The Mp3 Experiment

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.

“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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Stage left watches as stage right is told a secret
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.

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.

Group Photo as taken by the tallest person in the room
The tallest person was then instructed to take a photo of himself.

Apparently, he was just too tall!

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Santa passes the Chelsea gay bar Rawhide

Santa reaches McManus bar

Mp3 Experiment participants drink together until late into the night

Agent Wimpy

Back at the UCB Theatre, Agent Baer surveys the wreckage.

Sound designer Agent Walker chats with light designer Agent Baer

“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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