Mime is a form of silent storytelling art that involves communicating or acting using only body movements, facial expressions and gestures, without the use of speech. A person who uses mime as a performance art or as a theatrical medium is called a mime. The art of miming can be found in the theatre traditions of many countries around the globe, but it is mostly linked to the Western theatre genres and performances.
Mime in Ancient Greece and Rome
When it comes to its origins, the performance of mime originates at its earliest in Ancient Greece. It takes its name from a single masked dancer called Pantomimus, although their performances were not necessarily silent. Later on, in Medieval Europe, there were early forms of mime such as mummer plays and later the so-called dumbshows evolved.
Mime in Non-Western Theatre Traditions
While most of the instances of mime are related and historically linked to Western theatre genres and performances, similar performances can be found in the theatrical traditions of other civilisations as well.
One of these instances can be found in classical Indian musical theatre, which is often erroneously labelled as a “dance”. In this theatrical form, the performers present a narrative using stylized gesture, various hand positions, and mime illusions to act different characters, actions and even landscapes.
The Japanese Noh musical drama tradition has greatly influenced numerous contemporary mime and theatre practitioners. These include the likes of Jacques Copeau and Jacques Lecoq, to name a few, because of its use of highly physical performance style and use of masks.
Butoh Japanese dance theatre, often referred to as a dance form, has also been adopted by numerous theatre practitioners as well.
Mime in France
Although mime originates from Ancient Greece and Rome, it was in France where the art of mime flourished. It became so popular that many mime schools were established throughout France. This led to a great tradition of excellent French mimes.
One of the most famous French mimes was Marcel Marceau with his character Bip. Bip was clad in a short coat and a top hat adorned with a flower and was mostly down on his luck. Marceau’s work was mostly influenced by various early silent film stars, including Charlie Chaplin.
Types of Mime
Modern mime can be divided into two types: abstract and literal. The former usually doesn’t feature a main character and has no plot. Instead, its goal is to provoke thought about a particular subject by expressing certain emotions or feelings.
Literal mime tells a story with a plot and characters. Often times, these stories are funny situations intended to elicit laughter from the audience. Some modern instances of mime tend to combine the two types of mime into a single interesting performance.