This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2020)
The San Francisco Mime Troupe is a theatre of political satire which performs free shows in various parks in the San Francisco Bay Area and around California. The Troupe does not, however, perform silent mime, but each year creates an original musical comedy that combines aspects of Commedia dell'Arte, melodrama, and broad farce with topical political themes. The group was awarded the Regional Theatre Award at the 41st Tony Awards.
The group was founded in 1959 by R. G. Davis as a medium of expression of his divergent theatrical concepts. The group debuted with Mime and Word (1959) and The 11th Hour Mime Show (1960). However, by 1961, the group transitioned to the Commedia dell'Arte format to more thoroughly comment on perceived political repression in the United States of America, the growing American Civil Rights Movement and military and covert intervention abroad. In the mid-1960s the group started to rely less on the direct Commedia dell'Arte format and transitioned into a more rambunctious, satirical style. It also began integrating elements of jazz into its musical composition, eventually leading to the inclusion of a jazz band within the troupe. The group gained significant notoriety for its free performances in Golden Gate Park and numerous altercations with law enforcement. They also travelled to Canada and played at Simon Fraser University on Nov. 9, 1966 with “A Minstrel Show or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel" by Gary Davis and Saul Landau (SFU Archives Library).The 'Minstrel Show' made its public debut in April 1965 at the Encore Theater on Powell Street in San Francisco, produced by Bill Graham. Its cast included John Broderick, Willie B. Hart Jr., George Matthews, Jason Marc Alexander, Julio Martinez, Malachi Spicer (Kai Spiegel) as the minstrels and Robert Slattery at Interlocutor.
The music for “Minstrel Show” was composed and performed by Steve Reich, who worked with the Troupe for at least two seasons. The Troupe has always been known to employ the best composers and musicians in the area, who work intimately with the actors, writers, and whole theatrical operation.
By the early 1970s, the Troupe had earned a reputation for opposing capitalism, sexism, and war.
In the early '70s Davis left the Troupe when it re-formed as a collective, the members of which operate as the Artistic Director, at which time the Troupe produced one of its most successful shows, The Independent Female (1970). In the 1980s, the group's productions retaliated against the Reagan administration.
Some of the Troupe's popular shows include:
- Factwino meets The Moral Majority (1981), in which Factwino, an alcoholic superhero that became a recurring protagonist, bestowed wisdom upon prominent icons, such as Jerry Falwell
- Steel Town (1984) characterized the plight of steel workers and the decline of steel manufacture in the U.S. For this production, the troupe toured the Midwest, primarily in factory cities.
- The Minstrel Show or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, which satirized entrenched attitudes among liberals and bigots during the Civil Rights Struggle
- The Dragon Lady's Revenge (1971 and 1972) about the war in Vietnam
- Seeing Double, about a two-state solution in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
- Ripped VanWinkle which explores the gap between the optimism of 1968 and the 1988 reality.
- Offshore, about the real cost of globalization
- Eating It, about genetic engineering and profit driven science
- 1600 Transylvania Avenue, about corporate government feeding on public wealth
- GodFellas, a farce exposing the dangers of fundamentalism to democracy
- Making a Killing, about war propaganda and the plight of Iraqis contaminated by depleted uranium
- Posibilidad, or Death of the Worker, which juxtaposes the stories of workers taking over two factories - one in Argentina and one in the U.S. - and poses the question: why are American workers fighting for a seat at the table? Why not fight for the whole table?
As well as the park-based shows, the Mime Troupe also tours nationally and internationally, having performed throughout Europe, Asia, South and Central America, and has won several awards. The group also facilitates community workshops. They are a nonprofit organization. The season traditionally starts on Fourth of July weekend and ends on Labor Day weekend.
Early Mime Troupers include Joe Bellan, Saul Landau, Arthur Holden, Nina Serrano, Steve Reich, John Connell, Robert Nelson, William T. Wiley, Sandra Archer, Robert Hudson, Wally Hedrick, Judy North, Jerry Jump, Fred Hayden, Victoria Hochberg, Joaquin Aranda, Esteban Oropezo and John Broderick. Posters for several of the 1970s productions were designed by Jane Norling, and are accessible online.
Later veterans include Arthur Holden, Sharon Lockwood, Peter Coyote, Luis Valdez, Barry Shabaka Henley, Bruce Barthol, Joan Holden, Joan Mankin, Melody James, Andrea Snow, Daniel Chumley, Marie Acosta, Jael Weisman, Jim Haynie, John Robb, Emmett Grogan, Bill Graham, and Ed Holmes.
The current San Francisco Mime Troupe Collective comprises Rotimi Agbabiaka, Michael Bello, Velina Brown, Ellen Callas, Hugo E Carbajal, Michael Carreiro, Marie Cartier, Lisa Hori-Garcia, Taylor Gonzalez, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Daniel Savio, Michael Gene Sullivan.
In 1987, the troupe's Brechtian style of guerrilla theatre earned them a special Tony Award for Excellence in Regional Theater. Red State, the Troupe's 2008 fable about a small Midwest town that, after years of being ignored, demands accountability for their tax dollars, was nominated for a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for Best New Script, as was their 2009 production, Too Big to Fail, which detailed how credit and the philosophy of profit at all costs trap mesmerized citizens in a cycle of debt, while endlessly enriching the capitalists who cast the spell.
- 1959: Mime And Word
- 1960: 11th Hour Mime Show
- 1961: Act without Words
- 1961: Event I
- 1961: Purgatory and Krapp's Last Tape
- 1962: The Dowry
- 1963: Ubu King
- 1963: Event II
- 1963: Film: Plastic Haircut
- 1963: Ruzante's Maneuvers
- 1963: The Root
- 1964: Chorizos
- 1964: Event III
- 1964: Mimes and Movie
- 1965: Tartuffe
- 1965: The Exception and the Rule
- 1965: Candelaio
- 1965: Chronicles of Hell
- 1965: Civil Rights
- 1965: Jim Crow in a Cracker Barrel
- 1966: The Miser
- 1966: Film: Mirage And Centerman
- 1966: Jack Off!
- 1966: Olive Pits
- 1966: Search & Seizure
- 1966: What's That Ahead?
- 1967: L'Amant Militaire
- 1967: The Condemned
- 1967: The Minstrel Show or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel
- 1967: The Vaudeville Show
- 1968: Gutter Puppets (Meter Maid)
- 1968: Little Black Panther
- 1968: Ruzzante or the Veteran Gorilla Marching Band is Formed
- 1969: The Congress of Whitewashers or Turandot
- 1969: The Third Estate
- 1970: Ecoman
- 1970: Los Siete
- 1970: Seize the Time
- 1970: Telephone Man or Ripping off Ma Bell
- 1970: The Independent Female
- 1971: Clown Show
- 1971: The Dragon Lady's Revenge
- 1972: American Dreamer
- 1972: Frozen Wages
- 1972: High Rises
- 1972: The Dragon Lady's Revenge
- 1973: The Mother
- 1973: San Francisco Scandals of 1973
- 1974: The Great Air Robbery
- 1975: Frijoles or Beans To You
- 1975: Power Play
- 1976: False Promises/Nos Engañaron
- 1977: Hotel Universe
- 1978: Elektrobucks
- 1979: Can't Pay? Won't Pay! (play)|We Can't Pay, We Won't Pay
- 1979: Squash
- 1979: T.V. Dinner
- 1980: Fact Person
- 1981: Americans or Last Tango in Huahuatenango
- 1981: Factwino Meets the Moral Majority
- 1981: Ghosts
- 1982: Factwino vs. Armagoddonman
- 1983: Secrets in the Sand
- 1983: The Uprising At Fuente Ovejuna
- 1984: Steeltown
- 1985: Crossing Borders
- 1985: Factwino: The Opera
- 1986: Hotel Universe
- 1986: Spain/36
- 1986: The Mozamgola Caper
- 1987: The Dragon Lady's Revenge
- 1988: Ripped Van Winkle
- 1989: Secrets in the Sand
- 1989: Seeing Double
- 1990: Rats
- 1990: Uncle Tom's Cabin
- 1991: Back to Normal
- 1991: I Ain't Yo Uncle
- 1992: Social Work
- 1993: Offshore
- 1994: Big Wind
- 1995: Coast City Confidential
- 1995: Escape to Cyberia
- 1996: Gotta Get A Life
- 1996: Soul Suckers from Outer Space
- 1997: 13 Days / Trece Dias
- 1997: Killing Time
- 1997: La Hembra Independencia / The Independent Female
- 1997: Revenger Rat Meets the Merchant of Death
- 1997: Teen City
- 1998: The Artist Must Take Sides
- 1999: City For Sale
- 1999: Damaged Care
- 1999: The First Forty Years
- 2000: Eating it
- 2001: 1600 Transylvania Avenue
- 2002: Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan"
- 2003: Veronique of the Mounties
- 2004: Showdown at Crawford Gulch
- 2005: Doing Good
- 2006: Godfellas
- 2007: Making a Killing
- 2008: Red State
- 2009: Too Big to Fail
- 2010: Posibilidad or Death of the Worker
- 2011: 2012 - The Musical!
- 2012: For the Greater Good, or The Last Election
- 2013: Oil & Water
- 2014: Ripple Effect
- 2015: Freedomland
- 2016: Schooled
- 2017: Walls
- 2018: Seeing Red
- 2019: Treasure Island
- 2020: Tales of the Resistance: Volume 1 (radio play due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
- 2021: Tales of the Resistance: Volume 2 (radio play due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
- 2022: Back to the Way Things Were
- 2023: Breakdown
- Living Theater
- Bread & Puppet
- Teatro Campesino
- Political drama
- St. Stupid's Day
- Beach Blanket Babylon - another long-running San Francisco theatre satire group
- Bernstein, Lee (2010). "The Age of Jackson: George Jackson and the Radical Critique of Incarceration". America is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. p. 52. ISBN 9780807871171. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
- Which, when professor Keith Fowler booked it into Massachusetts' Williams College in 1968, elicited comments from the opening night crowd of "I've been raped!" The next day a panel discussion was held in which professor Paul Gray of Bennington College thrust a KKK hood over his head and shouted, "If any of them M--F--s comes near my wife, I'll kill him!"
- "Show Archive - San Francisco Mime Troupe - America's Theater of Political Comedy". www.sfmt.org. Retrieved 2017-03-25.
- "Collective Bios". SFMT. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
- https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2019/07/30/sf-mime-troupe-takes-on-treasure-island SF Mime Troupe takes on 'Treasure Island'
- Mason, Susan Vaneta (2005). The San Francisco Mime Troupe Reader. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-09842-X.
- Davis, R.G. (1975). The San Francisco Mime Troupe: The First Ten Years. Palo Alto, CA: Ramparts Press. ISBN 0-87867-059-9.
- Orenstein, Claudia (1998). Festive Revolutions: The Politics of Popular Theater and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-079-6. Retrieved 2008-05-30.
- The San Francisco Mime Troupe official website
- San Francisco Mime Troupe at the Internet Broadway Database
- "Staging the Revolution: Guerrilla Theater as a Countercultural Practice, 1965-1968"
- San Francisco Mime Troupe Archives at Special Collections Dept., University Library, University of California, Davis