The San Francisco Mime Troupe overcame its recent financial troubles and debuted the SFMT’s latest season of free, socially-relevant theater in Dolores Park yesterday (Thu/4), a rollicking send-up on the political culture and Chevron’s greedy plunder of Ecuador, delivered by a smaller than usual cast.
“We all felt really great just to have the opportunity to do the show because of the financial issues,” Pat Moran, one of the SFMT’s head writers, told the Guardian.
“It came very close to not happening this year,” Moran said. “There was a period of about a month or a month and a half when the show wasn’t going to happen, but we had to keep writing as if there were going to be one.”
After a “successful grassroots fundraising effort,” according to the SFMT website, the Troupe knew for sure there would be a show, and was able to resume rehearsal in April. But it was a show marked by austerity measures that slashed the number of actors and musicians involved in the performance. There were just four actors who hurried through various costume changes to fill all the parts.
Moran helped write the SFMT’s two-part “Oil and Water” that debuted Thursday. The first part “Deal with the Devil” begins in the White House Oval Office, set in the future, where a secret service agent finds the President dead on the day of an important speech on environmental issues. The second part “Crude Intentions” focuses on Chevron, whose headquarters is now in San Ramon, CA, but was previously in San Francisco.
The performance “continues in a noir style with some slapstick comedy,” according to Moran. And as it has done since its beginning in 1959, the SFMT hits strongly on the political in “Oil and Water,” focusing on Chevron’s mounting counter-suits and millions of dollars spent in order to fend off the settlement requirements that an Ecuadorian judge awarded to its people for damages Chevron committed.
“We focus on Chevron as a specific and local entity, but also as a way to focus on the larger issue of how oil companies use tactics to control their image in public, from National Public Radio donations and advertisements,” Moran said.
These SFMT shows rely on foundational grants and on-the-spot cash donations from audiences. And earlier this year, the SFMT’s financial situation worsened due to the loss of foundation money, including its long-held National Endowment for the Arts grant and others. In addition, cash donations have gone down since, as Moran observed, “people carry less money around now” when they come to SFMT shows in the park.
“But at this point, we are optimistic. We have a show up, and that’s our focus,” Moran added. Although up and running now until its last show September 2nd, come the end of the season the SFMT may have to rethink doing its performances in public space for free, Moran said.
“In September we might have to re-imagine the show. We may not be able to make shows happen in park, or at least free with donations; it may not work out. We might have to figure out something new, rather than strip away the elements of the current show so we can afford it.”