For hundreds of Bay Area dwellers, July 4 is a day usually best spent in Dolores Park for the traditional opening performance of the “never ever silent” San Francisco Mime Troupe’s summer tour.
A tradition gleefully leaned into by the irreverent political theater company, the annual Mime Troupe show generally speaks to a specific topical issue across a wide thematic range, including for-profit schools, factory occupations, police violence and land speculation and development. Currently part of San Francisco’s LaborFest—which runs for the entire month of July—this worker-owned collective proudly wears its politics on its quirkily costumed sleeve.
This year, due to COVID-19 concerns, instead of gathering in the park, the Mime Troupe has changed their open-air musical theater approach to that of a more stay-at-home friendly format: a serialized radio drama. And though picnicking in my living room while listening in on the Fourth of July wasn’t quite the same as being surrounded by fellow Mime Troupe fans at the park, the knowledge that other folks were also tuning in online at the same time did give me a sense of solidarity.
A brief half-hour long, the first episode of the Mime Troupe’s nine-week series is modeled after the hard-boiled detective noir. Written by and starring Michael Gene Sullivan, Jade, For Hire! The Mystery of the Missing Worker sends the titular Jade on a search for a vanished tech worker, Derrick. Punctuated by droll, dystopian advertisements for surveillance systems and rest homes (written by Marie Cartier), Jade for Hire! travels through a working-class milieu of bars, cabs, employment agencies, independent coffee shops, and whispers of unionization.
Voiced by Mime Troupe regulars, including the redoubtable Velina Brown as a crisp, no-nonsense case manager, Andre Amorotico as a nervous techie snitch, and former trouper Amos Glick as the interstitial announcer, The Mystery of the Missing Worker culminates neatly with a twist that sets Jade up for future adventuring. As a spoof of serials past, it’s solid, quick-witted, and sets the bar high for subsequent episodes, which will satirize other radio-drama templates—namely adventure, horror, and science fiction.
Interspersing their jocular dialogue with didactic thought-bubbles such as “if the people can’t make it with the current system, it’s not the people that have to change, it’s the system,” the Mime Troupe’s commitment to proselytizing to the workers makes their shows a perfect fit for LaborFest, now in its 27th year. Originally founded to run from July 5, the anniversary of “Bloody Thursday,” but now encompassing all of July, LaborFest has offered an eclectic lineup of panels, films, poetry readings, concerts and more interrogating the role of organized labor in the modern state since 1994.