Mime: Telling a Story without Words

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The Silent Craft of Mime

“The Mime Actor must have in his head the material of a Novelist, and in his body the muscles of a Gymnast, and above all an ideal in his heart.” —Etienne Decroux

The craft of mime has always fascinated me. The technique and artistry involved is simply breathtaking. With the use of facial expressions, hand motions, and body movement mimes do to tell a story, they can charm crowds without a word.

The ancient art of pantomime originated from Ancient Greece. It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that Jean-Gaspard Deburau solidified the many attributes that we have come to know in modern times—the silent figure in whiteface.

I can’t see why some people hate mimes? Some think that it’s a silly craft and can’t be called an art. Tell me, in what other art does a single gesture or facial reaction say so much?

I was lucky enough to learn the craft of mime and improvisation back in the day. When I started attending class, I felt totally out of my element. I assumed I should’ve taken acting classes first. It wasn’t a prerequisite, though. All I needed was to be a willing, creative participant. Also, most teachers spend their time reacting spontaneously and instinctively to classroom situations. With an abundance of experiences behind me, I had plenty to draw from. Working in mime as an individual or with small groups opened a box of creative ideas I never knew I had. I was always known as a cheerful, outgoing person who made friends easily. Revealing my thoughts without using words, however, was a challenge. I made myself chill out and enjoy the situation. I participated in imaginative skits, including pretending to be a snail meeting an octopus in the ocean and a robot in love with another robot. It took only one mime to set the scene in motion.

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by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD