Mime artist

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Mime artists Jean Soubeyran and Brigitte Soubeyran in 1950 Jean + Brigitte Soubeyran Im Zirkus.JPG
Mime artists Jean Soubeyran and Brigitte Soubeyran in 1950

A mime artist, or simply mime (from Greek μῖμος, mimos, "imitator, actor"), [1] is a person who uses mime (also called pantomime outside of Britain), the acting out of a story through body motions without the use of speech, as a theatrical medium or as a performance art. In earlier times, in English, such a performer would typically be referred to as a mummer. Miming is distinguished from silent comedy, in which the artist is a character in a film or skit without sound.


Jacques Copeau, strongly influenced by Commedia dell'arte and Japanese Noh theatre, used masks in the training of his actors. His pupil Étienne Decroux was highly influenced by this, started exploring and developing the possibilities of mime, and developed corporeal mime into a highly sculptural form, taking it outside the realms of naturalism. Jacques Lecoq contributed significantly to the development of mime and physical theatre with his training methods. [2] As a result of this, the practice of mime has been included in the Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in France since 2017. [3]


Ancient Greece and Rome

The performance of mime originates at its earliest in Ancient Greece; the name is taken from a single masked dancer called Pantomimus, although performances were not necessarily silent. The first recorded mime was Telestēs in the play Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus. Tragic mime was developed by Puladēs of Kilikia; comic mime was developed by Bathullos of Alexandria. [4] Mime (mimius) was an aspect of Roman theatre from its earliest times, [5] paralleling the Atellan farce in its improvisation (if without the latter's stock characters). [6] It gradually began to replace the Atellanae as interludes [embolium] or postscripts [exodium] on the main theatre stages; [7] became the sole dramatic event at the Floralia in the second century BC; and in the following century received technical advances at the hands of Publius Syrus and Decimus Laberius. [6] Under the Empire mime became the predominant Roman drama, [6] if with mixed fortunes under different emperors. Trajan banished mime artists; Caligula favored them; Marcus Aurelius made them priests of Apollo. Nero himself acted as a mime. [8] The mime was distinguished from other dramas by its absence of masks, and by the presence of female as well as male performers. [9] Stock characters included the lead (or archymimus[a]), the stooge or stupidus, [6] and the gigolo, or cultus adulter. [10]

Medieval Europe

In Medieval Europe, early forms of mime such as mummer plays and later dumbshows evolved. In early nineteenth-century Paris, Jean-Gaspard Deburau solidified the many attributes that have come to be known in modern times—the silent figure in whiteface.

In non-Western theatre

Analogous performances are evident in the theatrical traditions of other civilizations.[ citation needed ] Classical Indian musical theatre, although often erroneously labeled a "dance," is a group of theatrical forms in which the performer presents a narrative via stylized gesture, an array of hand positions, and mime illusions to play different characters, actions, and landscapes. Recitation, music, and even percussive footwork sometimes accompany the performance. The Natya Shastra, an ancient treatise on theatre by Bharata Muni, mentions silent performance, or mukabhinaya.[ citation needed ] In Kathakali, stories from Indian epics are told with facial expressions, hand signals and body motions. Performances are accompanied by songs narrating the story while the actors act out the scene, followed by actor detailing without background support of narrative song.[ citation needed ] The Japanese Noh tradition has greatly influenced many contemporary mime and theatre practitioners including Jacques Copeau and Jacques Lecoq because of its use of mask work and highly physical performance style.[ citation needed ] Butoh, though often referred to as a dance form, has been adopted by various theatre practitioners as well.[ citation needed ]


In film

A Dog's Life (1918), Charlie Chaplin Chaplin A Dogs Life.jpg
A Dog's Life (1918), Charlie Chaplin

Before the work of Étienne Decroux there was no major treatise on the art of mime, and so any recreation of mime as performed prior to the twentieth century is largely conjecture, based on interpretation of diverse sources. However, the twentieth century also brought a new medium into widespread usage: the motion picture. The restrictions of early motion picture technology meant that stories had to be told with minimal dialogue, which was largely restricted to intertitles. This often demanded a highly stylized form of physical acting largely derived from the stage. Thus, mime played an important role in films prior to advent of talkies (films with sound or speech). The mimetic style of film acting was used to great effect in German Expressionist film. Silent film comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton learned the craft of mime in the theatre, but, through film, they had a profound influence on mimes working in live theatre decades after their deaths. Indeed, Chaplin may be the best-documented mime in history. Harpo Marx, of the Marx Brothers comedy team, continued the mime tradition in the sound film era, his silent persona working in counterpoint to the verbal comedy of his brothers Groucho and Chico. The famous French comedian, writer, and director Jacques Tati achieved his initial popularity working as a mime, and his later films had only minimal dialogue, relying instead on many subtle expertly choreographed visual gags. Tati, like Chaplin before him, would mime out the movements of every single character in his films and ask his actors to repeat them.

On stage and street

Whitefaced mime on Boston Common in 1980 Mimes in Boston.jpg
Whitefaced mime on Boston Common in 1980

Mime has been performed on stage, with Marcel Marceau and his character "Bip" being the most famous. Mime is also a popular art form in street theatre and busking. Traditionally, these sorts of performances involve the actor/actress wearing tight black and white clothing with white facial makeup. However, contemporary mimes often perform without whiteface. Similarly, while traditional mimes have been completely silent, contemporary mimes, while refraining from speaking, sometimes employ vocal sounds when they perform. Mime acts are often comical, but some can be very serious.

In literature

Canadian author Michael Jacot's first novel, The Last Butterfly, tells the story of a mime artist in Nazi-occupied Europe who is forced by his oppressors to perform for a team of Red Cross observers. [11] Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll's The Clown relates the downfall of a mime artist, Hans Schneir, who has descended into poverty and drunkenness after being abandoned by his beloved. [12]

List of mime artists

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marcel Marceau</span> French mime and actor

Marcel Marceau was a French actor and mime artist most famous for his stage persona, "Bip the Clown". He referred to mime as the "art of silence", and he performed professionally worldwide for over 60 years. As a Jewish youth, he lived in hiding and worked with the French Resistance during most of World War II, giving his first major performance to 3,000 troops after the liberation of Paris in August. Following the war, he studied dramatic art and mime in Paris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Physical comedy</span> Comedy genre

Physical comedy is a form of comedy focused on manipulation of the body for a humorous effect. It can include slapstick, clowning, mime, physical stunts, or making funny faces.

<i>Children of Paradise</i> 1945 French film directed by Marcel Carné

Children of Paradise is a two-part French romantic drama film by Marcel Carné, produced under war conditions in 1943, 1944, and early 1945 in both Vichy France and Occupied France. Set in the theatrical world of 1830s Paris, it tells the story of a courtesan and four men — a mime, an actor, a criminal and an aristocrat — who love her in entirely different ways.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Physical theatre</span> Genre of theatrical performance

Physical theatre is a genre of theatrical performance that encompasses storytelling primarily through physical movement. Although several performance theatre disciplines are often described as "physical theatre," the genre's characteristic aspect is a reliance on the performers' physical motion rather than, or combined with, text to convey storytelling. Performers can communicate through various body gestures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jean-Louis Barrault</span> French actor and theatre director (1910–1994)

Jean-Louis Bernard Barrault was a French actor, director and mime artist who worked on both screen and stage.

Jacques Lecoq was a French stage actor and acting movement coach. He was best known for his teaching methods in physical theatre, movement, and mime which he taught at the school he founded in Paris known as École internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecoq. He taught there from 1956 until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1999.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Circus clown</span> Clown performing or appearing in a circus

Clowns have always been an integral part of the circus, offering a source of amusement for patrons and providing relief from the array of animal acts and performances by acrobats and novelty artistes.

École internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecoq is a school of physical theatre located on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

Étienne Decroux was a French actor who studied at Jacques Copeau's École du Vieux-Colombier, where he saw the beginnings of what was to become his life's obsession–corporeal mime. During his long career as a film and theatre actor, he created many pieces, using the human body as the primary means of expression.

Daniel Andrew Stein is an American modern performer of a type of physical theater known as corporeal mime.

Thomas Leabhart is an American corporeal mime and corporeal mime teacher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Dullin</span> French actor and director

Charles Dullin was a French actor, theater manager and director.

Corporeal mime is an aspect of physical theater whose objective is to place drama inside the moving human body, rather than to substitute gesture for speech as in pantomime.

Tony Montanaro (1927-2002) was a 20th-century American mime artist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henryk Tomaszewski (mime)</span>

Henryk Tomaszewski aka Heinrich Karl Koenig (1919–2001) was a mime artist and theatre director, born in Poznań, Poland. He settled in Cracow in 1945 to study theatre after the end of World War II during which he studied at Iwo Gall's Theatre Studio from 1945 to 1947 and ballet under Feliks Parnell. Tomaszewski left Parnell's company in 1949 and resettled in Wrocław, where he worked as a ballet dancer in the Opera and already there began to develop his own concept of mime.

Theatre de l'Ange Fou is a theatre company based in London, England. Its artistic directors are Steven Wasson and Corinne Soum. It was created in Paris in 1984 and relocated to London in 1995. It was co-founded with the International School of Dramatic Corporeal Mime, formerly known as the Ecole de Mime Corporel Dramatique, a theatre school that teaches corporeal mime.

Carlo Mazzone-Clementi was a performer and founder of two schools of commedia, mime and physical theater as well as a contemporary and colleague of leaders of modern European theater. From his arrival in the USA in 1957, he was largely responsible for the spreading of commedia dell'arte in North America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drama</span> Artwork intended for performance, formal type of literature

Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance: a play, opera, mime, ballet, etc., performed in a theatre, or on radio or television. Considered as a genre of poetry in general, the dramatic mode has been contrasted with the epic and the lyrical modes ever since Aristotle's Poetics —the earliest work of dramatic theory.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vahram Zaryan</span>

Vahram Zaryan is a French performance artist, mime, dancer, director, and choreographer of Armenian descent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Georges Wague</span>

Georges Wague, born Georges Marie Valentin Waag, was a French mime, teacher and silent film actor.


  1. μῖμος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  2. Callery, Dympha (2001). Through the Body: A Practical Guide to Physical Theatre. London: Nick Hern Books. ISBN   1-85459-630-6.
  3. "Patrimoine-culturel-immateriel". www.culture.gouv.fr. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  4. Lust, Annette. "The Origins and Development of the Art of Mime". From the Greek Mimes to Marcel Marceau and Beyond: Mimes, Actors, Pierrots and Clowns: A Chronicle of the Many Visages of Mime in the Theatre. 9 March 2000. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
  5. "Mime and pantomime | visual art". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  6. 1 2 3 4 H Nettleship ed., A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (London 1894) p. 393
  7. H J Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London 1967) p. 152
  8. Broadbent, R. J. (1901) A History of Pantomime, Chapter VI. London. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
  9. H J Rose, A Handbook of Latin Literature (London 1967) p. 150
  10. G Highet, Juvenal the Satirist (Oxford 1962) p. 274
  11. Broyard, Anatole. "A Laugh Before Dying." The New York Times . 7 March 1974. p. 37
  12. Stern, Daniel. "Without Shmerz." The New York Times. 4 January 1965. Book Review. p. 4
  13. Scpr.org Retrieved 29 April 2015
  14. "Mime wizard's final act", The Times of India . 22 August 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2009.
  15. "Modris Tenisons: Režisors un scenogrāfs, dizaina mākslinieks, profesionāla pantomīmas teātra izveidotājs Kauņā." 2003. Retrieved 6 October 2010.

Further reading