Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography and Company History (The First Ten Years)
  • Scope and Content
  • Additional collection guides

  • Descriptive Summary

    Date (inclusive): 1960-1973
    Collection number: D-065
    Origination: Davis, Ronald G.
    Extent: 11.80 linear feet in 16 boxes
    Repository: University of California, Davis. General Library. Dept. of Special Collections.
    Davis, California
    Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Special Collections Department.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    The Ronald G. Davis Papers were purchased in 1975 and 1980 from Ronald G. Davis, founder of the San Francisco Mime Troupe.


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    The Library can only claim physical ownership of the Ronald G. Davis Papers. Users are responsible for satisfying any claimants of literary property.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item] RONALD G. DAVIS PAPERS, D-065, Department of Special Collections, General Library, University of California, Davis.

    Biography and Company History (The First Ten Years)

    Ronald G. Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 9, 1933. He graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in economics in 1955. During the next several years, Davis gained an extensive performing arts background which included classes in modern dance and attendance at the American Mime Studio in New York where he studied under Paul Curtis. Subsequently, in 1957, he received a Fullbright scholarship allowing him to study under Etienne Decroux at L'Ecole de Mime in Paris.
    In 1959, Davis settled in San Francisco where he joined the Actors Workshop as an assistant director. He soon formed the R. G. Davis Mime Troupe, and, under the auspices of the Workshop, presented conventional mime shows in the tradition of Chaplin and improvised performances called "events." Later, his commitment to reach a broader audience led to his producing free outdoor performances in the San Francisco parks. He chose the commedia dell'arte style for these performances, the first of which was presented in January of 1962.
    In January of 1963, Davis left the Actors Workshop. Soon afterwards, he renamed his company the San Francisco Mime Troupe. He was seeking an alternative to commercial, subsidized theater and a style to treat serious, current issues and to express his radical politics which over the decade evolved from avant garde and counterculture to more specifically Marxist. Davis wanted his theater to be a catalyst for social change, and in 1966 he coined the term Guerrilla Theatre in an article describing the Troupe's work. He maintained that theater in the U.S. should teach, direct toward change, and be an example of change. The Mime Troupe's style has been described as "presentational, broadly comic, mixing traditional mime, commedia and Brechtian techniques." Among other forms developed by the troupe were the minstrel show, vaudeville, circus techniques, puppet shows, melodrama, and band music.
    In 1970, due to conflicts concerning focus, ideology, and organization, Davis left the troupe which then became a collective.

    Scope and Content

    The Ronald G. Davis Papers consist of rare items relating to the San Francisco Mime Troupe's early period (1960-1970). These materials contain audio tapes, financial records, general office files, legal records, photographs, production files, promotional material, published material, scrapbooks, and scripts.
    Included is a substantial amount of material relating to Bill Graham's extensive booking of the troupe in A Minstrel Show or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel.
    The Production Files in particular reveal the troupe's working methods during its first decade while under the direction of its founding director, Ronald G. Davis.

    Additional collection guides