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The effect was immediate and striking. A baffled crowd didn't know what to make of it. Here are some of their reactions, which you can see and hear on the video:
"They stopped what they were doing, and just stood like... like, frozen!"
"It's like... everybody!"
"I think it's some kind of protest, or maybe an acting class."
"I can't move my cart, there's hundreds of people frozen everywhere. This is wild."
"They are not moving! I need some help."
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The 5 minute event was staged by Improv Everywhere, a group (movement?) founded by Charlie Todd in 2001. In a detailed description of the incident (which includes many comments from participants), he writes:
We got great reactions from the folks who encountered us. Strangers started talking to each other, trying to figure out what was going on. With wireless microphones hidden in our shirts, a few agents and I struck up conversations with folks.
It was fun to see all the different choices people made for their frozen moment. I didn’t give any instructions in advance. I just told everyone to be doing something realistic and not jokey. One guy dropped an entire briefcase full of papers the second before he froze, leaving his papers scattered before him for five minutes. Many froze midway through eating or drinking. A few froze while taking off a jacket. One couple froze kissing.
The video was released on Friday, and as of this writing, 1.4 million people have watched the video on YouTube, leaving over 4,000 comments. Perhaps it was a little too successful, though. The Improv Everywhere site racked up over 1.3TB of network traffic and several hundred dollars of charges from their ISP over the weekend, leading Charlie Todd to ask for help. "If you like what we do," he wrote in a plea posted on the site Monday, "please consider making a small donation to help us cover our costs."