“The Exonerated” – Curran Theatre, San Francisco – December 16-21, 2004
Starring Peter Coyote and Penn Jillette. The play began in the summer of 2000, when its married authors — Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen — toured the United States, interviewing 40 of the then 89 former death-row prisoners. The interviews are the basis of the play and reflect the feelings of the inmates who had been sentenced to death row for anywhere between two to 22 years.
“Olive Pits” – San Francisco – December 6, 1999 (See special page)
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, alumni and current Troupers performed scenes from fourteen plays featured over the past 40 years. Peter originally performed in “Olive Pits” (a play he also co-authored) on June 5, 1966.
“Jake’s Women” – Old Globe Playhouse, San Diego – March 8 to April 15, 1990
Coyote starred in this Neil Simon play along with Stockard Channing and Joyce Van Patten. As Jake, he played a writer, widowed, remarried, grappling with emotional problems and spending much of his time talking about them with the women in his life – whether alive or dead.
“True West” – Magic Theater – 1980
Coyote took the role of Austin in the world premiere performance of Sam Shepard’s “True West” at the Magic Theater in San Francisco on July 10, 1980. Directed by Robert Woodruff, the cast also included Jim Haynie as Lee, Tom Dahlgreen as Saul Kimmer and Carol McElheney as Mom. Coyote and Haynie are in the photo to the right.
According to Ellen Oumano’s book Sam Shepard, with “a storyline more accessible and straightforward than any of his previous work, Shepard brought together and explored his two main concerns: the corruption of the artist and the disintegration of the family. Austin, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, is house-sitting for his mother when he is visited by his brother, Lee, a petty burglar and vagrant with a vague but powerfully menacing air. Lee manages to sell his cliched idea for a ‘real’ Western for a huge fee to the producer Austin had been courting, thus calling into question what makes art, at least movie art, authentic. Shepard was extremely pleased with the Magic’s production of the play he had reworked so painstakingly.”
What was so fortunate for Peter was that during one night’s performance, a Hollywood agent spotted him and the rest is history.
On October 7, 1997 the Magic Theater marked its 30th anniversary season with a revival of “True West,” an event that included a gala benefit celebration that brought back some of its alumni – Peter Coyote, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Danny Glover and Kathy Baker. Each read a selection from significant plays that had their premieres at the Magic over the years.
Other Performances at the Magic Theater – 1977 – 1979
Charles the Irrelevant by Martin Epstein – 1979
Autobiography of a Pearl Diver by Martin Epstein – 1978
The Red Snake by Michael McClure – 1977/1978
Inacoma by Sam Shepard – 1977
Paul Sills’ Story Theater – 1975
Story Theater was a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales, Aesop’s fables and various folk tales performed and set to original music. Peter was responsible for all the music and performed in several roles.
San Francisco Mime Troupe – 1965 to 1967
Founder and director Ronnie Davis had studied classical mime in Paris in 1959 and over the next few years the troupe evolved into a group “in the service of political ideas. The shows were free and the company brought its rousing, outrageous political comedy to the people. They re-invented commedia dell’arte, a sixteenth-century Italian theater form which was performed in the streets. Commedia featured stock characters wearing easily identifiable masks.
“It was in the Mime Troupe that I first got introduced to a comprehensive world view, a way of looking at the world and analyzing it according to inherently Marxist principles. Not necessarily doctrinaire, but analysis: class, capital, who owned what, who did what, who worked for what. And it was like speed for the imagination. You suddenly started looking at the world in this whole new way. And that information affected the way you formulated your work. Suddenly, everything came together, your intellectual life correlated with your artistic life. It was illuminating and edifying, and to this day represents a kind of peak assimilation that I’d like to recapture, closing that gap between my politics and what I do as an artist.” …Coyote
Besides performing , Peter also became involved in writing and directing.
The following four plays were done with the Mime Troupe:
“L’Aimant Militaire” – 1967
This play was an 18th century comedy by Carlo Goldoni which was adapted by Joan Holden into a biting satire on the Vietnam War.
“The Minstrel Show or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel” – 1967
From the same interview, Coyote comments, “I directed the first road tour of “The Minstrel Show” which began as a traditional minstrel show, with black-faced actors in sky blue tuxedos and white gloves cake-walking across the stage. Three of us were white, three black, but you couldn’t tell under all that makeup. The show quickly evolved into a parody of its minstrel show form and skewered hypocrisy and bulls— on both sides of the color line. It was flagrantly sexual and angry, even though it was very funny – and it scared, offended and bothered people who saw it. It was very dangerous and, to this day, the most appropriate show to its time I have ever seen. We were arrested in many places and we had a lot of adventures.”
Peter both acted and directed in this show and the road tour was eventually brought to New York City by Dick Gregory.
In 1968, the company received the 13th Annual Village Voice Off-Broadway OBIE award for “uniting theater and revolution and grooving in the parks,” according to The New York Times (May 28, 1968).
“Olive Pits” – 1966
This play was co-authored and directed by Coyote.
“The Miser” – 1966
In the 1985 documentary “Troupers” which highlighted its history, Peter can be seen playing the miser in this Moliere play