The San Francisco Mime Troupe is a theatre of political satire which performs free shows in various parks in the San Francisco Bay Area Coordinates: 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:
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.