Bern O'Sullivan wasn't expecting her Parents & Families Weekend visit to her daughter to include an impromptu dance party in Pollock Quad.
This display was just one of many activities included in Saturday's MP3 Experiment, a collaborative improvisational comedy exercise between Full Ammo Improv Troupe and Students Organizing the Multiple Arts (SOMA).
Each of the activity's more than 40 participants downloaded the same 35-minute MP3 and began listening to it at exactly 4 p.m. Instructions to complete activities like the dance party and a single-file march from the Thomas Building to Pollock Quad comprised the bulk of the recording.
O'Sullivan's daughter, SOMA member Siobhan O'Sullivan (freshman-division of undergraduate studies), participated in the event while her parents looked on.
The groups modeled the experiment after a recent exercise by New York improvisation group Improv Everywhere. The New York experiment gathered more than 800 people willing to coordinate their behavior in response to the instructions of a single MP3, said Jeff Kornberg, president of Penn State's Full Ammo Improv Troupe.
Kornberg (senior-English) decided to pursue a Penn State version after attending the New York group's experiment.
"We had the resources to do it here," Kornberg said. "It was fun, so why not?"
It took Kornberg between five and six hours to write and record the MP3.
Working in conjunction with SOMA president Danny Greene (senior-information sciences and technology), he publicized the event through Facebook and communication with other student groups.
Jameela Conway-Turner (sophomore-psychology) said she heard about the event on Facebook. Though initially apprehensive, she said she was comforted by the sense of community that developed during the 35 minutes.
"It is much less scary when there's people doing it with you," she said.
Other participants also cited a shift in mood as the experiment continued.
"In the beginning, everyone was filled with trepidation," said SOMA member and participant Kathleen Kerrigan (junior-German). "Once we trusted everyone, it was OK. I felt really connected to everyone even though I didn't know them."
The reactions of spectators in Pollock Quad, where the majority of the experiment occurred, ranged from bewilderment to a desire to join in the fun.
Allie Miller (freshman-accounting) said she admired the participants' courage.
"I'm not really sure what's going on, but it looks like they're having fun," she said. "It takes guts."
The event was the first of its kind for SOMA, Greene said.
Events like this are part of the group's appeal for SOMA members, Kerrigan said.
"It's a new step," she said.