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'j18' report from NYC

The Surveillance Camera Players performed a new work entitled "HEADLINE NEWS" at Reclaim The Streets, a street party and protest held in NYC on Friday 18 June 1999. The play — the first one performed by the SCP that was written, rather than adapted, by director Art Toad — was performed in three different locations between 3 pm and 4:30 pm on this day. At each location except for the last one, the SCP were observed and their civil rights protected by an attorney from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the same one who observed the SCP's performance in Washington Square Park on 15 April 1999.

First, the play was performed around two dozen times by Bill Not Bored as a solo in Liberty Plaza, which was used as a "safe" place to stage the RTS rally. It was far from "safe": well before the start of the actual rally, which had been very well publicized, the Plaza was literally surrounded by uniformed [and armed] cops, undercovers, detectives in suits, captains and lieutenants in their white military-style shirts, and vans in which to take away dozens and dozens of people. In the end, there would be a total of 37 arrests, many of them false and unconstitutional. Though not a member of the SCP, Robert Lederman, an artist and often-arrested free speech activist much admired by BNB, stood near-by and displayed new paintings that proclaimed GIULIANI IS WATCHING YOU and showed Mayor Giuliani using a surveillance camera hidden in a toilet to spy on New York. With Lederman in his trademark shirt (it says GIULIANI = POLICE STATE), and BNB in a t-shirt for a "third-party" candidate in the 1996 Presidential campaign that BNB had altered to say "The Truth is that America needs a STREET party," they made a handsome pair.

Then the play was performed around a dozen times as a duo with the Secret Asian Man, alongside the New York Stock Exchange, but not in front of it, immediately before the crowd of 500 people left Liberty Plaza and began to make its way down Broadway to Wall Street. While the Wall Street side of the NYSE was controlled by the NYPD, which didn't know what to make of the porotest at all, the Nassau Street side — the front — was controlled by armed federal agents in green uniforms. The officer in charge of these agents (and thus Nassau Street itself) refused the SCP permission to perform on the grounds that the marchers were literally on their way to the NYSE. He was absolutely certain of this, and he was absolutely right. (It would later become clear that these agents were placed on alert because their superiors had already heard about the size and violence of the RTS protest in London. Though this isn't the text in which to discuss this issue, it should be noted that, had the NYC protesters tried to do here what the Londoners did in their city, in which the police are not armed, the NYPD would have tear-gassed the crowd, shot into it with rubber bullets, and clubbed and arrested everyone in sight.)

Finally, at the very height of the street party-protest — and with the observer from the NYCLU long since gone — the play was performed another dozen times or so as a solo by BNB as he, the Secret Asian Man and official SCP scout Daniel Boone stood atop of the Federal Records Building, which sits at the northeast corner of Wall and Nassau Streets. Robert Lederman was up there, too.

Reclaim the Streets was started in London by anti-car activists in the early 1990s; since then, it has become a world-wide phenomenon. This year's Reclaim the Streets, timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the Group of Eight Nations in Cologne, was celebrated in 100 financial centers in over 40 countries throughout the world. In North America, major manifestations took place in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, and Toronto. Despite all this, the RTS held in New York City received absolutely no news coverage of any kind in the local media.

Written with RTS in mind, HEADLINE NEWS consists of four large hand-made boards that are shown in rapid succession; each board is a combination of a phrase and an image. (There are two other boards, one that says SURVEILLANCE CAMERA PLAYERS, and another that says HEADLINE NEWS.) For "World News," there is a picture of a falling NATO bomb. For "Local News," there is a picture [designed by Billy M] of Mayor Giuliani with a swastika tie and devil horns. For "Sports," there is a giant dollar sign. And for "Weather," there is the type of skull-and-crossed-bones you most often see as a part of a warning label on poison. The ordering of the boards is important, not only because it echoes the one commonly used on local news broadcasts, but also because it produces a "dramatic" effect.

The NEWS begins on a serious, tragic and distinctly unfunny note (bombing and implied destruction and death), and then shifts to a very funny caricature of a serious, tragic and very unfunny man (Giuliani). And so these Surveillance Camera Players are not without a sense of humor! The audience is kept in a "light" mood by the next board, which is the one that everybody — radical, liberal, conservative, and reactionary — can agree expresses a social truth (athletes are paid far too much money). And then — boom! — comes the "punchline," the one about the weather, which poisons us all (rich or poor, player or spectator, bomber or target of the bombs).

Despite the fact that the NEWS is very short (the whole thing takes about a minute), people were drawn in by the ordering of the boards, and stayed to watch it several times before they decided they'd seen all there was to see of the NEWS. It's director, Monsieur Toad, believes the play to be a success. It gets the SCP out of the bind it had been in since the final performance of "1984" back in April 1999: What to do next? What can be done that is both explicitly political and yet enjoyable (and easily understandable)? If Monsieur Toad does make any changes to the script of HEADLINE NEWS, it will be to add a commercial for some well-known product and a "Special Report" on a topic that will vary according to the occasion on which the play is performed.

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