Pure Schmint Players

Genesis of the Pure Schmint Players

Vibram Soul rehearsal, Al “Owl” Ceraulo, Barry Wicksman, and Joani Rose (Courtesy of HAPA, Joani Rose Collection)
U. Reynolds Collection, Oversize Folder

The origins of Southern Humboldt’s illustrious mad-cap hill-hippie theater company – including its strange name –  The Pure Schmint Players are particularly inspirational for our time. Imagine, (or remember) life with no computer, no TV, no mobile phone, no phone at all. Not even a radio or record player. For the hundreds of Southern Humboldt hippies camping and homesteading their first lean-to’s in the 1970s, making their own music was a popular, and even common, escape from the loneliness of backwoods life. 

What follows comes directly from interviews by Scott Holmquist, founder of the Humboldt Area Peoples Archive, with two of the Pure Schmint Players’ founders. Joani Rose, later director of the Recycled Youth theater program (along with Barbara Penny, and Susan Alexander) for over twenty years and also a singer song-writer whose last album, “Under the Counterculture,” spoke volumes. And Al “Owl” Ceraulo, who would, decades after co-founding Pure Schmint, win recognition beyond the hills as playwright. 

Unless you’re old enough to qualify for Medicare, you won’t remember these hugely popular theatrical triumphs : The Magic Bus (review below), Vibram Soul, Growing Pains, Nobody Nose, among others. By the mid-1980s, Southern Humboldt’s Pure Schmint Players was the theatrical voice of the region’s back-to-the-land hippie settlers.

In the beginning, Al “Owl” Ceraulo remembers seeing Joani perform in The Beauty and the Beast at the first Summer Arts Fair and saying to himself, “Hey, that looks fun. I’d like to try acting.” He had always hankered to perform, to be an artist. So he, and a group of hippie friends, came out of the hills to audition for the next production of Garberville’s Redwood Players, founded by Jack Flaws and others. When they were all rejected, Owl said “We decided to form our own theater group,” in the spirit of the time. He enlisted Joani Rose, one of his land partners, Linda Dillon, Ron Jennings, Barry Wicksman, Dominic Palest, later Paul “PB” Bassis, and others. (See list in Star Root interview below.) The Pure Schmint Players was formed.

Joani Rose recalls something similar. Except in her version, The Beauty and the Beast performance at Summer Arts was the first Pure Schmint show. She recalls auditioning for The Redwood Playhouse’s first production in Garberville. In her words:

“And so I tried out, I think it was the first time they were doing a play. I tried out and Al [Owl] tried out and Ron [Jennings] tried out. Some of us tried out and we didn’t get in the play. I think a whole bunch of people tried out and we didn’t get in the play. So we were like bummed out. I mean, when I moved up back to the land, you know, I was already into performing. I always loved theater and I always loved music and I always loved singing. Even when I was back with Tom Keithley, the father of my kids, I played guitar. I learned how to play guitar and him and I played folk music at coffee houses. In Santa Barbara I continued to play and even had a gig at a local hotel restaurant type thing down by the beach.  I had a little role with a theater company in Santa Barbara. I was like an extra, but I was really excited by it. And I was like, Oh, I’m moving back to the land. I’m giving all that up. But then when we all got rejected from this first play that the Redwood players were doing, we just, we got together and said, well, we should just start our own company. We should just do our own thing. <laughs>, that was the beginning of The Pure Schmint Players.”

Pure Schmindt’s wrote its plays through improvisation, as a group. Up to Nobody Nose, they were signed collectively, The Pure Schmint Players. The name came from hippies in China Creek (an area off Briceland Road ten miles west of Redway), where, according to Owl, “The Brothers used to say, ‘Oh, this is Schminty, oh, schminty. This weed is schminty [shitty]. So we said, ‘Let’s do Pure Schmint. Yeah.”