"We're from Dallas, Texas and we love New York!"
"Mommy loves you!"
"Have a good day everybody!"
"You are all wonderful!"
These are just some of the nice things that people shouted into a megaphone installed on a wooden lectern displaying a placard with simple instructions: "Say Something Nice." The installation was placed in the middle of downtown hotspots in New York City by Improv Everywhere, a self-described "prank collective" known for causing "scenes of chaos and joy in public places" through performance-based or participatory projects.
Say Something Nice is part of the Guggenheim Museum exhibition stillspotting nyc, a two-year multidisciplinary project that encourages participants to create or identify "places of peace and stillness" in a city known for its hustle-and-bustle and never-sleeping. Not everyone followed the instructions, but by and large, "while a few were opportunistic," the group's blog says, "we were pleased that the vast majority of the people who encountered the lectern got the spirit of what we were going for."
This is Improv Everywhere's second collaboration in the exhibition series. The first was called The Mute Button, in which 23 actors and two dogs went on a mission to spread themselves around a public space--playing music, arguing loudly, barking, dancing--and went on “mute” at synchronized intervals, creating a jarring and unsettling scene for passersby.
Improv Everywhere shows how performance can encourage positive public dialogue--you just have to set the stage and believe in humanity.
Here are some more resources on improv and theater for social change (feel free to share more links in the comments below):