Outpouring saves San Francisco Mime Troupe's season 

It was a "perfect storm" of a funding crisis, says Ellen Callas, general manager of the Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe.

Preparing for its 54th season of original, commedia-style musical satires (not pantomime) performed free in parks throughout Northern California, the 11-member collective recently found itself teetering on the verge of a financial meltdown.

The anticipated grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, received for 27 consecutive years, failed to materialize, as did several other grants.

"A lot of foundations are changing their focus from performing arts to education," says Callas, describing a trend that has affected other nonprofit theaters as well.

In early April, troupe members agreed that unless they could raise about $40,000, they would cancel this summer's show.

They emailed emergency requests to a list of 4,000, plus a regular summer fundraising appeal to another list of 14,000, and by mid-June had raised $56,000, including $10,000 from an annual anonymous donor.

The show, in the planning stages since December 2011, will go on starting this week, but with a shortened season and other cost-cutting measures.

"Oil & Water"— the umbrella title for two one-acts, written collaboratively by Pat Moran (who also wrote the music and lyrics for both) and novelist Adolfo Mejia and directed by Joan Mankin — has an unusually small cast of four, including beloved regular Velina Brown. The actors play more than 20 roles.

Only two musicians (instead of three) provide the live music, which is supplemented by electronics.

Using two different theatrical tropes, the writers focus on two environmental issues. "Deal with the Devil," presented in heightened noir style, has melodramatic accompaniment and strong archetypes. It is set in the near future in an America that has not yet liberated itself from fossil fuels.

"Crude Intentions," more naturalistic, goes from modern-day San Francisco to Ecuador, with Latin-influenced music and hip-hop; it references the still-ongoing legal battle in which, in 2011, the government of Ecuador fined Chevron for polluting the Amazon.

Together, the two one-acts skewer detrimental energy practices of corporations, governments and people in the troupe's patented broad comedic style and from its well-honed leftist perspective.

Of the community's response to the funding crisis, Callas says, "The amount of good will has been extraordinary, and emotionally uplifting." But she adds that the company is not out of the woods yet; continued support is essential — it is the bridge to the group's planned self-sustainable model.


Oil & Water

Presented by San Francisco Mime Troupe

Where: Dolores Park, 18th and Dolores streets, S.F.

When: 2 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: Free, donations requested

Contact: (415) 285-1717, www.sfmt.org

Note: Performances continue in Northern California parks through Sept. 2.


All begin at 2 p.m.

Saturday – Peacock Meadow, John F. Kennedy Drive and Peacock Meadow (between Panhandle and Conservatory of Flowers), Golden Gate Park, S.F.

Sunday – Washington Square Park, Columbus and Union streets, S.F.

Aug. 4 – Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission and Third streets, S.F.

Aug. 7 – Troupe Studio Space, 855 Treat Ave., S.F. (seating limited, $20 donation suggested: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/391924)

Sept. 2 – Dolores Park, 18th and Dolores streets, S.F.

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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