As evidenced by my Appealing Events post for the SF Mime Troupe’s 50th Anniversary party, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into at YBCA last Thursday night, but this is a good thing for me. We can’t all be Mime Troupe Superfans, after all.
First of all: Holy crap! There are more Mime Troupe Superfans than I would have thought. The impromptu seating in the auditorium at YBCA was packed, leaving SRO at the back, while parents attempting to instill their children with a healthy sense of irony and sarcasm sat on the floor near the front. Despite the slick surroundings at YBCA, this seating arrangements gave the event a much more grassroots vibe. Like someone had left the door unlocked to the High School auditorium and the drama nerds snuck in to put on a secret performance.
Speaking of sneaking in, it didn’t seem like anyone really knew when the Troupe would go on, but they were crowding the stage as the YBCA’s Executive Director, Kenneth Foster took the mic to read a notice from Newsom’s office which proclaimed the Mime Troupe as “the preeminent theater company for satire and divergent performances in our city” and recognized the troupe’s role in pioneering free theater in our parks (despite many arrests over the years). After a lot of fluffy whereas clauses, the notice proclaimed December 10th as San Francisco Mime Troupe Day in San Francisco. Thanks, Gav, that’s quite a birthday card!
So to introduce the action of the play, a bum arrived pushing a cart full of cardboard through the crowd, announcing his presence by slinging cleverly worded jabs at a government that doesn’t care about him. Were I a better theater critic I would offer some insight into how the clown is a common way to introduce a play’s action, but I sat next to Playboy’s Miss October 2005 all semester during my Shakespeare course in college so please pardon me if I don’t remember a whole lot.
More important than theater traditions though, was the tone of the piece which has obviously changed a great deal since it was first written and performed before the opening of the Moscone Center in 1981. Although I can’t be certain how edgy the bum’s jokes would have been in the early-80’s, as he described problems facing the same neighborhood we were all standing in, I got the sense that the more things change the more they stay the same. Lines like “There’s no community South of Market!” still ring true, but now seem like a slight against the hermetically sealed high rises that populate the neighborhood where the blight used to be.
All-in-all the performance of “Ghosts” fit well into the holiday spirit, centering on visions of Yerba Buena past, present, and future represented by the ghosts of Justin Herman (boo, hiss) and George Moscone. Following the performance was a sort of who’s-who of characters that San Franciscans love to hate on: Dick Cheney mumbled and grumbled his way through a recognition of the “meme troupe’s” achievements until a drunken Dubya stumbled on stage. The crowd seemed to be amused by the spectacle, but only showed it through the same sort of hushed chuckles one usually hears during re-runs of old Saturday Night Live skits. It’s all in good fun, but surely we have new people to make fun of by now?
And speaking of political cartoons, State Assemblyman Mark Leno took the stage to offer, an “IOU for a proclamation of thanks” to the Mime Troupe. I’m still not sure if the “IOU” bit was another joke or maybe it was just one of those perfectly stupid situations that leaves you without a proper response aside from laughter.
The celebration ended on a pleasantly honest note, however, when playwright Joan Holden was named a San Francisco Living Treasure. When asked why she decided to write in (and for) San Francisco, she gave a very writerly answer: “The weather.” Perhaps it was appropriate then that it rained during a rare indoor performance.
All in all, the event didn’t seem to be directed at anyone other than the 500 or so Superfans that came out, many proudly displaying their SF Mime Troupe t-shirts – a level of fandom usually reserved only for Grateful Dead events. (And that’s not the only overlap between the Dead and the Troupe, by the way. Garcia & Co. played at a Mime Troupe benefit in 1967 according to this guy.)
In the end though, these events really are living artifacts of an earlier San Francisco. It’s the same San Francisco that drives a first generation Prius tarnished by duct tape residue that still spells out “Impeach Bush” or wears a “Good Bush/Bad Bush” t-shirt to an event nearly a year after Dubya left office. Although their audience may be dwindling and the conversation has moved on, one can’t help but love those weirdos and their uniquely irreverent ways of expressing their opinions.