Between noon and 1 PM on Sunday 16 July 2000, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed Art Toad's new play, God's Eyes Here on Earth, over and over again in front of surveillance cameras at St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan, New York City. Quite by accident, these first performances of the play coincided with the Cathedral's celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Archdiocese of New York, and with the very first Mass celebrated at the Cathedral by Archbishop Edward Egan, who just recently took over for Cardinal O'Connor. As a result, these performances of God's Eyes were seen by a relatively large number of people (one or two hundred).
Designed to be performed in front of any church that uses surveillance cameras to monitor its grounds, the play is written from the perspective of a child. That is to say, it imagines that a child might wonder about the necessity of having surveillance cameras at a place that is inseparable from God, who, according to church doctrine, sees everything. The play imagines that the child's parent, being a good Christian, would try to reassure him or her by saying that the cameras are God's eyes here on earth, rather than revealing the awful truths that God's oversight isn't enough to protect his creations (God and his oversight may not exist at all!) and that people at the church in question feel that they need surveillance cameras as well as God's omnipresent eyes to watch over them. Quite naturally, the child -- being, after all, just a child -- would conclude that he or she should start praying directly to the surveillance cameras. Depending on your perspective, this conclusion is either "cute" or "blasphemous." That is to say, it either offers an amusing and reassuring juxtaposition of childish logic and adult realities, or a "blasphemous" and unsettling juxtaposition of divine law and secular law enforcement. Hopefully, the play offers a little of both.
Most of the people who saw the debut performances of God's Eyes Here on Earth -- either as they entered or left the Cathedral, or as they walked by it -- seemed to be both diverted and confused by its subject matter. It was common for small groups of people to stop and watch either a few of the boards or the entire five-board-long play, which takes about a minute to perform; and then to move on. Nobody was offended. Only a few people approached the SCP to ask questions. (No doubt this was because the group wasn't handing out flyers as the performance took place, which is its usual modus operandi.) Easily the best response to the performance was offered by a twentysomething white male: "I'm not sure I understand: are the cameras a good thing or a bad thing?" The play wasn't telling him, one way or the other. He had to puzzle the whole thing out for himself. Fuck transparency! Let's get opaque!
Though a security guard appeared as Mass was letting out, used his walkie-talkie to alert his boss, and thus brought forth an officer from the New York Police Department, the SCP weren't harassed, confronted or even "questioned" by any of the aforementioned guardians of law and order, who contented themselves with watching the group's antics from the Cathedral's steps. At one moment, the security guard's curiosity got the best of him, and he approached the SCP and asked, genuinely confused, "What are you doing here?" But before anyone could answer his question, the police officer came by, took the security guard's arm, and gently guided him back to his original position on the steps, without the cop saying a word to the SCP!
For this performance, which was the first since November 1998 to utilize pantomime and masks, the SCP consisted of Susan, Miranda and Bill. The entire proceedings were videotaped by a crew from Disinfo Nation, which is scheduled to air a show on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom.
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail e-mail:notbored@NOSPAMoptonline.net
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998