Art of Mime – True Experiences with the Masters of Mime: Marcel Marceau

By Janet Carafa,  Guest Blogger for the BodyMind Institute
Janet's Website:  www.artofmime.com

Marcel Marceau: Master of Silence

I would like to share some of the wonderful experiences I have had performing as a mime artist along with the amazing people that I have spent time with exploring the Art of Mime. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be taught and directed by Mime Artist Marcel Marceau.

Marcel Marceau was not only world renowned but such a giving teacher and director with endless energy and passion for the art form. He so generously offered his mastery, expressing shifts of emotion and character, quality of movement, and a flying spirit that continues to touch hearts and embrace the world audience. He is missed dearly. I had the great gift of being a student of the Master Mime.

My first meeting with Marcel Marceau

Way back when in high school, before I ever had the idea to study or perform mime, I attended a performance by Marcel Marceau in New York City. The theater was immense——we were seated in the top tiers. Marcel Marceau performed alone on the large stage. He moved in and out of illusions, re-defining space and silence. His performance was magical. I was entranced. He presented a new awareness of motion and space and imagination that I had never seen before. He seemed to stop time and sculpt space with his body motion. He moved from his spine and articulated each move with an agility I had never seen. This was the spark and beginning of an incredible flame of passion for motion for me.

In the early '90s my first mime performance was for the corner mall. I was hired to hand out buttons to customers. In white face and striped shirt and white gloves, I created invisible walls in space as I designed an invisible corner with my hands and body motion. I did this for four hours. Afterwards, I met for dinner with friends. As we sat at the table, I kept seeing walls and blurry planes in space. Lines, planes, and walls appeared everywhere . . . in the air. I never mentioned this to my friends. They might have thought I was seeing things . . . And I was. The illusions in space appeared right there at the table. I found that if I relaxed my eyes they would disappear. But if I chose to focus on an image in space – there it was. I developed a new awareness of seeing illusions in space that I didn’t know existed.

A year later Marcel Marceau visited New York City to give a workshop which was held in a theater with over 300 people attending. I was one of the hundreds who were packed in to be there. Towards the end of his on-stage workshop presentation, he asked who would like to come up on stage to perform his wall illusion for him. Sitting way in the back row, I stood and waved wildly, and he chose me. I ran up on stage and showed him my technique of touching the invisible wall I could see. He announced in his lilting French accent, “Thiis technique is now yours Jannette Carrrafa.” This was my first experience directly meeting Marcel Marceau the master. After this I attended every workshop that Monsieur Marceau gave in the United States.

Workshop Experiences

It was a two-week intensive workshop with Marcel Marceau in Gambier, Ohio. There were only 30 of us there. Mime students auditioned for this and came from all over the country. And here we were our first day with Marcel Marceau. All of us were diligently and profusely warming up in the studio getting sweaty and stretching and exercising to prep for the workshop. There were acrobats, dancers, actors . . . students with varying physical backgrounds . . . all of us much younger than Marceau.

He came in and stood watching us. His head tilted quizzically. “But why do you all sweat?” Working out aerobically to prepare to do mime seemed unusual to him. Surprised, I looked at him closely. His feet, already in a graceful fourth position, shifted slightly as if to embrace the ground and with a gentle breath his upper body seemed to expand to fill the room. He made an almost imperceptible back tilt with his upper body. His chest and rib cage and his heart expanded. He was already energized. That was it for him. He took the stage. He filled the space. No need for aerobics. We moved right to “conventions de characteres” and metamorphose.

He showed us greed, joy, fear, and more. And how to show time, and how to step into and out of time. His clear motions came from inside out -- from deep within -- and the entire room seemed to change color as he changed his expression. I was standing only 3 feet in front of him. When I saw him perform on stage, I was far away in the top tiers. Seeing him so close-up was a whole new and inspiring experience. I tried it. From toes to fingertips, arms, legs, body, face – but physicality was not the way. “Immmpossssible!!” he said when we didn’t get it. And he showed us again: his physical body expressed greed as if saturated by the inner emotion . . . and the world kept changing colors in front of my eyes. It was much more than motion. He shifted the entire atmosphere.

Being Directed by the Master

During these workshops, we were able to present our mime pieces on stage to Monsieur Marceau, and he was to direct us. This meant working and reworking and preparing endlessly in the time I had before the presentation. It was always all-night working in anticipation and excitement of having the full attention of the master on stage. I have presented many pieces that have been worked over by Monsieur Marceau, and he was always absolutely non-compromising in his direction. Here are two instances:

1. "The Bird” - a bird with a hurt wing and then a woman seeing and helping the injured bird to fly. Marceau became flutter. Inside out. He was not just fluttering – he was flutter. To be a bird and share with the audience - bird . . . I became the flutterflutterfluuuutttter.

2. "The Doll” -- the doll dreams that she comes to life and dances. Marceau intervenes and is the coming to life shown through the eyes . . . Moves through the body . . . Heart pumping, falling. He is the fear of stepping out and the passion for life. As always, he ripped my first attempt apart . . . to shreds! And so, I worked it out more and more, getting others to direct me, so I could following his guidance as best I could.

I presented it again. When I finished performing, he came up on stage as usual to give his input and critique . . . and he whispered in my ear, “Exccelllent, Jannetttte” so only I could hear. Then he gave more uncompromising, rip-to-shreds critiques about it to me and the audience of students.

Another critique Marceau gave, one that I will never forget, was for another student, who was an experienced mime. He performed his piece, which was a version of the story of Abraham. It was a beautiful deep, biblical, and archetypal mime piece. He did it very well I thought. And yes, Monsieur Marceau was taken with it – very inspired as always. Marceau was onstage and directing and seemed very irritated with details of it. He did not seem to understand why the mime could not see how it was to be done and correct it immediately. “Like Dis!” He motioned and stepped into the mime piece himself.

What I saw then brought tears to my eyes. It was as if Monsieur Marceau became the story through his body and emotions . . . As if he stepped into motion that was moving him in exactly the perfect synchronistic physics of emotion and motion of this story. It was not improvisation as I knew it, which was a new attempt at making a new motion that is from the thought process. Marcel Marceau moved without thought – he was connected to the already perfect motion that already existed, to express this story. It was the first time I had new understanding of what it meant when I read that Michelangelo would cut away the stone to unveil the form of the sculpture that was already within the stone.

I saw that there is a physics of motion that is perfect and already exists that we can tap into and flow with and unveil and experience in motion. Beyond the mind and the muscles -- the perfect flow at the cellular level and deeper . . . beyond the cellular level. Marcel Marceau was immediately connected to it and “in the zone."

After he did this, Monsieur Marceau stepped to the side and looked at the mime presenting. “Now that’s how you do it. Now you do it!” he said in his lilting French accent.

Please understand that this is my written explanation in words of an amazing genius of silence and motion which is truly not describable in words.

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Janet Carafa

Mime Artist and Certified Bikram Yoga Instructor, Janet is founder and Creator of "Yoga of Mime". Yoga of Mime techniques develop and evolve your creativity and open you to your ultimate expression. The techniques engage people (of all ages) in the process of physical expression and self-confidence. They immerse you in the process of self expression from the inside out, with grace and ease. This is how each of us manifest our thoughts and desires in life. This process of manifesting your thoughts and desires is explored and activated in Yoga of Mime sessions with simple exercises that connect heart, mind and body. Yoga of Mime gives you the opportunity to create something from nothing and to present your ideas and vision clearly. Janet Carafa has created the technique called "Emotion Aerobics" where you will step in and out of emotions and share your feelings with others fully. It gives the opportunity for deep, graceful and full expression. Yoga of Mime sessions give you the opportunity to find your inner voice and develop the confidence and ability to express yourself, your goals, and your aspirations - and bring them to fruition. Join in to "Touch the Invisible" and "Listen to your Inner Silence"! www.artofmime.com

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