return to city hall

At approximately 4 pm on Sunday 28 April 2002, the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) performed It's OK, Officer in front of a half-dozen police surveillance cameras at City Hall in Manhattan. Unlike any other staged by the SCP-New York, this performance took place at the location and immediately after the conclusion of one of the group's weekly walking tours of heavily surveilled neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Things have changed a great deal since the last time the SCP-New York performed at City Hall, which was back on 1 October 2000. Though the place is still watched by more than a dozen globe-shaped surveillance cameras, and though the grounds are still closed at night and ringed by an imposing iron fence, the mood at City Hall has definitely changed since the departure of fascist strongman Rudolph Giuliani. (New York City's Mayor is now the neo-liberal millionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg.) It is once again possible to hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall; the grounds are no longer crawling with police officers; and the fence no longer bears signs that proclaim "WARNING! NO cameras or video equipment permitted! VIOLATORS will be prosecuted and equipment seized!" Though small, these are welcome changes.

For this performance, the SCP-New York consisted of three veterans (Miranda, Susan and Bill) and two new-comers (Sean and Ann). In part because the play works best if there are five performers, and in part because there were few people around (at least when compared to such tourist hotspots as Times Square and SoHo), the group chose not to have someone concentrate exclusively on handing out flyers and talking to passersby. Instead, all five players performed in the play. Though Ann fit in well (she's had a lot of experience with political street theater), Sean's performance was especially impressive. Monsieur le Art Toad noted that Sean has great potential as a performer, for he understands that, 1) when someone is onstage, even the smallest gesture or movement can deliver a big impact, even if the performer is an amateur or has no acting experience whatsover, and so, 2) it is frequently best, especially if one is an amateur, to keep one's gestures and movements limited and simple.

Despite the rain and the relatively small numbers of people walking by, the SCP-New York managed to have several interesting exchanges with passersby. Perhaps the most interesting took place between the group and a twenty-something white guy, who asked if the SCP-New York were videotaping "a cigarette ad"!

He clearly meant to ask if the group was taping one of the very striking anti-cigarette smoking ads that he's seen on TV. In these ads, a person in a rat costume climbs out of the subway and, as he or she pretends to die on the street, holds up a simple, hand-printed placard -- one very similar to those used by the SCP and other street theater and protest groups -- that states that cigarette smoke contains rat poison. It's quite possible that (it would be understandable if) this guy thinks that the SCP-New York and other sign-wielding performance groups are imitating the TV commercial, instead of the other way around.

The entire proceedings (both the performance and the walking tour that preceded it) were videotaped by a crew from Montreal's Paradigm Productions, which is making a one-hour-long documentary on the subject of surveillance. There were no encounters whatsover with officers from the NYPD, though the performing group tried to initiate one at the very end of its perambulation around City Hall, when it came upon and followed behind a police officer as if she were the mother-duck and the SCP-New York were her baby ducklings walking in line behind her.

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NY Surveillance Camera Players