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Published on September 28th, 2008 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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ImprovEverywhere – Toronto mp3 Experiment

Today was a first for me: I was invited to document the first-ever official ImprovEverywhere mission in Toronto, ON.

I’ve been an ImprovEverywhere fan for years, but until today I had only been able to catch the shenanigans online, after the the fact.  ImprovEverywhere was started by Charlie Todd, a New York-based improvisor with the UCB Theatre (where I took a few levels of training myself). Their goal is to cause “scenes of chaos and joy in public places” — in other words, do crazy shit that doesn’t piss anyone off.

My favourite ImprovEverywhere scenes are executed by a smaller number undercover “agents”, with the event details kept completely secret until the day of execution. My favourites are the Home Depot one, and the recent Mirror one. Surf their site, and you’ll undoubtedly find something that will stick with you.

For the most part, today’s “MP3 Experiment” was a huge success. It was a beautiful, hot Sunday afternoon, and the participants gathered at the south end of Riverdale Park, just east of downtown Toronto. Everyone had been given specific instructions: wear either a red, green, yellow, or blue t-shirt. Load the supplied mp3 on their players, and do not listen to it in advance. Bring an umbrella. Bring a deflated balloon. And at exactly 2pm, hit “play”.

At the top of the hill, it all began. It was fascinating for me to not be listening to the mp3 myself, trying to guess what the instructions were. They were being told to stretch. They were being told to point south. They were being told to hug each other, and then hug an inanimate object.

At one point, camera gear in hand, I found myself being charged at by a dozen people. I was relieved to learn that they only wanted to high-five me.

When the group began moving downhill, is when the only minor piece of trouble took place. A soccer field – the boundaries of which were indicated with only a faded line of white spraypaint – was in use by some serious players. Some participants, too focused on what they were doing, failed to realized that they were trespassing on the game and causing some serious stress for the referee. Yell as he might, the words “GET OFF THE FIELD” just would not penetrate through people’s earbuds.

A lesson in the importance of listening? Not getting too into your head?

Ok, perhaps that’s a stretch. But there were some fantastic improv principles in play.

It was the ultimate exercise of the “group mind” — albeit heavily prompted. Some people came without their tracks loaded, or without an umbrella, but still joined in and did their best to support their 300+ scene partners.

It was also an exercise in trust. Judging from the surprised laughter when instructions suggested something a little different, people hadn’t cheated and listened to the mp3 in advance. Several participants came with small babies in their arms, and stayed in the game the entire time, confident that things weren’t going to get dangerous.

The group moved passed the rogue soccer field, and the real craziness began. Umbrellas were opened, people jumped off the ground in unison. The group came together by colour, then seperated, then played a game of Twister using each other as the game board. Balloons were inflated, and then used as “weapons” to kill each other at the end. Needless to say, it was quite a spectacle.

In short: a good time had by all (soccer ref notwithstanding), and I’m proud to have been involved (periferally!) in the inaugural Toronto mission.

I’ll be referring back to ImprovEverywhere in an entry in the next few days, but in the meantime, enjoy a few photos of the folks who said “yes” to this mission:


View the full set on my Flickr.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



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