Re-Elect Big Brother

At 8 pm on Election Night (Tuesday, 7 November 2000), the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed in and around Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Perhaps the last performance the SCP will put on in 2000, this one was originally scheduled to feature the group's adaption of George Orwell's Animal Farm, which was the play best suited for the occasion. But SCP director Art Toad, concerned that the entire performance would have to be called off if too few performers showed up, which nearly happened the last time the group performed, made a last-minute decision to perform in the stead of Animal Farm the group's own play It's OK, Officer which can be performed by as few as two people and by as many as six. (See our report for a description of this play.) As it turned out, a total of six performers (Bill, Scott, Gus, Miranda, Beth and Susan) showed up. The perfect number for It's OK, Officer six would have been too few to perform Animal Farm, which requires at least eight performers to be effective.

Rockefeller Center was chosen as the stage for this performance because it is a high-profile location at which the SCP has never performed before, and because it was sure to be filled with people, even at night. (The Center's famous ice-skating rink has already been opened to the public, even though the first snow of the season hasn't fallen yet.) On the night in question, there were indeed plenty of people in and around Rockefeller Center, but not because of the ice-skating rink. NBC-TV News, which is located in one of the buildings in the area, was broadcasting its election night coverage live from the rink's east side. Everywhere one looked, there were lights, cameras, video screens, and cops and security guards. Realizing that they would be ordered to stop and leave Rockefeller Center the moment they displayed their boards, the members of the SCP decided to make this performance a mobile one. Rather than picking a spot and staying in it, which is what the group has done in every other performance it has ever given, the SCP started at the west side of the ice-skating rink and moved from place to place, or, rather, from surveillance camera to surveillance camera. Once confronted by a camera, the group -- arrayed in a straight line and ordered according to height -- would display the play's six boards, and then move on.

This peripatetic mode of presentation, which reminded several members of the group of going "trick or treating" on Halloween, was a great success. In addition to being novel and very enjoyable for the performers themselves, this style of performing kept the group out of the clutches of the various cops and security guards, who confronted the SCP on two notable occasions. The first came, predictably enough, as soon as the group displayed its boards and began walking towards a pair of surveillance cameras located on 50th Street. An officer from the NYPD asked the group what it was doing. But instead of receiving a proper answer, the officer was told that the group was leaving, which it promptly did. The officer, whose manner was relaxed and affable, did not follow the group after it left. On the second occasion, which took place when the group entered the area in which the NBC-TV news booth was erected (and "manned" by the likes of Tom Brokaw), a very agitated private security guard ordered the group to leave, on the grounds that the area in question was "private property," and used his walkie-talkie to call in a report to his supervisor(s). The group started moving immediately, and caught the guard a little off-balance. Struggling to keep up, the guard tried to cut across the line of performers, in between Beth (the second-to-last in line) and Susan (the last). But Susan stayed close to Beth, and didn't let him through. The guard tried to cut across a second time, and was again rebuffed by Susan. "Ma'am! Why do you keep getting in front of me?" the guard finally demanded of Susan, who replied, "I'm with these people, and it's you who are getting in front of me!" The guard finally stepped out of the way and, joined by several curious on-lookers, followed the group as it made its way to the safety of Fifth Avenue. "They're leaving the area," the guard said into his walkie-talkie. As if he hadn't seen or understood the meaning of the boards the group was displaying, he turned to Susan and said, "You're being watched every step of the way," which, of course, was the SCP's point, but exactly.

With the security guard and several on-lookers in tow, the group proceded south on Fifth Avenue until it reached a surveillance camera operated by the NYPD and installed at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 49th Street. After performing the play for this camera, the group headed west on 49th Street. While in motion, the SCP were approached by several people, who probably expected that the group's boards were somehow related to the presidential election. If they were disappointed to find that the group's boards and flyers concerned surveillance cameras, instead, they didn't show it. Indeed, most of them were opposed to the use of secret surveillance cameras in public places! Still followed by the security guard, the SCP stopped at a spot that was about 100 feet south of where the performance started, and yet still within the sights of the pair of surveillance cameras on 50th Street, and performed the play for anyone and everyone who was standing across the street. Several flashbulbs went off. The group then continued west along 49th Street, and encountered two surveillance cameras installed on the side of the NBC-TV building. As the group prepared to display its boards, the cameras swiveled and pivoted around, taking positions that allowed for the best "coverage" of the performance as it unfolded. The cameras were moving so much that it seemed as though their operator(s) were using them to signal to the group that they were being watched by those cameras! No doubt these operators had been informed of the SCP's presence by the agitated security guard. It was both very amusing and terrifying to see those cameras moving. Their motions were conclusive proof of what the SCP has been saying all along: these surveillance cameras aren't broken or non-operational; they are being used; and they can see in the dark.

In attendance at this performance was Claudia Orenstein, a professor of theater who's writing an article on contemporary agit-prop theater groups. She had spoken to Bill earlier in the day, and was invited to attend the evening's performance. Not only did Ms. Orenstein attend, but she took pictures and even joined the group when Susan had to leave (for reasons unrelated to her literal run-in with the security guard).

This unique performance was intended to be the last SCP performance in 2000, because the group is devoting every Sunday after Thanksgiving Day to its walking tours of neighborhoods in which there are a lot of surveillance cameras. Unlike performances, walking tours can be conducted rain or shine, during cold or warm weather.

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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