Actors ham it up for security cams

By Bill Egbert

Daily News Staff Reporter

Who says there's nothing good on TV anymore?

Bill Brown had [sic] produced adaptations of classics such as "Waiting for Godot," "1984," and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven."

Of course, they were seen only on closed-circuit television, and the audiences were all guards and cops -- but that's the point.

Brown is the founding director of the Surveillance Camera Players, a combination theater and protest group that stages short and necessarily silent plays in front of security cameras across the city.

"Outside of the lawyers, we're the only people doing anything about this," Brown said of the thousands of surveillance cameras scanning New York's public places.

Brown and fellow activist Susan Hull founded the group three years ago as an ironic protest against the cameras. Their theory is this: Instead of the unwitting public being watched, let unwitting guards and cops become a captive audience for the performers.

Since then, the Surveillance Camera Players group has become a tool for public outreach on the surveillance camera issue, Brown said.

"We meet a lot of people who are curious about what we're doing holding up these cards," he said of the dialogue cards the players hold up in front of the audio-free cameras.

"When we tell them that we're performing for the cameras, most of them say, 'What cameras?'" Brown said. "They don't know that there are cameras there, and when they find out, they're upset."

The group's actors -- Brown, Hull, Kimberly Warner-Cohen and Lorraine Tripoli -- stage their plays by miming the actor and holding up placards in front of surveillance cameras in public parks, subway platforms and on sidewalks in front of office buildings.

Occasionally, they've been chased off by cops.

Today at noon, the Surveillance Camera Players will perform an original play, "You Are Being Watched For Your Own Safety," and an adaptation of Wilhelm Reich's "The Mass Psychology of Fascism" in front of cameras monitoring the Berlin Wall display at 520 Madison Ave., which commemorates the fall of the infamous symbol of totalitarianism 10 years ago.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has tried to document all the government and commercial surveillance cameras focused on public streets in manhattan and counted 2,400 as of last December. A list showing their locations can be downloaded from the Web at

"What we have now is a spiral where we're putting up cameras not because they're useful, but just because other people are putting them up," said Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, noting that his own co-op board voted to put up cameras explicitly because they feared negligence charges, since most other buildings on the street had them.

"The logic of surveillance cameras is like cancer," Brown said. "They have to spread. And eventually, you have to watch every inch of the city, or you have to find a different solution."

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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