Rural Reverb'
A weekly column in Redheaded Blackbelt

#3 Genesis of The Pure Schmint Players, Review of The Magic Bus

This week’s Rural Reverb’ introduces Southern Humboldt’s Golden Age of original theater with a glimpse of The Pure Schmint Players’ genesis and a review of their first show, The Magic Bus. This is part one of three.

The Pure Schmint Players were part of the counterculture surging out of the Sixties. Radical forms of improvisation and revived traditions, some influenced by psychedelic drug use, revolutionized theater and dance across the planet. Examples in the Humboldt Bay region include Jane Lapiner and David Simpson’s, Human Nature Theater Company, The Feet First Dancers, the Mateel Community Center-based Recycled Youth, and Dell’Arte International in Blue Lake. 

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 my interviews 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, won 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.” 

“A Look at Pure Schmint: an interview with actor Autumn Wind, with comments by his comrade Owl Hummingbird” (Star Root, May 1977)
By Carl Miller

Shall I be honest and explain how this interview was shamelessly compiled from what I considered the best remarks on over an hour’s worth of taped interviews and candid conversations? Of course the opinions expressed from are only those of Autumn Wind and Owl Hummingbird [Al “Owl” Ceraulo] and represent no consensus of Pure Schmint opinion. Other Pure Schmint Players include Kelly Burleson, Joani Keithley [Rose], Jack Leonard, Douglas McCrady, Shelly and Steve Palestino, MaxScholts, Pat Weaver and BarryAppaloosa.

Carl: What sort of information do you want to get across in this interview?

Autumn Wind: Really the purpose of this interview is to push Pure Schmint, push our upcoming play, push all that stuff.

Owl: I never was into advertising very much. It’s like too much boisterism[sic] before the thing. I think we should show what we have and then…

AW: But if nobody comes, who are you showing it to? I want to get people to come to the play,
cause as an actor I don’t want to be playing to an empty auditorium.

O: Word of mouth you know.

AW: Right, word of mouth. This is the same as word of mouth except it’s in a newspaper. What’s the trip? It’s my interview.

O: Right. I’d like that cleared up definitely.

AW: I don’t want to be the spokesman for everybody else. I can’t talk for anybody else.

C: What is Pure Schmint?

O: Now you have to formulate an answer for the people.

AW: Pure Schmint’s a theater group, a drama group.

O: We’re a little better than T.V.

AW: That’s our slogan: we’re a little better than T.V.

C: And you’re putting on a play?

AW: Yeah, we’re writing one. We’ve written one. We’ve got a script. It amazes me. We’ve actually got a script.

O: Yeah, it’s there to look at, and we can read from it.

AW: And say “there’s my lines to remember” and “hey there’s where I’m gonna be” and…

O: It makes it easier.

C: How did you get this together?

AW: We started with a meeting of Pure Schmindt players. We sat around and rapped about what we wanted to do this time and decided we wanted a full-length drama. We’d already done one play, “Beaty and the Beast,” but that was only about twenty minutes long. We wanted to do something longer, more developed. Then we talked about what we wanted to do. We decided on stinging together a group of different ideas all loosely based on the same experience of a bus station.

C: A bus station?

AW: It takes place in a bus station, Anywhere, U.S.A.

C: I’ve met a lot of strange people in bus stations.

AW: I’m sure you haven’t met any as strange as the ones in this bus station. Yeah, bus stations are a focal point for a lot of energy. A lot of people pass through that you don’t see anywhere else in the world. They’re in the bus stations.

O: You need more juicy questions. Do you have sex in your play? Or, Do you have sex at your rehearsals?

C: Do you have sex at your rehearsals?

O: Now that’s a good question. Do we have group sex at our rehearsals?

C: Do you have group sex at your rehearsals?

O: I won’t answer that. Will you answer that one?

AW: No… I’ll tell you this much though: sometimes we start out our rehearsals doing the limbo.

O: Yeah, we’ve done that.

AW: How low can you go?

C: What happens at a typical Pure Schmint rehearsal?

AW: A lot of yelling.

O: Fighting, yelling, and people going “Where is so-and-so?” “Now I came on time again, where’s whatchamacallit?” Then it’s really funny. All of a sudden something works and it works well and that’s fine. Then somebody’s yelling again.

AW: Sometimes it gets pretty horrendous. There’s a lot of ego’s involved. Everybody’s energy has to be there for the group to function. Yeah, the creative force of the universe is flowing. We’re very heliotropic, all turning toward the sun.

O: Heliotropic, yeah, that’s a good word.

C: How do you feel about being an actor?

AW: It gets me close to the center. I get to step out of my normal everyday character and be somebody else, for one thing. But there’s also that pure moment – the moment when you step out on stage and all that energy of the audience is concentrated on you. And it’s not an ego trip. That moment’s so pure. I’m so far outside myself that, that’s what I do it for, that feeling.

O: I think it’s therapeutic. It’s kind of, it’s a lot of fun.

AW: It’s exciting.

O: It’s fun. It’s scary.

C: I don’t know. You talk about publicity being hokey, but you publicized a bake sale into a major happening.

O: A major happening.

C: If it wasn’t for those posters of your and everything.

O: I know.

AW: Nobody would have been there to see you be king.

O: No, but if we had better publicity more people would have come.

AW: Right.

O: Hahaha.

C: When is your play going to be put on?

AW: May 21 and 22, a Saturday and a Sunday.

C: What’s it going to be called?

O/AW: The Magic Bus.