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The View from Stage Left

According to board member Susan Mason, the administrative structure toward which the Actors’ Gang was lurching, before Robbins intervened, resembled that of the egalitarian and highly regarded San Francisco Mime Troupe — although this view overlooks the fact that the Mime Troupe has only 18 members, compared to the Gang’s 40, and has been spared the Gang’s comparatively daunting lease payments for its two-stage theater complex.

Peggy Rose, the Mime Troupe’s general manager, notes that her company went through years of agony before arriving at its current structure, trying and discarding a hierarchy, and grappling with ethnic integration as well as a generation gap.

“Sometimes there is chaos,” she says. “How do you get through it? You let it happen. You try to remember what the alternative is. You learn to trust the process. You learn to trust the people, too. Even if they’re saying something ridiculous, doing something you think might hurt the company, you remember that in the end you’re all here because you have a common purpose and you’re all dedicated to that. A theater isn’t about the money, obviously. Even if it’s mucky along the way, in the end it’s going to turn out right. I believe that when people are given the space and the freedom, they make the right choice.”


A Life in the Theater

At night, transvestites sashay down Santa Monica Boulevard within whistling distance of the theater. Steven M. Porter, an actor with the Gang since its inception, leans against the theater wall, smoking during a break in the Mephisto workshop. The tubby Porter has a bald pate and an air of fatigued resignation — until he’s on the stage, when he transforms into one of the funniest clowns around. Here, Porter is dressed in a cream suit stained with brown makeup, his whiteface mask melting under his eyes. Rouge lipstick leaves its mark when he withdraws his cigarette from his mouth.

“I’m getting too old for this shit,” he complains between puffs.

“Come on, Porter,” I say. “You’ve been saying that for 20 years.”

“I know,” he answers wryly. “But this time I mean it.”

An attractive young actress passes by with a Tupperware dish containing stewed leaves. “Kale,” she says, noticing Porter’s expression of stark disgust. “You want some? It’s for longevity.”

“Oh no, anything but that,” Porter replies. She starts to leave. Porter interrupts her. “Say, does that stuff go well with a cigarette?”


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