The art of mime

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 November, 2010, 12:00am

One story ... no words

There are lots of ways of telling a story. We can use the spoken, written or printed word. We can also use still or moving pictures or music. Mime is a way of acting out a story through body movement, without the use of speech. A mime artist is someone who tells a story through gestures and facial expressions.

The art of mime goes back to the ancient Greeks, and the word 'mime' comes from a character in Greek drama called 'Pantomimus' who used silent gestures to support the main story the spoken chorus and actors were telling the audience.

Mime is a universal theatrical language that can be understood by everybody. We all make gestures to express ourselves. A mime artist organises these gestures, expressions and movements into a story that can be anything he wants it to be.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Mime artists have told stories in theatres, village squares and on street corners for hundreds of years. But at the beginning of the 20th century mime moved into top-line story-telling for the masses with the invention of the cinema.

Early movies had no dialogue, so plots had to be acted out in movements and gestures. Have you ever seen a silent movie actor expressing happiness or fear? They exaggerate their facial expressions and gestures to make sure the audience knows what's going on.

Silent film comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton mastered mime in theatre and street shows before they became world-famous movie stars. Their wonderful performances can be viewed on YouTube.

The Art of Silence

The most famous mime artist of modern times was Frenchman Marcel Marceau (1923-2007). Marceau studied at a drama and dance school in Paris. Early in his career, he played the role of a clown in a play. But later he realised that he had a talent for expressing himself through body movements, not words. So he decided to develop a career as a mime artist.

He created a character called Bip, which he played on film, on the stage and on TV for the rest of his life. Bip had curly black hair, and his face was painted white with heavy black eyebrows and vivid red lips. He usually wore white pants, a simple grey top with a black- and white-striped vest or a plain white costume. Sometimes, Bip carried a single red rose. Marceau performed all over the world and audiences, no matter what language they spoke, couldn't get enough of his 'art du silence' (art of silence).

You can watch Marceau in dozens of clips on YouTube.

Let's play charades!

Do you think you're a good mime artist? You can prove it by getting a few friends together and playing Charades, the classic guessing game in which a player mimes the name of a book, film, famous person, place or anything else with a name or title. The other players have to guess what is being mimed. The person doing the mime can split the name into words or syllables.

Here are the rules of Charades, but they are not in the correct order. Sort them out.

1 The player mimes his title and other members of his team guess what he is miming.

2 This slip of paper is given to a member of the rival team.

3 The players are divided into two teams.

4 He can do the whole thing in one mime, or split it into words or syllables.

5 He or she keeps the name secret from the other players in his team.

6 Someone in the first team writes the name of a book or film or anything with a well-known name on a piece of paper.

7 The person doing the mime is given a minute to sort out in his head how he is going to do the mime.

8 He must indicate by tapping one or two or three fingers on his arm if he is going to mime the first or second word or if he is going to do the whole thing.

Young Post's junior reporters had first-hand experience of this art form at a recent workshop. Read about it in tomorrow's edition.