Don't shrug off the sinking feeling that you're being watched -- turn it into good theatre. So says Bill Brown, writer of the anarchist zine Not Bored and the leader of the Surveillance Camera Players, a local group that two years ago staged a performance in front of video monitors in a subway station to protest the government's use of cameras to keep tabs on the citizenry.
On the evening of July 28, Brown and five other members of the Surveillance Camera Players staged a comeback special. "The danger of surveillance cameras is that they change the way people act in public," said Brown, sporting a T-shirt that reads GIULIANI + THE NYPD = POLICE STATE. He was parked in the East Village diner Little Poland, where the players had gathered to put the finishing touches on the evening's performance. "People get the idea that they're always being watched, so they begin to act like domesticated creatures instead of human beings," he explained. "The players are about showing that we're aware that we're being seen and to find some other way of responding."
When it was time to take the stage, the troupe headed en masse for the 14th Street Union Square station, the site of the 1996 show. The members were accompanied by a Canadian Broadcast Company crew which was recording the act for a documentary on international rights to privacy. ("This is the lighter side, we figured," one crew member remarked.) Once below ground, Brown staked out the stage while the others hovered in the wings, behaving just like any other fledgling troupe . . . almost. Some fidgeted nervously or chatted quietly, and two members rehearsed their roles, lightly bonking each other on the head with plastic squeaky hammers.
Brown returned with bad news: The cameras that had recorded their first performance had been removed. After briefly regrouping, the entire crew, including the Canadians and the handful of bystanders that they'd picked up along the way, was forced to relocate -- twice -- before ending up in the Astor Place station.
The approximately 10-minute renditions of The Raven, Waiting for Godot (with an all-female cast) and Ubu Roi were lovely, though the placards were difficult to make out on the subway station's scratchy screens. The performers were briefly upstaged, however: The NYPD made an appearance, but it was to apprehend a juvenile subway criminal rather than to disrupt the show.
Immediate public reaction was best described as tepid. When asked if she found the proceedings interesting, a bystander shrugged. "A little bit, but not too much. It's been a long day, it's too hot, and I'm just waiting for the trains." But Brown and company, who plan to make the performances regular events, chalked it up as a victory. Afterward, they headed off to a local pub, where they discussed the performance and plotted their futures until three in the morning.
Support for the troupe's activities has been positive, according to company member Susan Hull. Still, she admitted, it's necessary to carefully assess her audience before discussing the Surveillance Camera Players. "I have a friend who's a government official," Hull chuckled, "and he's like, 'Oh, Susan, this group is just you being you.'
-- Nicole Keeter
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail Info@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998