Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe Outline and Scrapbook

George-O and Mark-O
On the Road from Amsterdam to England to Ireland --
A Personal Reminiscence by Mark Nelson

Summer 1975
 
George Kugler, a.k.a. Georg-o Peugot, touched a lot of people during his too brief run on this planet. George was everything a fool should be: gentle, talented, fun to be around, mischievous, smart, funny, a great entertainer, a loving soul… that is, when he wasn't being a jerk like the rest of us. Most of all he had the rare gift of kindness when he performed -- not always EZ in the world we traveled in back then.
For a few months in 1975, I had the great pleasure of working and traveling with him following the temporary breakup of the Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe.
I thought maybe some of his friends and fans might like to know a little about this chapter of his life.


(Left) Mark Nelson and (Right) George Kugler in 1975
The Story so Far: I'd been running a coffee house at the University of Utah when the Salt Lake City Mime Troupe asked me to come onboard as, ahem, General Manager, just prior to their previously-booked California tour. I think this was in 1973 or 74. Things got suddenly interesting when I drove to San Diego just before the first gig and discovered it was the only gig -- everything else had fallen through. You can read the rest of that story elsewhere.
Although I'd been a musician all my life, I'd never considered performing with the Mime Troupe.
But for some reason I decided to take my banjo and Swedish hummel -- a large fretted dulcimer -- on that first trip to Europe and the Festival of Fools. As it turns out, it was a good thing.


First Gigs

George and I began working together in Amsterdam for the very simple reason that the Mime Troupe gigs were not bringing in enough to keep us fed. The group decided to split into smaller units and work the streets -- they were used to raising money that way from our long California trip, but it was all new to me.

I guess George thought that I'd be suitable musical accompaniment for his juggling.
I was frankly pretty happy to do something -- since most of the gigs had already been booked,
I was getting the feeling that I wasn't carrying my own weight.

I'd not worked in make-up before, but Michael helped me with that. George leant me a top hat and we headed out.

There was one problem -- it was illegal to perform on the street without a license. Through the usual invisible arcane process surrounding any business connected with our Dutch hosts, we finally received official permission. Of course, said license expressly prohibited soliciting money … a prohibition we all ignored, naturally.
(Click at the left to see a larger image -- Editor)

Naturally, George & I were quickly rounded up for doing just that.

England

The Mime Troupe decided to split up in after our gigs at the Festival of Fools -- though, in typical Mime Troupe fashion, they left it open. We were all to meet up again in Scotland, where there may -- or may not -- be a booking at the Edinburgh Theater Festival.

George asked if I wanted to travel with him, and where'd you like to go? I dabbled in Irish music, so my answer was obvious: Ireland.

Of course, to get there we'd have to go through England, so we hitched a ride with Abrakadabra Fool's Theatre, the wonderful Barbara Hannah (now Txi Whizz), her partner Ruevan and son Adad.

After a few days in London George and I hitched out to meet Foots Barn in Cornwall. I pasted a sign on my case reading "Give a clown a lift," we put on our most friendly smiles and stuck out our thumbs.

I should mention at this point, that for reasons that must have made sense at the time, we had decided never to break character. Which means that we hit the road in full clown costume and white face.

I'm sure we scared the bejeezus out of morning commuters.

I'll spare you the adventures -- apologies to the aged Cornish farmer who discovered two nude clowns sunbathing in his field -- and we eventually made it to the Foots Barn Farm and settled in.

Foots Barn incorporated us into their "Legends" show, gave us pointers where to busk, and generally made us feel at home. They even leant us dazzling costumes -- though wisely they didn't let us leave town with them. (See the costumes HERE -- Editor)

Mark and George in Cornwall, England

By now our street act was pretty good. While I played some twangy banjo tune, George lined people up to form a ring-essentially creating a performing space. Of course, that would draw more people -- just like when you stand still and stare up into the sky and suddenly there's a crowd craning their necks.
George's juggling had come a long way. It wasn't so much his dexterity as his presentation. Lots of jugglers do the eat-an-apple routine -- but George made it new each time. My main contribution was to add music and patter. We'd do maybe 10 minutes, ending with George spitting and catching ping-pong balls out of his mouth.
Then I'd zip into a jig and George would dare the audience to throw money into the hat. As the coins started to fly, George would move the hat farther and farther away … Sure, anyone can throw a coin this far -- but it takes real skill to throw paper money!

Yep, nothing like keen competition to stimulate generosity.

Before we left Cornwall we attended a huge outdoor party, notable for vast quantities of roast lamb and Taunton cider. Bernie Skews, one of the Traveling People, sang Robin Hood ballads, one after the other. The drunker Bernie got, the more salacious the ballad. I love folk music.




Ireland

George had scored a cabin in the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin, a beautiful spot high above the Vale of Avoca. Getting there involved more adventures -- suffice it to say I learned that drinking with an Irish darts team is not a good idea.
For the next couple of weeks we alternated between hanging at the cabin or hitching to Dublin to busk. One day George returned from a solo trip and announced he'd secured not one, but two paying gigs. One was promoting a Dublin store -- the Mime Troupe had done something similar once. The other was a children's play at the Project Arts Center, a respected theater and gallery.
There was just one problem, we didn't actually have a suitable show; our street act wasn't nearly long enough.
"That's OK," said George; "I told them you would write one. We start rehearsals next weekend."

Need I mention I'd never written a play before?

A couple days later, we arrived at the store -- a high-class kiddie boutique -- for our first day's work. George introduced me to the owner, who asked why I was carrying a banjo & dulcimer.
"I didn't hire a musician, he said, I hired two mimes."
Before I could reply, George said, "Oh, he's a mime, too."

I suppose this is a good place to say that my entire mime experience consisted of watching someone else do it. Yep, working with George was a never-ending source of wonder. After one day of enduring my pathetic attempts at mime, the proprietor took pity and rented me a gorilla costume. Just the inspiration I needed to pull off the Project Arts Center gig.

I stitched together a story about a lost clown, a travelling minstrel, and a gorilla; adding some nonsense about Faeries and Midsummer's Eve to give it a Celtic tinge. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
We took turns playing the "Albert the Ape," chasing each other around the stage, yelling, Has anybody seen a clown?
It all ended happily; I sang a few songs, Georg-o did his juggling bit and then we looned about with the kids.
OK, Hamlet it ain't, but the kids laughed in all the right places & we got good reviews. (Click HERE to read one -- Editor)

… at least until I fell off a twenty-foot ladder while hanging lights.


Pumpkinhead


Mark's name is just below Pumpkinhead's.
Meanwhile we'd show up at nightclubs to busk while the bands took breaks. That's how we met Pumpkinhead, a group of expat Americans who were one of the hottest bands in Ireland at the time.

They were exceptional musicians with strong original songs and a great blend of contemporary and traditional folk music.

Pumpkinhead invited us to visit them in Sligo.
George went first -- I had the slight matter of a potentially fatal accident to recover from.
(George was never one for empathy, though he did wait until the doctors decided I might survive before he abandoned me to my fate.)

I followed when I was strong enough to travel.


Mark-O in Sligo, image by Kathy Moore

We stayed with Thom and Kathy Moore and their family in a tiny thatched cottage on the shores of Ballisodare Bay.
Rick and Sandy (Miller) Epping, the other two members of Pumpkinhead, lived nearby.
It was an idyllic a setting, and as close to a musician's heaven as I'll ever see.

The finest traditional musicians in Ireland stopped by almost every night, and there were wonderful sessions in Sligo town with legendary fiddler Joe O'Dowd.

We didn't have much opportunity for street performing, but George and I did a few shows with the band. I'm not sure what the rural pub audiences thought of us; Western Ireland was still pretty traditional back then, but George always won their hearts.

And that's where the story ends. It was time to meet the rest of the Mime Troupe in Edinburgh -- or wherever they were.

I thought about going, but in truth, I'd had enough.
If I rejoined the Troupe, I'd be back to the impossible job of managing the un-manageable. Michael has alluded to the interpersonal tensions, and dramas, and contentious meetings -- suffice it to say I had had enough of that, too.

So I stayed where I could be a musician and not a bad clown, and George left. After a while, I came back to Utah.

He stayed in Europe and kept up that magical, foolish stuff he did until one sad day when he couldn't any more.

So thanks, Georg-o. It was quite a trip.

Editor's Note: George Kugler used and spelled his name Georg-o, Georgo, George-O, AND Georgio, often with the surname Peugot
Words, photos and images courtesy of Mark Nelson for use on this site. Text Copyright by Mark Nelson 2010. 1975 Amsterdam street permit from M.E.
All Rights Reserved for the site Michael R. Evans 2010  Email Me