Mime is so much more than a stripy shirt, white make-up and being annoying on a New York sidewalk in the 1970s. Having said that, I do think marinière shirts are totally awesome and pass no judgement if you irritated people on the streets of The Big Apple in the 70s. If anything, you were really brave as it was an incredibly dangerous time. Well done.
Mime and its cousin physical comedy are styles that gel with a wide variety of other performances, such as stand-up comedy as seen with Tom Walker in Javelin and Elf Lyons in Raven. Mime’s embodiment of character types is drawn from the same handbook as our most beloved sitcom characters, and has a silliness as witnessed by Rowan Atkinson playing invisible drums to recent Britain’s Got Talent winner, Viggo Venn, miming the voice of Simon Cowell.
So, to create your own mime show, check out these tips.
1) Everything has weight. If the objects you interact with don’t abide by the laws of gravity, then neither will your show. Expect it, and everyone’s attention, to fly out of the window. They will be confused and bored. Mime requires a lot from the audience in terms of concentration (maybe suggest a mid-show snack for sustenance), so don’t make life harder for them.
2) Think cinematically. It may come as a surprise that the language of cinema is a mime’s best friend. The use of close-ups, zoom-outs, and hard edits are great ways to explore how to tell the story and set up unexpected punchlines. If unsure about how to express something with mime, think of it as a film storyboard and you’ll find the solution.
3) Warm up. For God’s sake, warm up. As a man in his mid-30s with a mild spine condition, I have the flexibility of an old action man doll whose rubber band insides have rotted away. I spend at least 30 minutes stretching and doing yoga for fear of tweaking a muscle or snapping in half. Special attention should be given to your hands during the warm-up. After all, they are your greatest mime asset. If you can open and close your hands for the entirety of the song Motorlicker by Tobacco, they should be warmed up. Feel the burn!
4) The curse of the pinky. What is a mime’s greatest enemy? Weird object resistance? Forgetting where a character was on stage? Accidentally walking through a mime table? People insisting you pretend to be stuck in a glass box? All bad (though the table is fine if you’re miming as a ghost) but it is, in fact, your little finger. This reckless focus puller breaks the hearts of mimes all over the globe. It can destroy entire scenes through its unbridled love of refusing to do what you tell it. Gasp in amazement as the mime builds an entire sequence filled with endearing characters, detailed prop work and captivating storytelling, only for it to be instantly ruined when your horrible little digit pokes out at a weird angle. And of course everyone immediately looks at it. Thanks pinky finger.
5) I didn’t expect that! The beauty of everything being invisible is that you can create anything at all. Really toy with the expectations in your set-ups. If beautiful music signals a character’s emotion, have the character hear it, then press a switch to turn it off. It’s an unlimited sandbox for creativity. As long as you honour the reality you make, the audience will follow. Making any type of theatre is hard. Really hard. Mime is no different. For my show Holiday, I wanted to access the audience’s imagination and allow them to dream around the performance. Through the beauty of a style type that doesn’t use props or costume changes, I could achieve this. My show only requires the following: an mp3, two chairs, a patient technician, one performer, an audience and an envelope. And yes, to all the purists out there I know it can be argued that the envelope is overkill. I’m still on the invisible fence about it. But for now it stays. So follow these tips get those hands warmed up. Remember the pinky.
By David Hoskin
Images courtesy of David Hoskin