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WMO co-founder Marko Stojanovic: ‘Mime is now probably at its lowest point in modern history’

Pavlo Vyshnevskyi and Maksym Lytvynenko, students of the Kiev Municipal Academy of Circus and Variety Arts, pantomime department, perform Our World for WMO Pavlo Vyshnevskyi and Maksym Lytvynenko, students of the Kiev Municipal Academy of Circus and Variety Arts, pantomime department, perform Our World for WMO. Photo: Filip Stojanovic
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Mime faces many challenges but it did not die with Marcel Marceau, argues WMO co-founder Marko Stojanovic who organised a global conference in Serbia last month to combat the often negative responses to the art form

Mime has always had its ups and downs over its history, being more popular in Ancient Greece and Rome, in the Renaissance with commedia dell’arte, and less popular outside of those periods. Mime is probably now at its lowest point in its modern history, its peak being the silent movies echoed by Jean-Gaspard Deburau, Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne Decroux, Henryk Tomaszewski, Oleg Popov, Ladislav Fialka, Jacques Tati, Paul J Curtis, Lindsay Kemp and, probably the synonym for mime, Marcel Marceau.

Its popularity was always linked to a single mime artist who was popular during a certain time. It’s the same today – but it shouldn’t be, because today we have TV, internet, personal devices, where mime is the perfect content for visual media because mime is the language of all, as the World Mime Organisation’s new slogan puts it.

In the UK, the situation is not so different – although we have to be aware that mime today is more developed in Eastern Europe and South America than in the West, and in its very amateur form is blossoming in South (Eastern) Asia.

Type ‘mime UK’ into any search engine on the web and you’ll find event agencies offering mime as a cheap entertainment in shopping malls or for parties. You’re unlikely to find any history or personalities.

Yoram Boker, professor of theatre at Tel Aviv University and a Special WMO Award laureate, demonstrates commedia dell’arte at the inaugural World Mime Conference in March
Yoram Boker, professor of theatre at Tel Aviv University and a Special WMO Award laureate, demonstrates commedia dell’arte at the inaugural World Mime Conference in March. Photo: Filip Stojanovic

In fact, one of the world’s most important institutions is no longer based in the country. The Theatre de l’Ange Fou and International School of Corporeal Mime – led by Corinne Soum and Steven Wasson. They are the last assistants of the ‘father of modern mime’ Etienne Decroux, who created one of the most influential techniques of the 20th century, not only for mime but for contemporary dance and non-verbal theatre in general. The company and school moved from Paris to London in 1995, a step that made the UK one of the few world centres for mime, but it has now relocated permanently to the US.

A few years ago, on a visit to the UK, I had a meeting with someone from the London International Mime Festival. We spoke for an hour or so but what still echoes in my head is the following sentence: “We’ve been trying to change the name of the festival for years, to avoid the word ‘mime’ because of our audience…” – which is sad, but then came a ray of light – “… but we can’t find a better word.”

The situation in many other countries is only slightly better than in the UK. Which is why we need something like the World Mime Organisation. We cannot go around changing the names of festivals or schools or companies or genres just to avoid the word ‘mime’ because we fear it will provoke a negative response. Mime did not die with Marcel Marceau.


5 tips for entering the mime industry

1. Do not have prejudice about what technique, style or school is better. All of those famous mimes, teachers, founders of schools, styles and techniques were just searching. Their teaching and training will help us not to repeat their steps because then humankind would be like a hamster running and not getting anywhere.

2. Educate yourself in a (formal) school because what you learn will act like a safety net with knowledge, technique and way of thinking. Educate your audience. Make time after the performance to talk to them, teach a few movements. Work with kids – your future audience. Respect everyone’s knowledge and the will to share it.

3. Do not be afraid of mime. Mime is non-verbal communication, it was there before language, so the basics lie in all of our genes. You simply learn mime to acquire the tools to do it in a theatrical environment. Don’t be afraid your audience won’t understand what you are doing. Respect their wish to grant you time (and money).

4. Mime is teamwork. Even if you perform alone, it’s a team effort with the audience. You are never alone. Mime is also like sport – a physical activity. So your body must be trained, your mind disciplined and your creativity challenged every day. Respect your body, it is your irreplaceable tool.

5. Mime is perfect for almost any event, any space, but also any media. Explore all the possibilities of mime. You can do it in theatre, on television, for internet, in apps. You can use it to perform, teach science or language, help people acquire sports skills faster. With mime you have millions of possibilities to practise it, use it, share it and earn a living. Respect mime as a business opportunity.

Admittedly, there are problems with mime globally. The biggest is that of ‘sect ideology’, along the lines of ‘I went to Marceau’s school so I have to look down on those who went to Decroux’s and they will look down on those who went to Lecoq’s…’ The first thing we agreed when the World Mime Organisation was founded in 2004 was not to emphasise any of the schools, teachers, techniques or styles but to respect and support each other. That idea and ambition led us to the first World Mime Conference, which took place in March this year in Belgrade, Serbia.

When the conference was in the planning stages, the idea of having 30 to 35 participants was considered an acceptable success. We ended up with more than 70 participants from 21 countries and four continents. It was a multi-event manifestation over three days during a massive blizzard, with nine shows, four panel discussions, four professional workshops, many presentations, two mime festivals, a mini-tour of Stockholm’s Pantomimteatern, a mime workshop with children in a refugee camp, our awards ceremony and a World Mime Day Edit-a-Thon in partnership with Wikimedia Serbia.

We had the help of local institutions such as the University of Arts in Belgrade, the Serbia-Korea Information Access Centre, Pinokio Puppet Theatre, volunteers, friends and family but the only funds came from the participation fees and what some of us put in from our own pockets. The conference proved to be such a wonderful experience with a new spark in the eyes of everyone and revived energy that I can officially say (in a punk rocker voice): “Mime’s not dead!”

There’s still much to be done, though. For the past few decades, instead of being an independent art form, mime is servicing other performing arts like theatre, dance, circus. For example, after finishing two to four years in some of the schools or universities based on the Decroux technique, mimes are very often recruited by contemporary dance companies. Lecoq students end up in theatre plays, clown shows, puppet theatres. During the conference, we had a panel discussion on the topic of mime and dance and the conclusion was that there isn’t a clear line dividing them, or, if there is one, it’s invisible.

The fact is that mime is slowly coming back to the mainstream, even if only as additional training. But there are now mime departments separate from acting and dance at some universities. In Europe, I have taught masterclasses at the Mime Acting Department at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Pantomime Department at the State University for Theatre and Film in Tbilisi, both with strong curriculums, one touching on dance and the other folklore.

Attendees of the World Mime Conference (above), which took place in Belgrade in March this year, with vice-president Ofer Blum (far left) and president Marko Stojanovic (far right)
Attendees of the World Mime Conference (above), which took place in Belgrade in March this year, with
vice-president Ofer Blum
(far left) and president Marko Stojanovic (far right). Photo: Filip Stojanovic

Elsewhere, there’s the Pantomime Department at Kiev Municipal Academy of Circus and Variety Arts, and the Department for Movement Theatre-Pantomime at the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia, the Mime School at the Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam, and the Pantomime Department at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. All offer bachelor and/or master degree programmes in (panto-)mime. One of WMO’s activities is to bring leaders and teachers from those departments together and to try to establish cooperation and use EU funds for student and teacher mobility and exchanges. And that is what Bologna Process is all about – and mime is still not benefiting from it enough.

For the purpose of strategic thinking in general, WMO has recently created the World Mime Council, an internal body formed by the individuals and organisations that make up the Special WMO Award laureates – the London International Mime Festival will be joining their number.

WMO was registered in Serbia because the laws are liberal and the costs of running an organisation are not high. I covered those costs for a decade – I was fortunate to work as a university lecturer teaching acting and stage movement and later communication skills and at the same time to be able to perform in theatre and on TV as an actor and comedian.

Mime in Serbia does not have a tradition. It’s a sporadic thing but we have had the International Festival Monodrama and Mime since 1973. Traditionally it was a central point for mime but since the Balkan Wars in the 1990s it hasn’t been able to fully recover. As in so many other countries, mime in Serbia is a statistical mistake.


WMO awards

Since 2015, WMO has given out a brace of international awards – one for individuals, the other for organisations:

Special WMO Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Art of Mime – laureates: Amiran Shalikashvili (Georgia), Stanislaw Brosowski (Sweden), Andres Valdes (Slovenia), Ella Jaroszewicz (France), Carlos Martinez (Spain), Ivan Klemenc (Serbia), Corinne Soum (France), Yoram Boker and Boris Svidensky (Israel), Velio Goranov (Bulgaria).

Special WMO Award for Promotion and Development of the Art of Mime – laureates: Georgian State Pantomime Theatre (Georgia), Yerevan State Pantomime Theatre (Armenia), Pantomimteatern (Sweden), Studio Magenia (France), International Visual Theatre (France), International Festival of Monodrama and Mime (Serbia).

But things do happen here. At the end of the 1990s, I produced two mainstream mime shows in Belgrade that proved popular and we toured the country and the region. One was a romantic comedy, the other an historic comedy, both written without words for mime. I am now planning to go back on stage with something new and push mime on to TV and the web.

There is a new mime festival (for the deaf) in the south of Serbia, P(h)antomfest, that has been organised by the intermunicipal Association for the Deaf since 2011 in the town of Vranje. And since I came back from Paris in 1997 after studying with Marceau, I have taught mime pro bono to deaf children as my way of not only giving back to the community but also educating new audiences and empowering deaf youth. Some of the students are still doing mime, performing commercially or teaching other deaf children.

In 2008, this became a WMO project entitled Music of Silence – as Marceau himself used to tell us at his classes: “Listen to the silence. Silence is music for a mime artist.” We then started getting funds from the Serbian government, which covered some of our costs. We went to Romania with the project where I witnessed a symphony of communication and creativity among the Romanian and Serbian deaf children working together. Now we want to share it with the world with the member countries of our new international partner, the International Theatre Institute – a milestone for WMO.

I suspect the next milestone for mimes around the world is when we all agree Rowan Atkinson is a mime

I suspect the next milestone in changing the way of thinking for mimes around the world is when we can all agree that Rowan Atkinson is a mime – in recognition of which fact WMO has decided to present him with a Special WMO Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Art of Mime.

Meanwhile, plans are already underway for the next conference that should take place in Belgrade (we have interest from other countries that could bid for hosting the event and we are open to ideas) from March 21-23, 2019, and we will start fundraising, approaching different organisations and companies and ask for an investment – an investment in the future of mime.

Profile: World Mime Organisation

President: Marko Stojanovic
Vice-president: Ofer Blum
Founded: 2004, Belgrade
Based in: Belgrade, Serbia
Number of member countries: 26
Funders: Marko Stojanovic, Ofer Blum, Vladimir Cvejic
Contact: Marko Stojanovic, office@worldmime.org, +381600320169

World Mime Day

WMO founded World Mime Day in 2008 to mark Marcel Marceau’s birthday. Held every March 22 as part of World Performance Week, it is celebrated in more than 40 countries across four continents.


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