200 Days in the Life of the College

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Saturday, January 29

Epic silliness through the digital ether

By Virginia Slattery ’12

More than 100 people — including students and some faculty members — infiltrate the Kirner-Johnson atrium, all with earbuds in place. At exactly 4 p.m., all press play on their iPods or MP3 players. And hilarity ensues.

“Later today we are going to be engaging in an epic battle,” declares the omnipotent voice of “Steve” to all who are participating in today’s MP3 Experiment, an event orchestrated by the New York City-based comedic performance art group Improv Everywhere. Each participant has already downloaded a 45-minute file from the Improv Everywhere website, and all now follow instructions in sync with one another. A sea of people dressed in red, green, yellow and blue transforms the usually quiet study area into a raucous playground. There are games of follow-the-leader, freeze tag and thumb wars. Without warning, I’m in a hoedown with a professor I’ve never met. But all this mayhem is simply preparation for the main event still to come.

Throughout the inspired silliness, nonparticipants look on with curiosity and amusement. A quick “nap” on the atrium floor — ordered by Steve — rejuvenates everyone for the so-called epic battle. That battle? It’s a war of the worlds pitting those wearing red and yellow against those in blue and green. The weapons? Balloons.

As instructed by Steve via earbuds, the opposing sides charge at each other, and the truly epic battle ensues. Balloons fly every which way as participants — following orders — enact dramatic deaths that bring the battle to its colorful conclusion. While the war divides, this MP3 Experiment — as intended — unites each and every one of us.