SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

Adler Alley between Columbus and Grant Avenues

Darryl Sapien, Crime in the Streets: A Performance About Survival in the City (19th August 1978)



This was a street performance depicting a series of violent crimes against innocent and powerless victims. Among the crimes were rape, murder, suicide, and lynching. The city itself was identified as a voracious predator consuming its weakest citizens to fuel its growth. In the end the victims were restored to life, then climbed the fire escapes, and joined together to form a human bridge over the scene of the crimes. Thus a higher purpose was achieved surmounting the mayhem of the street below (Sapien 2013)

A dark narrow, inner city alley, jammed with one thousand people. It’s too crowded. Bodies shoving, tempers are hot. The performance is late, no-one can see. Confusion reigns. “Has it started yet?” Passers by join the invited. “What’s happening here?” The performance police are trying to clear the area. Sounds of pile drivers are heard approaching in the distance. A narrator speaks from an electric scissors lift as it rises above the throng. “The city is a machine, it has a life of its own, driven by events, out of control. Listen as it approaches, seeking its victim.” A procession of police in uniforms and wearing dark glasses are carrying a woman on an eight-foot-tall bed through the crowds. The woman remains asleep on the bed as it is placed under a streetlight in the middle of the alley. “Engine grinding life, crime inducing, malevolent influence. But you have nothing to fear. You’ve made all the proper sacrifices. We shall sacrifice again tonight, sacrifice this life to save our own.” …Meanwhile in another part of town… “Look out, he’s got a gun!” One man chasing another shoots his victim down in the alley the murderer flees, running through the audience. “Stop him, he’s a killer!”  Several spectators try to tackle the killer. The air is filled with the sound of sirens and police radio calls. Spotlights swirl around the alley from fire escapes. Cops swarm the scene, revolvers are drawn, flares are scattered, flashbulbs pop. “They shot him. Is he dead? What happened? He’s bleeding to death! Who is he?” The victim’s body lies in a pool of blood, outlined in the gutter. “County Coroner tagged the victim, John Doe 23, homicide. Yet it was a mechanical process. His death was the last link in  a chain reaction involving everyone. He fell into the path of a city engine. Nobody claimed the body. But the public demands satisfaction. We need some suspects!” The cop hustle three spectators into the spotlight. “Alright, this is a line up, when your name is called step forward." (Sapien 1979: 38)


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