The Performant: Meme trope traditions


Taking in the San Francisco Mime Troupe's "2012: The Musical"

Even the most anarchic, atheistic, or contrarian among us deserve the comfort of a few holiday traditions, whatever the season -- and come the Fourth of July weekend you’ll find a kindred crowd hundreds strong camped out in the lower quadrant of Dolores Park. Unusually for Independence Day frolics, the focus is not on the consumption of grilled foodstuffs or blowing things up (fine traditions both), but on the opening of the latest San Francisco Mime Troupe show. Although the largest crowds typically show up for the official opening, always scheduled for the glorious Fourth, the preview performances are also well-attended, and it’s not unusual for folks to pick a preferred date that remains constant for years on end. And no matter how fog-bound the holiday itself, somehow the Mime Troupe opening miraculously manages to fall on one of the sunniest weekends of the year, proof perhaps of some insidious cosmic intervention, either on behalf of the Mimes or the ‘Murkins.

Politicized street theatre will always have a rather niche appeal, but the Mime Troupe nonetheless packs parks and indoor venues all over California, and in years past, the nation, with its signature brand of comedic-leftist-satire-with-song-and-dance-routines. For many San Franciscans it may sometimes feel like they’re preaching to the choir, but as anyone who’s ever seen The Reverence Billy on a roll can attest, sometimes the choir needs preaching to same as anyone else. And when it comes to the Mime Troupe, they don’t just talk a good game, but do their best to abide by it. In addition to “overthrowing capitalism one musical comedy at a time,” the Mime Troupe operates as a multi-racial, multi-generational collective, and it’s actually thanks to them, defendants of a little-remembered obscenity case in the 1960s, that theatre companies can perform uncensored in the parks of San Francisco today. Not that there’s anything particularly obscene about this year’s offering—“2012, The Musical”—where the only affront to public decency are the villainous corporate green-washers written into the script.
So here’s where it begins. A sunny Saturday in the park. Picnickers and space hoarders arriving hours early to ensure a good seat on the grass. By noon the Troupe is working out last-minutes staging kinks and sound mix, as eager, unaffiliated petition-bearers circulate the area. This year’s theme combines the personal (struggling radical theatre company looking for funding) with the political (when they find it, where is it really coming from, plus a side-plot involving an incompetent Senator running for President at the behest of the Rand Corporation). In keeping with the 2012 trope, a play-within-the-play is staged complete with spandex-clad denizens from the future, mad scientists Nostradamus, and a befeathered Mayan priest. But for the Mimes, it’s the memes they help disseminate that impact most. Self-determined collectivism. Radical inclusion. Art for people not for profit. The uncensored, uncensured use of public space. And an unabashed fealty for showtunes.
Through September 25,
Various locations
(415) 285-1717

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