I arrived at the Lake Eola Band shell a few minutes late for an MP3 event called "Push Play". Since the event was downtown, I asked my wife Terry to come down during her lunch and enjoy the show. People had their headsets on and had already begun to perform. All the participants had MP3 players with an audio file they had downloaded from the internet. Following the example of Improv Everywhere the participants would listen to the audio for instructions. The audio began..."This experience is about joy and fun. It is about embracing the unknown and each other with an open heart and a playful spirit."
Not being a techie I did not have an MP3 player so I observed as an outsider. Everyone began jumping up and down waving their arms in the air. They then began to form long lines behind people who like me had no clue what was going on. Terry arrived with a long line of people walking behind her and mimicking her every move. She waved to me as did her line of followers. When Terry settled in all the 30 or so participants began to dance. Periodically everyone froze and then began to dance again.
Then the unexpected happened and the event turned surreal. 4 park Rangers showed up and they looked concerned and confused. The participants all began to lie down on the benches for a nap and what was a playful experience suddenly looked like an anarchist demonstration to the Rangers. The lead Ranger started shouting and asking to see the person in charge. Since everyone had headsets on no one heard him. I turned to Terry and said "This is bad, there is a law in Orlando against performance artists in public places and there is a No Loitering law forbidding people from lying down on benches in Lake Eola." The parks Rangers used their walkie talkies to call in several Bicycle Police Officers.
When the police arrived and asked for a leader, the participants began to laugh uncontrollably as they had been instructed to do on the audio file. They then placed a finger to their lips as if to say Shhhh and they all raised a hand and made peace signs. The police blindly interpreted this as an anti war demonstration that they had to get under control. The police and Rangers thought the participants were mocking them. As the Rangers forced everyone out of the Amphitheater the MP3 participants were listening to a song titled Peace, Love and Happiness on their headsets.
Terry and I were asked to leave the area as well although my sketch wasn't finished. It turns out that most of the entrances to the theater had NO TRESPASSING signs hung on velvet ropes. In order to sketch in the final details I sat at the edge of the roped off area adding background details. With the crowd contained on a grassy knoll the lead Park Ranger became more indignant claiming he had been ignored and everyone should be sent to jail. He was finally able to assert some authority to a captive audience. Jane Thompson stepped forward trying to reason with him and assumed responsibility for the group. A Police Officer took her license and issued her a summons that banned her from Lake Eola Park for one year. You might wonder what her deviant agenda might be, well she is the President of A Gift for Teaching which helps transfer the communities surplus materials and resources FREE to teachers and students in need. I applaud her efforts to bring this organizations work to the public's attention. My simple act of sketching suddenly felt like a quiet plea for freedom of expression. The police watched me with suspicion until I finished my sketch. The irate Park Ranger asked me to step aside so he could take a picture of the NO TRESPASSING sign I was sitting near. Perhaps he needed that photo for his trophy case or to remind me that I was sitting dangerously close to the forbidden zone. In Iran thousands of brave people took a stand for democracy but here in Orlando you might face possible arrest for dancing in a public park.
A related article at "The Daily City".
Post Script: The dialogue continues on the Orlando Sentinel web site.