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'Jail' For Naked Performers and Costumed Characters Opens in Times Square

 The DOT painted the first of eight "designated activity zones" in Times Square on Wednesday evening.
Times Square 'Activity Zones'
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TIMES SQUARE — The new “designated activity zones” for performers in Times Square arrived this week — with many costumed characters comparing them to "jail" and vowing not to operate within their boundaries when the rules go into effect later this month.

As of Friday morning, the city's Department of Transportation had painted all eight 8-by-50-foot zones in "techno teal" in Times Square's pedestrian plazas, between West 42nd and 47th streets from Broadway to Seventh Avenue.

“It’s a great day here at the Crossroads of the World,” the DOT's Deputy Borough Commissioner Ed Pincar said at a press conference Thursday. “We believe this is a step in the right direction.”

Some costumed characters surveying the new boxes felt otherwise.

“This is a jail,” said Joker impersonator Oscar Rodriguez, 32, as he stood next to the box painted in Duffy Square. “I don’t have freedom, I don’t have free expression.”

Yamil Morales, 39, who dresses as The Penguin, called the new restrictions “imprisonment of people.”

“It’s against the Constitution, against free expression,” he said in Spanish.

But a Statue of Liberty impersonator felt the restrictions should have been in place years ago.

“I love it,” said Jorge Duran, 24, who has worked in Times Square on and off for seven years. “I’m very satisfied, and that’s what we needed a long time ago.

“It’s going to help control a lot of harassing, with the tourists,” he added.

In April, the City Council passed a bill to limit the commercial activity of costumed characters, topless “desnudas,” ticket sellers and others to zones within Times Square’s plazas.

Ten DOT “ambassadors” will conduct educational outreach in English and Spanish at tables set up throughout the plaza starting next week, and signage will "clearly communicate" the rules, Pincar said Thursday.

Characters will be able to walk around outside the zones, but won’t be able to pose for photos or accept tips at that time, he said.

Performers who don’t comply with the new rules could face civil and criminal penalties or arrests as “the last resort" when enforcement begins on June 21, said Capt. Robert O’Hare, commanding officer of the Times Square NYPD unit.

Still, some costumed characters vowed not to obey the new rules. 

“Me, I’m not going to be there,” Batman performer Jose Escalona-Martinez, 42, said of the boxes on Thursday. “This is unconstitutional.”

"We're not going to be there," Morales said Friday as he and Rodriguez posed for photos near one of the zones.

Both performers said they plan to band together to sue the city, although they could not say whether any definitive plans were in place yet.

On Friday, Elmo impersonator Lu Martinez, 24, called the newly painted boxes “b------t.”

“A lot of people are going to stop coming — look at how little space there is to walk and look how many we are,” he said. “I’m human, and it’s like we’re caged animals.

"After the 21st, I'm going to start looking for another job," he added.

Times Square Alliance’s president Tim Tompkins on Thursday refuted the notion that the new rules impinge on performers’ rights.

The Alliance will honor its promise to place signs next to the zones noting that passersby who take photos with costumed characters are expected to give tips, he noted.

“We honestly believe this is absolutely constitutional,” he said. “It respects all those free speech boundaries.”

Escalona-Martinez maintained the boxes were made "especially for the Naked Cowboy," who spoke in support of the pedestrian plaza legislation prior to City Council’s vote.

"He’s the one that wanted to be there,” Escalona-Martinez said.

But even the Naked Cowboy, real name Robert Burck, expressed some hesitation about the new zones.

“I thought they would look a little bigger,” he said as he took a break from posing for photos with fans.

“But who cares?” he added. “It’s not going to hurt my business."