For our latest mission, we surprised random people by turning back the clock 150 years at a local bar, completely transforming it into 1860s New York. We worked with accomplices to invite unsuspecting friends to the Black Rabbit Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The bar was completely lit by candles and kerosene lanterns and was filled with actors in period dress. Beer cost pennies, and music was provided by a live band. By the end of the night, our surprised guests found themselves in the middle of an old-fashioned bar fight.
We’ve also launched a new series, Mission Report, which features news and behind-the-scenes from Improv Everywhere projects. The first installment shows some additional footage from the 1860s bar. Check it out.
This project was a collaboration with the BBC America series Copper.
Enjoy the videos first and then go behind the scenes with our mission report and photos below.
Created and Directed by: Charlie Todd
Shot by: TV Boy
Edited by: Deverge
Music: Tyler Walker
Photography: Katie Sokoler – (photo credit for all photos on this page.)
Principal Cast: (in order of appearance) Ryan Karels; Erik Dies; Kent Lanier; Alan Starzinski; Josh Sharp; Cody Lindquist; Amber Nelson; Tyler Walker; Joe Exley, Stefan Zeniuk, Brian Belcinski, Jonathan Erdman, Matt Adams; Kevin Hines
Actors hanging out before the prank
Improv Everywhere rarely does missions that are “set-ups.” Those who experience our projects are usually completely random people who stumble upon the right place at the right time. The last time we did a set-up prank like this was Ted’s Birthday, which also took place in a bar. In many ways, The 1860s Bar is a sequel to Ted’s Birthday. Both projects feature actors approaching random strangers in a bar and mistaking them for someone they are not. While Ted’s Birthday really focused on the misidentification aspect, this project was more about surprising people with an entire world.
We completely transformed the Black Rabbit Bar into 1860s New York, down to the last little detail. Even the newspaper the actor at the bar read was from the 1860s. Light bulbs were removed and replaced with candles, the computer cash register was covered with a burlap sack and replaced with a period cash register, liquor bottles were replaced with generic old bottles, beer taps were replaced with old wooden taps, barrels were lurking in the corners, and actors played poker with old cards.
Art director Andy Meyers shows bartender Agent Ryan Karels how to use the old cash register
Since we wanted everything to be extremely historically accurate, it was crucial to keep the cameras completely hidden. We used really great lenses that actually see better than the human eye. The bar was actually MUCH darker than it appears in the video. It was really only lit by candles and kerosene lanterns. This helped hide the cameras really well. One camera operator sat in the booth with the poker players above, his head under the black sheet over the camera. In the darkness, he was invisible.
One camera operator stood on a ladder at the back of the bar, his lens poking through a black sheet, also invisible in the dim bar.
Getting great audio was key for this project. I think we used the most wireless mics we’ve ever used in an Improv Everywhere mission. All of the principal actors were mic’d and we hid mics along the bar as well to pick up the patrons.
In the back patio of the bar we could see playback of all of our cameras. I was able to watch everything as it went down and cue the actor entrances at the appropriate times.
Agents Brian Belcinski (the cop) and Matt Adams rehearse the fight earlier in the day
Agent Tyler Walker gets dressed
The costumes were also very important for this one. Costume designer Dede Ayite did a great job outfitting our cast. The men’s facial hair helped out quite a bit too.
Dede tries out options for Agent Cody Lindquist
Unfortunately we don’t have any photos from the mission itself– we couldn’t have a camera in the room snapping pictures in the 1860s. Hopefully the video tells the story and gives a true sense for what it was like.
A storm rolled in right when we got started and we were lucky to have all of our equipment underneath tents in the back! The lightning in the opening shot in the video is very much real.
This was a really fun night, despite weather. In fact, I think it made the whole thing more eerie and strange.
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