In creating a performance that was to be witnessed by stressed college students, I decided wanted to make them smile. I wanted to break up their day in an unusual way and give them a story to tell. To achieve this goal, I decided to emulate Improv Everywhere and perform a version of one of their pranks.
On November 16th 2011, seven students took their places in and around the Motley. We planned a sequence of events that would be repeated over and over. To differ from the Improv Everywhere version, we decided to repeat the sequence at varying intensity levels; we did it 4 times on low, 3 times on medium, and 1 time on high. I was curious as to how many people would notice the lower levels, before we amped it up and made it more obvious. I wanted a mix of extremely obvious and more subtle parts to our performance; it was to be a kind of game to see which elements people would notice. Though the performance primarily took place within the Motley, the people outside experienced it as well.
Here are the events that occurred:
- Jessica enters the Motley and reunites with her friend Jenna before having to run off to class. Jessica trips as she turns to leave, and has to reassure a concerned Jenna that she is all right.
- Sarah gets up from her seat and examines what is for sale. She begins to ask the baristas a question, but is interrupted by a sneeze that causes her to forget what she was going to say. She tells the baristas not to mind, and returns to her seat.
- Cornelia drops her belongings, and hurries to pick them up.
- Sarah has a coughing fit.
- Tracy sees Jenna from across the space. Mistaking Jenna for another friend, she goes to ask her about a homework question. Upon learning of her mistake, she returns to her seat, embarrassed.
- Cornelia takes off her shoe, removes a rock, and puts her shoe back on.
- Zac’s phone rings and he goes outside to take the call. On his way back, he bumps into Jenna’s chair. Zac apologizes to the irritated Jenna, and returns to his seat.
- John enters the Motley singing along to his Ipod, bobbing to the music.
- Jessica enters and the loop begins again.
Sarah was the only one who interacted directly with people not in our performance, and the baristas loved it. Here’s how Sarah described it:
“The first few times they thought that I just honestly couldn’t make up my mind, but then after a few more times, they started asking if they could help me make a decision with my order. “Can we help you decide? What kind of flavors do you usually like?” and then as my sneezing grew worse and worse, they started asking, “Is it allergies? Do you want some Benadryl?” And then by the last time they were catching on and would just start smiling and giggling slightly.”
Similarly, people at first believed that Tracy legitimately kept making the same mistake. Perhaps she was suffering from short-term memory loss? Those who know Jenna and Tracy were especially confused, knowing that they are friends.
When Cornelia pulled bigger and bigger rocks out of her shoe, those next to her were astonished, and very confused.
Of all the actions, John’s singing was the most obvious, and garnered the most reactions. At first people just laughed and shook their heads. As the piece continued and John got louder and more exuberant, the audience’s reactions began to vary. Everybody’s heads shot up each time he entered. Some people laughed, but others, especially by the end, shot him resentful looks.
Some notable quotes from the performance:
“Are we being Punked? We’re being Punked. Where’s Ashton?”
“I have a feeling this is going to be a thing.”
“The second time I was like, they’re trolling us aren’t they.”
One group of girls in particular took a lot of joy in the performance, and stayed the entire time. They explained to their friends the order of events, and seemed to notice almost all of the details.
By the second run, most people had started to notice something odd was happening, but were not entirely certain what. As the intensity rose, it became clearer to the audience that this was a performance. Many took a lot of joy from the performance as they tried to figure out what was happening and to predict what would happen next. Others steadfastly ignored the strange happenings, while a few shot the actors dirty looks.
There were many components to our performance, so not everything went smoothly. Some parts were forgotten, and not all of the transitions between parts were clear. But nonetheless they happened in order, and most importantly, we affected our audience. For those who allowed themselves to take in their surroundings and enjoy the moment, we brightened their day, and gave them a chance to laugh and smile.