The San Francisco Mime Troupe is San Francisco’s critically acclaimed and oldest professional political musical theater. It began in 1959 when Ronald G. Davis formed the R.G. Davis Mime Troupe while affiliated with the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop. Initially, the Troupe improvised silent mime performance “events,” but soon added sound, music, and dialogue. In 1962 they began producing free shows in San Francisco parks and moved from mime into other forms of drama: first adaptations of commedia dell’arte, then vaudeville, melodrama, and other American theater. In 1963, they severed connections with the Workshop, and changed the group’s name to the San Francisco Mime Troupe.
In the Sixties, under Davis’s direction, the Troupe affiliated itself with the new counterculture. They published ideas on Guerrilla Theater and Radical Theater and continued to play in theaters, in the parks, and on colleges campuses, appealing particularly to the Left. After some fairly unsettled early years which included revocations of park permits, arrests, and litigation, the San Francisco Mime Troupe was recognized with an Obie Award in 1967 for “unifying theater and revolution and grooving in the parks.”
In 1970 Davis left the company which then reorganized as a worker-managed collective. More awards followed: Obie Awards in 1971 for The Dragon Lady’s Revenge and in 1989 for Seeing Double as well as a Tony Award in 1987 for excellence in regional theater. The Troupe has, for the most part, moved from adaptations to original works written by members of the Troupe and continues to use performances to point out weaknesses in American society.
After more than fifty years of existence the San Francisco Mime Troupe continues to perform in the parks every summer, tour in the fall, and share their message through annual youth theater projects. Their mission continues to be “to create and produce socially relevant theater of the highest professional quality and to perform it before the broadest possible audience.”
The San Francisco Mime Troupe Records consist of unique items relating to the more than fifty year existence of the Troupe. The collection contains original and adapted scripts, financial papers, photographs, audio visual items, promotional material, correspondence, clippings, and office files.
This recent article in the Davis Enterprise provides more information about this year’s show which will be performed in Davis on Saturday, August 27 and in Sacramento on Sunday, August 28.
San Francisco Mime Troupe performs False Promises, 1976.