Talking is a major part of our everyday lives that we take for granted and if we were to lose our voices, we’d find it very hard to communicate effectively.
However, there are some artists and performers out there in the theatrical world that do just that every day, by practicing the art of mime.
How does one become a mime artist then?
Mime is a theatrical medium that’s used in either acting or magic performances. As with any other form of acting, it’s a craft that requires years of study and practice to get right. The mime performs with just their body and never speaks, so it’s a detailed craft that can take a lot of hard work to achieve.
Mimes use a form of pantomime, which is a kind of theatre entertainment, with the goal of making the audience believe they are doing something simply by acting it out.
This is performed without any spoken word, simply relying on their facial expressions and the use of the whole body to convey the activity they’re trying to do or a feeling they’re having, all the while connecting with their audience.
Becoming a mime is hard work and a lot of practice, and if you’ve ever considered becoming a mime artist yourself or wanted to learn more about this special performance art, there’s probably a lot more to it than you realize.
We’ll look at the history of this craft, some of its most famous performers over time, and show you some tricks you can learn to propel yourself onto the career path of becoming a mime artist.
What Exactly is Mime?
Mime is a theatrical medium performed by a mime artist for an audience.
During the performance, the mime acts out a story using just their body and without speaking at all.
This is not to be confused with silent films or other forms of similar art, as the mime may use music, but the rest of the story and communication is performed solely through their body motions and facial expressions.
The mime uses some standard body motions in their performance that are well known.
They may act as though they are stuck behind a glass wall and are trying to feel their way out, or pretend to climb a ladder that isn’t there.
These acts look believable to the audience except for the absence of the props themselves, which is what makes mime such a fascinating medium to witness.
The History of Mime
Mime has a history dating back to ancient Greece, and perhaps even earlier, to a time when spoken language didn’t exist.
This silent form of self-expression flourished into a popular form of art and entertainment.
Some of the earliest mentions of mimes were used in Ancient Greece to teach moral lessons.
These lessons, known as ethologues, were performed in the streets as a way to teach ethical lessons to the townspeople in a way that would be entertaining and inclusive.
In addition to these moral lessons, mime premiered in the Theater of Dionysus in Athens.
Large audiences would gather to see the performances, which included the acting of mime as a form of drama.
One actor would usually play the role of many different characters, which was all possible through mime, and these plays were performed by traveling companies of actors.
It was here in these early theaters that mime transcended to a form of entertainment and respected theatrical medium, rather than just a way to educate townspeople on what was right and wrong.
The basis of drama that we know today, the Greek comedy and tragedy, was first performed in Athens.
Each of these performances was impacted by the art of mime, and when the Romans took over Greece, they also took this theatrical medium back with them to Italy and developed a way to make it unique and their own.
They performed pretend battles and pantomime for large crowds, often with what would be considered indecent themes for the time.
When the Roman Empire fell, the Christian church closed down all of the theaters and banned performers.
Years later as attitudes towards mime and other performance art began to relax, mime made a return this time with more religious themes included in the acts.
The Modern State of Mime
Mime continued to expand and travel throughout other countries, eventually making its way to Paris.
It was here that mime transformed from the slapstick style that it originated from, to something more serious.
The famous mime character of Pierrot was also created, by famed artist Jean Gaspard Batiste Deburau, and the mournful seeker is still used today in performances.
Today, mime uses many different styles and methods as a result of input from artists around the world and throughout history.
One amazing thing about this art form is that there is always room for innovation and experimentation, as well as a chance to make it your own.
The two most common types of mime are abstract, which usually focuses on a serious topic but aims to invoke feelings and thoughts, or literal mime which is used to tell stories or for comedic effect.
When studying mime, you’ll learn a mixture of both these common types as well as other methods and techniques.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide which style they prefer, and to also develop their own unique way of performing.
This is the essence of mime and what makes an artist so successful at capturing their audience’s attention and invoking emotion and deep thought.
Famous Mime Artists Through History
There have been many mime artists over the years that have had a great impact on the art, but a few names that stand out as pioneers.
Jean Gaspard Batiste Deburau, the son of a traveling acrobatic family in Paris, is considered the artist who developed mime into something serious, and he worked at a local theatre perfecting it from 1811 until the time of his death.
After the First World War, the basic elements of modern mime as we know it was developed, this time by Jacques Copeau.
Copeau worked with various pupils, all famous in the history of mime, including Charles Dullin and Etienne Decroux.
Decroux was responsible for making the very first mimodrama, a French film called ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’ which was a biographical story about Deburau and his performances.
Following the Second World War, mime had another resurgence in the theatre world.
Marcel Marceau, arguably the most famous mime of all time, had studied under Decroux as well and created the character ‘Bip’.
This fellow would become a standard in the world of mime, wearing a hat with a flower sticking out of it and always finding himself in a state of bad luck.
Marceau’s craft was influenced by silent film stars of the time like Charlie Chaplin and used this to create a new style of mime and shape modern mime to what it is today.
As is evident through history, the art of mime is always changing and the right artist can do amazing things for this form.
Learning how to become a mime artist involves learning about these great influencers who shaped modern mime to its current state, but also using your own personality and techniques to make it your very own.
Studying to Become a Mime Artist
Mime artists are performers, and whether this is done on the street for a public audience or employed by a theatre company or acting group to perform, there’s usually no official training required.
However, because it is such a difficult skill to learn and one that requires years of practice, receiving a formal education is the most effective way to learn the various methods.
The most important thing required to study mime is your own physical body, as it needs to be fit for the extreme physical activity used for this art form.
Mimes use their entire body to display emotions, thoughts, and to perform, and the movements must be smooth and controlled, which requires a lot of strength.
You should also have the dramatic quality required to convey messages to your audience and an ability to demonstrate these without speech.
Most mime schools or acting schools have selection criteria for students wishing to attend.
You may need to perform a short piece to gain entry or take part in external acting or mime classes to get a basic knowledge of the theatrical form before you commence studies.
Once accepted, these courses could take months or years to complete, depending on the school, and will usually cover all facets of acting.
With a successful acting education alongside your mime training, you’ll be able to play parts in stage, television, and even movies.
Most mimes begin as street performers to build on their skills and gain exposure, or you may be employed by an acting company based on your training and natural abilities.
3 Mime Tricks to Practice
Before you enroll yourself in mime school, there are some tricks you can practice to see if you have what it takes.
Mime is a physically challenging craft so you’ll need good body strength in order to perform, and you’ll also have to dedicate many hours to perfecting the techniques.
Practice these basic movements to get an understanding of how mime is performed.
- Using facial expressions: Practice a variety of expressions in the mirror to see if you’re properly conveying emotion. Go through the looks of anger, sadness, happiness, and others commonly used by mimes and see if they come across as you intended.
- Focusing on a fixed spot: Referred to as ‘pointe fix’, the mime chooses one spot on their body and leaves it motionless in the air. With this learned, it forms the basis of many other illusions you can do with your body.
- Explore your imagination: Start to visualize things in front of you and then act around them. If there’s a wall you need to really see it, its colors, shape, and height. Let your imagination run wild and you’ll be off to a good start.
Mime is a serious theatrical medium and one that’s been around for hundreds of years.
If you have a desire to learn how to become a mime artist but still want to know more about the fundamentals of this art form, we’ve got some answers to the commonly asked questions that people have around it.
Are Mimes Allowed to Talk?
The form of mime was developed during times where the spoken word was nonexistent, and this tradition of no speech has continued into modern performances.
While mimes used to be totally silent during their act, modern mime artists sometimes use vocal sounds other than speech to convey thoughts and emotions, like coughing, gasping, or humming.
How Much Money Does a Mime Make?
There is no set salary for a mime as it depends entirely on their current employment.
A street performing mime can make as much as a few hundred dollars a day, depending on their location and skill level.
Otherwise, mimes employed by an acting company make on average $60,000 a year.
This again depends on experience and the nature of their position, whether it’s a full time or part time role.
What Does a Mime Wear?
Although modern mimes might choose to wear their own style of clothing, there is a traditional mime outfit that most adhere to.
A black outfit with a white painted face is common, as it helps the audience to distinguish the performer’s face even from far away, and adds a theatrical element to their performance.
Other accessories include a hat, flower, or handkerchief tucked into one of their pockets.