This is one of many True Story Interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of my friend Mel and her awesome miming abilities.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m originally from a tiny little town in New Hampshire, but I moved to Atlanta in high school, so when people ask, I usually say I’m from Georgia because that’s where I formed into an adult human. I moved to Minneapolis five years ago with an ex because we wanted to pursue theater, so naturally, I work at an animal hospital and am starting vet school in the fall. I’m 29 years old—almost a full decade older than my peers, but that just makes me have better stories to tell. Like that time I studied mime in college…
For those of us who don’t know, what’s a mime and what do they do?
A mime is any performer who uses their body to tell a story. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be your body, it could be a puppet, or an inanimate object. The distinguishing thing is that the story is a visual one, rather than a verbal one. It’s much broader than most people think. Marcel Marceau used a very specific type of mime called pantomime, but you don’t have to paint your face, or have your work even resemble Marceau’s to be a considered a mime. Charlie Chaplin was a mime!
How did you first become interested in miming?
In college, I majored in theater and there were a couple of classes that I took that introduced me to it. The professor of those classes wrote a silent play in the style of a black and white film, and I was cast in it. I figured out that it’s actually easier to find comedic moments in mime, and that’s where I found my focus.
In what ways is miming more difficult than traditional acting?
You have to have a lot of control over your body. Superfluous movement draws the audience’s eye away from the story, so you can get muddled if you don’t control it. Besides that, I always found it to be easier! There are no lines, and you don’t necessarily have to fiddle with props. If you do it right, you can create a much more diverse and creative world for an audience than you could with traditional plays. Honestly, the most difficult thing is getting people to let go of their preconceived notions about mime and get on board.
You actually wrote a thesis on miming and traveling to Paris to study it. Tell us about that!
It actually started because I heard about the London International Mime Festival and I really wanted to go. From there, I found a research grant that I could apply for and designed my thesis around that. I applied for and got the grant, which paid for me not only to go to the Mime Festival, but also to go to Paris and take a couple of classes with some artists there. If you ever find yourself in London in January, do yourself a favor and see some shows.I saw the best theater I have ever seen, and it wasn’t until I went to the festival that I really understood the breadth that “mime” can cover. There were pantomimes, puppets, dance performers, jugglers, aerialists, acrobats, and vaudeville-type clowns. Some shows were abstract, others were beautiful and touching, some had me laughing so hard I cried. I was really sad when I had to come home and write my thesis. I wrote and performed a one woman mime piece, and then wrote about how I used comedy in a nonverbal way. I was interested in how jokes can be conveyed with movement. At any rate, somewhere in the library stacks at Emory University you can find it if you care to learn more about it, or if you just want to see a video of me performing with Geraldine the rod puppet. I miss that plucky old gal…
Is it possible to be a full-time mime?
Absolutely! Probably not street mimes like you might be thinking (although, I’m pretty sure they make bank in the subways of New York), but you could have your own theater company or just find other artists that have similar goals to yours and latch on. The whole reason I moved to the Twin Cities was to seek out the Jeune Lune Theater because I wanted to do that kind of work. Of course, they closed their doors shortly after I got here but I believe the founding artists are still around and doing work as The Moving Company. They totally make being a full-time mime look good (although I believe they prefer to simply be referred to as “performers”).
Do your friends know of your miming skills? Is it your go-to party trick?
Most people know about my miming past and I often talk about it whilst intoxicated, but I made a rule early on to never drink and mime (this followed a drunken miming incident that involved me rubbing a butt cheek on a total stranger).
Do you do any miming or acting now?
I haven’t acted since 2 summers ago when I appeared as The Mute in Theater in the Round’s Fantasticks. I did one of my thesis performance mime pieces for the audition, and as I understand I was only one of two mimes try for the part, but I did get it. The mime market isn’t very saturated, thankfully. Unlike the veterinary market…I haven’t been acting at all since I turned my focus to vet school.
Did you learn anything from miming that you can apply to your daily life?
Not anything critical, but I can do a mean camel impression.Thanks so much for sharing, Mel! Do any of you guys have a theater background?
photo by tracheotomy bob // cc