Old Town Scottsdale looks nothing in the slightest like either Metropolis or Gotham City. That all changes this weekend, however, as the posh section of East Valley suburb will boast more costumed heroes and villains than both of those fictional cities from the comic book world.
That's because the urban pranksters of Improv AZ have chosen Old Town as the site of the ultra-colorful Epic Super Hero Battle on Saturday afternoon, which will involve a crowd of dozens of unique and unusual characters interacting and fantastical fracas. And according to Jeff Moriarty, one of the organizers of the annual event, it will be somewhat different from previous ESHB's that have taken place in years past.
This weekend's version of the battle, he says, will be more of an interactive experience than its first two editions. During the 2009 and 2010 incarnations of the ESHB, which were organized by both Improv AZ and members of the Arizona Cacophony Society, participants merely came to a specific location and engaged in mock costumed combat using Nerf guns and other harmless weaponry.
The 2011 edition of the event was beset by scheduling conflicts and other problems and ultimately wound up being cancelled, Moriarty says, so the members of Improv AZ decided to stage this year's event by themselves, albeit with a twist.
According to Moriarty, the event will now incorporate something of a flash mob element to it whereby those who show up will engage in an overall story that will guide their movements and actions. The day before the battle, participants can download a specific MP3 from the Improv AZ website or sign up for an RSS feed. The file can be placed onto their iPods, smart phones, or another digital music device that they'll bring with them to the event.
After donning costumes and gathering near the south entrance of the Third Avenue Parking Garage adjacent to Craftsman Court in Scottsdale. When organizers start the event, Moriarty says, participants will all simultaneously press play on their devices.
"So everybody's getting these instructions and they don't know what they're doing for this flash mob until they listen to it," Moriarty says. "Like, 'You're gonna run north now and start doing jumping jacks,' or 'look at people in their cars and point and laugh.' You could cheat and listen to it in advance, but the idea is to not press play until you get there."
Everyone will walk on foot throughout the nearby streets and sidewalks, he says, and their actions and movements will be dictated by the story that's unfolding on the MP3.
"[People] will be walking around Old Town, they're going to be doing things and interacting with a couple of the stores and some of the different landmarks," he says. "They're not going to have to get in their cars or go anywhere else."
While he admits that the story itself "won't win any awards," it will involve adventurous exploits and deeds of derring-do that will take participants on a heroic journey.
"It's going to be super hero-oriented, which means there will be super heroics and super villany involved," Moriarty says. "That's all part of the story. So who the villains are and who the heroes are is all going to be wrapped up in the plot as it unfolds. We're telling everyone to put on a costume and show up."
And, as the name of the event portends, they're will be battles between characters, albeit using Nerf weapons, water guns, and mock theatrics.
"They're won't be any real fights and hopefully no one's going to take an angry swing at anyone else, but heroes and villains are going to come together in truly an epic super hero cataclysmic battle," Moriarty says. "There will be victories and defeats and harrowing escapes."
As with previous editions of the ESHB, Moriarty says they're encouraging people to come dressed as completely original heroes and not rip-offs of existing characters from the worlds of comics and sci-fi.
"I don't want 30 Batmen there," he jokes.
This year's Epic Super Hero Battle is the first in a series of "Flashmob Fiction" events that Improv AZ will be organizing. Partially inspired by the "MP3 Experiments" originally created by the New York City-based Improv Everywhere, an urban prankster group that Improv AZ spun-off from, the interactive events will involve some sort of storyline that adds a "an extra bit of fun" to a flash mob, Moriarty says.
Improv AZ has done a similar "MP3 Experiment" of their own in 2009 along Mill Avenue in Tempe where a downloaded sound file instructed participants to shoot each other with invisible bows and arrows or engage in similarly hilarious actions for the amusement of onlookers and passers-by.
"They were getting these instructions and everyone around them is hearing them, but no one else watching has any idea what the hell was going on," Moriarty says. "It was pretty interesting, to say the least."
Moriarty says that the event was so fun that it inspired the Improv AZ's members to create their own unique events involving an MP3. Hence, "Flashmob Fiction."
"We wanted to do one of these again and thought, 'What if we add some interactive storytelling to our events?'" he says. "Let's try doing something where you show up and you're going to be interacting with your surroundings. It won't be a complicated story, but there will be some kind of story involved. So we decided to do it with the Epic Super Hero Battle because everyone's heard about it and it's a way for people to try this thing out."
Moriarty says future "Flashmob Fiction" events will be just as goofy and fun as the ESHB and could potentially include such plots as a battle between pirates and ninjas or secret agents going on a top secret mission.
In the meantime, Moriarty says he expects that this year's ESHB event will be major fun for everyone involved, even if it's sort of a hassle to plan.
"It's gonna be a blast, like the first MP3 event we did," Moriarty says. "We forgot how much work is involved though and how complicated it is to plan. When we did it on Mill Avenue, we had to figure out the timing of every single stoplight and the absolute maximum time it would take people to go from one point or another. We couldn't pause it since everyone was listening to their own file."
Hopefully, he says, the event will happen without any problems, like if some pedestrian or shop owner becomes alarmed by a gaggle of costumed characters invading Old Town.
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"That's always one of our remote worries, which is why we pick a time like one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon so we're not going to be clogging major traffic or disrupting any of the bars or something," Moriarty says. "There's always some weirdo who like, 'Oh my God, somebody just ran by in a mask,' and calls the police, but hopefully that won't happen. We're not doing anything destructive and we're very careful not to be disrupt any businesses and not cause any problems and just have fun."
Improv AZ's "Flashmob Fiction: The Epic Super Hero Battle" takes place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 17, in Scottsdale. The starting point is at the Third Avenue Parking Garage.