SCP Headline News

29 August 1999

Between noon and 1 pm today, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed in New York City's Washington Square Park for the second time this year. A public place to which people come to get a bit of privacy and to have their anonymity respected, this park is shot through with surveillance cameras that are monitored 24 hours a day and 7 days a week by police officers. The first time the SCP performed in this prison-yard was on 15 April 1999; on that day, the group performed its version of George Orwell's 1984. Today the SCP performed SCP Headline News, which is the first play ever written specifically for surveillance cameras.

First performed by Bill as a solo in front of the New York Stock Exchange on 18 June 1999 as part of Reclaim the Streets, SCP Headline News is a one-act play. Unlike every other work performed to date by the SCP, the News was written by SCP Director Monsieur Art Toad and was not adapted from the work of some other author. In the greatly expanded version presented today, there were four characters. Listed in the order of their appearance, they are the Telescreen, the Director, the Newscaster and the Advertizer. These characters do not have line "lines," as such: when it is their turn, they hold up a series of boards, upon which have been drawn simple and clearly-legible phrases and large and easy-to-recognize images.

The Telescreen holds the board (a hold-over from the SCP's performances of 1984) that proclaims BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU and has the image of Big brother's face on it. (This board remains held up for the entire performance.) The Director holds up the boards that say SURVEILLANCE CAMERA PLAYERS, HEADLINE NEWS, and NO COPYRIGHT 1999. (On occasion, the board saying SURVEILLANCE CAMERA PLAYERS can be recalled and help up all the way through the newscast.) The Newscaster holds up the following series of boards: a first that says WORLD NEWS and shows a NATO peace sign; a second that says WORLD NEWS and shows a falling NATO bomb; a third that says NATIONAL NEWS and shows an automatic weapon; a fourth that says LOCAL NEWS and shows a caricature of NYC Mayor Giuliani; a fifth that says SPORTS and shows a dollar sign; a sixth that says WEATHER and shows the symbol for poison; and a seventh that says WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK. The Advertizer holds up the commercials: one that shows the logo of Nike and says PROUD SPONSOR CHINESE SWEATSHOPS; another that shows the logo of Chase Manhattan Bank and says WE OWN YOU; a third that shows the logo of Pepsi and says GET & STAY ADDICTED TO JUNK; and a fourth that shows the logo of CBS-TV and says WE WATCH YOU WATCH.

One complete run-through of the play takes about a minute and a half. The script, such as it is, calls for the play to be repeated over and over again without pause. Today Headline News was performed about 20 times right in front of surveillance cameras in two different locations in the park. At the first location, the group did something it has never done before: it incorporated music into its performances, despite the facts that the City of New York says that you need a permit to play music in the park and that the SCP were at that moment appearing in public without their legal observer present (he was late). Using a large portable tape player and -- in Paul and Bill's cases, playing along on snare drums -- the SCP introduced their first performance of the play with the great anti-fascist song by Ice-T/Jello Biafra called "Shut Up, Be Happy," chosen because it imitates an emergency news broadcast. The effect was so strong that the group also performed the play a few times while the song was playing "in the background." Despite the SCP's reckless and flagrant violation of the public peace, there were no problems with either the police or the Parks Department's guards. At the first location, about 50 people in all watched the SCP without disturbance or interruption. Music wasn't used at the second location because, by that time, the legal observer had arrived and wisely counseled SCP Director Art Toad not to tempt fate. Another 50 or so people saw the group perform the play over and over, again without disturbance or interruption.

At today's performances, the Telescreen was consistently played by Paul and the Director was consistently played by Bill. The Newscaster was played by Martha, Kate or Michael, and the Advertizer was played by Susan or Martha. In addition to experimenting with changing line-ups, the SCP also experimented with spatial arrangements and choreography. In one of today's presentations of Headline News, the Players arranged themselves in a line, and presented the play in a "wave" formation. In another presentation, the Players arranged themselves into a triangle, with the Telescreen at the top and the three other characters at the bottom. (Here the "waving" is limited to the bottom of the triangle.) And, in a third presentation, the Telescreen stood in one place and the other three characters tool turns standing next to him, thereby creating a kind of "split-screen" effect.

The appearance was a resounding success. Over the course of the hour that the group was in the park, approximately 100 flyers (the same one from the 15 April 1999 performance) were given out. The performances were attended by a producer from Spy TV (Channel 4 United Kingdom) and reporters from Capture Magazine and CitySearch. Though the SCP had no videotapers of their own at the Washington Square Park performances, SCP Headline News was recorded by Shelley and by SCP member Scott when, a few days earlier, Bill performed it as a solo in front of surveillance cameras in the York Street subway station in Brooklyn.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

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

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