Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Surveillance Camera Players
"At around 11 pm on Tuesday 10 December 1996, six members of the Surveillance Camera Players (Michael, Katie, Bill, Susan, Lisa, and Orrin) performed most of Art Toad's special adaption of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi in front of a surveillance camera in Manhattan's Union Square subway station. At the same time, three other SCPers (Grrrt, Michelle and John), as well as several on-lookers, watched the play on one of the station's closed-circuit television monitors. Unfortunately, the SCP were unable to secure a video camera, and so the performance went undocumented.
Though the play contains only nine short scenes in Monsieur Toad's version, the Players were not able to perform it completely on that day -- which was the 100th anniversary of the very first public performance of Ubu the King -- because, at the conclusion of Scene Seven, they were asked to stop and to move along by two utterly humorless New York City policemen, who just did not care that Scene Eight was the one in which the Bear (Orrin with a funny hat) fights with and is killed by Ubu's Man.
Surveillance cameras, though obviously designed to monitor and relay what they "see," are not allowed by law to monitor and relay what they "hear." (Conversations are "truly private" or "more private" than visual appearance and behavior in the eyes of the law.) And so any performance by the Surveillance Camera Players has to be a silent one. By rendering -- reducing might be a better word -- all of the dialogue in Ubu the King to a few expressions that would be clearly visible if printed on hand-held cards designed to look like the speech bubbles in comic strips, M. Toad succeeded in creating a script that could be used by the SCPers. But no "violence" was done to Jarry's play, which is already filled with comic-strip moments in which two-dimensional elements take the place of three-dimensional ones (e.g., the stage direction that the Russian Army should be a single actor carrying a name-tag about his or her neck that says, "The Russian Army").
The SCPers who performed the night of 10 December carried with them bags stuffed with all the costumes, name-tags and printed speech balloons that they would need to play their roles (two or three per person). All of these props were either scavenged or created during the two work sessions that the Players held in advance of the actual performance, which was, incidentally, their very first. Unfortunately, there was no dress rehearsal, and so the first and only performance of the play took too long (long enough to draw the attention of the cops). None of the props were lost during or after the performance, so the play can be staged again at any time.
Perhaps needless to say, King Ubu himself -- or, rather, the SCPer who played him and was dressed in a tunic bearing a huge spiral on his big, fat belly and a green cone on his pear-shaped head -- walked the streets of Manhattan for hours before his appearance in front of the camera, the subway riding public of New York City, and the NYPD. In full attire, he attended a rather pointless talk given by Peter Lamborn Wilson, and made a comment during the discussion session afterward. Ubu even stopped to have dinner at the restaurant in Greenwich Village called the Paris Commune, at which he was recognized and toasted in his native French."
The above is from the Surveillance Camera Players homepage, via Ballardian.