Wall Street Journal

Technology Journal: Digits

Forget "The Producers." Here's one Broadway show that costs nothing.

On May 3, the New York Surveillance Camera Players will be unveiling a new performance -- in front of a Times Square Webcam set up by Earthcam.com. The six-year-old guerilla theater group stages its shows exclusively in front of video cameras as a protest against the use of surveillance cameras in public places.

Group leader Bill Brown says he wasn't sure if "we needed to exist" after the Sept. 11 attacks, when popular opinion supported tighter security measures.

But the tide of public opinion seems to have turned, as sports organizations began using face-scanning technology on irate sports fans and it was discovered that signals from wireless video cameras popularly used in homes can be intercepted by outsiders. A recent Harris Poll found that the number of people confident that U.S. law enforcement will use its expanded surveillance powers responsibly has declined from 34 percent to only 12 percent in six months.

The NYSCP has found itself showered with invitations to perform abroad, says Mr. Brown. He also was widely quoted in the media for saying that the many surveillance cameras around the World Trade Center failed to prevent the terrorist attacks. "Our shows are more relevant than ever now," he says.

Don't expect sequins and dancing. "Amnesia," their new performance, is a one-minute performance featuring a disoriented-looking actor holding up a series of signs to the surveillance camera saying, "I HAVE AMNESIA," "YOU ARE WATCHING ME," "[YOU HAVE BEEN WATCHING ME] ALL DAY, EVERYWHERE I GO," and "WHO AM I?"

In the past, the group has performed versions of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" and George Orwell's "Animal Farm" using mime and placards, but now that material is "a little tired," says Mr. Brown. "Instead of being something we put on for cameras," he says, the group wants all their plays to be "about cameras."

[By Mei Wong. Published in the 25 April 2002 issue of The Wall Street Journal.]

Contact the NY Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail SCP@notbored.org

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

NY Surveillance Camera Players