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The San Francisco Mime Troupe Reader
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AikiraLeonard Follow. Published in: Education. Full Name Comment goes here. The Diggers would be unimaginable without their having been able to draw upon the vaunted affluence of a 'post-scarcity' society. Surplus goods were more easily available during the economic boom of the mids, which followed a long period of post-war prosperity. California's share of defense spending was huge; consequently unemployment was minimal and more discretionary spending was possible. Ironically, the Bay area in particular benefitted from being the point of departure and reentry for troops involved in prosecuting the Vietnam war.
Then, too, there was the money being pumped into the city by Great Society programs, some of which undoubtedly trickled down to the Diggers. Other factors which facilitated the Free City network include the relatively low cost of living in San Francisco at the time; for example large apartments and storefronts were quite plentiful and could be leased at reasonable rates. Finally, the city's Mediterranean climate was relatively mild compared with much of the rest of the country, thereby keeping expenditures for heating and cooling to a minimum, as well as negating the need for extensive seasonal wardrobes.
All of these were conducive to incubating the Diggers' utopian project. When beneficence and windfalls failed to deliver essential items, the Diggers hustled; they were not above resorting to theft or intimidation to obtain food, for instance. The principle of 'Free' authorized, even valorized "liberating" goods from uncooperative suppliers for the benefit of the "New Community. Those who thought otherwise would be in Rousseauvian terms forced to be free. The Diggers understood from the outset that their project involved 'acting,' but it wasn't exactly theater even by Ronnie Davis's iconoclastic standards.
To their mind, if one strongly objected to capitalism, then one simply abolished the system of private property along with the controlling assumptions of a money-based economy. In its place the Diggers pushed the concept of "everything free," another notion that combined two commonly understood meanings of the word: costing nothing and liberated from social conventions. Freedom or liberty, they maintained, is one of the genetic codes in the American body politic. But their particular practice of 'Free' was also inspired by the Mime Troupe's approach to producing theater in the parks: free public performances to be covered by free-will donations.
The guerrilla theater of the Diggers was manifested in its most spectacular form in street theater "events" they staged in public places at irregular intervals of approximately every few weeks. The purpose of these avant-garde happenings varied from attacking the creeping commodification of the counterculture as in the "Death of Money, Birth of the Haight" 17 December , to the widely noted and similarly named "Death of Hippy, Birth of the Free Man" 6 October Held to ceremonially mark the end of the Summer of Love, the Death of Hippy event mounted a radical critique of the mass media's role in framing and defaming the counterculture via sensationalistic news coverage.
Each event was unique. To impart a sense of what one involved, here is how the "Full Moon Public Celebration" of Halloween was structured:. On the southwest corner of the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, the symbolic heart of some in the community were calling "Psychedelphia," the Diggers set up their foot tall yellow "Frame of Reference.
These were meant to be worn—not as talismans for warding off baleful influences—but as reminders that one's point-of-view and hence waking consciousness was mutable. Effecting changes in objective reality, the Diggers maintained, had to be preceded by altering people's perspective on the assumed fixity of the status quo.
Ubu in San Francisco with R.G. Davis - FoundSF
Renegotiating those underexamined assumptions might well produce new and more imaginative ways of organizing social relations. Next, participants were guided in playing a game called "Intersection," that involved people crossing those streets in a way which traced as many different kinds of polygons as possible. The intended effect was to impede vehicular traffic on Haight Street as a way of deterring the growing stream of tourists who had come to gawk at the hippies.
One problem, however, was that as groups like the Diggers acquired a reputation for creating spectacles in the Haight, such doings inevitably attracted curiosity seekers from outside the neighborhood. From the Diggers' standpoint, anyone was welcome to join in their events, but mere spectators were actively discouraged. And they and the other hip residents of the district reserved a special animosity towards the nonstop, bumper-to-bumper carloads of people who had come to stare at them through rolled-up windows and locked doors.
Within an hour at around 6 P. Not long afterward the police arrived in several squad cars and a paddy wagon to disperse the crowd. In a priceless moment of unscripted theater of the absurd, police officers began a series of verbal exchanges with the puppets! A journalist on hand captured the ensuing dialogue:. The altercation, it should come as no surprise, resulted in the arrest of five of the Diggers—Grogan, Berg, La Morticella, Minault, and Brooks Butcher—along with another member of the crowd who objected to the police's action by insisting that "These are our streets.
They resumed the Intersection game and, after one of the Diggers set up a phonograph and started playing music, began to dance in the street. The officers may well have attributed the night's outlandish public behavior to the effects of a 'blue moon' on All Hallow's Eve. To the Diggers it was a demonstration of their power to confound the authorities and stake their claim on the urban turf. As the author of the guerrilla theater idea, R.
Davis was sharply critical of the Diggers, as he would soon also be of the Yippies. He rejected what the Diggers were doing as being neither serious nor effective. Nor to his mind did it qualify as a legitimate type of political theater. This he distinguished from merely acting theatrically in public. Davis defined himself and the Mime Troupe first and foremost as theater professionals who were dedicated to the transformation of society through the practice of their art.
Their play on guerrilla theater attempted to extend that suspension of disbelief, act out alternatives to bourgeois "consensus reality" in its liminal space, demonstrate that these alternatives were possible, and thereby convince others to join them in enacting the Free City into existence. Stripped to its bare essentials, today's fantasy might well furnish a description of tomorrow's reality. And in this belief, they situated themselves squarely in the American utopian tradition.
The third phase of guerrilla theater is exemplified by the Yippies, who emerged in New York in early through the efforts of Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Jim Fouratt, and Paul Krassner, among numerous others. Another loosely bounded collective, they intended their felicitously named Youth International Party to mobilize a mass demonstration of antiwar activists, Black Power advocates, and disaffiliated hippies in Chicago that August at the Democratic Convention.
The Yippies turned guerrilla theater away from a kind of pre-modern reliance on face-to-face contact with a popular audience, as it was practiced by the Mime Troupe. But they also moved it away from its more modern adaptation by the Diggers, who had attempted to obliterate the distinction between art and life, and between actor and audience.
By contrast, the Yippies' version of guerrilla theater, which Hoffman designated as "media-freaking," was to commit absurdist, gratuitous acts that were carefully crafted to obtain maximum publicity. As Hoffman explained it, "The trick to manipulating the media is to get them to promote an event before it happens In other words, In the months prior to the founding of the Yippies, in fact, throughout , several members of the group had put themselves forward publicly as the de facto East coast branch of the Diggers.
The Haight-Ashbury Diggers, more than any other group during the past year and a half had served as the New Yorkers' inspiration. Besides freely adapting scenarios that had been scripted largely by their Haight-Ashbury counterparts, the New York Diggers occasionally improvised some novel ones of their own. But for examples of the former, they began serving free food to hippies in Tompkins Square Park, organized a "Communications Company" to freely distribute mimeographed broadsides that were often reprints of the Digger Papers, and even opened a free store.
They borrowed the San Francisco Diggers' guerrilla theater technique of "milling-in" i. Mark's Place between Second and Third Avenues. Their object was to convince the City to convert that block, the heart of the Lower East Side's hip community, into a pedestrian mall. They carried cardboard replicas of traffic signs, so that in place of the usual protest demands, their placards read "Stop," "Yield," and "No Parking.
Securing the officers' restraint came with a price, though. Fouratt had to agree to keep the demonstration brief—no more than fifteen minutes. Later that same month the New York Diggers created their most memorable spectacle that represented a decisive break with the San Francisco group's practice of guerrilla theater. It was planned and executed by Hoffman, Fouratt, and several others including Jerry Rubin, who had just moved to town from Berkeley a few days earlier.
San Francisco Mime Troupe gets some alt-notice
Once they had been escorted into the visitors' gallery above the trading pit, they produced fistfuls of dollar bills and flung them from the balcony onto the floor below. All bidding stopped as traders impulsively switched from their usual frantic mode to an atavistic frenzy, scrambling to grab what they could from the shower of cash. Then they began to berate the Diggers, perhaps in part because they realized how this interruption had manipulated them to reveal the fine line between greed and self-interest that runs through the heart of finance capitalism.
This event was pivotal for the New York Diggers. It retained elements of borrowing from the Haight-Ashbury group. Fouratt, for instance, explained their action as signifying "the death of money. The choice of setting was far from their accustomed habitat: the very capitol of capital. It was also presented for the edification of two audiences.
The primary one consisted of the traders themselves, who were unwittingly manipulated into acting in a kind of latter-day morality play, and a secondary one which was not present.
Hoffman intended to reach the latter audience via the print media by tipping off reporters to the Diggers' plans in advance. The Haight-Ashbury Diggers would denounce such a tactic as a mere publicity stunt, not permissible under the rules of engagement of their version of guerrilla theater, because it created spectators instead of engaged actors. Furthermore, the Stock Exchange event was not meant to ritually constitute a countercultural community in place, nor to extend or defend its boundaries, as most of the San Francisco Diggers' events were designed to do.
The New Yorkers' action instead, preached to the unconverted about a cultural revolution that would not stay confined to the psychedelic ghettos. As the first Digger spectacle to involve both Rubin and Hoffman, it also indicated the types of activites that Yippie would soon be undertaking.