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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts of activism

Part VI: Guerilla theatre: [on the San Francisco mime troupe],   pp. [405]-[411] PDF (8.0 MB)

Page 409

The Mime Troupe started in 1959 doing silent mime (the art of
Chaplin - Marceau does pantomime) with the idea of restoring
movement to a stage crippled by decades of realism. We broke
into noise, and then speech, when our ideas became more complex:
we now do plays, but mime is still the point of departure for our style,
in which words sharpen and refine but physical action carries the
substantial meaning. We did our first movement-noise happening,
Event I-with artists Robert Hudson, William Wiley, and Judy Davis-
in 1959, our first commedia dell'arte play, THE DOWRY -from Moliere,
Goldoni, and improvisation - in 1960. Our interest in this 16th century 
form is not antiquarian. We use it because it is funny and adaptable,
and because comedy is ultimately more serious than tragedy or realism.  
In 1962 we went outdoors with a portable stage and performed
our commedia show twice in San Francisco parks, passing the hat
afterwards. We have done new commedias outdoors each year since.        
In 1965, the San Francisco Park and Recreation Commission refused       
us a permit to play CANDELAIO on the grounds of "vulgarity";
we played and were arrested, the ACLU appealed, and the refusal was
ruled an unconstitutional attempt at censorship. (The controversy
cost us our first and only grant.) In 1968, after another court fight,
the Mime Troupe liberated the parks of Mill Valley, a suburb, and did six
park shows a week from April through September.
We opened our indoor theater in December, 1963, with Jarry's UBU ROI,   
followed by plays, events, and movies: we presented a regular film
series in 1964 under the direction of Saul Landau, showing such         
artists as Brakhage, Conner, and Genet (UN CHANT D'AMOUR).              
     409   |
This phase ended in 1965 when our theater became a parking lot;
since then we have lived from the parks and from engagements.           
We did mixed media: Brecht's EXCEPTION AND THE RULE with a talk         
on Vietnam by Robert Scheer, De Ghelderode's CHRONICLES OF HELL
with poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Meltzer, and Lew Welch,
and the first light-show rock dance at the Fillmore Auditorium
(November, 1965).
Our work always referred to political concerns; it has come gradually to
direct engagement. CENTERMAN, an original play about American
brutality by Peter Berg, opened in 196$ at a teach-in rally in
San Francisco and played Bay area theaters; SEARCH AND SEIZURE,
about drug law enforcement, opened at a benefit for Timothy Leary and   
played as a cabaret theater piece. A MINSTREL SHOW, OR CIVIL
RIGHTS IN A CRACKER BARREL (by Saul Landau and R. G. Davis)             
which exploded racist and integrationist cliches before Black Power,
opened in 1965; it toured the U.S. and Canada for two years, during
which time its prophecies became realities. Vietnam has escalated our
consciousness as it has that of many. THE EXCEPTION AND THE             
RULE was our first play about the war; in 1966-67 we did a Brechtian
production of Sartre's CONDEMNED OF ALTONA, which tries the
individual for crimes of state; in 1967 Goldoni's L'AMANT MILITAIRE,
freely adapted (by Joan Holden) to demonstrate the absurdity of
pacifism in the face of the military machine; in 1968 Beolco's
RUZZANTE RETURNS, about the disillusion of the returning soldier,       
and his response.                                                       
L'AMANT MILITAIRE and another commedia, OLIVE PITS, toured

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