Between 6:45 and 8 pm on Tuesday, 5 September 2000, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed on the pedestrian island located between 45th and 46th Streets, and between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, in the heart of Times Square, New York City. Though the group has performed on this weird little stage twice before (on 9 August and 16 August 2000), this was the first time the group performed there on its own, without the Living Theater, which has performed on this unique pedestrian island for several years.
The SCP's third performance in this particular part of Times Square was unusual for several reasons: 1) it marked the debut of It's OK, Officer which is the most recent play written for the SCP by Monsieur le Art Toad; 2) it featured eight actors, that is, more than any other performance by the group, except for its very first two performances, each of which involved the efforts of a dozen people; 3) the eight people who performed were equally divided between new members (Gus, Kristin, Ethan and Beth) and old (Miranda, Kimberly, Susan and Bill); 4) one of the new members is the metaphorical flower of the SCP's recent cross-pollination with the Living Theater; and 5) in addition to being covered and photographed by a team from Agence France-Presse (the French Associated Press), the performance was videotaped by a truly professional television crew, the very first to do a piece on the SCP.
Like God's Eyes Here on Earth, which is its immediate predecessor, M. Toad's new play -- his fifth original work -- is short and "sweet": only five, full-size boards are involved in its presentation, and the narrative is based upon a slightly comic rendering of an unpleasant reality. While God's Eyes Here on Earth imagines what a small child might think about the fact that his church is surrounded by surveillance cameras, It's OK, Officer imagines that coming within sight of a surveillance camera is literally the same as being pulled over or stopped and asked for identification by a police officer. Each of the new play's five boards show a smiling person passing underneath and waving to a large surveillance camera. The first board proclaims IT'S O.K., OFFICER; the second proclaims JUST GOING TO WORK; the third GETTING SOMETHING TO EAT; the fourth GOING SHOPPING; and the fifth and final board proclaims GOING HOME NOW. (In our society, these are the only reasons for being out in public; everything else is "strange" or "suspicious.")
In addition to performing the new play, the group performed two other plays that strictly concern surveillance cameras -- You are being watched for your own safety and We know you are watching: MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS -- as a kind of trilogy. Because so many actors were on hand, the group was, among other things, able to stage You are being watched for your own safety in a way in which it had never been staged before: that is, as a tableau in which all seven boards are displayed at once, rather than as a sequence or a series of sequences. Photographs of the group in action, such as the one published by New York magazine in its 4 September 2000 issue, suggest how impressive these simply-made tableau look.
Because there were so many actors on hand, and because the group needed someone to communicate with and relay directions from the television crew, Bill acted as stage manager, and not as one of the board-handling actors, for the very first time in the SCP's history. Despite the facts that two of the eight actors on hand had never performed with the SCP before, and that one of the three plays was brand-new and had never been performed before, the group staged the four-minute-long trilogy very well "without" him. With only a few minor corrections, all of which concerned timing of the action or duration of display of the boards, the group was able to present each of the three plays, over and over again, with nary a hitch. The dramatic impact of It's OK, Officer was especially strong, in part because the group's veterans have become comfortable with performing, no matter what the play, and in part because the play itself is as easy to "act out" as it is to understand.
The SCP were contacted by Agence France-Presse (AFP) a few days after the publication of an article about the group in New York magazine. On Thursday 31 August 2000, Bill took the AFP's reporter on an hour-long walking tour of surveillance cameras in the "Turtle Bay" area of Manhattan. Located immediately to the west of the United Nations complex, Turtle Bay has as many surveillance cameras per block as Times Square: i.e., four, which means that there's a surveillance camera on virtually every single street corner. (If these averages are typical for Manhattan as a whole, then there are as many as 5,500 surveillance cameras in this borough of the city, or twice the number counted and mapped by the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1998.)
The reporter from the AFP attended the SCP's 5 September 2000 performance, and brought with him a photographer, who took shots of the group in action. The group eagerly looks forward to seeing the published version of the article, for it will, according to its author, eventually be translated into four different languages (French, English, Spanish and Arabic).
The "truly professional television crew" mentioned above was from British television. The associate producer of the London-based production company World of Wonder, which is planning a four-part-long programme on surveillance for broadcast on England's Channel 4, contacted the SCP in mid-August 2000, and arranged to come to New York weeks before the article in New York was published. In addition to shooting the performance in Times Square on 5 September 2000, the "WoW" team taped segments in which Bill pointed out and discussed the significance of surveillance cameras in Times Square, around a section of the Berlin Wall displayed on 53rd Street, and in Turtle Bay.
To tape these segments properly, that is, professionally, Bill had to repeat his remarks and gestures over and over and over and over again, so that the crew could record the "action" from several different angles and thus make absolutely sure that it would have enough usable footage, even if something bad happened during the shoot (a shot, a gesture or a spoken line was blown, the sound was out, there was too much noise, etc.) or happens after the shoot is done (a whole tape is damaged or lost, etc.). Quite obviously, it's also good to assemble a lot of overlapping footage if you intend to create a multi-layered or fast-moving final version.
The same repetitious method was used to tape the SCP's 5 September performance in Times Square: the group had to repeat each of the three plays over and over and over and over again, so that the crew could record the action from several different angles and, once again, make absolutely sure that it would have enough usable footage, no matter what. But neither the group nor Bill found the repetition to be frustrating, tedious or boring; for the members of the SCP, the shoot was a great deal of fun. By contrast, Bill found that the repetition required of him in his solo spots was becoming a drag. There seems to be a lesson in this. Perhaps it has to do with the unique satisfactions of being in a group, which are quite different and perhaps more rewarding than the satisfactions of being a unique individual.
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