Friday, September 4, 2009

Activists or Anarchists?

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".

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Rick said...

Funny, I didn't see this reported in mainstream media today. Some times this town is just way to uptight. I remember the days of Kumquat Parade when complete silliness was allowed free reign downtown...

Joseph Hayes said...

Tom, what a nightmare. I hope this gets massive coverage.

Kendra Ferguson, Communications Manager at A Gift For Teaching ( said...

Good morning,

I was also at Lake Eola, dancing around as one of the PUSH players. Thank you for attending and sketching. I love your blog, and with your permission will re-post this story to A Gift For Teaching's.

Both the act and the way you've conveyed it are a great lesson in perspective. The park ranger thought we were being dismissive, being that the music played in our headsets and was not projected for the audience. From our point of view, you can not ignore that which you are unaware.

Thanks again for coming.

Jane Thompson said...

Thanks for capturing our MP3 Push Play event so artfully - your drawings are amazing Thomas. A Gift For Teaching's goal as you stated was simply to raise awareness for our PUSH campaign with an experience about "joy & fun". That certainly was accomplished albeit not quite in the manner we expected. Next time we plan a spontaneous public event - we'll pull a permit. While I was issued a warning that bans me from entering Lake Eola Park for one year - the Orlando Police officers were very gracious and wished us all the best with our PUSH campaign.
Again we absolutely love your illustrations of our event and I'd love to chat with you about them.
Jane Thompson, President, A Gift For Teaching

frankie messina said...

we were just blogging about this on the daily city site... perfect.. wow.

dandelioncc said...

OMG. Hilarious and ridiculous and not at all shocking. The OPD need to get a grip!

Beth Marshall said...

Oh wait- yes- quite believable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this story. This is a great example of how free we are not. The US is full of lots of laws like this one. Which brings me to another point...why are so many people (not everyone) thinking that social health care is some way for Obama (the gov.) to control us. Funny thing is we are already being controlled and brainwashed in so many ways.
On a lighter note: love your drawings and what a great way to get connected - by using your art.

mark freid said...

what a great description of the events of the day. and a beautiful illustration, too! I was one of the participants and you described what happened yesterday much better than I could have. Thanks!

Plinio Marcos Pinto said...

Another Great Job, Mr. Thorspeken! What is wrong in Orlando!

ALFREDO said...

Makes you wonder "what is America doing invading other countries with the excuse of "bringing freedom" when our own police fret and become alarmed at any show of free expression by the citizens of this "home of the brave and land of the free."

Gordon Spears said...


Congratulations on becoming a citizen journalist in addition to being an artist.

Gordon Spears

Alison said...

Holy crap, quite the eventful sketching session!

But to commenter Alfredo... get a grip. A non-violent incident in a park that ends with no one going to jail is a far, far cry from the daily violence, corruption and oppression in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don't ignore reality in an attempt to make your point. It demeans the actual suffering happening in those places.

Brian Feldman said...

There’s a reason I’ve yet to utilize the Walt Disney Amphitheater at Lake Eola Park for a performance - Money.

Thor, this is your blog post of the year (so far). I second Gordon.

Anonymous said...

I've just returned from a trip to Boston, where we enjoyed several public musical performances: 3 in and around Harvard Square and one in a subway station. I am perplexed, saddened and disgusted by this city's mulish insistence on forbidding street performances. It seems determined to eliminate all those things, good and bad, that create a vibrant, organic, cosmopolitan city. Orlando needs to GROW UP and see that creativity-and allowing the expression of creativity- is a critical part of developing a city that can hold its own as a magnet for tourism and sophisticated, well-educated newcomers.

Audrey said...

As one of the organizers of the event, we did consider pulling a permit, however, given the friendly, fun and short nature of the event decided to wing it. We do take responsibility for not having a permit, and despite the conflicting reaction from the park ranger with the song "peace, love and happiness" that was blasting in our ears (and the citation in our pocket), we couldn't have been happier with the joy it instilled in those who participated.

Thanks so much for capturing the essence of what was meant to be a social experiment that turned into social commentary.

Director of Commmunications
A Gift For Teaching