement I headed out the door past the gathering of staff and security and got several smiles and head-nods. I think they got it.
I had a blast with this mission. At first I was worried I’d be assigned a booth that was broken or just bad TeeNick music. Instead at random I stood at booth 28th which was Grammy Winner Nora Jones. This just happened to be an album I’d been curious to give a good listen too, apparently others felt this way too. Right as I stepped up to the station, a girl stood right behind me patiently waiting for me to finish so that she could listen too. Four songs go by in my headset as I’m waiting for the mission to begin, and there she was still waiting for me to wrap up my sampling of the CD. I started feeling a little bad so I just acted like I didn’t see her and kept gazing into the distance pensively taking in my Nora Jones…a little sad at times, thinking fond memories at other times rocking back and forth to the mellow songs. Finally as we faced forward preparing for the dance the girl busted out laughing. She finally gave up, and moved on… no Nora for her that day – but what a great dance!
For the first time in history, the listening stations have created a security concern.
I felt a lot of pressure by being in listening post 1. At first it was only because I thought I would screw up the dancing part, but once we entered the store I worried that I would be one of the people approached by onlookers and security.
Oddly enough none of that happened.
When I reached my listening station I saw a “Temporarily out of order” sign on it. So I went to station #3 to hold Agent DMartin’s spot for him until he arrived. When he did, I returned to #1 (Beyonce) and moved the sign to the side so that I wouldn’t be questioned why I was listening at a broken booth.
I was really upset that Agent JMartin in station #2 had a working machine and was able to listen to Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief”. I had to settle for bopping my head to the music playing for the store. It wasn’t until the next day that Agent Scherer told me that at some point security turned off the music in all of the machines.
We took over all of the listening stations relatively quickly, and it wasn’t long before Agent Todd gave the signal for us to stand at attention. I had a hard time not smiling, for what felt like the 10 minutes we stood still, but it became easier as I practiced the dance steps in my head.
Once the dancing started I was really into it. There was some confusion as to which way to turn the first two times, but afterward things went smoothly. I liked seeing “the wave” that formed from my side of the line going a little bit slower than the other one.
I could have gone dancing for a lot longer, but I saw Agent Todd give me the signal to leave, continued for a few more seconds, replaced my headphones, put back the sign, and headed for the door. Once again I was sure that someone would stop me and ask what was going on, but everyone was still mesmerized so I was able to slip out easily.
I walked west on 14th street, then north along Union Sq. west until I ran into Agent DMartin just north of the fountain where Circle Line Tour Mission took place. We shared our mission experiences and headed back to the rendezvous point.
I was near the front of the store, at listening station 8, in close proximity to both the door and main cash registers. Listening station 8 was home to Ashanti’s new album. Sadly, my station was broken. It seemed as if nobody really noticed most of the agents until we all turned around, stony faced, looking out…then came the snowball effect. First a couple of customers stopped, wondering what was going on. Soon, a customer alerted a sales clerk to our strange presence–she started laughing and pointing, and called over some of her coworkers. A manager then came over, furrowed his brow, and walked away. Finally, security guards with walkie-talkies came over and eyed us suspiciously. I don’t think they knew whether we were part of the protests going on that day in Union Square or part of an elaborate shoplifting scheme or what, but they seemed a bit concerned. Those of us in the front of the store got the brunt of their attention. One even walked over to one of our Agents (I believe Agent Mullaney) and asked him what was going on. Almost everyone relaxed when we started dancing…
After we had performed the dance a couple of times, a little girl with pigtails peeked out from behind a CD kiosk and started dancing along with us. She also stuck her tongue out to see if she could break anyone’s concentration, but we were too plugged into the group groove to notice. When she realized that she wasn’t having any effect, she walked away.
Five minutes after entry into the Virgin Megastore, I found myself waiting behind a Civilian occupying my booth #27, album titled Deep Sexy 2. Minutes later Agent Roche and Agent Camper take position at booths 23 and 24. Agent Roche exclaims “50 cent, alright!” Agent Camper begins to dance. Civilian at booth 27 turns around after five minutes and apologizes for keeping me waiting. I say, “No problem, I just really have been looking forward to hearing this!” Civilian leaves, and I continue on to groove to Deep Sexy 2 until Agent Todd gives the first high sign. As I pretend to enjoy Deep Sexy 2, another Civilian, a woman, is really staring down Agent Loncaric at booth 28, she’s been waiting to listen to the Norah Jones album for quite sometime. I try to make eye contact with lady Civilian as if to say, “I know, I had to wait awhile, too,” but was unsuccessful.
Agent Todd gives the first high sign, and we all stand straight out. People look at me and try to get a reaction, but I just stare straight ahead. I hear one man say to his child, “Let’s find mommy and make sure she doesn’t get hypnotized.” Agent Todd gives second high sign, and we start moving. I see our camera guys swooping by, and one gets stopped by security. He claims he has nothing in his bag and is looking for a CD for his mom. As we go, more and more people and security accumulate. Agent Todd gives the last high sign, and we start to file off one by one. When its my turn to go, and I don’t have two people to take my movement off of anymore, I turn the wrong way, turn back forward, take off the earphones, and leave the store. Those people had no idea what hit them.
I knew once I saw the first few moves of the dance we were to do, I was in trouble. I’m not much of a dancer, especially when it comes to doing things in synch with others. So I begged for extra practice time before we got started.
When we got inside, I noticed my station (#35, all the way on the left) was occupied by someone, so I walked around the store for a bit. I didn’t know how to let him know I wanted his station, so I just started picking up the CDs around him, and kind of feigning interest in them. Eventually he left, and I got to the station, and began waiting for Agent Todd’s signal.
Once Agent Todd lifted the CD, slowly we all turned around and stopped what we doing. This got some customers’ immediate attention. I heard a lot of camera’s going off, although I wasn’t sure how many of them were ours, and how many of them belonged to strangers. I sort of glanced around, and I noticed no one was willing to make eye contact with me, which I guess made it easier for me to stand still and look completely robotic.
I definitely stumbled through the first few minutes of the dance. What made it difficult for all of us was dancing together to the very slow beat of the song that was on at the moment. There was a techno beat on when we walked in that would have been great. Pretty soon I got the hang of it. After a few more minutes, my lifelong lack of stretching and yoga started to show itself, as my muscles began to cramp. But in the face of muscle aches, and a little bit of thirstiness, I pressed on. When it came time for me to finish I walked just a few rows over and started looking at some CDs, and looking around no one seemed to care about me anymore. I cried a bit on the inside…
I got stuck at an “out of service” listening station. There was a girl waiting behind me to use it for about five minutes while I stood there and pretended to listen to Coldplay. I was thinking about just letting her get on to see what kind of reaction I would get. “Oh…well it was working fine for me. I guess your ears are broken.” Eventually she got bored and walked away.
At one point well into the mission, I was approached by a Virgin Megastaffer who said, “You have to leave now.” I said, “why?” “You’re taking pictures, my boss talked to you, you have to go.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m just here shopping.” “My boss talk to you, he told you no picture.” “Listen–no one’s talked to me, I’m just here buying a CD for my mother.”
Whereupon he strode away. I’m not sure if he even noticed the lens sticking out of my bag.
After taping the last dancer, Agent Leonard, I watched Agent Todd speaking to other bystanders as if he knew nothing about it, that sly devil. As he left, he walked right by the security guard who had hassled me. I taped it all.
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