Surveillance Camera Players - acting in public spaces

The Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) call themselves a New York group of amateur actors who perform short theater pieces in front of surveillance cameras. We found out about the group through The New Zuercher Times, which published a review of the exhibition "CTRL Space: The Rhetoric of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother," in which the SCP have a video.

The SCP sees a violation of the private sphere in the surveillance of public spaces by cameras. Since 1996, the organization has fought back using fantasy-full theatre performances and sketches. They explain their motivations in a founding statement:

The only time the officers have any fun watching these monitors is when something illegal is going on. But the crime rate is down and the subways are the safest they have been in 30 years. Thus, for untold numbers of police surveillants, there is less and less to watch. And so we have both an opportunity and a problem here. The opportunity is to get those law enforcement officials watching something on TV that isn't all sex and violence; and the problem is that a bored surveillant is an inattentive surveillant, and an inattentive surveillant is a waste of space, time and money [translator: English in original].

And so go the plays: the activists tell stories that are about two minutes long and have surveillance as their theme. There is no speaking here -- the participants put their words on placards held up to the cameras. There's a simple reason for this: "The cameras don't pick up sound" [English in original]. Using these methods, the theater group has performed [Samuel Beckett's] "Waiting for Godot" and George Orwell's "1984."

Another piece by the group in its "Camera Demonstrations" is one entitled "It's OK, Officer," in which the activists hold up for the camera lenses simple pictures with phrases such as "Just going to work" and "On my way home" written on them.

The electronic surveillance of public places has been going on for years. And since 11 September 2001 there have been more arguments for observing buildings and public places. The New York SCP isn't discouraged: in their opinion, [prior to 11 September] many cameras were installed at the World Trade Center to stop terrorist attacks. To read the statement produced by the SCP, click here.

More links: here is an outline of all performances by the Camera Players. Elsewhere on the site is How to Stage Your Own Surveillance Camera Theater, which explains how one can become active. The sticker You are being watched is ready to print out. And, on the home page of the group, there are links to SCP groups in other cities. The "Position Papers" of the New York group can be seen here. And, finally, there is an indication that activists in Germany have picked up on the theme of "surveillance cameras": here is a link to "Aktuellen Kamera."

[Written by Michael Harms and published on 21 December 2001 by Perlentaucher. Translated from the German by Bill Brown.]

Contact the NY Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

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

NY Surveillance Camera Players