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What is a Mime?

A mime is an artist of silence, communicating through gestures, expressions, and movement rather than words. This timeless performance art captivates audiences by depicting stories and emotions without uttering a single syllable, relying on the universal language of the body. Intrigued? Discover how mimes master the art of the unspoken and the impact they have on the world of performance.
Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

Mime is the silent art of acting out a scene or expressing feelings with gestures and facial expressions. Although many people think of the French when they think of this art, mime as entertainment dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was then popular in Italy before it reached France, although it was so popular in France that schools were established and traditions of great French mimes followed. Modern American Mime is very different from the French version.

Ancient Greek actors wore masks and performed scenes of everyday activities and dramatic character-centered mimes called "hypotheses" in front of thousands of people at Athen's Theater of Dionysus. The Romans brought this art form to Italy after they conquered Greece. It came to Paris in 1811 with the arrival of Bohemian Jean Gaspard Batiste Deburau, the son of a touring acrobatic family.

Mime was so popular in France that schools were established and traditions of great French mimes followed.
Mime was so popular in France that schools were established and traditions of great French mimes followed.

Deburau remained in France and developed the ancient art of mime into the more polished and expressive modern version that still exists today. His most famous character was the lovesick Perriot. Jacques Copeau, Charles Dullin, Etienne Decroux, and Jean-Louis Barrault are well known in the art after World War I.

The well-received 1945 French film "Les enfants du paradis," co-starred Barrault and Decroux and told the fictional tale of Deburau's work from his beginnings in Paris. The famous French mime, Marcel Marceau, was a pupil of Decroux. Like Duburau's Perriot, Marceau's character, Bip, was mostly down on his luck, but sometimes had life work out for him. Bip wore a flower on his top hat and a short coat. Marceau's work included the influence of the silent film stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Marceau was highly original and masterful in the art form.

Many modern clowns use mime techniques in their performances.
Many modern clowns use mime techniques in their performances.

Mime has two main types: abstract and literal. Abstract mime often has no plot or main character, but rather is an expression of feeling used to provoke interpretive thoughts about a serious subject. Literal mime is often comedic or is used to tell a story. Gestures and visuals show a clear and usually hilarious tale of the conflict faced by the main character.

Many combinations of both types are possible and pantomime movements are also common. Pantomime is the use of movement and gesture in the telling of a story, usually in a comic manner and is a more literal type. The ancient Greeks and Romans used pantomime dances in their performances.

The 20th century saw mime being included in vaudeville, circuses, and music halls. American comedians such as Dick Van Dyke and Red Skelton were famous for including it in their spoken work. Paul J. Curtis founded the art form known as American Mime in 1952.

American Mime combines acting, play-writing, and pantomime dance and is very much unlike the French version. Curtis was struck by the silent aspect of French mime, but wanted acting and dance to be more pronounced. He is the founder and director of the American Mime Theater in New York City.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of mime as a performance art?

Mime, as a distinctive form of performance art, has its roots in Ancient Greece but was further developed in early 19th-century Paris by Jean-Gaspard Deburau. It involves conveying a story through body motions, without use of speech. According to the World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, mime has been influential in various cultures, evolving through performers like Marcel Marceau, who popularized the art form globally in the 20th century.

How does mime differ from other types of theatrical performance?

Unlike traditional theater, which relies heavily on dialogue and vocal expression, mime focuses on physical expression. Performers use gestures, facial expressions, and body movements to communicate narratives or emotions. This silent art form transcends language barriers, making it universally accessible. The International Mime Academy notes that mime artists often utilize exaggerated movements and mime techniques to create an illusion of reality, such as 'wall climbing' or 'rope pulling'.

What are some common themes or stories depicted in mime performances?

Mime performances often tackle universal themes such as love, hunger, joy, and sorrow, which allows them to resonate with diverse audiences. Classic mime scenarios might include being trapped in an invisible box, battling against a strong wind, or interacting with imaginary objects. The Mime Journal points out that modern mime artists may also incorporate contemporary issues and narratives, expanding the traditional repertoire to reflect current societal concerns.

Can mime be performed as a solo act or does it require a group?

Mime can be performed both as a solo act and within a group. Solo mime artists, like the legendary Marcel Marceau's character "Bip the Clown," can create a rich, engaging performance using only their own movements and expressions. However, group performances allow for more complex interactions and storytelling, as seen in productions by companies such as the London International School of Performing Arts, which showcases the collaborative potential of mime.

Where can one learn the art of mime and are there any notable schools or institutions?

Aspiring mime artists can learn the craft at various institutions around the world. Notable schools include the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, which has a comprehensive program dedicated to physical theatre and mime. Additionally, the American Mime Theatre in New York offers specialized training, focusing on the American style of mime performance. These institutions provide a foundation in the techniques and history of mime, preparing students for professional careers in this unique art form.

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Discussion Comments


It takes more training being a mime. Clowns can still have the sound.


Why do people mime anyway?


What are the four main elements of mime?


where did mime begin?


answers: 5: Mimes should not make any sound- even coughing or sneezing should be muted. 4: Mime usually has an end - not always a good one, but an end non the less. 3: Yes, it takes months of training to become a mime or a clown. 2: Neither one is superior to the other. Sometimes it is a matter on whether you can get a gig or not.

(I am a mime, myself.)


are mimes allowed to hum?


When Miming do you always have an ending? Like when you do a play?


Does it take more training to become a mime or a clown?


Are stage mimes generally better performers than street mimes? Is one considered to be more highly esteemed in the art of mime?

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    • Mime was so popular in France that schools were established and traditions of great French mimes followed.
      By: benkenogy
      Mime was so popular in France that schools were established and traditions of great French mimes followed.
    • Many modern clowns use mime techniques in their performances.
      By: bananna
      Many modern clowns use mime techniques in their performances.