The Death of Mime

Lest The Glittering Eye become an obituaries page, rather than comment on Marcel Marceau, who died yesterday, I’d like to make a few observations about mime itself. First, my bona fides.

Many, many years ago in the mists of the distant past, some time before mime reached its apogee of popularity in this country, and definitely before it began to be disdained by the hip and the elite, I studied mime with a certain amount of seriousness. I attended a number of mime workshops and practiced at the art. I think that what I practiced was more closely related to the miming of Claude Kipnis than to that of M. Marceau (is it possible that Kipnis conducted one of the workshops I participated in? I forget).

Beautiful and creative miming requires an enormous amount of training, discipline, and rigor. Americans don’t have the patience or temperament for this sort of thing any more than they do for ballet, bel canto singing, or the stagecraft school of acting. This is not to say that there aren’t Americans who do all of these things. There are. But they’re definitely in the minority. That’s somewhat true in Western Europe and increasingly so in Eastern Europe.

But mime as we understand it is a European tradition practiced in Europe, the former colonies of European countries, and in Israel. The various different forms of pantomime from Asia have traditions and conventions of their own, distinct from the European sort.

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