THE MIME EXPERIENCE
"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 Decroux1
To fulfill and to realize these three suggestions quoted above for the attainment of the high quality mime artist probably will take a few lifetimes. However, those who are of a keen spirit and genuinely attracted to this art should strive to at least aim at this highly profound perfection by dedicating all their energies - and put them at work without limitation of time and space.
It is not by accident that we witness in America today, the rise and interest of this old-new art form, Mime, generated by the life work of a man, a teacher, and a guide, Etienne Decroux. However, in a world gone mad, in our times when the word is badly abused, it is only natural, for some young people to be attracted to a silent art, that when it is done well, can be more eloquent than the word. An art that turns one to the essence of the self, of being, to discover an art, that gives them the total integration in life, and genuine artistic self-expression.
Since my first encounter with Mime, Etienne Decroux, and Maximilien Decroux in Paris, 1958; and as a practicing mime - a way of life and living, I would like to pour out some of the thoughts, and results of experience, in order to share this with those who are really interested in undertaking this work.
MIME IN AMERICA
While living in this country, since 1964, I have come to see, especially these days, that Mime is becoming "a la mode," a kind of a fad. Even dancers are calling themselves Mimes without the least profound knowledge of this art. It is an absurd situation. Not every white face in a town square gesticulating hopelessly is a mime; not by wearing a clown costume is one a clown; not by playing a piano tune; is one a musician, not by one brush stroke on a white paper, does one become a painter.
This is the reality I witness, in my experience as a Mime performer, teacher, and a concerned human being. This might lead to a sad tone. The concerned real student of mime, however can with dedication, devotion (that he or she invests in the study of mime without limiting the self to time or space), come to a realization of being and becoming an artist of great value. In his interview with Thomas Leabhart,2 Mr. Decroux emphasizes this. "Right now mime is a fad. Should I rejoice?
It's a question of what one is doing with his art. Mime can be very bad. One can very well use one's body to perform like a monkey. And that's just what happens without any analytical study. You can't become a mime artist just by keeping your mouth shut.
That would be too easy. If that were the case, you could put mutes on the stage and say: "Perform! Since you don't know how to speak, you must know how to move!" Agitated movements and grimaces with the body won't do. If the Pantomimes of other epochs made grimaces with their faces, one can imagine those of today making grimaces with their bodies, saying, it's natural, it's subconscious. There must be schools as described by Pascal where one studies with a geometric spirit. That's what I think we need. But we're a long way away from that!"
It is well said through experience, indeed, from a man who is the source of the 20th century renaissance of this marvelous art form. An example of this situation I witnessed at the International Mime Festival held in the Summer of 1974 at Viterbo College. An international assemblage of mime performers taught classes to some 200 students from all over the U.S. The students attitude was exactly as Decroux described it. Some teachers taught pulling ropes and walking in place (by the way walking in place leads to stagnation of the person - the point is to make a step with skill), and other visual techniques without the analytic study we aim for. A mime cliche, with total attachment to technique, in a very technological culture.
Dancers appeared on stage, with the mime label, pretending to know about mime, but their performance showed the truth - of the lack of genuine knowledge of mime. Very few mimes showed that approach and attitude of concern about the work they have been in for many years. The mediocrity was so clear, that even some of my students became anxious of the situation, saying that some students and artists prostituted this beautiful art form. In our discussion, I pointed out that the only answer to all this, is a return to the self - to dedicate their time and effort more to their work, without looking for results, or publicity seeking; by that to eliminate the mediocrity in their work, and attain if there is something to attain, in time to come. But in a civilization that looks for instant happening or instant knowing without investing any work at all, a pearl is a stone, because today everyone who holds a brush in its hand is calling it to be an artist.
That is the trap that kills many on their way to real knowing. Unfortunately, this way of thinking or being is very popular, for the unmature person who wishes to grab a thing because it is a fad. It is so in many fields as it is so with mime. As the old Proverb says: "He who learns from the IMMATURE is like the man who eats unique grapes and drinks fresh wine. He who learns from the MATURE is like the man who eats ripe grapes and drinks old wine."3
THE ART OF LEARNING MIME
Having touched this briefly, acknowledging in it a dis-ease, a cure must be found, and the cure must be very harsh and firm - more time to dedicate to the analytic study besides the practical exercises, done properly by a concerned mime student. I believe on this line "Many are called but, few are chosen."
The student of mime is an explorer of the inner realms of the self, therefore, there must not be any limit of time and space, so those mimes with the ideal in their hearts (which actually makes them chosen), will work in such a way to elevate the average level to the excellence in their work.
To perform, one must know its field very well. There is nothing bad with experimentation, as long as it is done in the laboratory, with a few people. The quality of the mime student must lie in deep concern that shows through the actions, not only by mere interest: "It's a question of having students WHO WILL ALLOW THEMSELVES to be taught and that is a different story all together.4
While in Paris as a student of mime with Mr. Etienne Decroux, I wrote an article called "Experience d'un jeune Mime."5 In that article, I emphasized about two ways which are one to master the instrument of expression. It said, "By these personal experiences, I come to the following conclusions. The discipline of the mime should be from a strong will. He must possess a comprehension that is just and immediate, in order to express and translate the movement. This kind of movement attained by the mime student gives fluidity of the self to be. This should be equal to the mental mastery of self that permits the mind to guide the thought properly through the body expression."
With other words, the space between thought and action is the field of the mime work in the beginning. The immediate translation of an idea, or a thought to a concrete gesture. For that, the physical instrument must be willing to learn and develop it self without any restriction of time and space...When the audience sees a mime perform, if it likes it, it will see other mimes. If not, it harms the way of the other mimes. Sometimes the audience is educated unconsciously to praise the mediocrity, unfortunately. The concerned real artist should work in a way to change this reality around him or her.
This deep training in Mime is being done in schools of some mimes. In our school here in Boulder, Le Center du Silence, founded in 1971, we emphasize these points in deed and thought. There is a carefully elaborated program of training. It is first a preparation to know the human body through exercise and experience - with some practices that help on the way for the student to be in the proper frame of mind, and to be willing to be taught. With other words, the student must first learn how to learn. A mime, according to my standard, must transform its way of thinking first by very elaborated constant practice. We learn to think words in this culture. A mime must think movement, vision, images, non-linearly, and this process must be given unlimited time to explore.
Only when this is mastered, we begin with the analytic work. Later improvisation comes to enlarge the scope of the work. One of our practices is to fast from words one day a week, to bring this to a habit, in order to penetrate the realm of the silence. Later, we shape this silence with movement giving it a multi-dimensional reality.
When interviewing students about, why mime? I have such idealistic answers with words of one's expectations. With time, when the same student faces an actualization of working out its ideals, it gives up, drops out so to say, and that is because of that attachment of the words. It is not by saying with words that "I am a mime" that one becomes mime. One has to invest the self and all its resources to learn.
This is a classic cause for all fields - that only a few are chosen, in the sense of choosing one self with the actual, practical invested in a long period of sincere study. Only this according to my experience can help produce good mime artists in our perplexed world.
THE SPIRITUAL REALITY
Coming to mime from an eastern way of thinking helps me to see clearly the way of the west. Since my upbringing was spiritually rooted, I don't think there is a REAL spiritual awareness in this country. As a performer, mime, and teacher, many ways present themselves to impart to the students.
We would like to reach higher in this art form, striving towards excellence. The key for that is the awakening of the spiritual reality of the student, with no attachment to dogma. It is real, when in the process of becoming, the student discovers the self. Only through disciplined work, one begins to realize that aspect of inner being, and this development will lead and assist the student to rise above all mediocrity, not only in his art but, also in his life.
For me, mime is a way of being and becoming, and that is also the training of mime in the lines proposed in this space. Mime is more than an art. It is a way of life. It requires metaphysical as well as physical awareness. It is an extension of the life force for channeling energies into a symphony of being. Mime is not just a skill of acting without words. It is a process of expanding the consciousness beyond mere sensitivity, time and space, and communicating clearly with artistic skill on the stage in order to reflect the human condition in our puzzled times.
"The perfect square has no corners."
"Great talents ripen late."
"Teaching without words and working without doing are understood by very few." Tao Te Ching #43
- 1"Etienne Decroux and the French School of Mime," by Annette. Lust. The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. LVII, Oct., 1971, No. 3.
- 2 "An Interview with Decroux," by Thomas Leabhart. Mime Journal. No. 1, November, 1974.
- 3Sayings of the Fathers, 4:28.
- 4 "An Interview with Decroux," by Thomas Leabhart. Mime Journal. No. 1, November 1974.
- 5"Experience d'un jeune Mime" par Samuel Avital. Art et Dance Magazine, edited by Jean Dorcy, Paris, February 10, 1961.
For this contributing text WMO whishes to thank LE CENTRE DU SILENCE and Samuel Avital, Director (www.indranet.com/lcds.html) Copyright protected