Celebrating their 40 years together as a theatre group the San Francisco Mime Troupe have been presenting Division Street, a musical about the urban housing crisis, July 4-Sept. 6, in parks across the San Fran area.
(Locals who haven't yet caught the show will get two more chances, Sept. 18-19, when the piece plays at the Cannery on Leavenworth Street. After that, the production will tour.)
With original music, Street targets politicians and corporations who overrun neighborhoods for profits. Keiko Shimosato will direct.
The S.F. Mime Troupe was founded in 1959 by R.G. Davis, a member of the Actors' Workshop. Originally, the troupe did perform "silent plays" with no dialogue but later introduced speech because they felt silence dampened the audience's emotional response. In 1962, the troupe performed extensively in non-theatrical locations like parks, streets, and bay-side. During that time, the troupe maintained traditional mime fare, performing such pieces as Moliere's Scapin, Goldini's The Servant of Two Masters and Jarry's Ubu Roi in a presentational commedia dell'arte style.
During the mid-sixties, with San Francisco's legendary Haight-Ashbury scene in full force, Troupe members took notice of the changing society around them and began performing plays with the intent of radical political agitation -- a Brechtian mentality using theatre as agitprop. They presented A Minstrel Show, or, Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, a vicious attack on racism, in 1966. The company began touring these productions across the United States and Canada, and creating other pieces along the way, like The Independent Female, and Seize the Time: The Story of Chairman Bobby Seale and the Black Panther Party. When Davis left the group in 1969, it became a collective, issuing the statement, "We are committed to change, not to Art. We have tried to cut through the aristocratic and square notion of what theatre is and risk our egos to keep the search open for better ways of making theatre, in content and style, a living radical force."
In 1987, The San Francisco Mime Troupe won the Regional Theater Tony Award, for sustained excellence.
For more information, and specific park scheduling call (415) 285 1717.
-- By Sean McGrath