Congress shall make no law . . .
It’s just one sentence, but it guarantees five freedoms. Or at least the First Amendment used to, before the swelling of post-9-11 alarm started shredding your rights. For 30 glorious minutes every Tuesday, those constitutional protections are revivified as a random bunch of New Yorkers joins Reverend Billy (the performance artist Bill Talen) at the WTC PATH Station from 6:30 to 7 p.m. for what theater theorists would term a performative act—an utterance that calls into being what it names—but what the Reverend dubs “ritual resistance.”
Using cell phones as decoys, participants repeat those heady lines as they lean against a pillar, pace about as if awaiting a friend, fall into step behind commuters, or find some other way to not quite make a spectacle of themselves. The acoustics in the all-concrete top level of the station leave words hovering, so folks rushing for trains can catch whole phrases—”the right to freedom of speech or of the press,” “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” And the long escalator ride down to the turnstiles provides ample time for all 45 words to sink in.
Some commuters stiffen and hurry away when they suddenly realize that the person chattering behind them is not simply another bellowing cell-phone jerk, but worse: a pro-Bill of Rights subversive. A few turn and smile. For participants, the words acquire an incantatory power, intensified at 7 p.m. when declaimed in unison. The mantra might not make John Ashcroft melt into an unctuous goo like the Wicked Witch of the West Wing, but here—where the wound of the WTC gapes across the plaza and cops dash up to demand a permit for demonstrating on the Port Authority’s “private property” when the group recitation gains momentum—it creates a verbal force field that embraces all speakers in their own portable free-speech zones. As Reverend Billy preaches, “The First Amendment is our permit.”
Take some elephants to the circus
“What better way to give delegates the quintessential New York experience,” asks RNC host committee spokesperson Paul Elliott, “than to treat them to a night on Broadway?” Quintessential? How about stuffing them into an 110-degree A train and stalling it between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn for 20 minutes? Or hiring them to wash dishes to support a family on the minimum wage Governor Pataki just refused to raise? But if it’s going to be Broadway, couldn’t the committee have done better than herd Republicans to mega-musicals that have already toured their towns?
Elliott insists that the relentlessly cheery shows that avoid queer characters, racial controversy, and real questions—42nd Street, Aida, Beauty and the Beast, Bombay Dreams, Fiddler on the Roof, The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera, and Wonderful Town—made the cut because their houses are big enough to accommodate California-size delegations and producers were willing to offer discounts of 25 percent or more and to dedicate every single seat to the cause. (Oh no, they weren’t trying to keep potential hecklers from buying tix for the same night. Who but Dick Cheney would expect an audience to sign a loyalty oath?)
So GOP faithful from Louisiana have been spared the challenges of Caroline, or Change and gay-marriage-banning Missourians will not be scandalized by the homo puppets of Avenue Q. The $1 million price tag for the 14,000 tickets is being picked up by The New York Times. Not to be outdone, the Voice will treat any Republican takers to Stage Left’s A-list (at least, that is, to the free stuff): Circus Amok, the West Indian Day Parade, Karen Finley’s Free Martha cabaret (in the Howl festival), Bread and Puppet’s Insurrection Mass With Funeral March for a Rotten Idea, Sophocles’ Antigone (National Asian-American Theatre Company), Wallace Shawn’s The Fever (part of the UnConvention: An American Theater Festival) and likely Fringe Festival highlights Mossadegh: A Rock Opera and Queer Theory, the first ever NYC performance of San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros, the country’s oldest LGBT troupe.
Of mice and mischief in Times Square
Meanwhile, an activist e-mail calls for a “Mouse Bloc” outside the GOP-packing Broadway shows at 4 p.m. on August 29 “to remind the forgetful old elephants that they . . . will not be able to have fun at our expense without facing thousands of pissed-off mice in the streets.” Those rad rodents could find themselves trapped by metal barriers or smacked with batons before they get close to the theaters. But hey, a post-protest night in the pens at 1 Police Plaza: It’s a quintessential New York experience.