winter solstice

At approximately 12:15 pm on the Winter Solstice (Friday, 21 December 2001), the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) performed a brand-new play in front of two different surveillance cameras in Times Square: one operated by the New York Police Department, the other -- a real monster attached to a gigantic microwave transmitter -- operated by NBC-TV.

Entitled The Circle, this new play is based upon the "Creating Sacred Space" chapter in Starhawk's The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, which was published by Harper & Row in 1979. Like God's Eyes Here on Earth, which is another play by the SCP-New York that concerns religious/spiritual themes, The Circle uses both pantomimed action and large placards with messages printed upon them to communicate its message. But unlike God's Eyes, the new play doesn't simply denounce or parody the "unholy" presence of surveillance cameras. Rather, it attempts to use "magic" (rituals and invocations) to banish them.

The author of The Circle (the SCP-New York's own Art Toad) isn't too concerned with the fact that his new play seems to contradict or refute the sweeping assertion he made towards the end of the SCP's statement On Antonin Artaud and the Theater of Cruelty (19 November 1999): "The SCP has had success without any interest whatsoever in 'ancient magic.'" And that's because The Circle represents a change or enlargement of tactics, not a change or betrayal of strategy. Without becoming an obsession or "holy grail," ancient magic can in fact be used quite successfully in anti-surveillance camera theater. Furthermore, The Circle isn't simply an adaptation of Starhawk's The Spiral Dance but a criticism (a "detournement") of it, as well. Unlike Starhawk's recent writings, The Spiral Dance isn't politically sophisticated.

The Winter Solstice performances of The Circle were notable for the fact that they were put on by a group that included both local SCPers (Bill, Miranda, Kimberly and Carrie) and a member of another SCP group (Chuck, the founder of the Arizona-SCP, who was in town for the holidays). Never before has such a collaboration between SCP groups taken place! It will surely be followed by another, one that might take place in Tempe, Arizona, sometime in early 2002.

Eric from IMC New York was in attendance and made audio recordings of the performances and the group's comments about them.

While there were no problems with the police, it is certain that they were watching the performance. Someone who wishes to remain anonymous has informed the New York Surveillance Camera Players that the group's Winter Solstice performance in front of a police surveillance camera in Times Square was mentioned on the morning of the following day during the National Guard's daily briefing to its troops, who are armed, inexperienced in "anti-terrorist" work and yet stationed in key locations all over New York City. According to this source, whom the SCP-New York considers to be totally reliable, the National Guard's Tank Division was informed that the group was performing "magic spells" in front of surveillance cameras in Times Square; and that the National Guard was told 1) don't shoot them, 2) don't arrest them, 3) in fact, leave them alone.

One of the striking features of these instructions is that they match what the SCP-New York has long imagined to be the contents of a memo circulated within the NYPD around December 1999, at which time the NYPD -- which had previously stopped each and every one of the group's performances -- suddenly backed off. The NYPD has kept its distance ever since then, and on several occasions has been seen encouraging private security guards to refrain from talking to the group, even informally.

Since the Winter Solstice performance wasn't publicized in advance, since it is unlikely that the National Guard is monitoring the SCP-New York's e-mail or being informed of changes made to the SCP-New York's website, which was in fact updated shortly after the Winter Solstice performance to include a description of it, and since it's very unlikely that the National Guard would pass on to its troops "information" (Internet gossip) that hadn't been verified or corroborated -- for all these reasons, we believe that something like the following must have taken place: 1. The NYPD saw the performance in front of their camera as it took place (no doubt they taped it, too); and 2. The NYPD passed this information on to the National Guard, and did so very quickly and accurately.

If this hypothesis is correct, and we see little reason to doubt that it is, then we may assume that 1. The cameras installed by the NYPD actually work (they are not "dummies" and they are not broken); 2. The cameras are being used to watch what's going on beneath and around them; 3. Even though the SCP-New York is obviously "asking for it" -- that is, asking to be surveilled by police cameras -- other individuals and groups involved in street theater and public demonstrations are also being watched closely by NYPD cameras (several anti-death penalty and anti-war demonstrations have recently taken place in Times Square); 4. Information gleaned from monitoring these cameras is gathered quickly and sent quickly to the unit in the NYPD (no doubt the "Intelligence Division," formerly known as "the Red Squad") that is in regular and frequent communication with the National Guard; 5. The National Guard isn't the only recipient of daily reports from the NYPD on matters of "homeland security," and that the FBI and the Office of Homeland Security are also "in the loop."

As performers, as protesters, we find it gratifying that our actions -- though they are undertaken (without rehearsal!) by a very small group of people -- are being noticed. Perhaps these are the first indications that our "magic spells" are working! But as citizens, as members of a putatively democratic society, we are horrified and appalled by these revelations, for they suggest the speed and thoroughness with which New York City -- and, no doubt, the rest of America -- is obviously becoming a military police state.

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NY Surveillance Camera Players