Guerrilla theatre

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Guerrilla theatre,[1][2], more generally rendered Guerrilla Theater" in the US is a term coined in 1965 within the San Francisco Mime Troupe to describe its performances, that in spirit of the Che Guevara writings from which the term guerrilla is taken, were committed to "revolutionary sociopolitical change."[2] The group performances, aimed against the Vietnam war and capitalism, sometimes contained nudity Wp→, profanity Wp→ and taboo Wp→ subjects that were shocking to some members of the audiences of the time.[2]

Guerrilla (Spanish for "little war"), as applied to theatrical events, describes the act of spontaneous, surprise performances in unlikely public spaces to an unsuspecting audience.[citation needed] Typically these performances intend to draw attention to a political/social issue through satire, protest, and carnivalesque techniques.[citation needed] Many of these performances were a direct result of the radical social movements of the late 1960s through mid 1970s.[3] Guerrilla Theater, also referred to as guerrilla performance, has been sometimes related to the agitprop theater of the 1930s,[4][5] but it is differentiated from agitprop by the inclusion of Dada performance tactics.[citation needed]


The term Guerrilla Theater was coined by Peter Berg, who in 1965 suggested it to R.G. Davis as the title of his essay on the actions of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, an essay that was first published in 1966.[6][7][8][9] The term "guerrilla" was inspired by a passage in a 1961 Che Guevara essay, which read:[7][2][10]

The guerrilla fighter needs full help from the people.... From the very beginning he has the intention of destroying an unjust order and therefore an intention... to replace the old with something new.

Davis had studied mime and modern dance in the 1950s and had discovered commedia dell'arte. In autumn 1966 around 20 members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe broke off and started their own collective called the Diggers, who took their name from a group of 17th century radicals in England.

Guerrilla theater in practice

Guerrilla theater shares its origins with many forms of political protest and street theatre including agitprop (agitation-propaganda), carnival, parades, pageants, political protest, performance art, happenings, and, most notably, the Dada movement and guerrilla art.[11] Although this movement is widely studied in Theater History classrooms, the amount of research and documentation of guerrilla theater is surprisingly lacking. The term, "Guerrilla Theater" seems to have emerged during the mid-1960s primarily as an upshot of radical activist theaters such as The Living Theatre, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Bread and Puppet Theater, El Teatro Campesino, and the Free Southern Theater.[12] It also has important roots in Allan Kaprow's "happenings". The first widely documented guerrilla performances were carried out under the leadership of Abbie Hoffman and the Youth International Party (Yippies). One of their most publicized events occurred on August 24, 1967, at the New York Stock Exchange where Hoffman and other Yippies threw dollar bills onto the trading floor below. Creating a media frenzy, the event was publicized internationally. In his later publication, Soon to be a Major Motion Picture (1980), Hoffman refers to his television appearances with specially planned subversive tactics as "guerrilla theater."[13] Another guerrilla performance group that continued the use of the term was the Guerrilla Girls. This group of feminist artist-activists was established in New York City in 1985 with the purpose of bringing attention to the lack of female artists in major art galleries and museums. The Guerrilla Girls began their work through guerrilla art tactics which broadened to include guerrilla theater. Some common practices in their guerrilla theater techniques that have been replicated by other groups include appearing in costume, using assumed names, and disguising their identity. The origins and legacy of guerrilla theater can be seen in the work of these political/performance groups:


  1. Richard Schechner, "Guerrilla Theatre: May 1970", The Drama Review 14:3 [T47] (1970), 163-168.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Gordon, Kelly Carolyn (2007) Guerrilla theater, in Gabrielle H. Cody, Evert Sprinchorn (2007) The Columbia encyclopedia of modern drama, Volume 1, pp.568-9
  3. Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. New York: Random House, 1992, pp.593
  4. Filewod, Alan (2003) Modernism and Genocide, in Richard Paul Knowles, William B. Worthen, Joanne Tompkins Modern drama: defining the field, p.167
  5. Brockett, Oscar. History of the Theatre. 7th ed. Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Simon & Schuster, 1995, pp. 575Please provide quotation from verifiable source
  6. Peter Braunstein, Michael William Doyle (2002) Imagine nation: the American counterculture of the 1960s and '70s, p.93 note #9
  7. 7.0 7.1 Doyle, Michael William; Peter Braunstein (2002). Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and '70s. Routledge. . 
  8. Davis (1966) Guerrilla theater in Tulane Drama Review, summer 1966. Republished in The SFMT, 149-53. p.70
  9. Davis (1971) Rethinking guerrilla theater, 1971, 1985 in Donald Lazere American media and mass culture: left perspectives p.599
  10. Ernesto Guevara Guerrilla Warfare, Thomas M. Davies, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997, ISBN 0-8420-2678-9
  11. Random House Webster's College Dictionary. New York: Random House, 1992, pp. 27.
  12. Cohen-Cruz, Jan, ed. Radical Street Performance. New York: Routledge, 1998.
  13. Brockett, Oscar. History of the Theatre. 7th ed. Needham Heights, Massachusetts: Simon & Schuster, 1995, pp. 575

Further reading

  • Durland, Steven. "Witness: The Guerrilla Theater of Greenpeace." Radical Street Performance. Jan Cohen-Cruz, ed. New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 67–73.
  • Hoffman, Abbie. "America Has More Television Sets Than Toilets." Radical Street Performance. Jan Cohen-Cruz, ed. New York: Routledge, 1998, pp. 190–195.

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