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The San Francisco Mime Troupe Reader

Susan Vaneta Mason

Publication Year: 2013

The San Francisco Mime Troupe Reader is a long-overdue collection of some of the finest political satires created and produced by the Tony Award-winning company during the last forty years. It is also a history of the company that was the theater of the counterculture movement in the 1960s and that, against all odds, has managed to survive the often hostile economic climate for the arts in the United States. The plays selected are diverse, representing some of the Troupe's finest shows, and the book's illustrations capture some of the Troupe's most memorable moments. These hilarious, edgy, and imaginative scripts are accompanied by insightful commentary by theater historian and critic Susan Vaneta Mason, who has been following the Troupe for more than three decades. The Mime Troupe Reader will engage and entertain a wide range of audiences, not only general readers but also those interested in the history of American social protest, the counterculture of the 1960s-particularly the San Francisco scene-and the evolution of contemporary political theater. It will also appeal to the legions of Troupe fans who return every year to see them stand up against another social or corporate Goliath.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Foreword, Acknowledgments

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pp. 2-11


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pp. xi-12

Productions by the San Francisco Mime Troupe

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pp. xii-xiv

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pp. 1-8

I first saw the San Francisco Mime Troupe perform at the outdoor Saturday market in Eugene, Oregon, in the late 1970s. The production, Hotel Universe, seemed right at home among the tie-dyed clothes, produce, and handcrafted goods for sale in the stalls there. ...

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1. The 1960s: Mime to Guerrilla Theater

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pp. 9-25

The San Francisco Mime Troupe was in the vanguard of the alternative theater movement in the United States, helping shape the Bay Area’s cultural life during the transition between the Beats of the 1950s and the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, when San Francisco was the “Athens of the counterculture.” 1 ...

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A Minstrel Show, or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel

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pp. 26-56

When the troupe set out to do a play about the civil rights movement, they mined one of the most racist entertainment forms in American theatrical history, then infused it with a contemporary critique. While creating A Minstrel Show, Davis, Landau, and the cast of black and white actors talked about racial issues, and built the show around them. ...

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Olive Pits

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pp. 57-70

Olive Pits is an adaptation of Lope de Rueda’s sixteenth-century farce, El paso de las olivas. The original is a short skit about a husband and wife who begin counting the profits from their olives the day they plant the olive tree. Berg and Cohon added the character Scaramouche, who exploits both Pantalone and his family ...

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pp. 71-76

Telephone, originally published in Ramparts (August 1970), makes use of a form of guerrilla theater: gutter puppets. It is also a Mime Troupe lehrstücke. Just as the man sets up the operator, Babs, to catch her teaching customers how to cheat the phone company, the play is a set up to inform spectators how to charge long-distance phone calls to corporations. ...

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2. The 1970s: All Art Is Political

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pp. 77-90

During the 1970s the San Francisco Mime Troupe struggled to reinvent itself. Besides learning how to operate as a collective, they adapted their membership and outreach to reflect a multicultural society. They created over twenty original productions in addition to Brecht’s The Mother and Dario Fo’s We Can’t Pay, We Won’t Pay, ...

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The Dragon Lady’s Revenge

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pp. 91-119

The play was inspired by an article in Ramparts, “The New Opium War” (May 1971), breaking the story of the CIA involvement in Indochina opium trade. It combines the style of the Terry and the Pirates comic strip with spy movies from the 1940s such as Shanghai Gesture. The troupe billed it as “An International Spy Thriller Mystery Love Comedy Hoax.” ...

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Hotel Universe

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pp. 120-143

Hotel Universe was created during a two-week residency at the Rencontres Internationales de l’Art Contemporains in La Rochelle, France, in July 1977. William Kleb describes the process in “Hotel Universe: Playwriting and the San Francisco Mime Troupe” (Theater 9 [spring 1978]: 15–20). ...

"The Big Picture” from False Promises/Nos Engañaron; Image plates follow page 146

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pp. 144-146

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3. The 1980s: National and International Recognition

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pp. 147-161

If the Carter years in the 1970s had left the San Francisco Mime Troupe without a clear agenda, the Reagan-Bush era in the 1980s would galvanize the company and their audience. In 1983 Joan Holden commented: “We got an enormous recharge when Reagan and Milton Friedman’s monetarism came in. ...

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Factwino Meets the Moral Majority

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pp. 162-188

Sedro F. Wooley, aka Factwino, is possibly the most popular character in Mime Troupe history. He is also the hero in three out of four plays of the Factperson tetralogy. Factwino Meets the Moral Majority is the second play in the series. The show uses the Marvel comic book style and ends with a cliffhanger, ...

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Ripped van Winkle

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pp. 189-219

Ripped van Winkle is the most charming and nostalgic of all the troupe’s shows. Rip, a hippie who wakes up twenty years after a bad acid trip in Golden Gate Park to the consumer-driven 1980s, has suggested the Mime Troupe’s own anachronistic presence to many observers. ...

"The Dictators’ Song” from 1985

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pp. 220-221

"Jingo Rap” from The Mozamgola Caper

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pp. 222-224

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4. The 1990s: Turning West

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pp. 225-237

Joan Holden has said that Mime Troupe plays always tell the same story, “people finding the strength to keep going in the face of insurmountable odds.”1 Although this could describe the company for four decades, it was especially relevant in the 1990s, when the odds against their survival mounted with the right wing’s successful assault on arts funding. ...

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Back to Normal

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pp. 238-265

In 1990 Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. Over the next several months the United States led a buildup of troops in the Gulf; on 17 January 1991, a Tomahawk cruise missile was launched against Baghdad, and Operation Desert Storm, under the command of Norman Schwarzkopf, had begun. ...

The “Red Heart” Scene from Offshore

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pp. 266-269

"80–20” from Offshore

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pp. 270-271

"We’re Rich Folks” from Social Work

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pp. 272-274

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pp. 275-276

The San Francisco Mime Troupe is not radical anymore. They are not postmodern. They are not cutting edge. Like the title character in their Ripped van Winkle, they are an anachronism: a throwback to the 1960s. Yet they draw thousands of spectators to their free shows in San Francisco Bay Area parks every summer ...


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pp. 277-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780472120178
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068425

Page Count: 289
Publication Year: 2013