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The Sproul Plaza Bust

by Marty Kent, November 1992

[Deb Moore, Nina Shilling and Marty Kent of the X-Plicit Players were arrested on the afternoon of Tuesday 17 Nov 1992, while in the midst of a performance at the edge of the campus of UC Berkeley. Here's Marty's description of the events...]

History Leading to the Performance
A guy came up to Deb and Nina in our neighborhood copy center and introduced himself as Phil Lowrey, saying he recognized them from the nude-in (an event we did with Andrew Martinez about 2 months ago on the UC Berkeley campus). It turned out he was with the department of (melo)drama at the university, and he wanted the Xplicits to come to the campus and do something. The arrangement that finally evolved in the course of a month of intermittent discussion was that we would come to his drama class on Monday morning for a lecture / demonstration, and we'd do a more full-scale performance in a theater in Dwinelle hall the following afternoon. After a couple of days for him to check things out, he got back to us with the official go-ahead, telling us to "go ahead and advertise the event".

The weekend before the class, Phil called and told us the performances were cancelled. The chancellor of the university, apparently profoundly moved by the inspiring examples of personal freedom and responsibility set by ourselves and Andrew Martinez, had instituted a new "campus policy" banning public nudity from the campus. Lorne Buchman, the head of the drama department and therefore Phil Lowrey's owner in the corporate uh pardon me academic hierarchy, felt that his owner, the chancellor, might consider performance to be a form of public display. So our performance was out, as was any nudity in the class. A day later we got further word: not only couldn't we be naked in the class, but we couldn't touch each other either.

One thing I found particularly emotionally affecting was the way Phil Lowrey seemed to consider himself a victim of censorship, while taking on full personal responsibility to implement all the acts of censorship himself. But I guess he didn't have much guts uh I mean his hands were tied: in corporate environments, many people feel it's more important to keep their jobs than to do their jobs...

Now the Xplicits are not known for taking cancellations of confirmed, advertised performances lightly, so we told him the choices were not between having a performance or not having one, but rather between having a performance in the theater or having a performance on the sidewalk in front of the campus. This has always been our policy in dealing with breakdowns of personal integrity on the part of people who invite us to perform - in fact we once did an entire 5-hour nude performance right beside the Pacific Coast Highway, in front of an art gallery where the manager decided his agreement with us was not a Real Thing - people gawking out of car windows to snap pictures, police cars rolling by... and many of you are no doubt familiar with the circumstances of our performance at Hampshire College. When we agree to come to a place and be with people, we come to that place and be with the people, no matter what.

We spoke with the editor of the college newspaper (The Daily Cal), who was very pleased to hear about our planned appearance in opposition to the new anti-nudity policy. Nicole Wong, who's written about us before with less factual errors than any other reporter, did some investigation and wrote a story which appeared in the Tuesday morning edition of the Cal, documenting the chain of fear through which our performance was "cancelled", and ending with the information that we'd be on Sproul Plaza at noon.

Basic Events of the Performance and Bust
Sproul Plaza is at Bancroft Way, where Telegraph Ave, gritty, human, central artery of south Berkeley, symbolically "dead-ends" into the University. There's an extra-wide sidewalk area right there at the end of Telly, where the flux of pedestrian traffic runs high during the day. Deb, Nina and I arrived just before noon and met Bob, who'd come down the hill on his lunch break from work. We put up a couple of posters and spread out our mat as Dave and Carol arrived with camera and camcorder respectively. Our brief preparations done, Deb, Nina and I took off our clothes and sat down in the sun to focus ourselves in the immediate. We put our arms around each other, drawing from the pool of love and tenderness into which our personal roots disappear.

People are flowing through the 30-foot opening at a rate of maybe 200 per minute. Immediately a man in a suit walks up to us and embraces us. He's seen Deb and Nina once before, at a cafe. "What are you doing?" he asks us. "We're being together out here. Join us. Take off your clothes if you want." I sink back into the very close immediate presence of Deb and Nina. When I look out again after maybe a minute, I see this man is in fact just removing the last of his clothes, and he joins us in nakedness. We put our arms around him in joy. He's a very easy-going guy. Obviously he's having a great time, the kind of thing we see all the time in our events: he'd never have thought he'd be able to do such a thing, and now, in the midst of doing it, his joy of the moment is mixed with a bit of his writing a very firm note to himself not to underestimate his own abilities again.

Lost in bliss for moments... I look out again and people are collecting around us - we feel the pull of the crowd and the push of our own desire for meeting, begin to move out towards the people standing by - some move away as if in fear, while others stand still or move toward us with welcoming gestures - out of the chaos of random people sharing only this accidental location on their paths to separate destinations, an event-sense is coalescing, the crowd group awareness and arrangement taking on clearer form - some being arises for a while out of chaos, does a dance and then dissolves, like you or me.

the naked people are moving together as one, pressed tightly together or not touching at all, we share a common focus, picking out people in the crowd one by one and moving on them - we take a man's hand - we touch his arms, shoulders, back, head, giving him our affection, tenderness, invitation - he stands uncertainly, not sure where there might be a hook in our bait - this kind of stuff never happens to you, you have no script for it, no pre-planned response or policy - total strangers emerging from nowhere to lavish kindness, warmth and affection on you! is this some kind of joke? this is not how The World works.

but this is how our world works - we give each person as much warmth and tenderness as they're ready to accept, then move on and look for someone else to gift - our focus is very narrow: although we know in some sense there are many people present, we actually only look at one or two at a time - it's like looking at the words while reading - we're moving slowly among the throng, reaching out to some people with our hands and eyes, brushing past some with the gentlest of touches, letting others just keep their distance without pursuing them - we wrap ourselves all around a guy, arms around his chest, head, legs, hitting him high and low, pouring welcome all over him, drenching him with our feeling - people right next to us examine him and us carefully, looking for clues, explanations, something to fit this all into their usual rhythm and roll - but they can't find it - my cheek on this man's belly and he meets me with some stiffness, tightness, some constructed show of strength - okay, I'm familiar with that, just listen some more, deeper, listen through - in just a couple of seconds I feel this excited enthusiasm come through, like a kid in a toy store seeing endless fields of possibility for the first time - so joyful, so unexpected - a tear or two leaks out the corners of his eyes - just hold him for a bit more and move on, no need to blow his cover.

It occurs to me we've been out here for quite a while now and it seems I've seen plenty of police come and go and none of them have made a move on us, so I guess they've decided not to bust us, like at the nude-in - guess they don't like to do high-publicity nudity busts in crowds in the daylight - okay, fine with me - swirl on - now here's a guy we recognize from the nude-in, some young student with a beard, standing off to the side - he joins us and we move back to our mat, take a little breather, off our feet - we ask him if we can take his clothes off and he lights up, "Sure!" - the 3 of us are slowly pulling off his shirt, shoes, socks, pants - his face looks like my two-year-old's when I'm pulling his clothes off at the end of the day and he can barely stay awake, just knows rest is waiting right around the corner - lets himself just fall into it - we hold the guy by his waist and shoulders and stand him up on his feet - he holds up his arms in the traditional gesture of victory, greeting or surprise as we shout "Freedom of speech for UC students! Freedom of expression for UC students!" - people in the crowd hoot, cheer, applaud, shake their heads - cameras are flashing, camcorders rolling everywhere, reporters with little notebooks interviewing the crowd and each other - intricate webs of connection forming and vanishing and forming anew like cracks in a plate glass window hit with a rock, or like a cartoon of synapses in the brain, little packets of energy shuttling along the evanescent pathways.

people keep coming and going - we've been out here for about 40 minutes I'd guess and now we have 3 guys sitting on the mat with us - they don't want to take their clothes off or have much body contact with us but they believe very strongly in the rightness of our expression, and they want to be with us to be associated with our standing up for that freedom of expression - Deb and Nina and I are resting for a moment, leaning against each other - a guy is sitting on a concrete post behind us, emitting a stream of sarcastic social commentary: "Wow, look, actual human skin! Hey, how come they have bodies and I don't?!" - he's focussed on some feeling of disapproval he's picked up from somewhere in the crowd, and is defending us in the way he thinks he knows best - it's all pretty amusing as we rest here in the center, bathed in sunshine and bliss.

a wave of police closes over us - wave of dark blue - some bald guy with a government-issue mustache is bending over telling us his name and that we're under arrest - now this is a bit of a surprise, not even a request we get dressed - just cut to the chase - somebody grabbing my wrist from behind and trying to lift me up, saying "Get up get up" - he's in a Big Hurry - I tell the guy "I'm on the bottom", since it's apparently escaped his attention that there are two people sitting on my legs and lying in my lap, making it difficult for me to rise - other police are reaching down and holding on to Deb and Nina as they stand up - guy's clamping the cuffs on me behind my back and Deb is holding on to me, her arms around my neck - how very sweet she is in the moment - as they're leading us away she yells to Bob "Get Marty out first!" - very nice; she knows I have a big work deadline today, thanks honey - Nina's being led away ahead of me, Deb behind - a cop behind me yells at a photographer, "Don't bump into me!" and shoves the guy with a couple of hands to the chest, with government-issue cordiality - people in the crowd are buzzing like a stirred-up beehive and I hear Deb saying "Gentle, gentle, no violence please, that's not our way." The guy from the concrete post is yelling "Yeah! These guys are terribly dangerous!! Thanks! I sure feel so much more secure now!" and I hear someone else ranting about how this police action "is gonna cost the taxpayers - that's US you know - thousands of dollars" - I have to chuckle, it's all too much.

Into the police van waiting there on Bancroft and we sit naked on the vinyl seats, hands cuffed behind us - there's Scarlot right outside the van, pointing her camcorder at us in a strange motion (later we learn we're effectively invisible behind the semi-mirrored windows) - Bob's telling some cop he'll gather up our possessions and our mat as they slam the door and the van rolls away up Bancroft. The three of us are leaning against each other and relaxing on the short drive over to the police station on McKinley, when suddenly out the window I see The Chinaman, a special guy who only very occasionally becomes visible on the streets of Berkeley, and whose visibility tells me I'm being monitored by angels. If this kind of thing is beyond you, just take it as this: a very favorable omen.

At the jail this cute chick cop who looks like someone from a hamburger commercial asks me why we want to cause all this trouble and I say "what do you mean, us cause trouble?! I'm just out in the sun, having fun with my friends. You're the ones causing trouble." But I'm afraid this kind of thinking is a bit beyond her at the moment, and I don't get time to try to clarify it. Date and place of birth, height, weight, current address, have you ever been arrested before etc. Up I go in the metal cage elevator, and the cop won't let me out until I put on my white paper jumpsuit. No naked people allowed in jail, apparently; might offend someone's sensibilities. Five sets of fingerprints, hands covered with black ink. Before I can wash, Deb says "stamp me!" and I step over and slap my hands on the ass of her jumpsuit. Valuable X-Plicit Players souvenir, anyone?

Two counts each, they tell us: 314, which is the indecent exposure statute we've come to know pretty much by heart, and some new one, something in the 600's. It has to do with public lewdness, which is already implied by 314, but with two charges they can double our bail this time: a thousand dollars each. Bob's here with the money for our bail in short order, it being banking hours, so I figure I'll still be able to get out in time to get home and get my disks to FedEx in time for my afternoon deadline. But no, we just sit in the cells for 3 1/2 hours and by the time they're willing to accept our $3K, it's too late. The only blot on an otherwise charming day.

[Note: when I talked to my boss the next morning to tell him I missed the deadline and why, he told me not to worry at all: "The work you guys are doing is great, really great. We'll find another way to get the stuff to them in time." As my dad always used to say, "Clean living comes through."]

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Last update 11 December 1997