Staging the Revolution: Guerrilla Theater as a Countercultural Practice, 1965-1968

By Michael William Doyle

[First published in Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and '70s, New York: Routledge, 2002]

Michael Doyle was one of the first historians to delve into the Diggers with the passion of an amateur in the true sense of the word, and the scholarship of a professional. Michael visited these Archives on many occasions starting in the 1980s and proffered his wholehearted encouragement to this sometimes lonely project. As he developed his skills and his body of research notes, I began to publish on the Web some of the primary materials that Michael and other students of Digger history had used. It became clear that at some point Michael would publish his work, and so I have waited for this day to be able to present the results of his efforts. Here then is an essential article about the importance of Guerrilla Theater in the evolution of the Digger impulse by one of the foremost historians of the Counterculture. Thank you, Michael.
Note: R.G. Davis wrote an article which introduced the term "Guerrilla Theatre" and which was published in the Tulane Drama Review in 1966. There is a separate page in the Digger Archives which reproduces that original publication.—Ed.

One sunny afternoon in August 1965, R.G. Davis, founder of the San Francisco Mime Troupe [SFMT], staged a spectacle of politics and art in a public park. On this day, their fourth summer of presenting free commedia dell'arte performances throughout the Bay area, the Mime Troupe was going ahead with plans to perform their latest play, Giordano Bruno's Il Candelaio, in Lafayette Park in defiance of the San Francisco Park and Recreation Commission. Two days earlier Commission members declared the premier show to be "obscene, indecent, and offensive" due to its "suggestive ... words and gestures," and therefore had revoked the Mime Troupe's permit for future park performances. Davis and the ACLU responded by denouncing what they considered to be a blatant attempt to censor them and violate their right to free speech. "We'll see you in the park and we'll see you in court," Davis brazenly promised.

The controversy was simultaneously a farce about civil authorities policing public morality and a publicity stunt in one act crafted out of Davis's principled chutzpa and Bill Graham's promotional savvy. (Graham, who worked for a heavy equipment manufacturer in his previous job, had recently been hired as the Mime Troupe's business manager.) A small crowd of free-speech proponents and curious onlookers turned out to see the show. When one of the commissioners tried to prevent the Troupe from erecting its stage, Davis maneuvered in front of the milling audience and announced: "Ladieeeees and Gentlemen, Il Troupo di Mimo di San Francisco Presents for your enjoyment this afternoon ... AN ARREST!!!" And with these words he flung himself into the upraised arms of the police. "The job of the artist in politics is to take leaps the politicos never take," Davis afterward wryly observed.(1)

This brief drama in Lafayette Park was little noted outside the region, but it helped set a wave in motion that would soon hit the country like a riptide. The forms of political activism and the content of avant-garde theater in the United States converged in the mid-1960s. Artists, particularly those who worked in the theater, used the stage to bring au courant controversies and sweeping social commentaries to the fore of public awareness. Political protesters, meanwhile, began increasingly to adopt dramatic forms as a means of expressing their collective dissent from a society they saw as morally bankrupt, racist, militaristic, and culturally stultifying. Together these two developments contributed a distinctive sensibility to Sixties' cultural politics; the interaction of New Left politics and avant-garde performance fused to produce the nation's first counterculture to be called by that name.(2) How this came to pass can be cogently grasped by tracing the evolution of "guerrilla theater" as a countercultural practice through its three principal phases.


Guerrilla theater was first articulated in 1965 in a manifesto fitfully produced by R.G. Davis, founding director (six years earlier) of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. By exhorting his theatrical ensemble to become a Marxian cadre, or at very least a catalyst for social change, Davis committed the Mime Troupe to serve as a Movement vanguard in the nascent cultural revolution. This was the formula: they would continue to broaden their audience by performing in new spaces, such as public parks. Their plays would be nothing if not topical, suffused with radical content, and enlivened by biting satire and repartee improvised to suit the occasion. It was to be funded primarily by free will offerings; no admission fees would be charged. Largely through the Mime Troupe's efforts, widely disseminated by means of national tours, the staging of improvisatory, didactic skits in public spaces became a staple of antiwar, women's liberation, and other social movement protests.(3)

Guerrilla theater grew directly out of Davis's rediscovery of commedia dell'arte, which he became interested in after studying modern dance and mime during the 1950s. A sixteenth-century Italian popular theatrical form, commedia is known for its stock characters in grotesque masks who improvise much of their dialogue while playing close to type. Commedia performers customarily make sport of human foibles and universal complaints while burlesquing the most socially or politically prominent members of a given community. Reviving this comedic form was a stroke of genius on Davis's part. It recuperated the carnivalesque—that fecund bawdiness that Bakhtin delineated in Rabelais—and transposed it to a modern American setting.(4) Furthermore, it furnished the Mime Troupe with an earthy, subversive art form that was tailored for itinerant players who found their audiences in the streets and marketplaces. Commedia troupes adapted their skits to local issues, supported themselves by passing the hat and therefore were not beholden to wealthy benefactors, and were able to quickly disperse and slip out of town when the magistrates took offense and came calling.

In May 1962, Davis and the company produced their first commediaThe Dowry—in the parks of San Francisco. The signal importance of this initiative is that it took serious theater out of the playhouses and resituated it out of doors, where it might again attract a diversely popular following. There in the parks performers could mount plays that were fresh and challenging before new audiences who might not otherwise go to see theater on a regular basis. By so doing the Mime Troupe may well have been the first artistic company in a generation to establish or perhaps reclaim the public parks as a performance venue.(5) As such they prepared a site for countercultural entertainment and festivity that would soon be thronging with outdoor rock concerts and be-ins, culminating at the end of the decade with Woodstock and People's Park.


Davis's leftward lurch accelerated in the early 1960s when he met and became friends with political activists Saul Landau and Nina Serrano. Before moving to San Francisco in 1961 from Madison, Wisconsin, the married couple had been instrumental in founding the influential journal Studies on the Left. Their mutual interests in theater had led to their involvement in staging the celebrated Anti-Military Balls at the University of Wisconsin in 1959 and 1960. The highlights of these events were elaborate, irreverent skits that satirized the contemporary national political scene from an overtly socialist perspective.(6) Shortly after meeting Ronnie Davis, Serrano and Landau became his artistic collaborators.(7) Landau wrote scenarios and lyrics for a couple of plays, while Serrano co-directed Tartuffe in the commedia style for performance in the parks. Through them Davis was introduced to Robert Scheer who was then working as a clerk in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Book Shop. Davis's political perspective was thoroughly radicalized through his association with these three individuals.(8)

By mid-decade the Mime Troupe's commitment to radical theater culminated in an artistic statement that Davis drafted and read to the company in May 1965. Christened "Guerrilla Theater" by actor-playwright Peter Berg, who coined the term, Davis's manifesto took its cue from Che Guevara:

The guerrilla fighter needs full help from the people .... From the very beginning he has the intention of destroying an unjust order and therefore an intention ... to replace the old with something new.

Davis glossed this quotation to contend that the guerrilla cadre provided a model worth emulating by their theatrical ensemble. Both were small, highly disciplined groups who were motivated by a righteous cause to do battle against enormous odds. Journalistic reports by Landau and Scheer, based on their recent visits to Cuba, may well have brought home to Davis the powerful example of a revolutionary cadre movement that was successful in overthrowing a corrupt regime.(9)

Davis's essay indicted American society (but curiously not the state) for having allowed the political establishment to vigorously pursue such foreign policy fiascos as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War. His response to this deplorable state of affairs was to mobilize the American theater as an instrument of far reaching social and political change. He proposed that the Mime Troupe and other like-minded theaters adopt a three-pronged program: to "teach, direct toward change, [and] be an example of change." Accomplishing the first objective would require actors to educate themselves so that they would have something to teach. The second point openly accepted Brecht's insistence that all art served political purposes, whether implicitly or explicitly. Davis wanted his fellow Troupers to declare themselves against "the system" and then devote themselves to its wholesale transformation. (Just a few weeks earlier, SDS activist Paul Potter had delivered his much-discussed "Name That System" speech in Washington, D.C., before the largest peace demonstration in U.S. history.)(10)

This task was to be accomplished by fulfilling Davis's third objective: the company should "exemplify change as a group" by installing "morality at its core" and establishing cooperative relationships or a coalition with like-minded organizations. Here he recommended that radical theaters take up Che's example, which for all its martial trappings was essentially how the traditional commedia troupes had operated: "[B]ecome equipped to pack up and move quickly when you're outnumbered. Never engage the enemy head on. Choose your fighting ground; don't be forced into battle over the wrong issues."(11)

"Guerrilla Theater" was not intended to be a call to arms, but to a cultural revolt aimed at replacing discredited American values and norms.(12) As Davis phrased it, "There is a vision in this theater, and ... it is to continue ... presenting moral plays and to confront hypocrisy in the society."(13) What stands out from Davis's intentions in 1965 is his desire to mobilize a corps of politicized artists to act as the vanguard of an American cultural revolution.

And so by mid-decade, as the civil rights, free speech, and antiwar movements ripened into the Movement, Davis was leading the Mime Troupe into the van of New Left activism. Together with Landau and Serrano, they originated the idea for what would become known as the Mime Troupe's most controversial play from that era: A Minstrel Show, or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel, a production quite unlike other irreverently political revues of the day. It was to political theater what Lenny Bruce was to stand-up comedy, an exercise in wringing the rude truth from the day's news, while straddling the fine line between mere "bad taste" and the flagrantly lewd. Alternately subtitled Jim Crow a Go-Go, the show consisted of a series of skits performed by a racially integrated cast, all but the white, straight-man "Interlocuter" in blackface. The self-designated "darkies" were costumed in blue and ivory satin suits, white cotton gloves, and topped off with short-haired wigs like jet-black scouring pads. Audiences found it perplexingly difficult to discern the true racial identity of the six masqued performers, a predicament which rendered the actors' raucous banter all the more unsettling. Mime Troupe veteran Peter Coyote attributes the show's critical success to its offering "a rare cultural epiphany perfectly in synch with the historical moment." The Minstrel Show had appeared at a time, he surmises, "when the civil rights movement and the emerging black consciousness fused with a social upheaval in the nation's youth to make society appear suddenly permeable and open to both self-investigation and change."(14)

Davis hoped to hone the radical edge of this production by means of form as well as content. To this end he solicited members of the local civil rights activist community to audition for parts, conjecturing that if he could locate several men who possessed both a progressive political sensibility and a measure of native talent, they would be able to polish their acting skills in rehearsal. Experience in civil rights advocacy, he maintained, would be indispensable to carrying out the task Davis and his collaborators had set out for the show: exposing the deep-seated nature of prejudice in contemporary society. The American minstrel show format would be redeployed in a way that subverted the racist stereotypes that had permeated the traditional traveling mode of entertainment. It would parallel what the Mime Troupe had done with commedia—adapt a popular theatrical form to explore a series of wide-ranging, contentious topics, in this case selected from more than a century of American racial discourse.

No subject was to be considered off-limits: interracial sexual relationships, myths of African-American male potency, and class conflicts within the black community were each dramatized and critiqued. The ghettoization of the past as represented by "Nego History Month" [sic] was lampooned without mercy (Crispus Attacks, the first African American to die in the Revolutionary War, gets shot by Redcoats while pushing a broom). In another skit, the irony of black soldiers killing "yellow men" in Vietnam by orders of a white imperialist command is put across with the austere didacticism of Bertolt Brecht. Institutional racism, naive integrationism, police brutality, craven Uncle Toms, supercilious white liberals, and arrogant black militants—all received their jocund due. In order to ensure that the play's satirical barbs hit their many intended targets, staff members of the local SNCC and CORE organizations were invited along with the cast to critique the play while it was still in development.(15) The Minstrel Show attracted national attention for the Mime Troupe when they produced it on their first cross-country tour in 1966. Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory sponsored its performance at Town Hall in New York, which garnered an enthusiastic review from no less than the New York Times.(16)

Around this same time Davis sought other ways to strengthen ties between the avant-garde and the Bay area radical movement. The Mime Troupe made their rented studio in the Mission District available for use by the New School, a project coordinated by Landau and Paul Jacobs as the first of the "free universities" to spring up in the wake of the FSM. Davis was one of its board members and he co-taught a course on art and politics during its summer session in 1964.(17) When the Troupe relocated to a downtown loft on Howard Street the next summer, they furnished SDS with an office. Still later, they shared their facilities with San Francisco Newsreel, a radical filmmaking collective. This mingling of artists and political activists which the Mime Troupe facilitated ensured that culture and politics would not be as bifurcated in the Bay area as it may have been elsewhere.


Davis clarified and extended his guerrilla theater idea twice more in essays published before the decade's end. The next installment, written in late 1967, embraced an eclectic Marxism glimpsed through the prism of the Summer of Love. In it he located the source of American ills not in corporate liberalism, as Studies on the Left and SDS had, but in the very system of private property. To counteract this "disease" of creeping materialism he advocated "dropping out" of bourgeois society and devising in its stead an alternative "life-style that replaces most, if not all, middle-class capitalistic assumptions." Davis was sparse on the details—as with his plays, he preferred the dramatic gesture to the searching soliloquy. He did explain that this lifestyle must itself constitute a "moral force" that would work within one's community of origin (reckoned not by geography, necessarily, but by one's class, racial and/or ethnic background). Its purpose was to criticize "prevailing conditions ... expressing what you (as a community) all know but no one is saying ... truth that may be shocking and honesty that is vulgar to the aesthete."(18) Speaking truth to power, just as Quaker activists had been urging, would before long become standard practice among those operating within the framework of identity politics.

The serious purpose behind Davis's proposal was elaborated in a third essay he published the next year. There he noted that guerrilla theater as he had formulated it in 1965 had subsequently "become a catch-all for non-professional theater groups," because of a fundamental misinterpretation by these would-be imitators. He now took care to distinguish his original idea, "which describe[d] activity on the cultural front in the USA" [emphasis mine], from that of "armed revolutionary action." Despite obvious differences, he argued, the two did have this much in common: "The cultural revolutionary, just as the armed guerrilla, must want and be capable of taking power." Power will be seized, he averred, by radicals who operate simultaneously on three fronts: ideological (e.g., performing for audiences of the unconverted, undermining their "bourgeois mentality"), economically (ending exploitation and consumerism by organizing not-for-profit alternative cultural institutions), and physically (here, while his meaning was unspecified, he encouraged disciplined collective action aimed at destroying both individualism and elitism.)

The article was to be his longest think piece on the subject, yet it is vexingly vague about what it would mean for cultural revolutionaries to actually seize power. One must infer from certain textual clues that American "corporate liberalism," and "imperialism"—its dream of global domination—(he finally did employ these terms) would both be smashed, and that some sort of socialism would be adopted in the post-revolutionary society. But all we can be sure about Davis's intentions at this point is that he recognized the politicized artist as the vanguard of the cultural revolution. "This is our society," he intoned, uttering the last lines of the Mime Troupe's recent antiwar play L' Amant Miltaire; "if we don't like it[,] it's our duty to change it; if we can't change it, we must destroy it." Perhaps then, perhaps only then a vision of what exactly to replace it with would emerge. Davis's nihilistic bombast forecast the direction that at least some members of the ultra left would head in the months and years ahead.(19)


Guerrilla theater's second phase began in fall 1966 when a number of Mime Troupe members, some twenty in all, broke away from the company to found a free-wheeling anarchist collective they called the Diggers.(20) Just as Ronnie Davis had turned to the past for inspiration in reviving popular theatrical forms such as commedia dell'arte and the minstrel show, so too did the Diggers. Their name derived from a seventeenth-century group of English millenarians who, in the aftermath of the English Civil War, quixotically resisted the enclosure of the commons. Envisioning the establishment of a cooperative commonwealth, these displaced peasants and artisans practiced what they preached, sharing their food and possessions among themselves as well as with those who were even more destitute. "And let the common people, that say the earth is ours, not mine," Gerrard Winstanley, their most eloquent spokesman, beseeched all who would listen, "let them labor together, and eat bread together upon the commons, mountains, and hills." But when the Diggers dared to dig up, fertilize, and plant their crops on the common of St. George's Hill, a barren heath near Surrey, they were decisively put down and scattered by the combined forces of the lords, freeholders, and soldiers from Cromwell's New Model Army.(21)

The Diggers of San Francisco seem not to have made a detailed study of their English forebears, probably because they were less interested in them as a model than as an inspiration. What appealed to them about the earlier group was that it was a movement that had emerged spontaneously from within the ranks of the oppressed. What the two groups shared was a vision of the total transformation of social and economic relations, a dedication to bringing about the New Jerusalem by peaceable means, a reliance on pamphlets and direct appeals to spread their message, and perhaps most importantly, a belief that exemplary actions were the key to realizing their ambitious goals. And like their namesakes, the Haight-Ashbury Diggers were seeded with inspired writers who produced tracts filled with prose that was overtly political and verged occasionally on the ecstatic. Both groups managed to exert a measure of influence that was disproportionate to their small number; both proved ultimately to be short-lived.

Most of the founding core of the later Diggers had had no professional training or even much experience in drama before they joined the Mime Troupe. Davis announced in his original guerrilla theater essay that he wanted to work with people from outside of theater. He hoped that this would bring in fresh perspectives from other disciplines, just as he himself had done by importing techniques derived from modern dance and mime.(22) That Davis succeeded in his object may be seen in the variety of artistic talent represented by those Mime Troupe members who left to form the Diggers. They included writers (Berg, Coyote, Grogan, Kent Minault, Billy Murcott), dancers (Judy Goldhaft, Jane Lapiner), painters, sculptors (Roberto La Morticella), filmmakers, musicians, printmakers (Karl Rosenberg), among others.(23)

Significantly, by being relatively unschooled in dramatic theory and technique beyond what they had absorbed in the SFMT, the Diggers felt no compunction to strictly observe theatrical convention. Instead of attaining artistic critical success or even in raising the political consciousness of popular audiences, the Diggers strove to dramatize the hip counterculture as a "social fact." Utopia—the "good place" that in Thomas More's coinage is "no place"—would be played out daily in the Haight.

To this end, the Diggers borrowed from the Mime Troupe the ensemble form, as well as the aggressive improvisational style, the itinerant outlaw posture, and the satirical social critique mode of commedia dell'arte. They also appropriated Davis's dramatic form of guerrilla theater and gave it a new twist. Where he had taken theater out of its traditional setting to stage it in the parks, the Diggers took theater into the streets. In the process they attempted to remove all boundaries between art and life, between spectator and performer, and between public and private. The resulting technique, which they referred to as "life-acting," punned on the dual meaning of the verb "to act," combining the direct action of anarchism with theatrical role playing. The Diggers' principal project was to enact 'Free,' a comprehensive utopian program that would function as an working model of an alternative society.

For the Diggers the word free was as much an imperative as it was an adjective. The object was to place it before any noun or gerund that designated a fundamental need, service, or institution, and then try to imagine how such a thing might be realized.(24) Thus 'free press' evolved a new connotation from first amendment guarantee to an "instant news" service that disseminated free broadsides in the Haight on a daily basis. Free transportation suggested the obligation to pick up hitchhikers, and for a time called into existence a small fleet of vans, trucks, and buses that shuttled people around town and across the Bay to Berkeley. Bill Fritsch thought up the free bank and stashed a wad of donated cash in his hat from which to make no-interest "loans." He even kept a ledger to keep track of where it all went. (25)

The project of 'Free' all started in early October 1966 with free food dished out in Golden Gate Park every day at 4 P.M. Next it was manifested in the free store, which parodied capitalism even while redistributing the cornucopian bounty of that system's surplus. The free store's first name was the Free Frame of Reference which derived from the tall yellow picture frame that the Diggers would have people step through before being served their daily stew and bread. The frame represented what was possible when people changed their conceptual paradigm for apprehending reality. As such the Diggers stood squarely on the side of the hippies in their ongoing philosophical debate with the politicos: if one wanted to change the world, it was necessary first to change one's consciousness or point of view.

Added to these various free services were others that gradually took shape between 1966 and 1968: free housing in communal crash pads and outlying farms, free legal services, and a free medical clinic. For entertainment there were occasional free film screenings, and of course free dance concerts by local bands of growing renown such as the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Country Joe and the Fish. By the winter of 1967-1968, there was even a Digger-sponsored initiative supported by prominent members of the Bay area clergy to provide "free churches" by allowing their sanctuaries to remain open to worshipers around the clock. Taken together, these institutions, practices, and services comprised what by the end of the Summer of Love the Diggers were calling the Free City network.

The sources of support for the Free City activities were various. Labor for Digger projects was furnished almost entirely by volunteers. The story of the Haight was the sizable number of idle youths who had come to explore the hippie lifestyle, and it was this population that the Diggers attempted to mobilize. Demographically those who chose to work with the Diggers were in their teens and twenties, primarily white, from middle- and working-class backgrounds, and many were at least partially college educated. Along with these advantages, they had time on their hands; some could depend upon financial assistance from their families of origin. Rock bands and promoters were probably the single largest financial donors (e.g., the Grateful Dead's communal dwelling housed the Haight-Ashbury Legal Organization which they funded to provide free legal assistance). In addition, at least up until the middle of 1967, certain community-minded dealers of psychedelic drugs made cash contributions. And whether because of guilt, coercion, or altruism, some members of the Haight Independent Proprietors association tithed to the Diggers from the profits they realized on their retail sales (primarily to tourists who had come to gape at the hippies).

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 mid-1960s, 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.(26) Communal living helped further reduce expenses for individuals by the pooling of resources, enabling members to subsist on a meager income. 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."(27) It wasn't so much that the Diggers believed the ends justified the means, as that the means and the ends were for all practical purposes identical. Those who thought otherwise would be in Rousseauvian terms forced to be free.(28)

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. By the middle 1960s, in the wake of the Civil Rights movement's legislative victories, "freedom now" acquired a new, transpolitical/ psychological cast that was conveyed by the term "liberation." The Diggers' notion of 'Free' drew on this free-floating, cultural striving for total emancipation. 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 1966), to the widely noted and similarly named "Death of Hippy, Birth of the Free Man" (6 October 1967). 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 1966 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 13-foot tall yellow "Frame of Reference." Two giant puppets, on loan from the Mime Troupe and resembling Robert Scheer and Berkeley Congressman Jeffrey Cohelan,(29) performed a skit entitled "Any Fool on the Street." The puppets were maneuvered back and forth through the frame, as their puppeteers improvised an argument in character about which side was 'inside' and which 'outside.' All the while the eight-foot high puppets encouraged bystanders to follow their lead and pass through the frame as a way of "changing their frame of reference." Meanwhile, other Diggers distributed smaller versions of the Frame made out of yellow-painted laths six inches square attached to a neck strap. 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. 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.M.) a crowd of some 600 pedestrians had gathered to partake in the Digger activities. 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:

Police: "We warn you that if you don't remove yourselves from the area you'll be arrested for blocking a public thoroughfare."
Puppet: "Who is the public?"
Police: "I couldn't care less; I'll take you in. Now get a move on."
Puppet: "I declare myself public—I am a public. The streets are public—the streets are free."

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." As the arrestees were being driven away, the crowd began chanting "Frame-up! Frame-up!" to which the arrested men responded from within the van, "Pub-lic! Pub-lic!" As many as 200 people remained on the scene afterward in defiance of police orders. 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.G. 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.(30) For the Diggers' part all theater involved the willful suspension of disbelief by those who participated in it. 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 1968 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, ... get them to make an advertisement for ... revolution—the same way you would advertise soap."(31)

In the months prior to the founding of the Yippies, in fact, throughout 1967, 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.(32) The Diggers had instructed them in the art of guerrilla theater, had given them a vocabulary for expressing direct action politics, and had improvised scenarios which the latter group drew upon in their own efforts to enact the counterculture.

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.e., the "Intersection Game") as it had been improvised on Halloween night 1966 in response to the vehicular traffic congestion on Haight Street. On the first Saturday night of August 1967, Jim Fouratt and other New Yorker Diggers summoned hippies to block traffic on St. 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." Throngs of hippies laid claim to the street in equally inventive ways, some of them through the expression of mystical exuberance by chanting and dancing "the Hare Krishna hora." The police were present in force, but did nothing to halt the activities because of a prior arrangement between them and Fouratt. Securing the officers' restraint came with a price, though. Fouratt had to agree to keep the demonstration brief—no more than fifteen minutes.(33)

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. The group arranged for a tour of the New York Stock Exchange under the auspices of ESSO (the East Side Service Organization, a hip social services agency; the fact that this acronym was better known as the name of a giant oil corporation is probably what gained them entre to the NYSE). 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.(34)

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." Hoffman, who had registered for the tour under the West coast Digger alias "George Metesky," set fire to a five dollar bill afterward outside the Exchange, just as Emmett Grogan had done famously earlier in the year.(35) But the New York group also introduced some new elements into the neoteric art of guerrilla theater. 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.(36)


During the second week of September the New York Diggers staged another innovative guerrilla theater event they called "Black Flower Day" at the Consolidated Edison building on Irving Place. It began by them placing a wreath of daffodils dyed with black ink on the ledge above the lobby entrance, and then handing out similarly stained wreaths to passers-by. They also strung up a large banner on the building which declared "BREATHING IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH." Next they fanned into the lobby a sizable pile of soot which they had dumped on the sidewalk, and danced around—one of them clad in a clown suit—throwing soot in the air. As the police arrived, the Diggers hurriedly lit a couple of smoke bombs and fled the scene. Don McNeill, a Village Voice journalist who wrote the article on which this account is based, remarked that "the Digger drama [was] improvised with the idea that a handful of soot down an executive's neck might be more effective than a pile of petitions begging for cleaner air."(37) This event furnishes another example of how the New York Diggers were not merely being derivative of their Haight-Ashbury counterparts. By focusing attention on the effects of pollution on the natural and urban environment they skillfully adapted the technique of guerrilla theater to articulate an ecological critique before it had become a popular cause.


Around this time, members of the Haight-Ashbury Diggers began to strenuously object to the use of the name Diggers by the New York collective. It would seem that they were ideologically disposed to share everything freely with anyone except their good name. The objection in this case, however, was directed specifically toward Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin for cultivating their images as countercultural leaders or spokesmen. They also took offense at the New Yorkers' penchant for publicizing their zany activities in the mass media. The San Francisco group insisted that their East coast namesakes disassociate themselves from the Digger movement. As a result, by the end of the year the name "Yippie!" was devised, along with a new organizational framework for the New York group; it had the virtue of being free of any contested associations, and also marked a shift in the focus of operations from the local to the national scene.(38)

By the summer of 1968 this tension between the Diggers and the Yippies exposed an irreconcilable conflict between two of the most prominent tendencies within countercultural activism. For the utopia-tinged vision of the Yippies' Festival of Life had its roots at least partly in the Free City project of the Diggers. On the other hand, the "Festival of Blood" (as a Chicago Yippie organizer was to presciently call it a week before demonstrators clashed violently with police), was scripted in concert with what I maintain was the Yippies' deliberate misprisioning of the Diggers' approach to guerrilla theater. Interestingly, the Yippies' version would resemble in its praxis the more militant theoretical formulation by R.G. Davis.(39)

The Yippies' proclaimed raison d'etre was to create a new national organization whose goals were, first, to politicize members of the hippie counterculture generally; and, second, to bring them together with other Movement activists and curious uncommitted young people at a "youth festival" to be held concurrently at the Chicago Democratic convention in late August 1968. Initially, at least according to Jerry Rubin's announcement of Yippie plans for the festival in mid-February 1968, the gathering was to represent a new direction for the antiwar movement. It was designed to shift activists not from "protest to resistance" against the state, as the National Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam had represented its October 1967 march on the Pentagon. In actuality it would mark a turn from protest to a frontal assault on American culture. The charge, however, would be led by a most unconventional brigade. Nonviolent hip youths would come to Grant Park, near the convention center, and recreate their incipient "alternate life-style" in all its variegated splendor, much as though they were a living exhibit of Plains Indians on stockaded display at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. An audience of millions would visit the Yippie "Do-In" with the news media's unwitting compliance. Television and print journalists from around the world could be counted on to troll for colorful feature stories to augment the endless speeches and procedural vote-taking of the four-day political convention.

In February 1968 Rubin wrote his friend Allen Cohen, editor of the San Francisco Oracle underground newspaper, that he wanted to recreate the communitas of the Haight-Ashbury's Human Be-In through what would soon be designated as the Festival of Life:

[O]ur idea is to create a cultural, living alternative to the Convention. It could be the largest gathering of young people ever: in the middle of the country at the end of the summer. ... We want all the rock bands, all the underground papers, all the free spirits, all the theater groups—all the energies that have contributed to the new youth culture—all the tribes—to come to Chicago and for six days we will live together in the park, sharing, learning, free food, free music, a regeneration of spirit and energy. In a sense, it is like creating a SF-Berkeley spirit for a brief period in the Midwest ... thereby breaking people out of their isolation and spreading the revolution. ... The existence of the Convention at the same time gives us a stage, a platform, an opportunity to do our own thing, to go beyond protest into creative cultural alternative.(40)

Rubin elaborated on this notion not long afterward in an interview in the Chicago Seed:

In Chicago in August, every media [outlet] in the world is going to be here ..., and we're going to be the news and everything we do is going to be sent out to living rooms from India to the Soviet Union to every small town in America. It is a real opportunity to make clear the two Americas. ... At the same time we're confronting them, we're offering our alternative and it's not just a narrow, political alternative, it's an alternative way of life.(41)

The operative term in this statement is "confronting," for Rubin and Hoffman clearly understood that their Festival of Life would likely provoke a violent backlash by Mayor Richard Daley's minions of law and order.(42) And as expected Mayor Daley relished his role in this scenario, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the various protest organizations that attempted to secure permits for holding demonstrations outside the Convention and for sleeping outdoors in the parks. Ultimately no permits were granted, thus ensuring a confrontation. To meet this contingency, Daley coolly marshaled his forces into place—11,500 policemen; 5,600 Illinois National Guardsmen; 1,000 federal agents; plus a reserve of 7,500 U.S. Army troops stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, who were specially trained in riot control and could be summoned to Chicago on a moment's notice should their services be required. The 10,000 or so protestors who eventually did show up readily grasped their predicament. When the pitched battles inevitably came, their only recourse was to chant to the news cameras: "The whole world is watching!" in the vain hope that the cops would be chastened by this presumed collective gaze and desist.(43)

By the summer of 1968, then, one can discern the divergence of two tendencies among cultural radicals on the left. The first is the Yippie project of organizing a media spectacle ostensibly for the purpose of promoting the counterculture. The New York-based organizers, however, had an ulterior motive: to intentionally trigger a violent reaction so as to, in Rubin's words, "put people through tremendous, radicalizing changes." Their objective, he added, was to stimulate a "massive white revolutionary movement which, working in ... cooperation with the rebellions in the black communities, could seriously disrupt this country, and thus be an internal catalyst for a breakdown of the American ability to fight guerrillas overseas."(44)

A second tendency, already fading from the scene by this time, was represented by the San Francisco Diggers' experiment in fashioning a communitarian utopia by means of guerrilla theater which performed a new set of social relations within distinct geographical boundaries. It was the New West's answer to the City upon a Hill. During their twenty-one month tenure, the Diggers in effect improvised a play whose plot concerned how one community could be transformed root and branch into an alternative to the rest of American society. What the Yippies took from the Digger version of guerrilla theater was an appreciation of its spectacular component and its weirdly appealing absurdity; they appreciated as well its potential value for garnering publicity. These aspects they blended with the rhetoric of an artistic insurgency as initially formulated by R.G. Davis.

The Diggers' civil rites were intended symbolically to constitute a small-scale 'New Community' out of the otherwise anomic mass of their urban milieu.(45) Where the Mime Troupe had dramatized their radical politics in the parks, and the Diggers had enacted theirs in the streets, the Yippies projected a kind of postmodern critique of and challenge to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society designed to play on the stages of the mass media. But instead of galvanizing a groundswell of support for their cause, as they had hoped, the Yippies' mass mediated countercultural revolt culminated in a bloody 'police riot' in real time, one which ultimately lost in the ratings. To paraphrase Gil Scott-Heron, the revolution would not be televised.(46)



1. Harry Johanesen, "Park Show Canceled; 'Offensive,'" San Francisco Examiner [Exam.] (5 Aug. 1965) 1, 16; Donald Warman, "Cops Upstage Mimers in The Park," San Francisco Chronicle [Chron.] (8 Aug. 1965) 1A, 2B; Michael Fallon, "Park Mime Star Arrested; Banned Show Goes On," Exam. (8 Aug. 1965) 1B; Ralph J. Gleason, "On the Town" column, "Maybe We're Really in Trouble," Chron. (9 Aug. 1965) 47. Davis's account is in his memoir, The San Francisco Mime Troupe: The First Ten Years [The SFMT] (Palo Alto, Calif.: Ramparts Press, 1975), 65-69. The second quote by Davis is taken from the transcript of a panel discussion in Radical Theater Festival, San Francisco State College, September 1968] (San Francisco: San Francisco Mime Troupe [SFMT], 1969), 30. Davis's arrest is portrayed in the 1966 documentary film Have You Heard of the San Francisco Mime Troupe? by Donald Lenzer and Fred Wardenburg, a copy of which may be found in the Visual Materials Archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison [SHSW].

2. In the best theoretical study of the Sixties counterculture, Julie Stephens characterizes the product of this interaction as constituting an "anti-disciplinary politics." In her formulation, the term connotes "a language of protest which rejected hierarchy and leadership, strategy and planning, bureaucratic organization and political parties and was distinguished from the New Left by its ridiculing of political commitment, sacrifice, seriousness, and coherence." Stephens, Anti-Disciplinary Politics: Sixties Radicalism and Postmodernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 4.

3. Davis has ruefully acknowledged that the Mime Troupe inadvertently "germinated all sorts of mutants" who were inspired by his 1965 "Guerrilla Theater" manifesto, namely the Diggers, the Yippies, and a phenomenal number of agitprop street theater groups. The SFMT, 125. I discuss the first two collectives in this essay, but, due to space limitations, not the proliferation of guerrilla theater ensembles. This last phenomenon has been examined at length by Henry Lesnick, ed., Guerrilla Street Theater (New York: Bard/Avon, 1973); Karen Taylor Malpede, ed., People's Theatre in Amerika (New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1973); James Schevill, Break Out! In Search of New Theatrical Environments (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1973); and John Weisman, Guerrilla Theater: Scenarios for Revolution (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1973). A short but useful discussion of the variety, aims, and dramaturgy of such groups, and which acknowledges their ultimate debt to Davis's seminal ideas, may be found in Richard Schechner, "Guerrilla Theatre: May 1970," The Drama Review 14:3 [T47] (1970), 163-168. The role of radical theater groups during the era, one which contrasts them with their counterparts of the 1930s, is concisely given in Dan Georgakas, "Political Theater of 1960s-1980s," Encyclopedia of the American Left ed. Mari Jo Buhle et al. (2nd ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 614-616.

4. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, [1968]).

5. Journalist Michael Goodman confirmed that "the Mime Troupe was involved with a great deal of what came to be known as the counter-culture... [including] the move into the parks...." See his article, "The Story Theater, the Mime Troupe, and a Political Rap with R.G. Davis," City magazine [San Francisco] 5:40 (29 May-11 June 1974) 29. Davis himself observed that when the Mime Troupe started performing in the parks in 1962 they were "unique." But six years later, he noted, "there are rock bands in the street and puppet plays and all kinds of things. ... We do stimulate that kind of alternative." Davis, The San Francisco Mime Troupe [hereafter The SFMT] (Palo Alto, Cal.: Ramparts Press, 1975), 100; and excerpt from a panel discussion in Radical Theatre Festival (San Francisco, Cal.: San Francisco Mime Troupe, 1968), 34. Also in this last source, Peter Schumann, the founding director of Bread and Puppet Theatre, states that when his company began staging plays in the streets of New York late in 1963, "it was new to New Yorkers. They hadn't seen that since the twenties" [34].

6. See the short memoirs by Serrano, "A Madison Bohemian," (pp.67-84) and Landau, "From the Labor Youth League to the Cuban Revolution," (pp.107-112) in History and the New Left: Madison, Wisconsin, 1950-1970, ed. Paul Buhle (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1970). Lee Baxandall's account, "New York Meets Oshkosh," (pp.127-133) also discusses the Anti-Military Balls; a script for "The Boy Scouts in Cuba," one of the skits he co-authored, is included in the book's appendix (pp.285-289). These early countercultural events bear investigating as examples of politically tinged participatory theater. They were still being staged later in the decade: Davis mentions giving a Mime Troupe performance at an anti-military ball at Oregon State University in 1967. See The SFMT, 112.

7. This is a mark of the high esteem in which he held them. Judy Goldhaft, who was an early member of the Mime Troupe, recalled that you couldn't exactly "join the company at this time. [Davis] had to want to work with you." Author's interview with Judy Goldhaft, San Francisco, Cal., 5 February 1993.

8. Author's interview with R.G. Davis, San Francisco, Cal., 2 February 1993. The other source of Davis's education in radical politics was the New School (West). Here for example, is an account of one of his political epiphanies: "The New School brought me into contact with the minds of the Bay Area. ... On April 22, 1964 we heard an indictment of the system and its objectives. The new Left became concrete, my head buzzed for 20 minutes. ... Current political insight is astounding." Untitled document written by Davis concerning his activities in the year 1964, pp. 2-3, located in the SFMT archives, box 2, Shields Library Special Collections Department, University of California at Davis [PJSL].

9. Davis, "Guerrilla Theater," originally published in the Tulane Drama Review (Summer 1966) and reprinted in The SFMT, 149-153. On p. 70 he states that when he read the first draft of this essay to the Mime Troupe in May 1965, member Peter Berg suggested he title it "Guerrilla Theater." The quotation by Che Guevara may be found in his book Guerrilla Warfare trans. J.P. Morray (New York: Vintage/Random House, 1969 [1961]), 4, 32.

10. The text of Paul Potter's speech was first published in the National Guardian (29 April 1965); an abridged version is in The New Left: A Documentary History ed. Massimo Teodori (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs Merrill Co., 1969), 246-248.

11. Davis, The SFMT, 150.

12. This is the sine qua non countercultural project as defined by sociologist J. Milton Yinger in his study, Countercultures: The Promise and Peril of a World Turned Upside Down (New York: Free Press, 1982). In his formulation a counterculture consists of "a set of norms and values of a group that sharply contradict the dominant norms and values of the society of which that group is a part." Its competing normative system contains, "as a primary element, a theme of conflict with the dominant values of society." The development and maintenance of this system is the result of a dynamic, on-going process that involves "the tendencies, needs, and perceptions" of its members. The key idea here is that a dialectical relationship exists between the countercultural group and the larger society. The insurgent group develops a parallel set of norms and values in opposition to, and can only be understood with reference to, the surrounding society and its culture. Such a concept can fruitfully be applied to any group, past or present, which devises not only an ideology but an ethos and a set of practices that are counterpoised to those of the dominant society, and then sustains them through a relationship of calculated (though typically low-intensity) conflict with that society.

13. Davis, "Guerrilla Theater," in The SFMT, 150.

14. Coyote, Sleeping Where I Fall; A Chronicle (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint Press, 1998), 39, 41.

15. Davis, The SFMT, 57. See the undated comments (but ca. June 1965) directed to Davis from a writer identified only as "Terry," who was a staff member of The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of California; and also the correspondence of SNCC field secretary Mike Miller from ca. summer 1966 in the R.G. Davis papers, box 5, folder 6, State Historical Society of Wisconsin Archives [SHSWA]. Miller's letter refers to the Mime Troupe as "very good friends of the movement [in the Bay Area]—kind of the movement's artistic arm." It is addressed to SNCC offices across the country, notifying them that the SFMT is available to do local fundraising benefits. The Troupe has continued to the present in offering this kind of material aid to progressive organizations.

16. Richard F. Shepard, "Mr. Interlocuter, Updated, Arrives; 'Minstrel Show' From Coast Slashes at Racial Hypocrisy," New York Times (22 Oct. 1966), sec. 1, p. 36.

17. See the spring 1964 New School prospectus in the SFMT archives, box 2, PJSL. The list of summer 1964 course offerings is in the R.G. Davis papers, box 1, folder 2, SHSWA. Davis encouraged the members of his company to take classes at the New School so that it would help them better to "comprehend the political[,] psychological and social problems of a play." He also looked to it as a potential source for recruiting actors and adding to the Mime Troupe's audience base. See his notes for a company meeting dated 27 July [1964] in the Davis papers, box 4, folder 3, SHSWA. On the origins of the New School, see Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 265, 267.

18. Davis, "Guerrilla Theater: 1967," originally published in the Boston-based underground newspaper Avatar (1967) and reprinted in The SFMT, 154-155. Davis's rejection of bourgeois society has a familiar avant-garde ring to it. Looking back from 1975, he acknowledged as much: "The Mime Troupe moved from ... an avant-garde period ... to outdoor popular theater ... and then onto radical politics, often preceding the political awareness of its audience. ... When we were moving from the avant-garde to a radical political stance, we retained the progressive spirit of the avant-garde." Davis, "Politics, Art, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe," Theatre Quarterly 5:18 (June-Aug. 1975), 26. As an ideological analysis, the views he expressed in his second guerrilla theater essay were being assimilated by the nascent counterculture in 1967. Cf. R. Larken and Daniel Foss: "The youth movement was not merely against racism, the war or school administrations, but against the totality of bourgeois relations [emphasis theirs]. It is easy to forget that many took drugs ... to experience a reality that superseded and opposed bourgeois reality." In The Sixties Without Apology, ed. Sonya Sayres et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), 360.

19. Davis, "Cultural Revolution USA/1968," originally published in Counter Culture, ed. Joseph Berke (London: Peter Owen, Ltd., 1969), and reprinted in The SFMT, 156-164. Cf. Davis's incendiary rhetoric with that of H. Rap Brown (later known as Jamil Abdullah Al Amin) in a speech delivered in Cambridge, Md., on 24 July 1967: "Black folks built America, and if America don't come around, we're going to burn America down." Transcript of "The Cambridge Speech," Page Collection of H. Rap Brown Materials, Accession no. MSA SC 2548, Maryland State Archives Special Collections.

20. Peter Berg interview in Ron Chepesiuk, Sixties Radicals, Then and Now: Candid Conversations with Those Who Shaped the Era (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1995), 118-132 at 128.

21. Marie Louise Berneri, "Utopias of the English Revolution: Winstanley, The Law of Freedom," in her book Journey through Utopia (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950), 143-173; quote taken from Winstanley's text appears on p. 149. The complete document may be found in his The Works of Gerrard Winstanley ed. George H. Sabine (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1941).

22. Davis, the "Handbook" section of his essay, "Guerrilla Theater: 1965," in The SFMT: "Start with people, not actors. Find performers who have something unique and exciting about them when they are on stage. ... Liberate the larger personalities and spirits" [151]. "Amateurs can be used if you cast wisely. ... Ask a painter to do a backdrop or a sculptor to make a prop. ... If you need ... new material, find writers, politicos, poets to adapt material for your group. ... The group must attract many different types of people" [152].

23. Davis seems to have respected the theatrical talents of only a few of these. The rest he put down hard in 1975. In a pointed remark about "the street hoods ... without skills who should not have been in the company," (apparently referring to Diggers who had left the Mime Troupe between 1966-1968), he archly dismissed them thus: "They left ... to work elsewhere, not in art but in craft." Davis, The SFMT, 125.

24. Author interviews with Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft, 24 November 1992, Ithaca, N.Y., and 5 February 1993, San Francisco.

25. Interview with Jane Lapiner and David Simpson, 27 and 28 February 1994, Petrolia, Cal.

26. During the Summer of Love, an apartment in the Haight could be leased for $90 and a three-story, eleven-room house for as little as $210. Stephen A.O. Golden, "What Is a Hippie? A Hippie Tells," New York Times (22 August 1967), sec. 1, p. 26.

27. "New Community" was a term used by Haight-Ashbury hippies and avant-gardists to proclaim their collective identity in situ beginning about 1966. The adjective signified both their status as newcomers to the neighborhood and their conceit that what they were attempting was without precedent. The noun was as much aspirational as descriptive: theirs was at that time very much a community in the process of coalescing. In retrospect the term was self-representative of only the first phase of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture; one does not encounter it in the historical record after the Summer of Love. By that time, of course, the sense of novelty had passed, but also the notion of a hip community in the Haight was regarded as an established if contested reality. [Clint Reilly], "Editorial: The New Community," Middle Class Standard 1:1 (16 July 1967) 1. A copy of this newsletter is filed in the San Francisco Hippies collection, box 2, folder "Middle Class Standard," San Francisco Public Library Special Collections Department (SFPL). The earliest appearance of the term that I have located is in the Communication Company broadsheet entitled "Press Release 1/24/67," filed in the New Left collection, box 32, folder: "Digger Papers - 1967," Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University [HIWRP]. See also David E. Smith and John Luce, "The New Community," part II of Love Needs Care: A History of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic and Its Pioneer Role in Treating Drug-Abuse Problems (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), 73-148; and Charles Perry, The Haight-Ashbury: A History (New York: Rolling Stone/Random House, 1984), 131.

28. Chester Anderson, a self-identified Digger and co-founder of the Communication Company, used this exact phrase ("Force them to be free") in an untitled broadsheet, the first line of which is "Every time somebody has turned on a whole crowd of people at once, by surprise[...]," dated 28 Jan. 1967. Here the context is different but its intention remains arrogantly coercive. He urges his fellow acid heads to commit "psychedelic rape"; i.e., surreptitiously introduce non-users to LSD without their foreknowledge or consent out of the misbegotten certainty that it will promote "social evolution," and even "save the world." Filed in the Social Protest collection, carton 6, folder 10, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley [BANC]. This same approach had already been taken by The Merry Pranksters in their "acid test" happenings beginning in fall 1965. See Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), especially 241-253.

29. In the 1966 primary election, Scheer had come close to wresting away the Democratic Party nomination from Cohelan. William J. Rorabaugh, Berkeley at War: The 1960s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 99-104. Scheer was an antiwar activist and journalist for Ramparts, who was also a close associate of SFMT director R.G. Davis. The puppets had been made by sculptor Robert La Morticella (a Digger who was arrested in this Public Celebration) for the SFMT skit Congressman Jeffrey Learns of Robert Scheer which was performed on the UC-Berkeley campus during the fall of 1966.

30. Davis was reinforced in his meritocratic attitudes on this score by Saul Landau. In a note Davis made of a conversation that Landau had had with him on 19 April 1965 (around the time that he was drafting the Guerrilla Theater essay), he paraphrased Landau as saying: "We are dealing with amateurs [in the Mime Troupe] who do not act as professionals, ... [who] have that attitude about theater that ... smacks of the unconcerned. ... Amateurism is death to the growing theatre." Typescript document by Davis entitled "1965 Notes/Letters," in Peter J. Shields Library Special Collections Department, University of California, Davis, San Francisco Mime Troupe Archives, box 2.

31. The Reverend Thomas King Forcade, "Abbie Hoffman on Media," in The Underground Reader ed. Mel Howard and Thomas King Forcade (New York: New American Library, 1972), 68-72 at 69. This interview was recorded in Ann Arbor, Mich., in July 1969, and was originally published in the Vancouver, B.C., underground newspaper The Georgia Straight.

32. The evidence for this claim may be examined in ibid., passim. Other authors, while acknowledging the Haight-Ashbury Diggers' impact on Abbie Hoffman in particular, have instead stressed multiple sources of influence on the New York scene, not privileging any single source. See especially Marty Jezer, Abbie Hoffman, American Rebel (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992); Jack Hoffman and Daniel Simon, Run, Run, Run: The Lives of Abbie Hoffman (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994); Jonah Raskin, For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman (Berkeley, etc.: University of California Press, 1996), as well as Hoffman's own memoir Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1980).

33. Howard Smith, "Scenes" col., Village Voice 12:42 (3 August 1967) 11; ibid. 12:43 (10 August 1967) 7; photos by Fred W. McDarrah and captions on pp. 1, 25.

34. Marty Jezer, Abbie Hoffman, 111-112.

35. Leticia Kent, "Evangelizing Wall Street: Square Sales & Odd Lots," Village Voice, vol. 12, no. 46 (31 August 1967) 3; John Kifner, "Hippies Shower $1 Bills on Stock Exchange Floor," New York Times (25 August 1967), sec. 1, p. 23, accompanied by a photo of group members tossing the money from the gallery. [Abbie Hoffman is plainly visible in this picture.] See also the untitled account by the pseudonymous "George Washington" [journalist Marty Jezer who also observed the event], in WIN magazine, vol. 3, no.15 (15 September 1967), 9-10, and Jezer's later account in Abbie Hoffman, 111-112. Hoffman's version is in his book Revolution for the Hell of It (New York: The Dial Press, 1968), 32-33, where it is misdated to 20 May 1967. Setting fire to dollar bills was another practice popularly associated with the Haight-Ashbury Diggers. George P. Metesky [occasionally the Diggers misspelled it Metevsky] was dubbed the "Mad Bomber" by the New York press when in the 1950s he conducted a seven-year bombing campaign throughout the city primarily aimed at the interests of Consolidated Edison. Metesky was most frequently used as a pseudonym by Haight-Ashbury Digger and Brooklyn native Emmett Grogan as part of the collective's commitment to anonymity. It may seem a bizarre choice of identity for him to have assumed except when one considers the great fascination that outlaws and anti-heroes in general held for mass culture audiences in the 1960s. Furthermore invoking the specter of the "Mad Bomber" was a way of indulging in symbolic violence for the Diggers, who, while they could be militant in their rhetoric, were for the most part nonviolent in practice. It may also have been intended as a witty send up of the stereotypical anarchist bomb thrower sensationalized in the propaganda of the various Red Scares since the Bolshevik Revolution. This last possibility emerges from Grogan's own criticism of the historical Metesky as ineffectual in fomenting positive social change. See Grogan, Ringolevio; A Life Played for Keeps (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972), 399.

36. The Yippies' activities and theory of the mass media are reprised in Hoffman's Revolution and Jerry Rubin's Do It! Scenarios of the Revolution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970). The best secondary sources are Jezer, Abbie Hoffman and David Farber, Chicago '68 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

37. Don McNeill, "Turning the City into a Theatre; The Hippie in New York," Village Voice 12:48 (14 September 1967) 9, 26-27.

38. I document the tension between the two groups in "Free City Limits: New York as an Example of Countercultural Diffusion," chapter seven of my Ph.D. thesis "The Haight-Ashbury Diggers and the Cultural Politics of Utopia, 1965-1968," Cornell University, 1997.

39. The term "Festival of Blood" was coined by Chicago Seed editor Abe Peck, whom Jerry Rubin had recruited to be the key local organizer of the festival. Peck broke with the Yippies' in the weeks before the convention, justifying his decision in the editorials "An Open Letter on Yippie," Chicago Seed 2:11 ([n.d., but ca. late July-early August 1968) 2, 23; and "A Week in Our Lives: The Great Media Backfire, Seed 2:12 ([n.d., but ca. mid-to-late August 1968]) n.p. For a somewhat different conceptualization of the "two festivals," see Jezer, Abbie Hoffman, 125-127, 147. Jezer portrays Rubin as supporting active confrontation and Hoffman as preferring something closer to a celebratory be-in. These two key organizers, however, did not allow their differences to derail the goal of realizing a Yippie festival at the convention.

40. SFPL Archives, San Francisco Hippies collection, box 1, folder: "S.F. Hippies. Letters. Jerry Rubin to Allen Cohen."

41. Interview with Jerry Rubin by editor Abe Peck, "The Yippees [sic] in Chicago," Chicago Seed, vol. 2, no. 3 ([n.d., but ca. 1-15 March 1968]), 8-9, emphasis added. As a result of his meeting with Rubin, Peck agreed to serve as one of Yippie's Chicago-based organizers for the Festival of Life. He discusses his growing unease with the rhetoric of violent confrontation propounded by the Yippie founders in his memoir-history Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press (New York: Citadel Press, 1991), 99-119.

42. Rubin admitted as much some years later when reflecting on the Convention: "We were not just innocent people who were victimized by the police. We came to plan a confrontation." Quoted in Alan Greenblatt, "Winds of War Blew through Chicago," Congressional Quarterly supplement, vol. 54, no., 33 (17 August 1996), 23-24. As early as November 1967, Rubin had boasted that "We can force Johnson to bring the 82nd Airborne and 100,000 more troops to Chicago next August to protect the Democratic National Convention." Rubin, "We Are Going to Light The Fuse to the Bomb," Village Voice, vol. 13, no. 5 (16 November 1967), 7.

43. Farber, Chicago '68; Todd Gitlin, "The Whole World Is Watching!" Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

44.Rubin, "We Are Going to Light The Fuse to the Bomb," 7.

45. My interpretation of the function served by these Digger events is informed by A.P. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (New York: Tavistock Publications and Ellis Horwood, in association with Methuen, 1985), and Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (rev. ed.; London and New York: Verso, 1991).

46. Gil Scott-Heron's proto-rap poem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," was first released on his album Small Talk at 125th & Lenox (New York: Flying Dutchman, 1970), no. FD 10131. The album's lyrics were also published in book form by World Publishing Co.



Cover of Imagine Nation edited by Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle



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