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Officers in Portland, Maine encountered 30-year-old white male, Asher Woodworth, dressed as a rather convincing tree, standing in the street blocking traffic. If it weren't for the rather conspicuous boots he was wearing, he would have appeared to be a tree popping up out of the street. Woodworth, who was crossing the street at a snail's pace while dressed as a convincing tree, was mid-performance art performance when officers interrupted.
When the officers arrived, they asked Woodworth to not stand in the street or block traffic. Woodworth seemed unable to comply with their request as he was engrossed in his performance, but he remained peaceful and silent. He removed himself from the street once, but returned after the officers started walking away. The officers were very patient and peaceful, and provided multiple warnings, but ultimately arrested Woodworth after he continued to disobey their warning to not obstruct traffic by standing in the street or crossing the street excessively slowly.
What's With the Tree Man?
Woodworth explained to officers that he was conducting performance art. Woodworth stated that the purpose of his tree costume and actions (or rather in-actions) were to learn about how his performance would be received, and how people would react to it. However, there's more to Woodworth's story. In fact, as the Portland Press Herald reported, you might say a judge told him to do what he did. Back in 2009, after Woodworth and a few friends were caught trying to steal the large chili pepper Chili's logo off the roof of a Chili's, the judge literally, actually told him to engage in smaller acts of stupidity.
When Performance Art Crosses the Legal Line
While Woodworth's performance piece may not have been as edgy as Milo Moire's mirror box performance art, which got her arrested too, performance artists need to be cognizant of when their art may cross the legal line.
Although Woodworth arguably should have known that standing in the road would get him arrested, or at least disobeying an officer's orders would, sometimes whether a performance art piece will violate any laws is a more complex question. Consulting an entertainment lawyer beforehand may have prevented Woodworth's arrest as the attorney may have been able to help mitigate the risk of arrest through permitting or other means.
Editor's Note, November 2, 2016: This article originally stated that the incident took place in Portland, Oregon, rather than Portland, Maine. It has since been corrected.