From the very first utterance . . . it was a perfect fit.
“Summer – – – Mummers” popped out of Bill Pomeroy’s mouth as if by magic and Summer has never been the same in the Permian Basin.
Summer – – – Mummers says it all and tells you absolutely nothing all at the same time! It is what we do from the end of April to Labor Day Weekend and we haven’t the words to explain it to a stranger.
Have you ever tried? Someone innocently asks – “What is Summer Mummers?” You smile a knowing smile and need to take a breath; only to have a blank look cross your face as words fail! “Uh – ummm – it’s . . .” Panic threatens as you realize you are about to wax poetical about a guy in mop-head chaps whipping a goat!!
Summer Mummers began as an evening of classic Melodrama, followed by a brief selection of variety acts. Summer Mummers has become one of the most singular entertainments in the United States with an international reputation!
Part of what endears melodrama to the American psyche is its popular formula. These stories of virtue could be placed in any time with any setting and any character. They could also have any of a range of endings – from happy to sad. Their great flexibility made them very adaptable to any type of audience, and allowed actors to take advantage of a great range of materials and talents.
Classic gags (or bits) like spit-takes, double-takes, and asides were combined with every pun known to man. Inspired by the humor of Abbott & Costello, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, the actors and directors were eager to add in physical comedy and stereotyped characters.
The storyline usually follows the same linear structure, with a female heroine and her sidekick finding themselves in distress. The villain and his sidekick look to take advantage of the heroine’s plight, with the ulterior motives of financial gain and the love of the heroine. The hero and hero’s sidekick confront the villains, a struggle ensues, with the hero coming out victorious. The villains are vanquished, the hero and heroine fall in love, and the hero’s sidekick gains the (sometimes unwanted) admiration of the heroine’s sidekick.
The Moviola relies on sight gags, as well as occasional cameos from local newscasters, politicians, and business owners. There are more than a few Midlanders who have been surprised by the sight of a man rolling along the street in a bathtub whilst reading a newpaper. Other storylines have involved great struggles between the Villain and a ragged lion, the Villain and two little old ladies, the Villain and . . . well, you get the idea! In keeping with the Vaudeville style of Summer Mummers, the Moviola is shot entirely in black and white.
After the melodrama is finished, the Olio begins. In the beginning we kept to the Vaudeville standard of ten Acts, but since most of our skits are just 90 seconds long, we now have almost 30 different skits, songs, and dances! The Olio can best be compared to a comedic variety show.
There have been a lot of crazy, fabulous acts over the years. At first we stole material directly from Vaudeville, the Ed Sullivan Show, and popular music. Then we found new ideas from the movies, television, and musical theatre. Nowadays the internet can be seen influencing Act selection.
A little known fact. A Mummer took his Act all the way to the Gong Show! Elliott Gould, son of Norman and Evelyn Gould, had developed a fantastic show-stopping feat – eating a banana to the score from 2001:A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately he was gonged, but his work lives on in Talent Shows all across the country.
Another favorite activity for patrons is the chance to throw popcorn. We actually started with peanuts, but they hurt! Popcorn is sold throughout the night, with most of it ending up on the floor of the theater. In its yearly three-month run, Summer Mummers sells more popcorn than any local movie theater sells in an entire year.
The last piece of the puzzle was moving into the Yucca Theatre. For 18 months volunteers spent countless hours removing grime and restoring the luster of this movie palace. Dormant for almost ten years, the stage came alive with our production of “Treachery on the Thames”! No more dressing in alleyways or popping popcorn under the stairwell – no more squeezing onto the stage or sneaking in more patrons than the Fire Marshall desired – we have a proper space to call home!
There have been hundreds – if not thousands – of volunteers who can call themselves Mummers! And there have been hundreds of thousands of patrons who have been enthralled by our unique entertainment. But we are all still a little bit in awe . . . when the lights go down, and the curtain rises, and the Villain struts out in front of the footlights . . . we know what is coming . . . we have seen it before . . . for 65 years we have re-invented ourselves . . . but not quite like this time . . .or the next time . . . You can’t explain it . . . you simply must experience it.