Friday, July 29, 2011

The Face of Mime

What words do you think of when you hear "mime": White face. Black outfit. Silent. Mocking unaware people. Avoid.

Do you think of the animated tough guy on Rapunzel? How about the caterpillar on the street corner in A Bug's Life? Remember the mime that Dustin Hoffman pushes in Tootsie? (That's a while back, isn't it?). Even Garfield had a mime in one of his cartoon strips.
As a mime, I think of several things:
  • Marcel Marceau performing Sidewalk Cafe, a multi-character routine that fascinated me. One man, multiple characters = Amazing!
  • Red Skelton and his expressions while performing.
  • The Goldston and Johnson School for Mimes, where I learned how much I didn't know. (Ouch!) And watching Gregg Goldston and Nicholas Johnson perform was a thrill.
  • The Box--people ask me if I can do it and usually they're thinking of THE BOX, the skit that apparently every mime performs by getting into a box and the box shrinks. As a matter of principle, I never perform the shrinking box. (But I do have a number of "Box" skits that are more creative).
  • Street mime: I don't like it. Mostly people try to avoid me or no one ever stays around long enough to see even a short mime skit. (I did manage to figure out how to have fun at street mime--I talk! That's right, in full mime make-up, I ask people to give me a word and I'll make up a skit using it. Or I'll ask them if they'd like to learn how to do the mime wall. I get much better responses from people when I talk in mime face.)
  • Grandma. When I showed Grandma a new mime skit, she would say, "Oh, Marian Lee, I can't tell a thing you're doing." Because of her, I've worked hard all these years to make my mime clear to the audience.
  • Magic!
Magic is the word the kids in my classes have used when I demonstrate the wall. There's always a little gasp from someone, a "it looks real" comment, and then a child will say, "It's like magic." Yes, it is. I can quiet a whole group of kids when I play with a mime ball.

Adults aren't much different. They get so fascinated with (well-done) mime. I recently performed with some friends in a variety show for families. There were three mime skits: one with four of us performing, one with two of us performing, and a solo I did. Several people enthusiastically told me afterwards how wonderful the mime was. Perhaps they were surprised because we tend to think of mime as: White face. Black outfit. Silent. Mocking unaware people. Avoid. But at the show we allowed the audience to be swept away in fun experiences.

Now you know. Mime can be like magic. If you have an opportunity to see a mime concert rather than street mime, go watch and enjoy the experiences unfolding on stage.

(By the way, I don't like wearing black, nor do I like wearing black and white stripes like a referee. My mime costume is a dark blue outfit with shapes from white sequined cloth sewn onto the shirt in front and back. There are actually a large variety of mime costumes used and not many are straight black. Another mime myth busted.)

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