Richmond composer hits high note with San Francisco Mime Troupe

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By Kathy Chateau

When the Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe kicks off its 62nd season with “Tales of the Resistance, Volume 2: Persistence” Sunday, July 4, Richmond’s own Daniel Savio will have added his touch as the show’s composer/lyricist. The Atchison Village resident, who has worked with the political comedy troupe on-and-off since around 2006, is currently busy at work on its latest weekly radio play podcast series, which will run through Sept. 5, 2021.

How, you might ask, does a mime troupe perform a radio podcast? According to Savio, while many people are familiar with the French style of silent miming, the San Francisco Mime Troupe draws from the ancient Greek tradition where they “lampoon everyday events in story and song” in a vocalized way.

When it comes to his creative process for the show, Savio said people often want to know what comes first for him, the music or the lyrics. “For me it’s almost always the lyrics, but it’s really the script first because I almost never write lyrics before I actually have a script in hand, or at least part of a script,” he said. While his other songwriter friends often draw from their own inspiration, Savio said he’s “helping to tell stories that came out of someone else’s head.”

Last year, the troupe—which traditionally performs in parks—took its season online for the first time due to the pandemic with “Tales of the Resistance.” While last year’s volume had several different storylines interweaving and culminating in the final episode, this year’s season is arranged differently. Savio sees the music varying from episode to episode, ranging from the “jazz and rock end of the spectrum” to classical and beyond. “I’m sure as we progress through the season, we’ll go in many other directions as well.” This year, he will also play the keyboard on a lot of the material in addition to performing his other roles.

Savio said taking the show from the park to the podcast has been “very rewarding but also very difficult.” While he misses the immediate response of the live audience and physical presence of his collaborators, “there are things that we can do in recordings that we were not able to do in the parks.” One creative avenue that opened up from moving the show online, per Savio, was being able to work with his cousin—a songwriter and composer/lyricist who lives in Switzerland—on a song for last year’s production. It was “very, very exciting and fun to be able to work together,” said Savio of the continent-spanning collaboration.

So, what advice does Savio have for young musicians wanting to pursue a similar path?  “They should dip their toes in every pond available,” he said, highlighting his work not only in theater, but also with rock bands and hip hop and jazz musicians. In musical theatre, with styles varying widely from show to show, “it is really an incredible resource to yourself to have knowledge of a huge breadth of different music and different approaches to creating music, so that you can draw upon them when the opportunity arises.”

To check out episode previews for San Francisco Mime Troupe’s “Tales of the Resistance, Volume 2: Persistence” before the show’s Sunday, July 4 debut, click here. Learn more about the troupe here.