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What are Mime
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A mime artist is someone who uses mime as a
theatrical medium or as a performance art, involving
miming, or the acting out a story through body
motions, without use of speech. In earlier times, in
English, such a performer was referred to as a
mummer. Miming is to be distinguished from silent
comedy, in which the artist is a seamless character
in a film or sketch.
The performance of pantomime originates at its
earliest in Ancient Greece; the name is taken from a
single masked dancer called Pantomimus, although
performances were not necessarily silent. In
Medieval Europe, early forms of mime such as mummer
plays and later dumbshows evolved. In early
nineteenth century Paris, Jean-Gaspard Deburau
solidified the many attributes that we have come to
know in modern times—the silent figure in whiteface.
Jacques Copeau, strongly influenced by Commedia
dell'arte and Japanese Noh theatre, used masks in
the training of his actors. Étienne Decroux, a pupil
of his, was highly influenced by this and started
exploring and developing the possibilities of mime
and developed corporeal mime into a highly
sculptural form, taking it outside of the realms of
naturalism. Jacques Lecoq contributed significantly
to the development of mime and physical theatre with
his training methods.
Prior to the work of Étienne Decroux there was no
major treatise on the art of mime, and so any
recreation of mime as performed prior to the
twentieth century is largely conjecture, based on
interpretation of diverse sources. However, the
twentieth century also brought a new medium into
widespread usage: the motion picture.
The restrictions of early motion picture technology
meant that stories had to be told with minimal
dialogue, which was largely restricted to
intertitles. This often demanded a highly stylized
form of physical acting largely derived from the
stage. Thus, mime played an important role in films
prior to advent of talkies (films with sound or
speech). The mimetic style of film acting was used
to great effect in German Expressionist film.
Silent film comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Harold
Lloyd and Buster Keaton learned the craft of mime in
the theatre, but through film, they would have a
profound influence on mimes working in live theatre
even decades after their death. Indeed, Chaplin may
be the most well-documented mime in history.
The famous French comedian, writer and director
Jacques Tati achieved his initial popularity working
as a mime, and indeed his later films had only
minimal dialogue, relying instead on many subtle
expertly choreographed visual gags. Tati, like
Chaplin before him, would mime out the movements of
every single character in his films and ask his
actors to repeat them.
Mime has been performed onstage, with Marcel Marceau
and his character "Bip" being the most famous. Mime
is also a popular art form in street theatre and
busking. Traditionally, these sorts of performances
involve the actor/actress wearing tight black and
white clothing with white facial makeup. However,
contemporary mimes often perform without whiteface.
Similarly, while traditional mimes have been
completely silent, contemporary mimes, while
refraining from speaking, sometimes employ vocal
sounds when they perform. Mime acts are often
comical, but some can be very serious.
Canadian author Michael Jacot's first novel, The
Last Butterfly, tells the story of a mime artist in
Nazi-occupied Europe who is forced by his oppressors
to perform for a team of Red Cross observers. Nobel
laureate Heinrich Böll's The Clown relates the
downfall of a mime artist, Hans Schneir, who has
descended into poverty and drunkenness after being
abandoned by his beloved. Jacob Appel's Pushcart
short-listed story, Coulrophobia, depicts the
tragedy of a landlord whose marriage slowly
collapses after he rents a spare apartment to an
intrusive mime artist.
The first recorded pantomime actor was Telestēs in
the play Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus. Tragic
pantomime was developed by Puladēs of Kilikia; comic
pantomime was developed by Bathullos of Alexandria.
The Roman emperor Trajan banished pantomimists;
Caligula favored them; Marcus Aurelius made them
priests of Apollo. Nero himself acted as a mime.
While most of this article has treated mime as a
constellation of related and historically linked
Western theatre genres and performance techniques,
analogous performances are evident in the theatrical
traditions of other civilizations.
Classical Indian musical theatre, although often
erroneously labeled a "dance," is a group of
theatrical forms in which the performer presents a
narrative via stylized gesture, an array of hand
positions, and mime illusions to play different
characters, actions, and landscapes. Recitation,
music, and even percussive footwork sometimes
accompany the performance. The Natya Shastra, an
ancient treatise on theatre by Bharata Muni,
mentions silent performance, or mukhabinaya.
In Kathakali, stories from Indian epics are told
with facial expressions, hand signals and body
motions. Performances are accompanied by songs
narrating the story while the actors act out the
scene, followed by actor detailing without
background support of narrative song.
The Japanese Noh tradition has greatly influenced
many contemporary mime and theatre practitioners
including Jacques Copeau and Jacques Lecoq because
of its use of mask work and highly physical
Butoh, though often referred to as a dance form, has
been adopted by various theatre practitioners as
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