The Mp3 Experiment

Written by Katherine Steinberg. Katherine is a writer living in New York.

I’m normally the kind of person who loathes audience participation. Loathes.
So then why, you may ask, would I go to The Mp3 Experiment–an improv show
based entirely on audience participation? Because I have a deep and abiding
love for my ipod. I love my ipod so much that I may even buy it a hoodie.
Disturbing, yes, but so chic! The “experiment” promised to create a “moment
of happiness” on stage with every individual plugged in to the same 30 min
soundtrack. To my surprise, it delivered its promise.

I arrived and walked into the theater not sure what to expect in terms of
attendance or demographics. I was pleased to see maybe 40 or so laid-back
youngish, hipster-types enjoying beers and seeming generally at ease about
our impending participatory roles. I take one calming, cleansing breath.
The lights dimmed and at the behest of the projector we all push play. The
background music starts up–a mix of computer generated futuristic noises
alternating in both ears. Then came Steve–our “omnipotent voice for the
evening.” He asks us if we like happiness. (Um, yeah.) At this point there
are muted chuckles at different intervals because everyone started at a
slightly different time. I happened to be a bit behind the curve and while
it was slightly frustrating watching people getting a joke I hadn’t heard
yet, it did make me laugh just seeing people giggle at random.

So we were on our way to Happy Town. Population: you. Steve told us to get
on stage and stretch. And it’s funny. I don’t know why, but it is. Maybe
it’s because we’re all standing around with headphones performing group
exercises. Maybe it’s because it’s midnight and we’re all drunk. Then we are
instructed to start jumping. And we’re like Jiffypop. Jumping at random,
completely unselfconscious and laughing because jumping is awesome. Then we
all are told to high five to the sound of “High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” by
Beck pounding in the background. Even more awesome. I’m totally seven years

Next we open a special box on stage to find….bubbles! Bubbles for everyone!
The Beach Boys are blaring “Wouldn’t it be Nice” in my headphones and the
stage is filled with soapy goodness. Bubbles! Bubbles everywhere! The Beach
Boys segway into a dance party, but first it’s time for secrets. We divide
up by birthdays (January- June vs. July-December) and Steve tells a secret
to each group while the other has their headphones off. He tells one group
to dance as badly as they can and the other group to smile as much as
possible. I was in the smiling group. (The “dance badly” secret was revealed
by listening to the track the next day. When I found out Steve told both
groups we were his favorites I was crestfallen. How could you tell such
dirty, dirty lies, Steve?) Anyway….I’m all smiles, and not just because I
was told to smile. No, because the Cure is singing “Just Like Heaven” and it
rocks. And I’m still seven, dancing in my leopard print spandex with an
oversized shirt and bangle bracelets on. And it turns out that everyone was
just as bad a dancer at 7 as I was. Ha. Even better.

Next up we ostracize the tallest person and make him take a group photo
(tall man takes one of himself to supplement, of course) to the tune of the
Monkees “Daydream Believer.” Steve drinks a Mountain Dew. Then another
surprise box arrives. And inside are…wait for it…wait for it….Balloons!
Balloons for everyone! We’re blowin’ ’em up and shootin’ ’em around the room
because, as everyone knows, balloons get depressed when they’re on the
floor. And no one wants a sad balloon. NO ONE. “Your love keeps lifting me
higher” by Jackie Wilson is playing and I am gleeful! It’s like I just had a
handful of pixie sticks.

But now its time say goodbye. Steve tells us to hug, and I know it’s “good
touching” because I trust Steve. (If only I’d known about his lies earlier…)
We hugged to “Hold Me Now, Don’t Start Shaking” by the Polyphonic Spree and
I regretted later not telling everyone to “keep in touch!” because I thought
that would be really funny. I was feeling very warm and fuzzy. Not to
mention giggly. This would have been the perfect way to end the show.

However, it did not end here. Outside the theater we hung around to meet a
“special guest. ” From around the corner came a fully dressed (perhaps
drunk?) Santa Claus with large bottle cap glasses and a bag full of candy
canes for everyone. We all marched, headphone-less, behind him to some
unknown destination. He was shouting (apparently funny things?) but only the
front could hear him. We finally arrived at a bar where everyone split up
and I left. Now we were just a group of foolish looking strangers eating
candy canes with a drunk Santa. Macy’s employees, I envy you not.

Overall, I’ll still think fondly of the bubbles and balloons, and even the
jumping. I would definitely go to another show at the Upright Citizens
Brigade theater, but as soon as I hit the pavement outside I’m gone, man.

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