British entertainment comes in many forms, and a mime festival is one of the entertainment events in the country that draws the largest crowds. London, England's capital and largest city, hosts the annual London International Mime Festival. This year, the festival runs from January 9 until February 3.
London, the leading global city in the world, is England's center for arts and entertainment. So it is very fitting that the International Mime Festival is held within the city. City visitors have plenty of choices from ballet to clubs, cabarets, cinemas, spectator sports, theater, concerts, dance, music, opera, performing arts, puppet theater, live music and more.
What is mime?
Mime is a theatrical performance that is distinct because it involves physical theater, with the artists relying on their physical movements rather than speech. Mime is defined as the art of impersonating or depicting a character, narration, idea or mood through bodily movements and gestures. Mime artists have the skill to narrate a story through their movements and gestures without the need for words.
The London International Mime Festival
The program for the London International Mime Festival varies depending on the participants selected for the year. Aside from mimes and clowns, the mime festival can showcase various performing arts, from dance, to circus acts, juggling, mask theater, live art, puppets and acrobats. Workshops, conducted by experts in the field, are also offered.
The festival in London was established in 1977, making it the longest running theater event. Its founding objective is visual theater promotion. It comprises all types of performances that do not need text or speech.
It used to be staged in only one venue, but the increasing popularity and success of the festival required expansion of venues. It also attracted visual theater performers from all over the world, both new artists and established ones. In some years, many of the participants are returning performers, coming back year after year to wow the crowd next to the new artists. Each year, the mix of performances is different. The advancement in technology also makes the shows exceedingly elaborate.
The festival is no longer about mime alone, even if the festival's title says so. The ''mime'' in the title today is historic and symbolic, and the organizers of the event see no reason to change it.
In a year, the organizers spend a lot of work reviewing the videos sent by interested participants. They often choose 14 to 15 incredible shows from different parts of the world. They pick the participants based on their own criteria as well as the stage-ability, affordability and excellence of the performances. They also choose the shows that will fit the atmosphere of each venue. The organizers likewise look for shows that will fit different types of audiences, which is a major contributor to the festival's success.
History of the London International Mime Festival
Instigated by Nola Rae, a popular mime/clown, the London International Mime Festival was born in 1977 with Joseph Seelig, a producer becoming its founder. The first staging of the festival drew inspiration from the Festival of Fools in Amsterdam and the Gaukler Festival in Cologne, Germany. It featured the works of several visual theater artists from Britain, who were more popular overseas than in England. Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, who joined the festival team in 1987, are the current directors of the London International Mime Festival. These highly skilled and highly creative directors have both won the International Theatre Institute Award for Excellence.
The very first show included a wide variety of wordless performances such as object theater, puppetry, circus, physical theater and live art, which formed the core of the annual festival up to this day. Funds came from the Cockpit Theater, which also provided the venue. The Arts Council of Great Britain provided support. Their first show at the Cockpit Theater featured Nola Rae and Joseph Seelig.
London theatergoers have rarely seen international performers before. The festival brought them new forms of theatrical performances after it was established. Through the years, it has collaborated with a long list of venues, such as:
- South London Gallery
- Sadler’s Wells
- Royal Opera House
- Natural History Museum
- West End
Spin-off performances were brought outside of London into many regional centers in the country and other territories such as Hong Kong.
It is a great treat for theater enthusiasts to witness new forms of theatrical performances, from exotic puppetry from Japan to fairground commedia, physical imagery, extreme dance, and new circus. On the other hand, the festival helped new artists as well by giving them an opportunity to make their debuts. Some of them include Told by an Idiot, Improbable, Complicite and Kneehigh.
What is mime?
For a while, we have been talking about mime. But what is mime?
The word mime came from the Greek term mimos that means actoror imitator. A mime artist or mime is a person acting out or relaying a story via body movements, without speaking any word. Miming is different from silent comedy and pantomime.
Jacques Copeau, a dramatist, actor, producer and theater director from France, used masks when training actors due to the influence of the Noh Theater of Japan and the Commedia dell'arte of Italy. One of his pupils, Étienne Decroux, who was strongly influenced by his mentor, explored and developed the prospects of mime. He later developed corporeal mime with a sculptural form. Corporeal mime is a manner of representation through bodily movements. The actor becomes the starting point and the movements allowing the thoughts to come forth.
Early forms of mime
Mime has been a form of entertainment since the time of the Ancient Greeks. The term mime came from Pantomimus, a solo masked dancer, although his performances were not always silent.
There were dumb shows and earlier mummer plays in Medieval Europe. Frenchman Jean-Gaspard Deburau introduced the silent actor with the face painted white in the 19th century, which became the trademark of mime artists worldwide.
Telestēs was the first recorded mime, included in the Seven Against Thebes, a play written by Aeschylus. Bathullos of Alexandria developed the comic mime while Puladēs of Kilikia introduced the tragic mime.
Mime or Mimius figured in Roman theater since almost at the beginning of the Roman Empire. Many Roman actors contributed to the technical advances of the theatrical art form. Since its early start during the time of the Romans, politicians somehow showed involvement in its growth. Mime artists were banished by Trajan. On the other hand, they received favor from Caligula. Under Marcus Aurelius, the priests of Apollo were mime artists. Nero used to be a mime artist as well.
During the Roman period, mime artists did not use masks. Both male and female performers were allowed, and the main characters typically included the archimimus(lead actor), the stupidus(stooge) and the cultus adulter(gigolo).
Related theatrical performances in other countries
India's classical musical theater was wrongly called dance. In reality, it is a theatrical form where the performer conveys a narrative through stylized gestures using the hands in different positions and employed mime illusions in order to play a variety of landscapes, actions and characters. However, the performances were not always silent as these were accompanied by percussive footwork, music and verbal recitation.
In the classical Indian dance called Kathakali, which tells stories culled from epics from India, the performers tell the stories through body motions, hand signals and facial expressions. Songs that narrate the story accompanied the performances.
In Japan, the Noh theater is equally famous. The theater form provided plenty of influence on theater practitioners and contemporary mime artists, even those from France. The masks used in Noh performances and the physical style of performance by Noh actors were influential in the development of mime.
From the stage to the streets
From being stage performers, white-faced mime artists eventually became common in the street theater in 1980. It is also one of the acts used by buskers not only in the UK but in many parts of the world. Although they do not speak, modern mime artists now use vocal sounds to amplify a gesture or action.
Are you ready to witness this year's London International Mime Festival? You still have time since it runs until the first week of February.
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