Holden, Joan 1939-

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HOLDEN, Joan 1939-


Born January 18, 1939, in Berkeley, CA; married Arthur Holden, 1954 (divorced); married Daniel Chumley, 1968; children: three daughters. Education: Reed College, B.A., 1960; University of California, Berkeley, M.A., 1964.


Office—San Francisco Mime Troupe, 855 Treat Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.


Writer, educator, and dramatist. San Francisco Mime Troupe, principal playwright, 1967—, publicist, 1967-69, business manager, 1978-79; University of California, Davis, instructor in playwriting, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1987. Previously worked at Claremont Hotel, Berkeley, CA, waitress, 1960-62; Librarie Larousse, Paris, France, copywriter, 1964-66; University of California, Berkeley, research assistant, 1966-67; Pacific News Service, editor, 1973-75.


Off-Broadway Award, Village Voice, 1973; Rockefeller grant, 1985.



(Adapter) L'Amant Militaire (title means "Military Lover"), adapted from a play by Carlo Goldoni, translated by Betty Schwimmer, produced in San Francisco, CA 1967.

(Adapter) Ruzzante; or, The Veteran, adapted from a play by Angelo Beoico, translated by Suzanne Pollard, produced in Hayward, CA, 1968.

The Independent Female; or, A Man Has His Pride (also see below), produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1970.

(With Steve Friedman) Seize the Time, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1970.

(With others) The Dragon Lady's Revenge (also see below), produced in San Francisco, CA, 1971.

(With Richard Benetar and Daniel Chumley) Frozen Wages (also see below), produced in San Francisco, CA, 1972.

(With others) San Fran Scandals (also see below), produced in San Francisco, CA, 1974.

The Great Air Robbery, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1974.

(With others) Frijoles; or, Beans to You (also see below), produced in San Francisco, CA, 1975.

Power Play, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1975.

False Promises/Nos Engañaron (also see below), produced in San Francisco, CA, 1976.

(With Steve Most and Jael Weisman) The Loon's Rage, produced on tour, 1977.

The Hotel Universe, produced in La Rochelle, France, 1977.

(With others) By Popular Demand: Plays and Other Works by the San Francisco Mime Troupe (includes The Independent Female; or, A Man Has His Pride, The Dragon Lady's Revenge, Frozen Wages, San Fran Scandals, Frijoles; or, Beans to You, and False Promises/Nos Engañaron), San Francisco Mime Troupe (San Francisco, CA), 1980.

(With others) Factperson, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1980.

(With Daniel Chumley) Americans; or, Last Tango in Huahuatenago, produced in London, England, 1981.

(With others) Factwino Meets the Moral Majority, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1981.

Factwino vs. Armaggedonman, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1982.

Steeltown, music by Bruce Barthol, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1984.

(With others) 1985, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1985.

Spain/36, music by Bruce Barthol, produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1986.

(With others) The Mozamgola Caper produced in San Francisco, CA, 1986.

(With Ellen Callas) Ripped van Winkle, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1988.

(With others) Seeing Double, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1989.

(With others) Back to Normal, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1990.

(Adapter) The Marriage of Figaro, adapted from a play by Beaumarchais, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1990.

(Adapter) The Pope and the Witch, Samuel French (London, England) 1997.

(With Kate Chumley) City for Sale, produced in San Francisco, CA, 1999.

(Adapter) Nickel and Dimed, adapted from a book by Barbara Ehrenreich, produced in Los Angeles, CA, 2002.


The Speer Project (tentative title), production scheduled for 2005.


Born in Berkeley, California, playwright Joan Holden worked at a variety of jobs while she was honing her craft. As principal playwright since 1967 for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, an organization that does not limit itself to gestures but also includes scripted performances, Holden has had the opportunity to exercise that craft regularly. Her work is solidly political, but instead of delivering her messages through serious dialogue and realism, Holden has opted to use comedy as a means of conveying her thoughts, believing that by using laughter to keep a certain distance from the subject, she can more clearly depict the social roles of the characters as well as their places in history.

The Independent Female; or, A Man Has His Pride was first performed in 1970, shortly after the Mime Troupe became a collective, and Holden allowed the characters to reflect the group's new spirit. The play tells the story of a couple facing an obstacle in their marriage: the young woman's developing independence. Rather than having the heroine back down, Holden pushes her forward in a feminist revolt, reminiscent of the working-class revolts that served as theatrical plot-foundations in the 1920s.

Holden went on to experiment with genre in subsequent plays, tapping into a variety of cultural references. The Dragon Lady's Revenge combines B movies with the comics in a complicated story that includes a corrupt American ambassador, a CIA agent, a soldier, a naive revolutionary named Blossom, and the Dragon Lady of the title. With San Fran Scandals, she explores local housing issues through the guise of vaudeville, and The Great Air Robbery delves into both the detective story and the science fiction genres. As the Mime Troupe membership grew more ethnically diverse, Holden wrote plays with a more international flavor, such as Frijoles; or, Beans to You, which takes place in both Latin America and North America. When the United States celebrated its bicentennial, Holden's plays reflected the milestone through stories of more obscure pieces of American history. In the 1980s, Holden wrote Ripped van Winkle, which recounts the experiences of a former 1960s hippie who awakens to the horrors of Reaganomics. City for Sale tackles the side effects of the property boom in San Francisco during the 1990s, satirizing the process of urban gentrification. A reviewer for the Sacramento Observer commented that "'City for Sale,' with original music and slashing satire, targets developers who manipulate local government and overrun neighborhoods for profit."

Nickel and Dimed is an adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich's best-selling book of the same title, which recounts Ehrenreich's experiences when she decided to leave her comfortable life behind and instead join the low-wage earners of America: people working multiple jobs for minimum pay, scrounging for tips, and unable to get ahead. Ehrenreich's premise was to see whether she could make ends meet. At the start of the experiment, Ehrenreich decides to take three jobs—as a waitress, a maid for a housecleaning service, and work in a nursing home—and to attempt to live on what she earns. As things progress, she finds herself leaving one intolerable job for the next, constantly tired and growing more and more depressed.

Holden followed the structure of Ehrenreich's book when writing the play, a task that was not always easy. In an interview with Mary Houlihan for the Chicago Sun-Times, Holden said, "At first, I found Barbara's voice hard to hear; there was so much narration in the book that it blocked me. But eventually I liberated myself to surmise more and more and write in her voice." Laura Hitchcock, in a review for Curtain Up, noted that "although the piece, which is reminiscent of Studs Terkel's Working, could be trimmed, … most of it is riveting. We learn that non-corporations are best to work for and that when a business has to trim costs, labor (this means you) is the flexible area. We learn the difference between what Ted, the housecleaning service owner, charges and what the workers actually get." American Theatre contributor Misha Berson wrote that the play is "at times an ungainly, didactic and strident piece of theatre," but went on to say that "it is also the most graphically realistic stage treatise in years to confront the hard realities of the low-wage American workplace."



American Theatre, December, 2002, Misha Berson, "Take This Job and Show It," pp. 30-34.

Anchorage Press, August 5-11, 2004, Kristina Church, "Seeing 'Nickel and Dimed' Is Money Well Spent."

Back Stage West, July 20, 2000, Kerry Reid, "Eating It," p. 18; September 19, 2002, Jean Schiffman, "Trials of Job," p. 11; October 10, 2002, Laura Weinert, review of Nickel and Dimed, p. 15.

Chicago Sun-Times, November 7, 2003, Mary Houlihan, "Low-Wage Tale Makes for High Drama," p. 9.

Daily Variety, February 12, 2003, Markland Taylor, review of Nickel and Dimed, p. 12.

Denver Post, September 14, 2003, Diane Carman, "A Window on the World of the Poor," section B, p. 1; September 14, 2003, John Moore, "To Stage from Page: Two Best-Selling Authors' Books Come to Life in Stage Adaptations," section F, p. 3.

Hollywood Reporter, September 20, 2002, Ed Kaufman, review of Nickel and Dimed, p. 24.

Nation, September 16, 1991, Hal Gelb, review of The Marriage of Figaro, p. 314.

New York Times, October 13, 2002, Marc Weingarten, "In the Scuffed Shoes of Women Scraping By," p. 2.

Sacramento Observer, July 7, 1999, "Local Performance of 'City for Sale,'" section E, p. 2.

Theatre Journal, May, 2003, Jacqueline O'Connor, review of Nickel and Dimed, p. 342.

Variety, August 19, 2002, Lynn Jacobson, review of Nickel and Dimed, p. 48.


Culture Vulture Online,http://www.culturevulture.net/ (September 27, 2004), "Joan Holden."

Curtain Up Web site,http://www.curtainup.com/ (September 27, 2004), "Joan Holden."

Philadelphia Theatre Company Web site,http://www.phillytheatreco.com/ (September 27, 2004), "Joan Holden."*

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