They garnered a ho-hum response from the audience and were told to vacate the stage a mere 10 minutes into the production, but the actors believed their play was a raging success.
The brief performance, staged by members of the guerilla theatre group Praxis, took place in front of a webcam in the Registrar's Office at the University of Minnesota as part of The International Day of Action Against Video Surveillance.
Twenty-two groups in seven countries -- representing privacy advocates, anarchists and performance artists -- participated in Friday's protest against the global proliferation of video cameras and webcams in public places, said organizer Bill Brown, who heads the New York chapter of the Surveillance Camera Players.
"The central idea is that surveillance is an international problem, and resistance to surveillance is international," said Brown.
At the University of Minnesota, agitprop actors John Troyer and Jim Lind donned white lab coats and propped up placards on an easel in plain view of the unmarked webcam. Behind the actors, bored students lined up, barely glancing at the two men.
"Real College Students" read the first sign. "Hot Hot Hot," read the next.
A few frames later, a stern-faced older woman approached them. They waved to the webcam and wrote on a placard: "We're getting kicked out."
"It's the ultimate fantasy of voyeurs -- hot college students 24 hours a day," said Troyer, a PhD student in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University, after the performance. "Most webcams are used for pornography and crass voyeurism, and we were trying to make a mockery of both."
Across the world in Bremen, Germany, activist group Aktuelle Kamera organized protests at 19 locations, said member Ulf Treger.
"Surveillance cameras have an effect on your privacy and your right to move freely through the streets," said Treger, a graphic designer. "They make people feel like they're being watched and that they should watch what they do."
The group flashed signs reading "movement can be tracked" and "machines can watch you."
Treger said monitoring of public spaces in Germany has shot up in the past two years because politicians have convinced the public that social problems, such as crime and violence, will be solved through surveillance.
In Nottingham, England, a group of artists calling themselves Fanclub got a few laughs from passersby for their antics in the city's central square, which is monitored by six police cameras.
One of the performers hid inside a lidded trash can and popped up periodically with various surveillance devices, including binoculars and a telescope, to "spy" back at the law enforcement. A video of the performance is posted here.
"Many people said how much they hated the cameras and were very supportive of the action," said a Fanclub member in an e-mail.
Los Angeles performance artists Kathy Chenoweth and Susan Barnett cavorted for cameras in a popular East Hollywood neighborhood dressed in Tweety Bird outfits.
"We got a lot of questions asking where Sylvester was," said Barnett. "We told people we were raising awareness that there are cameras everywhere."
The Arizona Surveillance Camera players took a more methodical approach, performing two avant-garde placard plays over a webcam on popular Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. The group was joined by the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition.
"These cams are a violation of the Fourth Amendment (against unlawful search and seizure)," said the group's director, Charles Banaszewski, who's working toward a PhD in Theater at Arizona State University.
One of the plays mocked society's obsession with reality television shows, such as The Weakest Link, he said.
The group has held several webcam performances along Tempe's streets and in the city's bars. Whenever Banaszewski is confronted by someone who doesn't share his opinion against being filmed in public, he asks the person if he can take their picture. Invariably, they are uncomfortable with the idea.
"I think that pretty well drives the point home," he said.
[By Julia Scheeres. Published by Wired News at 2:00 a.m. Sept. 8, 2001 PDT.]
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