All the world may be a stage, but as San Francisco Mime Troupe fans are finding out, it’s not a free one.
Even as we gleefully contemplate a Fleet Week sans Blue Angels , truly the silver lining of sequestration, the news that the San Francisco Mime Troupe is facing an immediate financial crisis reminds us of its downsides as well. After several anticipated grants failed to be awarded to the acclaimed theatrical collective, including one from longtime funders the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mime Troupe announced that it needs to raise $40,000 by the end of April  in order to mount its summer tour of a show about natural resources and climate change tentatively entitled Oil and Water.
By no means is the Mime Troupe alone in facing financial difficulties. Securing arts funding has always been a precarious proposition at best for small theater companies, but one thing that sets the Mime Troupe conspicuously apart from most of their peers is their commitment to providing all of their shows for free — reaching thousands of people with their often tongue-in-cheek, issue-motivated musicals in public parks across the Bay Area each year.
“I don’t think it’s totally sequester-based but I’m sure that hasn’t helped,” Mime Troupe general manager and collective member Ellen Callas says via email. “Money for arts is not a congressional priority, particularly among the GOP.”
In response to its immediate financial crisis, the Mime Troupe has spoken of downsizing the length of its tour this summer as well as cutting back on its overall production costs, shrinking its carbon footprint as it tightens its belt.
It’s not the first time the Mime Troupe has had to scale back dramatically. After broadly-implemented cuts on the NEA and the California Arts Council in the 1990s, support for the cross-country touring the Mime Troupe specialized in was lost for good, and the company confined itself thereafter to the boundaries of the Bay Area, losing the opportunity to reach out to a national audience, once so central to its mission. The upside to this forced localization, though, has manifested itself in the Mime Troupe’s ability to reach out to its more immediate community, particularly in terms of its youth programs and internships, which are also provided free to participants.
With the summer season in jeopardy, so too are the various youth (and working actor) opportunities to be part of the action, something that Callas makes sure to mention in our correspondence. But she remains optimistic in regards to the Troupe’s reinvigorated commitment to grassroots fundraising, having (at the time of this writing) already raised $15,000, money which will be used to reshape the collective into the “leaner and greener” organization that will be better able to withstand the financial crises of the future.
”We’re seeing this as an opportunity to re-tool our business model so that we can sustain ourselves in the new economy,” promises Callas.
Donate to the San Francisco Mime Troupe at www.sfmt.org .