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This paper is about pantomime, about it's origin, it's people, how it has evolved, and how wonderful it is.
Pantomime is a dramatic performance in which a story is told or a theme developed through expressive bodily or facial movement. The origin of pantomime can be traced back to classical farce and the Italian Commedia Dell'arte. Not all pantomime is silent. The completely silent performance of pantomime was invented in Rome. Pantomime is sometimes used to worship. Mime is a short way of saying pantomime and also means someone who performs pantomime. A mime, if performing on the streets, will have a hat that is passed around for spectators to put money in.
When doing pantomime, it should be noted that the imaginative performance skills are illusion and illustration. Also, you should "cultivate an understanding of the role that the body plays in suggesting an idea, an impression, a sensation, or a character." Pantomime can be done solo, or in a group of any size. Before performing, a mime must do warm-up and relaxation exercises. Miming takes mental and physical strength. Perfect coordination of all parts of the body is essential for expressive movement and graceful poise in pantomime. A good mime must be very flexible. You must be fluid at changing posture to create a character. Facial expression changes everything while performing pantomime. You must be very relaxed when doing pantomime.
People speak different languages, but most gestures mean the same thing. Animals, insects especially, have probably done pantomime before humans were even alive. For example, bees do pantomime when telling others where nectar is, and peacocks use pantomime to impress a mate.
Prehistoric man was next, after animals, to do pantomime. Prehistoric men would do pantomime to try to influence nature to let them get a kill while hunting. Before language, prehistoric men told about a hunt with pantomime. Prehistoric men would use pantomime to tell the history of the tribe.
A clown named Grock became a very successful mime. He started as an acrobatic clown at a very young age. Grock became famous because he succeeded in the circus and in the music hall.
After years of successfully performing in circuses, he tried his clown routine in a theater in Berlin. Grock began to move away from broad comedy in the Grimaldi tradition, and towards Debureu's type of performance. In his first performance in a theater, the audience did not respond. Grock realized that the type of performance required for the theater is different than that required by the circus.
Grock began to use a clown as a pantomime character whose actions comment on life. Grock went on to become one of the greatest performers of the variety stage. Grock used music to portray man's struggle with fate, just like Beethoven, but in a different way. Before Grock would play violin, he would throw the bow up in the air and try to catch it, but miss. Then he would retreat behind a screen to practice and the audience could see the bow flying above the screen. He returned to face the audience and missed again. He became so flustered that he threw the bow in the air and caught it without even knowing it!
When Grock sat down on the piano bench to play piano and found that it was too far from the piano, he would struggle to push the piano closer to the bench! Like all good comedy, this reflected man's struggle to tame nature.
The circus was saved from too much clown tradition in the 1940's by a man named Emmett Kelly. The costumes were getting too elaborate. The usual clown costume descended from the vari-colored costume of the Roman mimes. Originally, it was intended to symbolize rags, like the clown was an impractical guy who didn't get along in the real world. A long evolutionary process ended up with vari-colored, but elaborate costumes. The costumes reached some sort of peak when the Harlequin costumes of the English pantomime had as many as fifty-thousand sequins on them. Emmett Kelly brought back the original idea and wore a tramps costume of actual rags. The usual clown make-up is a bright colored pattern which serves as a trademark for each clown. Kelly wore make-up to match his raged costume. He invented his own intimate style of pantomime in, but almost independent of, the circus. Kelly would beg peanuts from kids in the audience and then break the shells with a huge hammer, completely! shattering the peanut, and then search stupidly for the meat among the debris.
Clowns of the modern circus are called "Joeys" after Joseph Grimaldi. In the modern American circus, there are many able clowns including Lou Jacobs, Paul Wenzel, Otto Griebling, Paul Jung, and Freddie Freeman, but they are almost overwhelmed by the sheer size of the circus.
Modern circus clowns depend on acrobats, costumes, and mechanical stunts to perform, but a mime just has gestures. The technique of the circus clown is limited by the conditions under which he performs, therefore, there is a tendency for any successful idea to be repeated so much that it becomes a tradition. Most of the clowning is done in what is called a clown promenade, or walkaround, in which the clowns circle the arena while performing so that each spectator might see a complete performance. Each clown performs something different. It is difficult to think of gags to perform while walking in a parade. One could carry a heart that lights up like a neon sign when he sees a pretty girl, another could drive a really small sportscar, or one may wear a trick costume which enables him to change from an old lady to a midget, and back again. One clown may run away from a stuffed tiger that is attached to him by a thin wire.
As you can probably see, pantomime has changed over the years and there have been ups and downs during the change. There were also some performers who saved, or played a big part in the history of pantomime.
BibliographyCampbell, Patricia J. Passing The Hat: Street Performers in America, New York City, Delacorte Press, 1952
Evans, Cheryl and Smith, Lucy Acting & Theater, Tulsa, EDC Publishing
Hunt, Douglas and Kari, Pantomime: The Silent Theater, New York City, Atheneum,
Kipnis, Claude, The Mime Book, New York City, Harper and Row publishers, 1974
May, Robin, Looking at Theater, New York City, Marshal Cavendish Corporation, 1989
"Mime and Pantomime" Academic American Encyclopedia, 1982 ed., vol. M-13, p. 434
Mordden, Ethan, The Fireside Companion to Theater, New York City, Simon and Schuster Inc., 1988
Ratliff, Gerald Lee, The Theater Student: Speech and Drama Club Activities, New York City, Richards Rosen Press, Inc., 1982
Stolzenberg, Mark, Exploring Mime, New York City, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1979