The Return of the Surveillance Camera Players

At around 11 pm on Tuesday 28 July 1998, six members of thee Surveillance Camera Players (Curtis, Lisa, Bill, Susan, Jon, and Miranda) performed for the first time since the group's debut on 10 December 1996. For its second appearance, the group staged the following programme of specially-adapted dramatic works in front of a surveillance camera in the Astor Place subway station in Manhattan (NYC).

The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Art Toad
Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett, adapted by Susan Hull
The Last Two Scenes (Suppressed) from Ubu Roi, by Alfred Jarry, adapted by Art Toad

While these silent plays were being performed, three other Surveillance Camera Players (Rob, Adam, and Steven) -- as well as several on-lookers, a television crew from the Canadian Broadcast Company (Montreal), and a reporter from Time Out magazine -- watched them on one of the station's closed-circuit television monitors. Though the group brought walkie-talkies with it, they went unused -- there were nearly catastrophic problems with finding a suitable location for the performance -- and so coordination between the two groups consisted of questions and answers shouted up and down the subway platform. Rough though the system was, it had its charms and worked fairly well. Unlike the first performance by the SCP on 10 December 1996, this one was complete: the group got through all of the material it had prepared for the evening, without interruption. Total time: no more than 10 incredibly fun minutes.

The SCP performed the last two acts of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, which were suppressed by the New York Police Department during the 10 December 1996 performance, as well as two works never before performed as silent plays: Poe's classic poem "The Raven" and Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot."

Following the format established by Monsieur Art Toad in his groundbreaking adaption of Ubu Roi for the silent surveillant screen, the script for "The Raven" called for only two speech bubbles: "O! Lenore" ("spoken," that is to say, held aloft by Poe's narrator) and "Never more!" ("spoken" by a specially commissioned drawing of a raven). In his performance as Poe's obsessed narrator, Monsieur Toad paced around the subway platform, drinking from a bottle in a brown paper bag and sweating profusely in a cheap suit, and then held aloft a mask a lady might wear to a costume party. Finally, he held up a death's head. "Never more!" wisecracked the Raven in response.

Beckett's Waiting for Godot posed quite a problem for the SCP: the play has no "action," and is almost totally dominated by its dialogue, which can't. of course, be picked up by surveillance cameras or packed into speech bubbles and printed boards. And so the SCP chose to perform the play with no dialogue at all, and to concentrate on its visual elements. In another reversal of perspective, the SCP called upon its female members to play all of the roles ("Estragon," "Vladimir" and "The Tree"). Wearing identical bowler hats, the actresses playing Estragon and Vladimir sat in front of and then chased each other around The Tree, which stayed in place the entire duration of the SCP's one-act version.

The last two (suppressed) acts of Ubu Roi were fucking brilliant. The bear (played this time by Jon) appeared and was finally slain by Ubu's Man (Curtiss). Despite the fact that Ma and Pa Ubu had not seen in each other in almost two years, they performed beautifully togther. For the occasion of his second appearance on the streets of New York, foul-mouthed Pa Ubu wore the image of Joseph Stalin on his big fat belly, and a tall Abe Lincoln-style stove-pipe hat, which Ma Ubu knocked clear off his head and on to the subway tracks, where it was mashed up good. Hurray, farters! Fare thee well, Ubus!

As they had done before, the SCPers who performed the night of 28 July carried with them bags stuffed with all the costumes, name-tags and printed speech balloons that they would need to play their roles (two or three per person). All of these props were created during the two work sessions that the Players held in advance of the actual performance: one held in Blackout Books a week prior, the other a few hours before the performance itself. As before, there was no dress rehearsal, but -- then again -- one wasn't needed. CBC-TV Montreal says the show on the SCP will air in October 1998. [It did indeed air, on 9 October 1998.]

(Don't worry, many and devoted fans: the SCP haven't forgotten that it has promised you a performance of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. You shall have it!)

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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