A weekly column in Redheaded Blackbelt
#6 Pure Schmint’s Humboldt Hippie Epic Vibram Soul
The Pure Schmint Players’ Vibram Soul, directed by Palma DiAnello, aka Dominick Palestino, crystalized the counterculture experience of hippie homesteaders in search of love, sex, and meaning, growing weed, or not. In his review, David Simpson described the play as, “a couple hours of bawdy, barbed fun whose subject matter might best be described as mating rituals in the hills of Southern Humboldt.” (See Simpson and Mary Anderson reviews below.)
Vibram Soul so impressed the semi-famous jazz dancer and choreographer, Lester Zitler, that he offered to produce it at the renowned Berkeley Live Oak Theater, 1301 Berryman Street. He had seen the show by chance, during its 1979 debut run in Garberville. Zitler was in town to give a workshop organized by the Feet First dance company at Fireman’s Hall, by then under the auspices of the freshly named Mateel Community Center.
During work on the play in the run up to the Berkeley show, Michael Evenson was invited to consult. A Humboldt back-to-lander, better known in recent decades for his environmental activism, Evenson had become interested in theater as a UC Berkeley student and in the late 1960’s produced Thomas Beckett’s Endgame at the Mendocino Arts Center. At one point, his work on Vibram Soul led to consideration of Evenson to direct. Eventually, his role was credited in the Berkeley program as None Of The Above, at his request.
Vibram Soul hit the stage in Berkeley in July 1980, the last summer of post-Sixties America. It was a time when many were convinced weed would soon be legal and the White House sported an array of exemplary solar panels. Only months later everything would change. And the new President’s widely publicized removal of White House solar panels was but a teaser.
Voters would soon oust their Moralizer In Chief President Carter in favor California’s former Governor Ronald Reagan, a minor Hollywood actor who became one the greatest 20th century propagandists of rightwing conservatism. Battle hardened as California’s Governor through the best of the Sixties, Reagan openly despised hippies and all things counterculture, especially the devil’s weed. The master plan to irradiate marijuana growing across the US, that became the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, was conceived and ordered from Reagan administration offices.
During that same final post-Sixties summer, as a majority of the country was about to embrace an anti-counterculture crusader as their national leader, southern Humboldt County counterculture was flourishing. And, dear Humboldt reader, I’m not only referring to the proliferation of flowering cannabis plants, but every aspect of Sixties counterculture. In Simpson’s review below, he counts eight theater companies. Organizers who had dropped out, organized again, to found the local ACORN and The Environmental Protection Information Center. Salmon and forest restoration groups formed up and down the Mattole River, the Redwoods Rural Health Center was expanding. Lesbians and gay men were finding a safe home in the hills. Hippie businesses like Alternative Energy Engineering were taking off and the Mateel Community Center kept their soon to be purchased Fireman’s Hall busy hosting dance, theater and art classes, when it wasn’t a venue for concerts, plays and events like the Solar Energy Fair. All from a hippie population estimated at 2,000 souls in 1980, of 12,000 in their census tract.
This story of flourishing in Southern Humboldt is often summed up: Weed Made It Happen. And there’s some truth to that. But some truth, in this case, blinds you from greater truths. Check the Dope Statistics Bureau and you will find there was a LOT more weed money around in the 2010’s than at any time before or since and, well, there doesn’t seem to have been a whole lot of countercultural flourishing in those years.
To escape the flawed simplification that only weed economy was responsible for what appears to be a golden counterculture era, we really need to know more about what took place in those years. To know more, we need more of what we are doing at the Humboldt Area Peoples Archive.
VIBRAM SOUL – A REVIEW
(From typed draft in Joani Rose Collection at HAPA. Author recalls it was published but cannot remember where.)
by David Simpson
Anyone with half an eye for it knows by now that theatre is alive and thriving in Humboldt County. It is hard to turn around without discovering another company of players sprung out of the sawdust, as it were, of a region more noted for the production of board feet than of the art and spectacle of theater.
It may be the lack of pretense in this sparsely settled region that allows many who might otherwise stay in the wings of the breadth and freedom to perform. Or it may be that frontier quality of attaining and developing many kinds of skills that make actors and actresses of homesteaders, timber workers, fishermen and merchants. Whatever the case, there are at least eight companies of performers in Humboldt County doing excellent and often quite sophisticated theatre.
What is special, then, about the accomplishment of the Pure Schmint Players of Garberville in their latest production, VIBRAM SOUL, is not that they have created a sweet and exciting piece of theatre but that they have done it about us, a part of us anyway, about that particular breed of individualists and communards who so colorfully, even religiously inhabit the hills in the south part of the county. VIBRAM SOUL is a musical tragi-comedy, written by the company, that dares as theatre rarely does, to take on the real life of its participants. The result is sheer fun.
Sandwiched between rather spectacular sound and scenic effects that open and close the play are a couple hours of bawdy, barbed fun whose subject matter might best be described as mating rituals in the hills of Southern Humboldt. That the rituals are not always easy or successful is exactly the point of both the humor and the heartache of the play and the reason why the dominant strain of the music is blues.
The participants in these rituals are three couples, or rather, six people struggling to become three couples, and one child. It seems to have been the intention of the company to make one couple, Jack and Jill, no less, the center around which the rest turns. Indeed, the other four characters are more stereotypic than the fully drawn protagonists, but they are such well done and terribly familiar stereotypes as to almost overshadow everything else, Jack and Jill included. There is Spring, played to wide-eyed perfection by Nonny Shooting Star, who as a long-time celibate, guru-worshipping, vegetarian spiritual seeker, drives the desperately frustrated shlemiel, Larry, played with antic gusto and a lot of New York shtick by Barry Appaloosa, to a point of screaming sexual distraction. Spring’ song, “Seeker of the Light Blues” is like no other blues.
Balanced against this hilarious and hopeless non-affair are Loretta and George, played by Julia Suzanne and Autumn Wind, two perfectly Humboldt County types: Loretta, the backwoods soulful sexpot with knee-high leather hoots, tight, tight Levis, a knife and scabbard half the length of her leg, and an insatiable thirst for a good time; George, the funky, nasty, rippin’-off mostly always loaded hillbilly hippy. Loretta’s song, “I Like “Em All”, may be the show’s funniest and is certainly the sexiest. George’s song, “Funky Country Boy” should be playing on local radio stations.
It is against this backdrop of finely drawn and funny caricatures that Jack and Jill must play out the serious heart of the play, an impossible task, really, which is why the comic element is never subordinate. Alfredo Bottecelli’s Jack is done competently, with a combination of boyish earnestness and subtle strength. Joni Rose’s Jill is lovely, and soulful almost to a fault as her breathiness sometimes obscures the words of her songs.
Their story, the struggle of a woman to drag her man onto a plane of maturity and real companionship that is his as well as her true fulfillment, is deeply familiar. Jack’s resistance is both comprehensible and culpable. His recognition comes in a surprising, even spectacular conclusion, heightened by the ravelling(sic) together of threads of music, dance, and stage effects that have interspersed the earlier action. For this, one must see the play, scheduled to be performed next at the Pacific Arts Center (0ld Creamery Building), on November 16th and 17th at 8:00 P.M. The company will also perform on November 23rd and 24th at the Mendocino Art Center, in Mendocino. The music of Solomon Mogerman and band and the songs by Mogerman and the cast are worth the price of admission alone. Together with the hilarity, good spirit, and the magic, VIBRAM SOUL is a moment where theatre’s capacity to unite us, one to another and to ourselves, is happily realized. We must hope that the Pure Schmint Players continue to do this regional kind of theatre, by and for Humboldters. Don’t miss this one.
And now, as with every dispatch, another stab at answering: Why waste time with old documents when the house, our earth, is burning?
Enjoying nostalgia for good old days triggered by reports from our archive may be enough to justify keeping the boxes dry and safe from rats and fire. But we at HAPA believe the histories of this place, and others like it, from when people found themselves in the throes of social and cultural re-creation, can tell us today something vital to living better into the future. To see through the warm blur of memory and gossip, we believe that old school facts derived from documents and cross-referenced individual accounts are essential. And that requires diligent, often boring and expensive sorting, storage and cataloging of documents and objects of the past.
Inspired by Pure Schmint’s fundraising Date Lottery, details about which you’ll find below transcribed from a 1979 ad, I suggested something similar for HAPA, but the board voted it down.
Transcript of Pure Schmint fundraiser and Vibram Soul ad
3 August 1979 Star Root
I think It’s obvious. You’ve tried the rest, now try the best.
Remember PURE SCHMINT? We ‘re the local noveau(sic), avant garde, folk funk, con-fusion experimental theatre company. You saw us in Dreams and Visions, Magic Bus, Sleeping Beauty, Small Patches, 3-D IV, etc. BUT, you haven’t seen us lately I bet. There’s a good reason for that. We have not performed lately. There’s good reason for that, too. We’ve been working HOT and HEAVY on a new show entitled “VIBRAM SOUL” to be performed at the School Administration Building on Sprowel far above Creek Road in Garberville. This play is GUARANTEED to be so far above anything we’ve done to date that it will be WORTH the wait. We want EVERYBODY to see it.
You might wonder what the new play is about. So do we sometimes. It’s about an hour and 45 minutes (ha ha). Don’t worry, the play is BETTER than these jokes. Seriously folks, this play is about you & us & me & them & theirs & well, life. And it goes even BEYOND that. And THAT. And BEYOND THAT even. Music. Drama. Comedy, we got it all. But one thing we don’t got is…ahem..mo..mo..mo. money. That’s where YOU come in. We need money for production: lights, sets, props, advertisements, beer, good dope, movies, ah… oops. And frankly, we’re hard up. All we have left to offer is our BODIES. Which is why we are holding this wonderful and amazing raffle with such an astounding PRIZE. If you win, you get a night out on the town… A DATE…with the Pure Schmint Star of your choice. We guarantee a night you’ll never forget although you may try hard. You get DINNER FOR TWO at an elegant local dining spot and after that, you never know. There will be TWO WINNERS. Of course, if you insist you CAN choose to bring your OWN date (chicken! ). So run out and get your tickets. You’ll probably want to buy a whole roll. Think of the bliss you will attain by helping Pure Schmint. You can get your tickets at Shooting Star Textiles, Open Circle, Singing Salmon Music, or from any one of the lovely and Evergreen, virile stars. The raffle will be held in the first part of September (to be announced). You don’t have to be there to win. Good luck, love from THE PURE SCHMINT PLAYERS.
by Mary Anderperson [Anderson]
Star Root 5 October 1979
If today is Friday and you’re just reading this, you’re down to your last two chances to catch Pure Schmint Player’s production of “Vibram Soul. If it’s Tuesday and you’re reading this, I’m afraid you’ve already blown it and you missed a really great show. The musicians were splendid. The actors were splendid. Even the audience was splendid. Taken as a whole, the production has an extraordinary amount of vitality to it.
The Players have put together a play about us and what we’re doing right now. It all happens in two acts, with singing and dancing. Act I is the better half of the show. The situations and the dialogue were so real, I half expected Ralph Edwards to pop out and announce, “This is your life, Southern Humboldt.” Laughs like that could only be good for you.
Act II, while still good, was less satisfactory. The fault wasn’t with the performers but rather, I think, with the play itself. There was no satisfactory dramatic resolution of the questions raised by Act. I
It’s perhaps time for Pure Schmint to add a writer to their group who could present them with a plot line that would add continuity to a production. That seems to work well for Dell ‘Arte.
In any case, that’s a minor flaw to an otherwise perfect evening of entertainment Vibram Soul is an exciting and innovative effort, delightful on the whole and more than well worth seeing.