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What It's Like to Be: A Mime

My best friend is a mime—and there's no bad makeup or getting out of a box. Here's what its really like...

The girl with the bun in the middle? That's my best friend!

You know 'em, you love 'em, and you prefer them over clowns: Mimes. You typically think of mimes as a dude in a black and white outfit and makeup, trapping themselves in an invisible box, and trying to lasso you with a rope and pull you towards them, all without speaking. 

But what is it like to actually be a mime? Well, lucky for you, my best friend Anjelica Jayes (whom I will henceforth refer to by her nickname Tree) happens to be a mime! I sat down with Tree to talk about what she actually does as a mime and misconceptions about miming in general. Let's get started.

Katie Marchbank: Hey Tree! Thanks for talking to me about your art. So, the first question is pretty simple: As a mime, what exactly do you do?

Tree: I'm a member of the American Mime Theatre, which was founded in 1952 by Paul Curtis. We have a repertory of plays that we perform, and we also learn different techniques and dynamics to apply to our movement creatively. 

How did you first get involved?

I first became interested in the art of miming after taking a Commedia de’ll arte and pantomime class with Lenka Pichlikova-Burke, who is a renowned pantomime artist. I later saw online that the American Mime Theatre was looking for more company members, so I applied for that right away.

What do you enjoy most about being a mime?

It’s actually very interesting to see what happens when you can’t speak. Instead of lines, you have to express yourself through movement and gestures, which can force you to do things you otherwise would never have thought of.

What's the hardest thing about it?

The type of movement that’s taught at the American Mime Theatre is challenging and takes a lot of practice. There are tons of different procedures, techniques, and a very specific preparation that all needs to be internalized.

Any misconceptions people have about miming?

The biggest misconception about miming is probably the box. Neither Lenka nor the American Mime Theatre has taught me to put myself in a box. Also, the idea that there is only one type of mime (white facial makeup, puts self in box). For example, French pantomime (as popularized by Marcel Marceau and taught by Lenka Pichlikova) handles the art of silence completely differently than the American Mime Theatre.

Some mimes wear masks, not the makeup everyone presumes.

What kinds of people come to see the American Mime Theatre performances?

We’ve recently had people from the Netherlands come to watch us, Brazil, France, and different parts of the US. Many are people who have been trained in pantomime who come to see how American Mime is different from Marceu’s method.

What do successful mimes usually go on to do?

Many mimes bring their skills into other areas of performing, or go on to teach it. Marcel Marceau founded a school in Paris. The late Broadway actress and Tony Award nominee Anita Morris got her start at the American Mime Theatre.

What kind of skills do you need to be a mime?

To be a mime, you need both acting and movement skills.

How do you use the skills you’ve learned through miming in other areas of your life?

In mime, you have to make a connection to other people without words. You need to connect to the other actors and you need to connect to the audience. You need to communicate your emotions or an idea using only gestures and expressions. This, in turn, makes it easier to pick up on social cues and "read a room," plus gives you the tools to understand and communicate with people more deeply.

If anyone reading this piece is interested in being a mime, what advice would you give them?

I would say definitely check out a class somewhere, keep an open mind and see how you feel! The skills learned from the art of silence can be taken with you to any field.

And there you have it! I don't know about you but I sure learned a lot about miming from interviewing my dearest friend Tree. In all honesty I definitely fell into the "misconceptions" group—when she first told me she was hired to be a mime, I was like "omg, all that white makeup!" fearing for her pores. But I was happy to learn that she doesn't wear it, and I'm also pretty glad I didn't jump on my instinct to ask her to put herself in a box. After this interview, I wouldn't mind at least learning about some of the mime techniques since they seem pretty applicable to my everyday life. I'll definitely go and see her perform sometime and you should check out your local mime theatre if you're interested in the art of miming. I hope this opened your eyes and mind to what it's like to be a mime! 

To learn more about the American Mime Theater, check out their website and follow them on Facebook.

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