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Mime outside the box

by Archives September 21, 2005

It isn’t as common as yoga or Pilates, but the study of mime is another avenue some people explore in search of a revitalizing experience for the body and the mind. Stephanie Breton, a student at Ecole de Mime – Montreal’s mime school in the downtown area, finds the classes to be very helpful. As a working actor, Stephanie is always on the lookout for new ways to express herself in a theatrical and physical manner. She has been studying mime for over a year and she feels the experience has helped both in her acting career and her daily life. Breton said the student population at Ecole de Mime is not just made up of actors and performers and that anyone interested in movement and physical expression can sign up for mime classes.

“Some people are even … engineers, and it just gets them to move around a little bit and push their bodies in different directions,” she said.

There are two levels at Ecole de Mime – beginner’s and advanced. Those without any previous physical or dance training will go directly to the beginner’s class. Others with a bit of movement background may want to try their hand at the advanced level. Anyone who feels they are in the wrong level can move to a class they feel will better suit their needs.

Although words are not involved in the practice of mime, Ecole de Mime teaches students that there is a language and a vocabulary to mime that is essential to learn. A plethora of positions and poses for the body are taught at Ecole de Mime, and students put these movements together way one would string together words in a sentence.

Mime is about telling a story without demonstrating the emotion or journey of the character. Breton said the most difficult part about mime is to avoid emoting with facial expressions. The key is to find the fine balance between theatre and dance that will allow your audience to register the emotion you are experiencing simply by watching the way your body is affected.

“You’re never like ‘Okay now I got surprised!’ and you do a big face. It’s however it affects your whole body to get surprised,” Breton said.

After learning the vocabulary involved in miming, students are set free to try out their new techniques in a group improvisation. The idea behind the improv is to tell a story using the movements learned in the beginning of the class. Because there is no dialogue involved, the students have to pay close attention to one another as they work to put together a collective piece. “It just becomes a dance. But nothing is said, nothing is choreographed, so it’s…theatre. It’s that fine line,” Breton said.

Students don’t have to worry if their story or emotion is a little unclear to the audience. The intention is to connect with the audience on some level. If the mime is focused, everyone in the audience will feel it and will be transported, in some way, into their world.

Ecole de Mime is not actually concerned with the performance element of miming. While some students at the school do go on to join the theatre company that is affiliated with Ecole de Mime, the school itself does not put much emphasis on performance. Teachers are primarily interested in spreading the knowledge of the art of mime, regardless of the outcome or the ultimate use students find for it in their lives.

People come from all over the world to study mime at Ecole de Mime and Breton said, “They can go back to their country and use (the technique) however they want.” Given the varied backgrounds of the people in the school, Ecole de Mime aims to deliver a more broad perception of mime than the traditional white-faced, silent character.

The technique taught at Ecole de Mime originated in France and was developed by artist Etienne Decroux. Born in 1898, Decroux spent many years teaching hundreds of students what he felt was a concise and genuine approach to mime. The founders of Ecole de Mime studied with Decroux in the 1980’s. They later decided to introduce Decroux’s method here in Montreal. Breton feels fortunate to be working with the teachers at Ecole de Mime.

“We’re extremely lucky in Montreal…to have the next down the line to be teaching us,” she said.

Miming has proven to be a very fulfilling experience for Breton, and she recommends the class to anyone interested in exploring a creative and physical form of expression. It is a different approach from your usual dance or aerobic class, but miming teaches an awareness of your body, of the people around you, and of the many ways in which we, as human beings, express ourselves. We can learn a lot from what we feel and do instinctively. As Breton points out, miming has always been a part of human interaction.

“Since man wanted to first tell stories and he didn’t have language, what did he do? He mimicked…..obviously mime is mimicking human nature, so it’s been alive since the beginning of man,” she said.

Breton would encourage any beginner to try a miming class despite whatever shyness they may feel at first. Mime is an exploration of the emotions we all feel everyday and Breton is convinced that “we all have it inside of us, to be a mime”.

Ecole de Mime is at

1945 Fullum st.

(Metro Frontenac)

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