The New York Times Arts
The New York Times - Theater - Tony Awards
Skip to article Welcome, bugmenot87 - Member Center - Log Out - Help
Arts Home Art & Design Dance Music Television Columns

Where the Streets Have No Shame

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Terry Jinn, left, as more or less The Edge and Ptolemy Slocum as something of a Bono on a Manhattan rooftop recreating a well-known MTV moment.

Published: May 29, 2005

Charlie Todd is the creator of Improv Everywhere, a rotating cast of comedians, actors and other interested participants that travels around New York to carry out what he calls "missions" - bizarre, anonymous happenings such as staffing the restroom of Midtown McDonald's with a bathroom attendant, or performing a synchronized swimming routine in the fountain at Washington Square Park. When U2 announced that it would be playing a concert on May 21 at Madison Square Garden, just two blocks from Mr. Todd's apartment - and when the show sold out almost immediately - he conceived his latest mission. In the spirit of the band's impromptu public concerts, which include a famous rooftop concert for the video of "Where the Streets Have No Name," Mr. Todd planned a U2 concert for his own roof - with his own U2.

The first step: rounding up friends from improv circles who could play the right instruments. In the roles of Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. were Ptolemy Slocum, Terry Jinn, Dan Goodman and Chris Kula, none of whom looked like anyone from U2. Mr. Jinn, for example, is Korean-American. But Mr. Todd hoped that wigs and sunglasses, and the four stories separating the band from the crowd, would be enough to fool people in the street.

Then there was the matter of drawing a crowd. A week before the concert, Mr. Todd e-mailed more than a hundred people, telling them to gather at the post office across from the Garden on May 21 and await instructions. The several dozen people who showed up were met 15 minutes before the fake concert (75 minutes before the real one) by two of Mr. Todd's "agents" and told to mingle with the concert crowd, then hurry toward Mr. Todd's building.

Just before 7 Mr. Todd, wearing a T-shirt with an Apple logo, picked up a megaphone and introduced the band. They played the first chords of "Vertigo" to the roars of the crowd that had formed across the street. Many of the passersby who stopped to watch "U2" were tipped off by Mr. Slocum's less than convincing vocals. But there were a number who couldn't say for sure, and at least a few who were stubbornly convinced they were watching the real thing.

The crowd continued to grow and cheered Mr. Slocum on, but the real guerrilla-theater reward came about 20 minutes into the set when five (real) police officers emerged from a neighboring roof hatch. To chants of "Let them play!" and "Attica!" from nearby rooftops, the police broke up the concert, just as they had at the actual U2 roof concert 18 years earlier, and handcuffed Mr. Todd and Mr. Slocum. The result: no arrests, but summonses for "unreasonable noise" to Mr. Todd, the band and two photographers, which will probably mean small fines. Later that evening, Mr. Todd lounged in his apartment with the band members, recounting in detail their banter with the police. His final judgment? "A total success," he said.

While the police were inside with the band, a downpour broke and the crowd dispersed, except for a handful waiting in the rain to get a glimpse of U2. One self-described "real Irishman," who stayed for the entire fake concert, asked a reporter if he knew where the band was partying afterward.